Laying to Rest the Question of Who Wrote the Prayer for Israel’s Government

Jewish congregations the world over recite a standardized prayer for the wellbeing of the state of Israel, the text of which was promulgated by the country’s chief rabbinate and first published in the newspaper Haaretz in 1948. For years, it was generally assumed that the Ashkenazi chief rabbi at the time, Yitzḥak Halevi Herzog, was the prayer’s author, until, in 1983, an Israeli scholar produced evidence suggesting that the prayer was written by the great Israeli novelist S.Y. Agnon, with Herzog’s imprimatur. A recent discovery by the historian Yoel Rappel has now set the record straight, as Tracy Frydberg writes:

[Rappel] found his “smoking gun” only a few months ago upon the discovery of a 1948 letter from Herzog to Agnon. The letter reads: “People from various communities in the diaspora are asking me to amend the prayer for the wellbeing of the state and its leaders [said by Jews living under Gentile rule so as to include a prayer for Israel]. Our brothers in the diaspora trust me, and I trust you, because you have the proper poetry and style and you are a God-fearing person . . . ”

This letter further clarified Agnon’s role as editor but didn’t solidify Herzog as the writer. But this letter combined with the earlier discovery of an article Herzog wrote on Israel’s tenth anniversary was the final piece of the puzzle. In this piece, Herzog referred to “the prayer that I established” with quotes from certain portions of the prayer for the state of Israel [as we know it today]. . . .

“In the end, there are five words that S.Y. Agnon wrote that entered into the [final version] of the prayer,” Rappel said. . . . The now-established fact that the prayer was written by a rabbi is what gives the prayer its religious significance, Rappel added.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Israeli history, Prayer, Religion & Holidays, S. Y. Agnon

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem