This slim volume packs a major spiritual punch.
Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, renowned scholar, noted author, expert in Jewish medical halachah and general editor of the Encyclopedia Talmudit, begins Prayers for the Welfare of the State and for the Welfare of the State of Israel by tracing the Jewish practice of reciting a prayer for the welfare of the country in which one lives. The prophet Jeremiah, after announcing the decree of the Destruction of the First Temple and the imminence and inevitability of exile, exhorted the people to “seek the welfare” of the country to which they would be exiled and pray for its well-being. The Talmud elaborates on this instruction and the practice has been codified as normative halachah. Rabbi Steinberg presents a fascinating wealth of material that surrounds this practice.
But the real accomplishment of this extraordinary book is its analysis of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel. Few topics inspire such heated debate or emotion among Orthodox Jews. Oftentimes, in debates about the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, one observes a disturbing trend: such exchanges are conducted without recourse to substantive ideas, halachic or hashkafic principles or authoritative sources. Rabbi Steinberg aims to transform such exchanges from emotion-driven arguments to respectful discussions of halachic principles and hashkafic ideologies.
To this end, he presents both sides of the debate, quoting all relevant authorities and arguments for and against the practice. Throughout, Rabbi Steinberg is intellectually honest and intensely humble. He acknowledges his own bias—he is a staunch believer in the miraculous nature of the birth and continued existence of the State of Israel—but commits himself to presenting a balanced view of both sides of the issue. In this, he succeeds spectacularly. His knowledge of the relevant material is encyclopedic, and he quotes all the pertinent source material from primary historical documents.
Particularly fascinating is his deductive identification of the authors of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.
With the publication of Prayers for the Welfare of the State and for the Welfare of the State of Israel, one can imagine a conversation taking place between two Jews, one who recites the prayer fervently and one who refuses to do so with equal zeal. But the conversation is conducted with respect, civility and dignity. This is not a small victory. The Jewish unity for which we pray does not require that all Jews see eye to eye on every issue. Rather, it means that we acknowledge and respect each other’s commitment to the God of Israel and the yoke of halachah. The redemption of the Land of Israel and the people of Israel will take place as a result of Jewish unity. By writing this important work, Rabbi Steinberg has advanced the cause of redemption.