Today, May 1st, is International Workers’ Day, which is a celebration of the labor movement. It is also, officially, Loyalty Day, a federally sanctioned day for affirming one’s loyalty to the United States. As Jewish Treats highlights the halachot (Jewish laws) of workers’ rights each Labor Day, today’s Treat explores the Jewish Prayer for the Government, a religious expression of patriotism.
The Prayer for the Government is not something specific to the American Jewish community but is, rather, an off-shoot of God’s admonition to the exiled Jews to “Seek the welfare of the country where I have sent you into exile; pray to the Lord, for your welfare depends on its welfare” (Jeremiah 19:7).
This was said at the time of the first exile, after the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple. After 70 years, the Jews were allowed to return to Israel and, eventually rebuild the Temple and become autonomous once again. The idea of praying for the ruling nation, however, remained. Thus it was that Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the high priest, said: “Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 3:2)
While the structure of Jewish prayer was formalized in the fifth century of the common era, the earliest known record of Prayer for the Government was recorded in the 14th century by Rabbi David Abudraham (Spain).
When included in the service, the Prayer for the Government is recited after the Shabbat Torah Reading. In many congregations inside and outside of Israel, a separate Prayer for the State of Israel is also recited.
Click here for a general text of the Prayer for the Government.
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