Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Should my children bless the State of Israel?

As early as I can remember, my family recited הרחמן הוא יברך את מדינת ישראל, "May the Merciful One bless the State of Israel," as part of Birkat haMazon (the blessing after meals). We did it just before the special הרחמן prayer for Shabbos, Yom Tov, or Rosh Chodesh.

But this sentence is not part of the original, ancient Birkat haMazon; some time after 1948, someone decided to promote its insertion in a section which includes various blessings appended to Birkat haMazon in centuries past.

I don't really know, but I think this recitation was part of a host of Religious Zionist practices embraced by a generation of post-1948 Jews raised in schools (Ramaz, Manhattan Day School, BTA/MTA, Yeshiva of Flatbush) and summer camps (Massad, then Moshava and Morasha) of that ideology. It went along with the Israel Day Parade, the goofy kova tembel and the love of Naomi Shemer.

But back to the point: I don't see anything particularly non-halachic in this line. In some sense it even fits the second blessing of Birkat haMazon, which thanks Gd for the wonderful land, as well as the third blessing, which prays for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Still, it does seem odd to me; I am not normally a fan of adding permanent tefillot. [I do believe in spontaneous addition in permitted ways, just not the enshrinement of the 'spontaneous' note in stone.] Also, mentioning the State rather than its citizens seems too political for a prayer.

Bottom line: I continue to say it, since my parents do so and since halting my prayer for the State would feel wrong.

Now to my quandary: As the Rebbetzin and I have raised our children, we haven't mentioned this added line to them; so far as I know, they still don't realize I include it. [For that matter, come to think of it, I don't know if my Rebbetzin does!]

Why wouldn't I convey this to them? Because it's not yet an established minhag in my family, because it still seems like an odd insertion, and because it would make them weird in a society which does not include this. I've done enough to make them weird; I don't think they need this as well.

On the other hand, it's a prayer for something I value. And it's something I say, myself.

Hence the problem. What do you think?


  1. If you do it because your father does it, shouldn't your children be taught to do it because you do it?

    Isn't that the essence of following the custom of your father?

  2. My opinion--tell your children and stop worrying. Any number of people out there who add particular tefilos after the proscribed tefilos and who aren't looked at as being weird. I know many women besides myself who say their choice of Yehi Rotzons after the brochah on kindling the lecht for Shabbos and Yom Tov and after the brochos when they are in the mikvah, but it's still a personal minhag.

    Re it's feeling weird to bless the state rather than its people, you are doing both. By definition a state may be an actual physical place and is also an organism consisting of all its component parts--the land and its inhabitants.

  3. I've always thought that adding this in birkat hamazon is more of a political thing for people living in chutz la'aretz to identify as "zionist" (whatever that might mean when applied to someone living outside of Israel). Do people in Israel customarily say this? It would seem strange when there is already a birkat ha'aretz built in.

    I actually stop saying birkat hamazon at "l'alam al yichasreinu" so I have to admit whether to say or not say what you are referring to hasn't been an issue for me one way or the other.

  4. Yes. And after Shmoneh Esrei too. If you are uncomfortable with a fixed text, help them mention it in whatever way they can (depending on age of course.) Failing to recognize and be grateful for the miracle of the return of Jewish sovereignty to the bulk of Eretz Yisrael is a grave sin. May we all merit joining the ingathering of our exiles speedily.

  5. Birkat hamazon ends at "l'olam al yechasreinu". Everything after that is really a social thing and lots of different groups have their own additions.

  6. I made Aliyah two years ago and I have not heard anyone say it. I have not seen it in any bentcher. My Rinat Yisrael siddur, which has the nusachot for Yom Ha'atzma'ut and Yom Yerushalayim (including instructions for saying Hallel) does not have the Harachaman. I have eaten by the most zionistic families possible (short of Kahani Chai). Its strange that I have not heard it since making Aliyah.

  7. My understanding is that the matbeya hatefilla is flexible enough in several areas to allow for individual words of prayer - eg. in shemonai esrai towards the end of the Shma koleinu just before ki ata shomaya and the final bracha one can add personal requests.

    Similarly, as other have pointed out above, the actual birkat hamazon ends after the 4th bracha ". . umikol toov l'olam al yechasrainu". So I always thought that the harachamans are not carved in stone and additions are fine.

    Of those whom I've heard say the harachaman for Israel most actually also add "raishit tzmichat geulatainu" or the more careful "shetehay raishit tzmichat geulatainu".

    My family also adds a harachaman for Zahal - " Hu yevaraich et tzva hahagana l'yisrael haomdim al mishmar artzenu". With three sons having served as volunteers in the IDF and all 5 of my kids having now made aliya, this certainly has very direct meaning to my wife and I.

  8. For what it's worth, I had discussed this issue with Rav Mordechai Eliyahu back in the 80s. As far as inserting 'harahamans' goes, he saw no problem. It is a somewhat flexible area already. Specifically, he thought it was entirely appropriate that I wanted to say one for the State of Israel and for the soldiers of Tzahal.

  9. When he was younger, a now influential member of the modern orthodox world would add this harachaman:

    Harachaman hu yivarech es harepublican party v'es kol legisleihem

  10. Miami Al-
    I'm not clear on what makes something a custom. Certainly, not every ritual act performed in a certain way has the force of minhag.

    I hear re: the fact that many add things, but I can't say I normally witness special additions to existing tefillot.
    Re: Blessing the state and people - Again, I hear, but I'm not sure.

    Could be.

    Mike S-
    I'm inclined to do it, just without the fixed text which may qualify as matbeia.

    Joe in Australia-
    Thanks; see my note to ProfK above, on this point.

    Do these families bentch out loud?

    I hear, but the fixed text disturbs me. That seems like creating a matbeia.

    R' Mordechai-

    Interesting. Although weird.

  11. It should be noted that the new(ish) Koren-Sacks siddur has officially included that horachamon (as well as the one Michael Mirsky noted about Tzahal) in it's Birkat HaMazon. I can imagine they'll start to pick up more steam now that they've been canonized into a fairly mainstream siddur.

  12. My in-laws attend a Conservative affiliated synagogue. I remember joining them for something at their Shul, and I was REALLY impressed with their bentchers.

    The typography was great (on par with Art Scroll's Hadassah font), the layout clear, the instructions very straight forward, and the selection of Harachamans, etc., were great as well.

    If you are curious for other approaches to this, I'd see if you can pick one up somewhere, I've been meaning to grab one (like I'd like to get a few different Sephardic ones) just for variety to look at.

  13. Miami Al: One Sephardi bentcher (with several traditions) can be found at the Shearith Israel website: http://shearithisrael.org/ under "online store". I have not seen the bentcher inside though. I feel that the textual experience of reading the bentcher is incomplete without the traditional melodies...

  14. Ezra-
    Yes, I had completely forgotten about it. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Miami Al, rivkayael-

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  16. I had to delete this comment because its grammar was uncorrected.
    Here it it again hopefully better written.
    In Israel people are more into blessing the soldiers than the Medina and this seems to me to be right. Not that I am against the Medina.
    It is just that I have mixed feelings about it. But soldiers are doing a mitzvah.
    My basic attitude towards the State- Medina is based on Reb Moshe and Reb Aarorn Kotler that it has a halacha of any other Medina in which "the law of the country is the law." (Incidentally this is not just between Jew and Gentile as any quick glance at the actual Gemara in Bava Batra will show).(Sadly most people just don't have the time to check sources.)
    The State does not seem to me to be the Beginning of the Redemption.
    I have a impression that the whole idealizing of the State that Rav Kook was into was highly influence by Hegel and his idea of the state being the actuality of the Divine on Earth.
    I admit I am not on the side of Hegel at all. His has a powerful system but I myself have seen lots of powerful systems in Physics (GUTs)[Unified field theories] that are simply wrong even though they are works of genius. (I sadly to say worked on one myself with George Ryzanov in Jerusalem.)
    What makes them wrong is a predicted change in the light coming form a super nova a few years ago that just did not happen.

    "Powerful system" does not equal "true system". It also has to correspond to reality.
    Self consistent powerful systems are a dime a dozen in almost any field. --especially in Chasidut and Kabalah.
    The thing is that in science the system has to correspond to reality so the bad systems get weeded out eventually.
    But in religion a pseudo religion never dies. It may go underground for awhile but it always pops up eventually.
    The problem here is that Hegel and Nietzsche were enormously popular in Europe and influence highly many Jewish orthodox rabbis. But because they were orthodox they could not admit the source of their ideas.

  17. rivkayael,

    I can't impart the tunes. All my sephardic friends went to Ashkenazi Yeshivot and therefore learned Ashkenazi everything, then later switched liturgy in pride.

    But I can grab one for myself and see where it's different, because that is something new to learn.

    And I can have them for when it's time to "bensch" and I have Sephardic guests, though calling it Sephardic Bensching implies a certain cultural imperialism.

  18. But this sentence is not part of the original, ancient Birkat haMazon;

    Are ANY of the Harachaman's part of the original, ancient Birkat haMazon? Other than perhaps three that are perhaps of Gaonic origin.

    R. Sperber makes a cogent argument that prayer is, and is meant to be, fluid in

  19. Melech-
    It's true that the other "Harachamans" are not. Still doesn't make this one feel any more natural, though.

  20. The Bnei Akiva camps that I went to in New Zealand in the 80s added 3 Harachamans:
    - For The State of Israel
    - For the IDF
    - For the Jews of Russia, Syria and Ethiopia.

    B"H the third is no longer relevant as those communities are no longer persecuted as they were in the 80s, however I believe that encouraging kids to say the other 2 Hrachamans (For the STate and the IDF, which I still say) encourages our kids to be aware of the centrality of Israel and the IDF.

  21. If you're unsatisfied with the phrasing of your practice, but feel uncomfortable changing what you've been doing, you could encourage your children to adopt the practice as you would prefer it.