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Prayer for Alexandru Ioan I Cuza, Domnitor of Romania by Rabbi Meir Leibush (1862)

Photo of Alexandru Ioan Cuza (credit: Carol Popp de Szathmáry, Public Domain)

Photo of Alexandru Ioan Cuza (credit: Carol Popp de Szathmáry, Public Domain)

תפילה לה״ בעד חיי׳ המלך אדוננו ובעד טובת
מדינתינו ביום בוא מלכנו אלכסנדר
יאאן הראשון לעירינו
A Prayer to HaShem for the Life of our monarch the King and on behalf of the welfare of his state
On the day our king Alexander Ioan I came to our city …

יום נפתחן שערי ארצנו
יבא בם בחירן מלכנו
ה״ אלקינו לפניך נשפך שיח
פתח שערי שמיך אורן יהל
ארך ימים תן לו חיים שאל
הוד והדר שוה עליו ה׳ הצליח
A day when the gates of our land were opened
May our chosen king enter through them
Let us pour out our words before You HaShem our G!d
Open the gates of Your heavens and let Your light shine
Grant him long years of life
Shower him with majesty and glory

ועמן אחותינו באה מאלדווע המדינה
זה כמה לא תבקו ידינו זאת העדינה
אחתינו אתהיי לאלפי רבבה
ועל כנפי נשר ועל בכור שור
תראה ההצלחה יעופו ככבי אור
לשום ברכה על נס ודגלים אהבה
And with him comes the statehood of Moldavia
We had not yet embraced our entire fair country
Our sister, may you receive the blessings recounted in the bible
And on the wings of eagles and on the mighty wild-ox
You will behold victory soaring like shining stars
Bringing blessings and love to our banner and flag

ה׳ בכל עת ועת מרי הארת פניך
לכונן כס מלכות לאיש לבבו נאמן לפניך
ותאמר׃ כסאך אבנה לדור ודור
מאז מצאת כסאו בלב עמים בנוי
ראית ינהלם כרועה עדרן יושיע עם עני
לשלח רצוצים חפשים לקרוא לשובים דרור
HaShem, you have always allowed Your face to shine
To firmly establish the royal throne for him who has been faithful to You
You proclaimed to him: I will build up your throne from generation to generation
From the time You established it within the community of nations
You have beheld him leading them as a shepherd his flock, to elevate a lowly people –
To break their bonds and proclaim freedom to the captives

וכפרוץ השמחה כנגן הנבל והחליל
על כל יאשדרך על כל נבע ותליל
וכל לב מלא גיל כל פה תהלה
אנכי בת ישורון לבבי מלא תוחלת
ועיני לשמים ונפשי חסד שואלת
בידך ה׳ לב מלך ואני תפלה
And when joy breaks forth amid the music of harp and trumpet
On every highway and on each steep mountain
And every heart fills with joy and every mouth with praise
I, the daughter of Yeshurun, my heart fills with hope
And my eyes look up towards heaven and my soul seeks grace
The king’s heart is in your hands, HaShem, and I pray –

ה׳ נצור כאישון
את אלכסנדר יאהן הראשון
HaShem, protect, as you protect what is dearest to You,
Alexander Johann I

המלך אדנינו
שמרהו אלקינו
ואת רעייתו המלכה
וכל שרי הממלכה
Our lord, the king
Protect him, our G!d,
and his consort the Queen
and all the ministers of his kingdom

ושמת לעד זרעם וכסאם כימי שמים
ונתת כנהר שלומם וכפלגי מים
וכתות מפניו צריו ומשנאיו יסורו
ותהי שפעת ה׳ כשתר פרוש על הערים
וסביב גבעות ברכה ושלום ושאו הרים
ועמקים יעטפו בר יתרועעו אף ישירו
And establish forever their heirs and their thrones
And may their welfare flow like a mighty river
Crush all their enemies before them and may their foes turn away
May HaShem’s bounty spread over its cities like the dawn
And envelop the country’s highest peaks
And may its fruited valleys ring with music

והאחיות התאומות יחדיו תהיינה תמים
תחת ראש אחד מלך צדיק מושלעמים
ירד כמטר על גז כרביבים על צומה
ויערף כמטר טובה וכטל השמים ברכה
וכגלי הים שלוה וכמעותיו הצלחה
יפרח בימיו צדיק ורוב שלום עד כלי ירה
And the Twin Sisters together will be complete Beneath the rule of a single righteous monarch, a ruler of nations
May goodness flow like benevolent rain and blessed dew
And peace and victory like the waves of the sea
May this righteous king flourish and may peace abound.

מאיר ליבוש מלבים ראבד דפה באקארסט
Meir Leibush [ben Yehiel Michel] Malbim, RAB”D (Chief Rabbi), of this city Bucharest

The life of Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yeḥiel Michel (MALBIM, 1809-1879) as a wandering rabbi and brilliant intellect reflects the changing expectations of Jews and Jewish religious authorities during the period of emancipation in 19th century Eastern Europe. His first published commentary was on Megillat Esther (1845). The Malbim’s fame and popularity rests upon his commentary on the Tanakh (1876). His political life as a community rabbi, however, is a tragic one.

In his capacity as the chief rabbi of Bucharest, Romania, the Malbim composed the prayer above for Prince Alexander Ioan I Cuza (1820-1873), Domnitor. The prince had united the Danube principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1862 to form the Kingdom of Romania. During his reign, he managed to bring about a series of important land reforms benefiting the peasantry of Romania, and he did try to improve the situation for Jews under his rule. The emancipation of the Jews of Romania, announced with the Proclamation of Islaz during the Wallachian Revolution of 1848, had never actually gone into effect. In 1865, the prince announced a project which would lead to the “gradual emancipation of the people of Mosaic faith” but this effort was never realized due to Alexandru Ioan’s forced abdication and replacement by a Prussian King in 1866.

Elayne Grossbard writes that the prayer was composed “to celebrate the Romanian national holiday on 24 January 1862, when it was read publicly by the chief rabbi and by the congregation.”

Grosbard writes, “The MALBIM was a controversial figure because of his differences with the local community and he used this occasion to deliver a sermon bemoaning his ill treatment and appealing for support.” YIVO explains the strained relationship between the Malbim and the Jewish community of Bucharest, which led to his arrest in 1862 sometime after the prayer above was composed:

In the 1850s, a group of Jews led by Iuliu Barasch (“the Mendelssohn of Romanian Jewry”) had fought for Jewish emancipation and Jewish cultural advancement through secular schools and through the establishment of a choral temple with an organ and choir. Upon his arrival [in Bucharest in 1858], Malbim sought to bolster Orthodox observance (by setting kashrut standards, building an ‘eruv [boundary permitting Jews to carry on the Sabbath], establishing a Hebrew press in Bucharest, popularizing Torah study, and preaching Sabbath observance) and took drastic steps to thwart the Reform movement by withdrawing funding from modern schools, halting the choral temple’s construction, and even prohibiting kosher butchers from selling to those who did not observe the Sabbath. The influential reformers attacked Malbim as a fanatic and, turning to the government, accused him of impeding Jewish assimilation into society, of being unpatriotic, and, most seriously, of blaspheming Christianity in his commentaries. The government responded in 1862 by banning Malbim from preaching, removing his title of chief rabbi, and withdrawing the Bucharest Jewish community’s authority to raise taxes and manage its own affairs.

Malbim’s family life during this period was unsettled, as Aharon, the only child from his second marriage, died in childhood, and Ḥayah [his wife], suffering from depression, behaved erratically, spent beyond the family’s means, and maligned her husband openly. In the public sphere, Malbim benefited from the support of Orthodox Bucharest Jews who petitioned the government to lift the ban on his preaching, an opportunity Malbim took to condemn his opponents publicly. Continuing battles ultimately led to his imprisonment and to his expulsion from Romania in 1864. Unwilling to capitulate, Malbim traveled to Constantinople to sue the Romanian government, demanding reinstatement and back wages; he received support from Sir Moses Montefiore and from the Prussian consulate, which protested his mistreatment as a Prussian national. He also traveled to Paris to enlist the help of Adolphe Crémieux (president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle), who sent a protest letter directly to the Romanian ruler, Alexandru Cuza. Malbim won reparations on condition that he officially resign as rabbi of Romania.

What I find remarkable is how this prayer, composed by one man for another, is situated just at the intersection of both of their lives, each of which begins to strangely track each other, if not geographically then tragically. Each of their lives becomes terribly complicated by separate but related historical currents that soon remove both of them from their office and position, and ultimately, out of Romania entirely.

Prayer for the welfare of Alexandru Ioan I Cuza, Domnitor of Romania, 1820-1873 by Meyr Leybush Malbim (Bucarest, Romania, 1862) from the Magnes Museum Collection (Public Domain)

Prayer for the welfare of Alexandru Ioan I Cuza, Domnitor of Romania, 1820-1873 by Meyr Leybush Malbim (Bucarest, Romania, 1862) from the Magnes Museum Collection (Public Domain)

I found the Malbim’s Prayer for Alexandru Ioan I among many other treasures in the Magnes Museum’s archive of images on Flickr documenting its collection of Judaica. The transcription is mine and the translation is that of Elayne Grossbard, originally posted in her post “A Prayer for the Welfare of the King” at the Magnes Museum’s blog, opensource. I have made a number of minor corrections and changes to her translation there. Additional information can be found in the Magnes Museum’s database record. I am grateful for the Magnes Museum sharing their record and their blog posts with a Creative Commons Attribution license.

The “Twin Sisters,” i.e., Moldavia and Wallachia
Rendering of the Malbim circa 1882,  (via On the Main Line Blog)

Rendering of the Malbim circa 1882, (via On the Main Line Blog)

Grosbard continues, “Besides being printed on paper at the time, the words were also printed in Hebrew and Romanian on a silk banner decorated with the national coat of arms.

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