In recent months, thanks to the combination of cell phone cameras and YouTube, we’ve witnessed Israel Defense Force soldiers acting in deeply troubling ways. We’ve seen soldiers standing by while a civilian shoots live ammunition at Palestinian protesters, we saw Lt. Col. Shaul Eisner assault an unarmed Danish civilian with the butt of a rifle, and, before that, the killing at close range of Mustafa Tamimi, a protester in the Palestinian village Nebi Saleh. Many of these occurrences are regularly reported in Haaretz, but they don’t find their way as often, or as prominently, into other media outlets.
The most generous explanation for this phenomenon is that individuals, in a series of isolated incidents, fail to uphold the IDF code of conduct. More sobering explanations point to a widespread culture in the IDF whereby such conduct is tolerated and routine. Indeed, when the Eisner case was reported, the most shocking aspect of the YouTube video was the utter indifference to Eisner’s act by the six or seven other soldiers milling around. What we saw as a horrific, unforgiveable, outrage, they saw as boring and un-noteworthy.
I was on the receiving end of such an incident last year, while I was observing a non-violent demonstration against the occupation in the West Bank, and got caught up in tear gas that was fired indiscriminately at women, children, and observers. Since then, I’ve found it hard to say the prayer for the IDF that appears in all Israeli prayer books, and which my community, like most synagogues in Israel, reads aloud every Shabbat.
The prayer, written by Rabbi Shlomo Goren in the early years of the state, does not, to my mind, adequately respond to the ethical challenges that IDF soldiers face in exercising power over civilian communities, where things are much more complicated than state-against-state war.
But our response to troubling issues cannot simply to be cease from engagement with the issue. That’s true if the troubling issue is, say, Eishet Ḥayil (the poem traditionally sung by a husband to a wife on Friday night; while parts of it are beautiful, parts of it are also rather sexist); and it is also true if the troubling issue is inappropriate use of force by the IDF.
As engaged Jews who love the Jewish tradition but are troubled by particular aspects of it, my wife and I sing an amended version of Eishet Ḥayil on Friday nights. In doing this, we join countless other Jews who try to develop an active relationship with liturgy that more closely reflects their values.
As engaged Jewish Zionists, the time has come to do the same with the prayer for the IDF. Above is my suggested amendation. The text is the regular version of the prayer as found in the popular Rinat Israel siddur. The middle section is my suggested addition.
The Biblical verse quoted is from the story of Sodom and Gemorrah, where Abraham berates God for seeking to harm innocent people along with the wicked. To my mind, it’s an extremely appropriate analogy to much of what goes on today: there are wicked people out there who seek to harm us, and it’s good that the army protects us from them. But all too often, some soldiers (and some Israelis in general) don’t do enough to distinguish between those who are genuinely evil, and innocent people (including Palestinians, left-wing Israelis, and internationals) who are legitimately protesting the occupation. Amending the prayer for the IDF is one way to raise awareness about that uncomfortable fact, and begin a public, Jewish, Zionist conversation about it.
We are grateful to Dr. Alex Sinclair for sharing his prayer for the Israeli Defense Forces with a Creative Commons Attribution/ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. Dr. Alex Sinclair is director of programs in Israel Education for the Jewish Theological Seminary. He runs Kesher Ḥadash, the Davidson School of JTS’s Semester in Israel program. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of JTS. This prayer and commentary was first published in an article, “Amending the prayer for the IDF,” posted June 3rd, 2012 at the English language website of Ha’aretz. [For additional background on politcal prayers of the State of Israel, you may also be interested in reading “When Prayer Goes Political” by Shmuel Yanai (Ha’aretz 2005-05-06). –ANV]
A note on the copyright of the original “Prayer for the Welfare of Israel Defense Forces Soldiers” authored during the 1956 Sinai Campaign by former Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren in service to the State of Israel. We believe the following statement authored by Wikimedia Commons applies:
This work was created or ordered by the State of Israel, and is in the public domain because it satisfies one of the conditions stipulated in Israel’s copyright statute from 2007 (translation) regarding the State’s copyrights:
- It is a statute, regulation, Knesset protocol or court decision and therefore ineligible for copyright protection according to §6 of the 2007 statute; OR
- It was created more than 50 years ago (i.e. before 1 January 1961), and the State’s copyright has therefore expired according to §§42–43 of the 2007 statute PROVIDING THAT
- The State of Israel was the first owner of copyrights on this work; AND
- The State did not waive its copyrights in a special contract with the author when this work was created.
“מי שברך | Prayer for the Welfare of Israel Defense Forces Soldiers by Rabbi Shlomo Goren (amended by Dr. Alex Sinclair)” is shared by Alex Sinclair with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.