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Prayer on the Occasion of the Dedication of Ḳahl Montgomery Synagogue, by Rabbi James Koppel Gutheim (16 May 1862)

Jewish prayers for the well-being of the sovereign, government, and country are common in every place Jewish congregations gather. Thus, it is no great surprise to find one offered by a rabbi for the State of Alabama and the Confederate States of America at a dedication ceremony of a new synagogue building in 1862. But given that unrepentant revanchist and racist white supremacists continue to celebrate the Confederacy in our own day, often under the guise of “honoring southern pride,” we share the text of this prayer only for its historical import and as a cautious lesson. Patriotism born of genuine appreciation for freedom, liberty, and sanctuary granted to some can blind those privileged to the lives and labor stolen from others. Recognizing such depravity where and when it occurs should ground us in every place we dwell. As Emma Lazarus later argued in “An Epistle to the Hebrews” (1883): “Until we are all free, we are none of us free,” or as Proverbs 4:14 teaches, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and walk not in the way of evil men.” —Aharon Varady


Contribute a translationSource (English)
Almighty and most merciful God —
father of all mankind —
sole and omnipotent Ruler of the universe!
Thou, whose throne is the heaven
and whose foot-stool the earth;
let Thy glory fill the house,
which we this day dedicate to Thy holy name,
and shelter it under the wings of Thy heavenly protection.
Listen, O Father,
to the supplications of Thy children,
that are now gathered together
and that will in future here assemble,
to pour out their hearts before Thy throne of mercy!
Grant consolation to every mourner —
relief to every distressed comfort to every afflicted —
hope to every sufferer —
a gracious pardon to repentant sinner —
and to all, who come in Thy name,
Thy heavenly blessing.
Open our eyes,
that we may see the beauties of Thy law.
May Thy word prove to us the quickening dew of life,
refreshing to our hearts and grateful to our minds.
Regard, O Father,
in Thine abundant favor and benevolence
our beloved country, the Confederate States of America.
May our young Republic increase in strength,
prosperity and renown;
may the helm of state be piloted with judgment;
may wisdom resound in the halls of legislation,
and harmony,
obedience to the law,
fortitude in trials
and a self-sacrificing devotion
prevail among the people.
Endow, O God,
the chosen Executive and his advisers
with the spirit of wisdom,
of knowledge
and of strength,
so as to be able to devise and to execute
the best measures for the defense of our liberties
and the protection of our homes and our lives.
Behold, O God,
and judge between us and our enemies,
who have upon us this unholy and unnatural war —
who hurl against us their poisoned arrows
steeped in ambition and revenge.
May they soon discover the error of their ways,
relinquish their cruel designs of subjugation,
their lust of gain and dominion,
and yield a ready and willing ear
to the dictates of humanity,
of justice and of right.
Bless, O Father,
our efforts in a cause which we conceive to be just;
the defense of our liberties and rights and independence,
under just and equitable laws.
May harmony of sentiment
and purity motive,
unfaltering courage,
immovable trust in our leaders,
in national council and in the field,
animate all the people of our beloved Confederate States,
so as to be equal to all emergencies —
ready for every sacrifice,
until our cause be vindicated
as the light of the day.
And we pray Thee, O God,
to bless and protect the armed hosts,
that now stand forth in the defense of our sacred cause. —
Vain are the exertions of man without Thy aid.
Behold, O Father,
and cover with the shield of Thy heavenly guardianship
our sons, our brothers and our friends —
the flower and the hope of the land.
Endow their hearts with courage —
nerve their arms with strength in the hour of combat.
May the breaches lately made in our lines soon be repaired,
a series of glorious victories blot out our recent reverses
[at Ft. Donelson, Nashville, Shiloh, and New Orleans],
and the unrighteous invaders be repulsed on every side,
abashed, confounded and discomfited.
Thou, O Lord, who makest peace in the highest heavens,
mayest Thou bless us with a speedy and honorable peace,
so that safety, confidence and happiness
again smile upon the land,
and our independence be recognized
by all families of the earth.
We also crave Thy benediction for the State of Alabama,
its government and people,
its institutions and laws.
May Thy blessing rest upon its soil,
and every honest pursuit of industry and commerce
thrive and flourish.
Grant Thy heavenly protection to this City;
spread over it the bower of Thy peace,
and deliver it from every danger and evil.
May it obtain gladness and prosperity,
increase in godliness and virtue,
and may unrighteousness and vice flee away.
May the spirit of brotherly love,
evinced this day,
for ever live in this community
and be manifested in all the transactions of life. —
Side by side, and shoulder to shoulder
let us promote every laudable enterprize,
sacredly observing
the respect due
to each other’s religious faith and opinions,
and looking up to Thee as our common Parent.
“O how good and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1)
Guard and protect also, O Father,
Thy people, the whole house of Israel,
throughout their dispersions.
May the clouds of oppression and injustice,
which here and there darken the sky,
soon vanish,
and the sun of freedom and justice
break forth in the horizon of mankind.
Mayest Thou accelerate the promised time
when truth, peace and happiness
will embrace the whole human family in one brotherhood,
and when the prediction of the Prophet will be fulfilled,
“Then will the Lord be King over the whole earth —
on that day the Lord will be One and his name One.” (Zechariah 14:9)

This civic prayer, recorded by an unknown Montgomery, Alabama newspaper on 16 May 1862, was offered at the dedication of the new Ḳahl Montgomery synagogue building, by Rabbi James Koppel Gutheim. The newspaper clipping, found in the I. Solomon Collection in the manuscript department of Duke University Library, was transcribed by Dr. Bertram W. Korn for his article, “The Jews of the Confederacy,” American Jewish Archives vol. 13, no. 1 (Apr 1961), on pages 40-42.




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