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Prayer on the Confederate Day of Fasting and Prayer, by Rabbi Max Michelbacher (27 March 1863)

Jewish prayers for the welfare of the nations in which they dwell are known from medieval times, and developed further with the emancipation and patriotic expectations of Jewish citizens in modern nation-states. Thus, it is no great surprise to find such a prayer offered by a rabbi in the State of Virginia in the capitol of the Confederate States of America. 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)
Again, do we approach Thee, O God of Israel—
not as a single meeting of a part,
but as the whole congregation of all the people of the land,
that trust in Thy protection forever,
and who do now come before Thee,
to seek it in the midst of dangers,
yet more appalling than those of the past,
that Thou didst put aside without harm unto us!
We are Thy people, O God!
who, whether in times of want or pestilence,
distress or danger,
cannot be kept back
from coming unto Thee.
Thou only art our father and friend,
and we come before Thee in the dutifulness of children,
and with abiding faith in Thy love
and a constant fear of doing aught to offend Thee.
O God of our fathers!
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!
hear our prayers,
and listen graciously to our supplications, this day,
for our salvation as a people,
struggling before Thee for our liberties and independence,
now threatened with renewed dangers and calamities,
from the combining and concentrating powers of our enemies.
Thou hast, O God, in Thy mercy unto us,
foiled from good time to good time their efforts,
to circumvent and to subdue and to subjugate Thy people,
that trust in Thy mercy and omnipotence!
Now, O God, we who trust in Thee,
beseech Thee to look into our present condition.
Then dost see, O Supreme Giver of Good,
the red and savage hand of massacre
held with the menace of foreboding evil,
over the innocent and nursing infants of our people!
Thou doest see, O Supreme Giver of Good,
that we are threatened with the destruction of our men, women and children
by cruel enemies, that laugh and clap their hands at the calamities,
they desire to bring upon us,
whereby they may outrage and scoff at Thy Super-Excellent Majesty,
and say within their hearts that vengeance is theirs and not Thine!
O God of Israel!
hearest Thou this, and art Thou still or silent?
Thou, God of our fathers, that art a jealous God,
Thou art not silent, nor unmindful of our terrible streights,
and, neither wilt Thou permit this wicked intent—
neither wilt Thou let come to pass this atrocious thing
of blood and crime against Thy people,
that this day,
in the presence of all the nations of the Earth,
proclaim Thee as the only true God, and Saviour!
The man-servants and the maid-servants Thou hast given unto us,
that we may be merciful to them in righteousness and bear rule over them,
the enemy are attempting to seduce, that they too may turn against us,
whom Thou hast appointed over them as instructors in Thy wise dispensation!
Because of Thy strength in aid of us,
our enemies have failed against us,
in all the modes and means of warfare
known and adopted among the men Thou hast civilized—
because of Thy strength they have failed;
and, behold, O God,
they incite our man-servants and maid-servants to insurrection,
and they place weapons of death and the fire of desolation in their hands,
that we may become an easy prey unto them;
they beguile them from the path of duty,
that they may waylay their masters,
to assassinate and to slay the men, women and children of the people,
that trust only in Thee.
In this wicked thought, let them be frustrated,
and cause them to fall into the pit of destruction,
which in the abomination of their evil intents,
they digged for us,
our brothers and sisters,
our wives and our children.
Our land and our waters are troubled
with the presence of the foes of Thy people.
Drive them away, O Lord!
Let it be,
that their boasted ships of terror
may come to naught before the breath of our Lord God,
as He sendeth it forth upon the waters of the Great Deep.
Bless, O God, the tillage of our fields,
that they may bring forth abundantly
for the wants of the people!
Give unto each one the bread of life,
and let the fat of the land be seen in plenty
in the home of every family
of the Confederate States of America.
O God!
We acknowledge our manifold sins,
but look to Thee for forgiveness
with deep contrition and repentance.
We implore Thee to turn the hearts of the people
of the Confederate States of America
generously and kindly every one to the other,
that, in the midst of common tribulation,
they may cheer and sustain each other
till they shall have safely passed through the troublous flood of war,
to the happiness of a peaceful land,
regenerated by Thy favoured presence
forever and ever!
O God!
we invoke Thy holy name for protection,
because we know, that,
without the aid of our kind Father in Heaven,
we of ourselves can do nothing.
We believe, O God,
that piety cannot subsist apart from patriotism—
we love our country,
because Thou hast given it unto us
as a blessing and a heritage for our children;
and, now, O God, we call upon Thee,
to bring salvation to the Confederate States of America,
and to crown independence with lasting honour and prosperity.
O God!
Give cheerfulness to the hearts of our people;
and, as a sign of our confidence in Thee
and Thy especial protection over us,
let the play of the children be seen
in the streets of our cities, towns and villages
and all places of our country.
Let no fear come near our maidens,
and be Thou unto our young men a tower of strength,
that they may stand with undaunted hearts
to shield and sustain the matrons and patriarchs of the people!
Drive, O God, the fear of black famine far away from our borders,
and open the Omnipotent hand of Thy Heavenly bounty upon all these—
the people of this Thy land, which we dedicate anew to Thee this day.
And, O God, keep in remembrance this day forever!
Be Thou, O God, with our armies,
and inspire the leaders thereof with a pious fear of Thee.
Endow them with the faculty of anticipating the designs of the enemy
and the wisdom, to thwart every movement of hostility!
Inspire our soldiers with that patriotic courage,
which comes from the thought of duty to Thee and to their country.
Give unto them,
sleepless vigilance,
vigorous and active bodies and hands,
to wield in victory the weapons of battle.
Give unto them,
when in pursuit of the flying foe,
the swiftness of the eagle,
and in the fight,
let them be as fierce lions among the prey!
Send, O God,
Thy protecting messengers to our ships of war
upon the waters of the rivers and of the great deep!
Shield our infant navy from all the dangers of storm and battle;
and, in all its engagements with the enemy,
let the power of the wonderful arm of the God of Israel
be its succour, defence and victory!
Let the boast of the enemy’s naval superiority in numbers over us,
be unto Thee, O Lord, their weakness and destruction.
And give unto us,
Thy people that trust in Thee, O God of Israel,
the crown of triumph!
O God!
Give counsel and wisdom to Thy servant,
Jefferson Davis,
President of the Confederate States of America,
and grant speedy success to his endeavours
to free our country from the presence of its foes.
Be Thou with him
and the legislature of the Confederate Government of America,
and give unto them Thy care and blessing.
Send us peace, O Lord God,
we humbly implore Thee!
and let the buds, that spring forth in this present spring of the year,
burst out in smiling blossoms over a land of tranquility and prosperity!
Amen! Hallooyah!

This prayer by Rabbi Max Michelbacher was offered on 27 March 1863, a day appointed by Jefferson Davis for fasting and prayer, and published together with a sermon.




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