The townsfolk from Fiddler on the Roof had a very simple prayer for their government: “May God bless and keep the Czar…far away from us!”
This wasn’t the first time that Jews composed a prayer for the government. One of these prayers, from 15th-century Aragon, asks that God “bless, guard, protect, and help our Lord King Don Ferando.” As in Fiddler, the Aragon Jews likely recited this prayer from a place of fear–“Don Ferando” is thought to be none other than King Ferdinand, who expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492!
This prayer evolved into “Hanoten Teshua,” which spread to many different countries and continents. Though it was originally written for a monarchy, an 1826 version published in New York tweaks the wording in order to bless the president and the vice president, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the magistrates of New York City.
Today, writing new prayers for the government has become a trend. Comb through several American Jewish prayerbooks, and you’ll likely find at least a few different prayers for the government. Jews have taken the religious freedom of the New World and are now searching for religious language to express the values of the country in which they live.
February 21, 2011