Tuesday, September 27, 2011

May God bless and keep the czar far away from us!

I remember when I was a kid there was an old man in shul who used a machzor which seemed impossibly ancient to me. It was not nearly as old as I thought, but it did contain a blessing for the Czar, which I thought amazingly interesting.

Here are two examples of such blessings:

The second one is from a siddur with Russian translation called Patshegen Ha-tefilot:

I remember my eyebrows being raised when I read in a book printed in Russia in 1838, which referred to Czar Alexander I as "God's anointed," העיר ה' את לב משיחו אלכסנדר הראשון קיסר רוסיא נ"ע.

Someone once asked me if I had any information about what happened in Nazi Germany when it came to the traditional prayer for the government.

I saw an interesting statement in an article by Arno Herzberg in the 1991 Leo Baeck Institue Yearbook, called "The Jewish Press under the Nazi Regime Its Mission, Suppression and Defiance - A Memoir"

He writes that the Jewish press in those days, while it still existed, would print quotations from Tanach that could, in a veiled way, give expression to the emotions they were feeling. However, they could not be open. So, for example, they obviously could not quote Psalm 140.

But, writes Herzberg, they could make more subtle points. Then he writes:
"One prayer that caused problems was the prayer for the welfare of the government. It was an integral part of the prayerbook, but it had lost its meaning. It would have been more than hypocrisy to pray for the most vicious enemy the Jewish people had ever had. We could safely leave this to the churches. On the other hand, to omit it completely might be interpreted as disrespect and as an expression of displeasure with the government. It was impossible to discuss this in any forum, or in any newspaper column. But it attests to the common sense of Jewish leaders that this prayer was gradually abandoned25 without comment. In the end, the Gestapo relieved hesitant souls of their objections. The prayer was prohibited."
The footnote directs us to "an adaptation of the Jewish prayer for the beloved fatherland," and refers to "Juedischer Widerstand in Deutschland" pg. 6, which luckily is available online (link).

There, the author writes that when the Nazis came to power many Jews began turning to the synagogue, who previously had not gone very often, or at all. He gives a prayer he remembers: "Herr der Welt, Vater aller Menschen. Wir bitten Dich um Deinen Schutz fuer alle die Laender, in denen Juden frei und ungestort ihrer Arbeit nachgehen koennen," which means
"Lord of the World,
Father of all Men.
We pray you protect all lands in which Jews are free and undisturbed,
and able to pursue their work."
EDIT 10.25.2011: See Part II of this post for an astounding prayer for Germany from 1938.


  1. Wow. Beautiful post.

    Shanah Tovah,


  2. It's been observed that the verse following 'הנותן תשועה למלכים הפוצה את דוד עבדו מחרב רעה' is 'פצני והצילני מיד בני נכר אשר פיהם דבר שוא וימינם ימין שקר'...

  3. I heard R. Jacob J. Schacter mention this observation on his Tisha B'av broadcast on the OU web site. I thought it was irresponsible.

  4. The only fragment of the siddur ba'al hatanya that survived in his handwriting is the tefilla for the government. Ironically chabad does not say this tefillah.

  5. Mendel: One might ask how that fragment became separated from the rest of the siddur ...

    Anyway, this reminds me about a story I heard. There was a shtiebel in London's East End that was mostly attended by older men, but there was one young man - Moshe, very good natured but intellectually slow and easily put upon. When Britain entered WW1 the men of the shtiebel were worried: many of them remembered military service from Europe, and they were sure Moshe wouldn't survive it. Married men, conscientious objectors and clergy were exempt from consciption - but Moshe was single and he wasn't bright enough to be a plausible conscientious objector or rabbi. Then someone had a brainwave. Moshe had a pleasant voice, and he (unlike most of this Yiddish-speaking congregation) could read English well enough to flip to the Prayer for the Monarch. Moshe was therefore made the official reciter of the prayer for the King - a clerical position of sorts. And every shabbos after kriya, the faces of the congregants would turn to him expectantly, and someone would say "Nu, Moshe! Zog a HiHu!" And he would ascend to the bima and recite in a pleasant baritone "He who giveth salvation unto kings ..."

  6. The prayer for the Czar, Czarina, the Czar's mother and heir apparent can also be found in the siddur printed at the back of Humash Torah Temimah

  7. In New York, many shuls i've gone to had a prayer for the government that was appropriate for a modern democracy and talked about American ideals of freedom and civic-mindedness. Now where i live the shul uses Hanotein Teshu‘a (a.k.a. "hey God please make the gov't happy so they don't kill us")... it freaks me out every time.

  8. I see that that the siddur with the Russian translation gives Mikhail as the czar's heir but the all-Hebrew one gives Alexi. Any idea why?

  9. >I see that that the siddur with the Russian translation gives Mikhail as the czar's heir but the all-Hebrew one gives Alexi. Any idea why?

    Maybe Alexi wasn't born yet when the first siddur was published?

  10. People, this is what Wikipedia is for.

  11. Below is the nusach of Baal HaTanya (in his handwriting), mentioned earlier in the comments here:


  12. My grandmother A"H was from Apt (Opatow), Poland which at one point was under Russian rule. She once recited for us (off by heart) the blessing in Russian that she and the other children in public school had to daily recite for the Tsar, Tsarina and family.

  13. Alexei was not born until a couple of years after 1900.

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