Why was God not mentioned in Israel’s Declaration of Independence?

July 6, 2020 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi…

Rabbi Raymond Apple

STAR OF DAVID

Q. What is the history of the Magen David?

A. The six-pointed star was known from ancient times, but only in the last couple of centuries has it become the Jewish symbol.

It is not mentioned in the T’nach or Talmud; in those days the Jewish symbol was the menorah.

The earliest literary reference is in a Karaite work of the 12th century, where it is mentioned alongside the names of the angels.

The symbol itself was found on a Jewish tombstone from 3rd century Southern Italy and on a Jewish seal of the 7th century, but in both cases it has no specifically Jewish significance.

The link between David and the star is uncertain. Perhaps it is David’s monogram in ancient Hebrew script.

Theologians suggest it reflects themes in David’s Psalms such as man reaching up to heaven and God reaching down to man.

Others see in it the human being raised upward by the good inclination and dragged down by the evil inclination.

It may have become a Jewish symbol when European Jews, seeing that churches bore the sign of a cross, sought a symbol of their own.

When Israel became a state in 1948, the Magen David was officially adopted as a symbol on the flag.

GENTILE BLESSING

Q. Why is one of the morning blessings, “who did not make me a gentile”?

A. Some authorities have a positive version, “She-asani Yisra’el”, praising God “who made me Jewish”, but we are reluctant to change an accepted wording.

The negative formula may be linked with the Talmudic debate between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel (Eruvin 13b) over whether it would have been better for man not to have been created.

Eventually they took a vote and decided it would have been better not to have been created, but since man has been created, let him examine his deeds.

We could add that it is better that we are not pagans, since they do not have one true God, nor the Torah way of living.

The Hebrew in some Siddurim says “shello asani nochri”, “Who did not make me a heathen”. Texts that have “goy” instead of “nochri” are rather ambiguous since “goy” can also denote a Jew, as in Ex. 19:6 (“goy kadosh”).

GOD IN THE ISRAELI DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Q. Why does the name of God not appear in Israel’s Declaration of Independence?

A. The founders of the State in 1948 could not agree about whether to mention God or not.

Obviously the believers could not imagine leaving the Divine name out, but there were secularists who saw the establishment of Israel in earthly political terms and could not bring themselves to accept even a perfunctory reference to the Almighty.

In the end there was a compromise. The final paragraph commenced, “Mitoch Bittachon B’Tzur Yisra’el” – “With faith in the Rock of Israel” – which the believers understood in Biblical terms (see e.g. Isa. 30:29) as a reference to God, whilst the secularists satisfied themselves with a less spiritual interpretation.

One of the signatories, Rabbi JL Maimon (Fishman) incorporated his own personal expression of faith in the way he signed his name; he wrote the initials of “B’Ezrat HaShem Yitbarach” – “With the Help of the Lord, Blessed be He” – followed by his Hebrew signature.

It would be interesting to carry out a straw poll in the Knesset these days, over 70 years later, to find out how many would support a mention of God. My personal view is that the majority would have no problem.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

Comments

2 Responses to “Why was God not mentioned in Israel’s Declaration of Independence?”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    In most countries religion and the state are separate and that is how it should be. In Australia there is no state religion.

  2. Lynne Newington says:

    Interesting….I don’t think non-Jews would understand the explanation of “With faith in the Rock of Israel”

    A far as The Star of David, I had to think hard how to put into words why I had placed a magnificent steel sculpture made by someone who had never heard or seen one before placed in my communal room.
    Your below example [in part] is near enough although many would not agree.

    It may have become a Jewish symbol when European Jews, seeing that churches bore the sign of a cross, sought a symbol of their own.

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