Op-Ed: Prayer for the Armed Forces
In an Op-Ed for the Jewish News, the Chief Rabbi reveals the reasoning behind incorporating a prayer for the Armed Forces into the Prayer for the Royal Family. He acknowledges the great risks taken by servicemen and women in order to protect the United Kingdom, and concludes that we must pay our respects accordingly.
‘Why I’ve added Royal Family and Armed Forces to one of our most solemn, sincere prayers’
“At the memorials this Centenary Remembrance Sunday, many Jews will bow their heads in memory of cherished fallen relatives, friends, colleagues and heroes. In commemoration of this historic weekend, I have updated one of our most solemn and sincere prayers.
From this Shabbat onwards the Prayer for the Royal Family shall include: “May He bless and protect Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.” Not many words, but, in my view, an important and timely change. For centuries, in synagogues across the United Kingdom and Commonwealth on the Sabbath and festivals, the Jewish community has recited a special prayer in honour of the Royal Family. We do so as a mark of profound admiration and affection as well as a sign of the community’s loyalty to Her Majesty and to the United Kingdom. This prayer has deep roots in our religious thought, expressing a central tenet of our identity, namely our appreciation of the importance of authority, of secular law and of our duties as citizens to the country where we live. But in my view, there is more to be said.
‘This prayer has deep roots in our religious thought, expressing a central tenet of our identity’
We should remind ourselves – not occasionally but continually – that Her Majesty, the government and all citizens of this United Kingdom are protected by the hard work, the high standards and the sacrifices of the Armed Services. Judaism has always adopted a realistic understanding of the best and worst of human nature. We love and pursue peace, but our experience and our sources tell us that it is purchased only at the price of eternal vigilance. Pirkei Avot quotes Rabbi Hanina who said: “Pray for the sake of the government, for if not for the fear of it – each person would swallow his neighbour alive.” This dictum is one of many sources for our halachic obligation to pray for the peace of the realm; the message of our sages and teachers has always been that it is incumbent upon us to hope and pray for that peace and to actively play a part in pursuing it.
“Peace…is purchased only at the price of eternal vigilance”
Brave and dutiful servicemen and women risk their lives in theatres of conflict in the name of Her Majesty and on behalf of us all. They preserve our security and the freedoms we enjoy. They apply their skills to some of the most daunting and intractable of the world’s problems. In doing so, they exhibit professionalism, altruism, team spirit and commitment which are inspiring examples to us all. I believe that it is appropriate that we bear the Armed Forces and their efforts in mind when we pray.It is right that we should do so as we enjoy the peace of Shabbat and when we celebrate the festivals – times that we share with family, friends and community – and reflect on the blessings and privileges we have.
‘They apply their skills to some of the most daunting and intractable of the world’s problems’
In asking the Almighty to bless and protect our Armed Forces we are recognising and paying tribute to their irreplaceable contribution to our country – past, present and future. Their success is ours; their loyalty is the lifeblood of our democracy; their work furnishes our most fundamental need – protection from aggression; their discipline sustains our most cherished values; their losses make us suffer acutely; their sacrifices exceed the greatest generosity that the most philanthropic among us can attain.
“In asking the Almighty to bless and protect our Armed Forces we are recognising and paying tribute to their irreplaceable contribution to our country”
The Jewish community has traditionally recited prayers for the Armed Forces at times of war, but I believe that this should be a regular feature of Jewish prayer services every week. This is partly because the nature of conflict has changed. The sad truth is that nowadays powerful threats need to be countered and faced down daily, not just from nations and not only following a formal declaration of war. On the principle that good fences make good neighbours, the very existence of our nation’s armed capabilities and personnel operates as a deterrent, calming the vaunting ambitions of adversaries who would be emboldened by weakness.
We dream of the day when swords shall be beaten into plowshares, but till it comes we know that we will always require courageous men and women to shoulder the burden of protecting the rest of society. Our new prayer will remind us that defence is an ever-present obligation, not something that can be recalled just once a year by wearing a poppy in November. The responsible exercise of force and the dutiful protection of Her Majesty and Her subjects have been entrusted to our Armed Forces: they command our abiding concern, gratitude and respect. They will continuously be in our prayers.”