The Life of the Synagogue

Form of Prayers, Philadelphia

Prayer book, title pages in English and Hebrew
A prayer for a royal government. A prayer for a republican government.
The Form of Prayers according to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews
edited by Isaac Leeser, Philadelphia: Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell

prayer book continues, with facing English and Hebrew pages

Published by Isaac Leeser (1806–1868), chazzan (reader) of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia from 1829 to 1850, this prayer book was designed for use throughout the English-speaking world. Leeser’s primary role was to lead the congregation in prayers, including two, pictured here, for royal and republican governments. The practice follows a biblical injunction found in Jeremiah 29:7: “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” Mikveh Israel’s prayers derived from those used in Holland and England.

In prayers for both royal and republican governments, the text emphasizes the hope that the government will treat the Jews with benevolence (“May the Supreme King of Kings … inspire [him/them] and all [his/their] counsellors and officers with benevolence towards us and all Israel our brothers”), and also looks forward to the coming of the Messiah (“may the redeemer come to Zion”). These prayers were aimed at rulers, but asked for the prosperity of the congregation and the people of Israel, too. The differences between the forms of governments in the two versions required some differences in wording. The prayer for royal government reads: “bless, preserve, guard, assist, exalt, and raise unto, a high eminence, our lord the king.” The prayer for a republic, in turn, reads: “bless, preserve, guard, and assist the constituted officers of the government.” In the former, the prayer appeals for the king to have granted to him “a long and prosperous reign,” while, in the latter, the request is for “a long and prosperous rule.”

A unique feature of the copy of this prayer book in the Rosenthall Collection is that the prayer for a royal government has been crossed out in pencil. For a prayer book published (and possibly used) in Philadelphia, the city that served as the capital of the newly formed United States, this gesture seems an appropriate display of republican patriotism.