Responsa in a Moment
Volume 16, Number 5
Nahem on Tisha B’av: Is it permissible to change the wording?
(Orah Hayyim 557:1)
By Rabbi David Golinkin
In memory of two Holocaust survivors who had a major impact on the Jewish people:
To my teacher Rabbi Prof. David Weiss Halivni who passed away 30 Sivan 5782, a Talmudic genius who served as a model of ethical behavior;
and to Rabbi Prof. Ervin Birnbaum who passed away 26 Tammuz 5782, an inspiring educator and passionate Zionist who dedicated his life to immigrant absorption.
May their memories be for a blessing!
Question: In light of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War in June 1967 and its increase in size since then from 267,000 inhabitants to 944,000 inhabitants, is it permissible to change the wording of the Nahem prayer, the main prayer said on Tisha B’Av?
Responsum: After in-depth study of this topic, I reached the conclusion that not only is it permissible to change the wording of Nahem — as many rabbis, scholars and large Jewish movements have done since the Six Day War and even before it – but it is required to do so.
I. The main sources for the Nahem prayer
The Nahem prayer appears in two parallel passages in the Talmud Yerushalmi. They are copied below from the Leiden manuscript, copied in Italy in 1289. This is the only manuscript of the entire Yerushalmi, which was the basis for the first printed edition, Venice 1523, which in turn was the basis for all subsequent editions:
ר’ אחא בר יצחק בשם ר’ חייא דציפורין:
יחיד בט’ באב צריך להזכיר מעין המאורע.
רחם ה’ אלהינו ברחמיך הרבים ובחסדיך הנאמנים עלינו ועל עמך יש[ראל],
ועל ירושלם עירך ועל ציון משכן כבודך,
ועל העיר האבילה והחריבה וההרוסה והשוממה,
הנתונה ביד זרים, הרמוסה ביד עריצים, ויירשוה לגיונות ויחללוה עובדי פסילים.
וליש[ראל] עמך נתת נחלה ולזרע ישורון ירושה הורשתה,
כי באש היצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לנחמה [לבנותה], כאמור:
“ואני אהיה לה נאם ה’ חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב, ט).
Yerushalmi Berakhot 4, 3, fol. 8a (Ms. Leiden, ed. Akademia, col. 38)
(translation based on that of Heinrich Guggenheimer at Sefaria.org):
Rebbi Aḥa bar Isaac in the name of Rebbi Hiyya of Sepphoris:
An individual must mention the occasion on the Ninth of Av.
What does he say?
“Have mercy, O Eternal, our God, in Your great mercy and your trusted kindness, towards us, and Your people Israel,
Your city Jerusalem, Zion the dwelling place of Your glory,
and on the mourning, ruined, destroyed, and desolate city
that is given into the hand of strangers, trampled down by haughty peoples, that was inherited by legions and desecrated by idol worshippers,
for You had given her to Your people Israel as property, and to the seed of Yeshurun you had given an inheritance,
for in fire You set her on fire, and with fire You will build her in the future, as it has been said (Zekhariah 2:9): “But I shall be for her, says the Eternal, a wall of fire around, and Glory I shall be in her midst.”
ר’ אחא בר יצחק בשם ר’ חונא רובה דציפורין:
יחיד בתשעה באב צריך להזכיר מעין המאורע.
רחם ה’ אלהינו ברחמיך הרבים ובחסדיך הנאמנים עלינו ועל יש[ראל] עמך,
ועל ירושלם עירך ועל ציון משכן כבודך,
ועל העיר האבילה ההרוסה השוממה,
הנתונה ביד זרים, הרמוסה בכף עריצים, ויבלעוה לגיונות ויחללוה עובדי פסילים.
כי לישראל עמך נתתה באהבה לנחלה ולזרע ישורון ירושה הורשתה,
כי באש החרבתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה, כאמור:
“ואני אהיה לה נאם ה’ חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב, ט).(1)
Yerushalmi Taaniyot 2:2, fol. 65c (col. 714):
Rebbi Aḥa bar Isaac in the name of Rebbi Huna the Great of Sepphoris:
An individual must mention the occasion on the Ninth of Av.
What does he say?
“Have mercy, Eternal, our God, in Your great mercy and your trusted kindness, towards us, and Your people Israel,
Your city Jerusalem, Zion the dwelling place of Your glory,
and on the mourning, destroyed, and desolate city
that is given into the hand of strangers, trampled down by haughty peoples, that was raped by legions and desecrated by idol worshippers,
for You had given her in love to Your people Israel as property, and to the seed of Yeshurun you had given an inheritance,
for in fire You destroyed her and in fire You will build her in the future as it has been said: (Zekhariah 2:9): “But I shall be for her, says the Eternal, a wall of fire around, and Glory I shall be in her midst.” (1)
After that, the Rahem prayer (which in many versions is called the Nahem prayer) is found in classical siddurim, such as Seder Rav Amram Gaon before the year 875 (ed. Goldschmidt, p. 132); Siddur Rav Sa’adiah Gaon before the year 942 (ed. Davidson-Assaf-Joel, pp. 318-319); Seder Hatefillot of the Rambam (ed. Goldschmidt, Mehkirei Tefillah Upiyyut, Jerusalem, 1980, p. 201 and also in the Mishneh Torah, end of Sefer Ahavah); Mahzor Vitry from France, ca. 1120 (paragraph 91-92, p. 68 and paragraphs 268-269, p. 229); and Sefer Abudraham (pp. 257-258), written in Seville, Spain in 1340.
It is also cited in classic halakhic works, such as Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Tefillah 2:14 and Tur and Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 557:1.
Here is Nahem as found today in many Ashkenazic siddurim:
נחם ה’ אלהינו את אבלי ציון ואת אבלי ירושלים,
ואת העיר האבלה והחרבה והבזויה והשוממה.
האבלה מבלי בניה, והחריבה ממעונותיה, והבזויה מכבודה, והשוממה מאין יושב.
והיא יושבת וראשה חפוי כאישה עקרה שלא ילדה.
ויבלעוה לגיונות, ויירשוה עובדי פסילים,
ויטילו את עמך ישראל לחרב, ויהרגו בזדון חסידי עליון.
על כן ציון בְּמַר תבכה וירושלים תתן קולה. לבי לבי על חלליהם, מעי מעי על חלליהם,
כי אתה ה’ באש הצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה.
כאמור “אני אהיה לה נאם ה’ חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב:ט).
ברוך אתה ה’, מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
Comfort, O Lord our God, the mourners of Zion, the mourners of Jerusalem, and the city that is in mourning, laid waste, despised and desolate.
She is in mourning because she is without her children.
Her homes have been destroyed.
She is despised in the downfall of her glory; she is desolate through the loss of her inhabitants.
She sits with her head covered like a barren, childless woman. Legions devoured her, idolaters took possession of her; they put thy people Israel to the sword and killed wantonly the faithful followers of the Most High.
Because of that, Zion weeps bitterly, Jerusalem raises her voice.
How my heart grieves for the slain!
How my heart yearns for the slain!
Thou, O Lord, didst consume her with fire, and with fire thou wilt in future rebuild her, as it is written, “I will be to her , saith the Lord, a wall of fire round about; and I will be in the midst of her” (Zekhariah 2:9).
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Comforter of Zion and Builder of Jerusalem. (translation from Sperber, pp. 161-162)
II. Three approaches to changes in the text of Nahem after the Six Day War
Shortly after the Six Day War, religious Zionists began to debate whether it was permissible to change the wording of the prayer because the wording no longer corresponded to reality. The responses can be divided into three camps:
1) It’s forbidden to change the wording of Nahem
This was the approach of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013), the Sefardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel (1973-1983) and one of the most important post-Holocaust halakhic authorities. In Responsa Yehaveh Da’at (Part 1, No. 43), first published in 1977, he claims, based on the introduction to Rav Saadia Gaon’s siddur (p. 10), “that in prayers and in the formulae of blessings we rely on what we have received via tradition from God’s Prophets and the Men of the Great Assembly, who had two orders of prayer, one order for the time of the Kingdom of Israel, and one order intended for the time of the Exile.” After that, Rabbi Yosef quotes several important rabbis such as the Hida (Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulai, died 1806) who emphasized “that all matters of prayer are built and founded on the foundations of the secrets of the world… Therefore, one needs a great Sage upon whom the Holy Spirit rests to have the proper intent according to their secrets.” Finally, he tries to justify reciting the existing text of Nahem because “the place of the Temple and its environs are in the hands of strangers who hate Israel, and the Old City of Jerusalem is still full of the idols of the idol worshippers in several impure churches… and Ishmaelites are buried around the Temple”. “And furthermore, also the spirituality of Jerusalem is, due to our many sins, at its lowest state… about the disintegration of the generation from the life of Torah and mitzvot… and the destruction of the wall of modesty and morality, and the proliferation of Shabbat desecrations…”.
Dr. Yael Levin Katz in her thorough article on our topic cited additional Orthodox rabbis who opposed any change in the text of Nahem (pp. 79-81).
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982), an important leader of religious Zionism, was asked as early as Tammuz 5727 (1967) if there was room to change things regarding Tisha B’av following the Six Day War. He answered in general, “There is still no room for changes.” Regarding the Nahem prayer, he was of the opinion that it was impossible to determine changes for the public, but if a certain group of people or individuals feel that they are unable to say these phrases about national humiliation and they wish to omit them, “it’s not terrible and we will not object.” However, in 1972 he was asked again and replied that Jerusalem is considered “despised and desolate” as long as the Temple is not built, for “the essence of Jerusalem is the Temple”.
Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman (1886-1976), the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel (1964-1972), published an article in Hatzofeh (8 Av 5728/1968) where he, apparently, was arguing with Rabbi Goren (see below). He claims “that even now the city of Jerusalem, i.e., the Holy City and the Temple and our capital from ancient times, is still ‘ruined and despised and desolate’… when there is not a single properly built synagogue there… when on all sides there are elegant churches of other nations.”
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), the Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan Yeshiva at Yeshiva University and the leader of religious Zionism in the United States, also opposed any change in the text of Nahem. The following was published in his name (he himself published almost nothing), in an article in the journal Mesorah in Elul 5752/1992. He maintained that one may not change the wording of the prayers enacted by the Sages, and this is in line with his general approach, which opposed any change in custom. The reason is that Jerusalem is considered a ruin as long as the Temple is not built, since in the Rambam’s opinion the term “Mikdash (Temple)” includes all of Jerusalem. (2)
Indeed, most of the Orthodox siddurim in the world followed and still follow this approach and have not changed anything in the text of Nahem from 1967 until today, including:
Siddur Rinat Yisrael, a Zionist Siddur, which has been printed countless times according to Nusah Ashkenaz, “Sefard” and Edot Hamizrah from 1970 until today.
The ultra-Orthodox ArtScroll Siddur, printed countless times from 1984 until today.
The Koren Siddur edited by the Zionist Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in 2009.
And Siddur Avodat Halev published by the RCA — an organization of Religious Zionist rabbis in the USA – in 2018.
In other words, in the eyes of all the above-mentioned rabbis, not to mention all Haredi rabbis, the Six Day War changed nothing. Jerusalem is still a city “that is in mourning, ruined, despised and desolate. She is in mourning because she is without her children. Her homes have been destroyed. She is despised in the downfall of her glory; she is desolate through the loss of her inhabitants” (according to the above-mentioned Ashkenazic version).
2) Two words in the Nahem prayer must be changed from the present tense to the past tense
Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi (1924-1998) was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Rishon L’tziyon (1951-1973) and of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (1973-1998) and as a child studied with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He was asked after the Six Day War: “Now, after the recapture of Jerusalem by the IDF, when the crowds of the House of Israel fill the courtyard of the Western Wall… is it possible that in the Nahem prayer… we will say about Jerusalem, ‘the city that is in mourning, despised and desolate without her children’ ”?
He replied in a responsum printed in 1976 (Aseh Lekha Rav, Part 1, No. 14): “In this, you are correct. I also felt on the first Tisha B’av after the Six Day War that I can no longer say these things in my prayers, which are considered ‘speaking lies’ before the Lord [see Psalms 101:7]”. He emphasizes that not only is Jerusalem bustling with people on holidays, Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, but even on Tisha B’Av the multitudes of the House of Israel come to the Kotel.
Therefore, there is no doubt that there is an issue of ‘speaking lies’ before God, to say of Jerusalem that she is ‘ruined and despised and desolate without her sons’, and especially according to the Ashkenazic version, ‘a mourner without her sons, and despoiled of her dwellings, and despised of her dignity, and desolate without any inhabitant’ which is surely ‘speaking lies’. For this reason, I myself added only one word, and changed one word in the text of Nahem, in order to escape false words…: ‘Nahem… and the city that was ruined and despised and desolate without its sons. She was sitting with her head covered…’. And according to this, the prayer is that God will comfort the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and the city that until now was ruined and desolate without its sons, still needs comfort, until Scripture is fulfilled, as it is written: ‘I will be to her, says the Lord, a wall of fire round about; and I will be in the midst of her.’
This was a minimalist way to overcome the aforementioned difficulties — he added one word and changed one word in order not to pray false words. In a series of responsa as well as an article, he answered his critics and added claims against those who opposed any change in the Nahem prayer (Part 2, 5738, Nos. 36-39; Part 7, 5746, No. 35; and an article in Hatzofeh, Tisha B’av 5753, p. 4).
3) A rewriting of the Nahem prayer in light of the new reality created in Jerusalem in the 20th century, and especially following the Six Day War
A hint of a new approach to Nahem is already found in the Barukh She’amar commentary to the prayer book by Rabbi Barukh Halevi Epstein (1860-1941), author of the Torah Temimah. That book was published in Pinsk in 1938 shortly before the Holocaust and republished in Jerusalem in 1979. In his commentary to Nahem (p. 134) he writes:
“And the city that is in mourning, ruined, and desolate” etc.: It is known, [that] these adjectives refer to the city of Jerusalem. And it should be noted that, since today [in 1938! — DG] Jerusalem is built on a high level with fancy houses and palaces of splendor, and is also inhabited by multitudes of Jews, according to this, apparently, there is no place for adjectives of mourning for her.
He then cites halakhic authorities who said that as long as Jerusalem and the country are under another government, not under the Kingdom of Israel, they will still be called ruined and all the laws that have been established, such as the tearing of garments when one sees Jerusalem and the like, still exist. In other words, it’s implied from his words that once the rebuilt Jerusalem is under Jewish rule, “there is no place for adjectives of mourning for her”, and he would support changes in the wording of Nahem. (Cf. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner for a similar reading of Rabbi Epstein’s approach.)
Indeed, there are many who felt the above-mentioned difficulty and rewrote the Nahem prayer. Some of them did not explain the reason for the changes because it’s obvious: the words do not fit the new reality. They all retained the opening and closing formulae from the Yerushalmi or from the siddurim. They usually eliminated the sentences which are no longer true today and added other sentences, sometimes straight from the Bible. It’s possible to analyze each and every version, and this is what Dr. Yael Levin Katz and Prof. Saul Wachs did for some of the versions that we will quote below. I will now present the ten versions of Nahem that I have found in chronological order, with references to the literature about each version.
A. The Version of the Weekday Prayer Book of the Conservative movement in the United States (1961)
Amazingly, Rabbis Gershon Hadas, Jules Harlow and the members of the Prayer Book Commission of the Conservative Movement’s Siddur Liyemot Hahol had already changed the wording of Nahem in 1961, six years before the Six Day War! Rabbi Harlow explained the change in 1985 (in his Introduction to Siddur Sim Shalom, p. xxii): “The Minhah service for Tisha B’av presents a basic change in the text of the traditional prayer [Nahem]… This change was made to reflect the contemporary reality of Jerusalem restored and our hopes for its future, not only the sense of grief over its destruction in ancient times”.
נחם ה׳ אלוקינו, את אבלי ציון
ואת אבלי ירושלים
ואת העיר שחרבה היתה
ואבלה מבלי בניה.
על עמך ישראל שהוטל לחרב
ועל בניה אשר מסרו נפשם עליה
ציון במר תבכה
וירושלים תתן קולה:
לבי לבי על חלליהם
מעי מעי על חלליהם.
רחם, ה׳ אלוקינו, ברחמיך הרבים
עלינו ועל ירושלים עירך
הנבנית מחורבנה והמיושבת משוממותה.
יהי רצון מלפניך, משמח ציון בבניה,
שישמחו את ירושלים כל אוהביה
וישישו אתה כל המתאבלים עליה
וישמעו בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים
קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול חתן וקול כלה.
תן שלום לעירך אשר פדית, והגן עליה
כאמור: ואני אהיה לה, נאם ה׳,
חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה.
ברוך אתה ה׳
מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
Comfort, Lord our God, the mourners of Zion
And those who grieve for Jerusalem,
The city which was so desolate in mourning,
Like a woman bereft of her children.
For your people Israel smitten by the sword
And for her children who gave their lives for her,
Zion cries with bitter tears,
Jerusalem voices her anguish:
My heart, my heart goes out for the slain.
My entire being mourns for the slain.
Have mercy, Lord our God, in Your great compassion
For us and for Your city of Jerusalem,
Rebuilt from destruction and restored from desolation.
Lord who causes Zion to rejoice at her children’s return,
May all who love Jerusalem exult in her,
May all who mourn Jerusalem of old rejoice with her now,
May they hear in the cities of Judah
And in the streets of Jerusalem
Sounds of joy and gladness, voices of bride and groom.
Grant peace to the city which You have redeemed, and protect her,
As proclaimed by Your prophet: I will surround her, says the Lord,
As a wall of fire, and I will be the glory in her midst.
Praised are you, Lord who comforts Zion and rebuilds Jerusalem.
Indeed, the above version has appeared since 1961 in all the weekday siddurim of the Conservative Movement. (3)
B. The Version of Rabbi Prof. Ephraim E. Urbach (1967)
Rabbi Prof. E.E. Urbach (1912-1991), Israel Prize laureate for Talmud in 1955, wrote a new version of Nahem for Tisha B’av 5727, immediately after the Six Day War, with the help of his son Avraham — who was killed in the line of duty in the IDF half a year later — and with the help of his student Prof. M. D. Herr (see Wachs, p. 254). This version was published in a number of ways, including Pirsum Hatenuah L’yahadut Shel Torah, No. 2, Jerusalem, 5728, p. 59 (and cf. Levin Katz, note 12; Malul):
רַחֵם ה’ אֶלֹקינוּ בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים וּבַחֲסָדֶיךָ הַנֶאֱמָנִים עָלֵינוּ וְעַל עַמְךָ יִשְרָאֵל וְעַל יְרוּשָלַיִם עִירְךָ, הַנִּבְנֵית מֵחֻרְבָּנָהּ, הַמְּקוֹמֶמֶת מֵהֲרִיסוֹתֶיהָ וְהַמְּיוּשֶׁבֶת מִשוֹמְמוּתָה.
עַל חֲסִידֵי עֶלְיוֹן שֶׁנֶּהֶרְגוּ בְּזָּדוֹן וְעַל עַמְךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהוּטַל לַחֶרֶב וְעַל בָּנֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר מָסְרוּ נַפְשָׁם וְשָׁפְכוּ דָּמָם עָלֶיהָ, צִיּוֹן בְּמַר תִּבְכֶּה וִירוּשָׁלַיִם תִּתֵּן קוֹלָה, לִבִּי לִבִּי עַל חַלִלֵיהֶם, מֵעַי מֵעַי עַל חֲלָלֵיהֶם.
וְהָעִיר אֲשֶׁר פָּדִיתָ מִידֵי עֲרִיצִים וְלִגְיוֹנוֹת וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמְךָ נָתַתָה נַחֲלָה וּלְזֶרַע יְשׁוּרוּן יְרוּשָׁה הוֹרַשְׁתָה נְטֵה עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמְךָ כִּנְהַר שָׁלוֹם לְקַיֵּם מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר: “וַאֲנִי אֶהֱיֶה לָהּ נְאֻם ה’ חוֹמַת אֵשׁ סָבִיב וְּלְכָבוֹד אהיה בְּתוֹכָהּ” (זכריה ב:ט). בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ מְנַחֵם צִיּוֹן וּבוֹנֶה יְרוּשָׁלַיִם.
Lord, our God, with abundant compassion and enduring kindness, take pity upon us, upon Your people Israel, and upon Your city Jerusalem which is being rebuilt upon its ruins, restored upon its ravage and resettled upon its desolation.
For her most saintly martyrs who were wantonly slaughtered, for those of Your people who were murdered, and for her sons who gave their lives and spilled their blood for her sake, Zion moans and wails, “My heart, my heart cries for the dead, my recesses weep for the dead.”
Over the city which You liberated from the hands of villainous legions and gave to Your people as an inheritance and to the children of Jacob in perpetuity, spread Your shelter of peace as a peaceful river in fulfillment of that which is written, “I will be to her, says the Lord, a wall of fire round about, and I will be the glory in her midst.”
Praised are You, O Lord, comforter of Zion and builder of Jerusalem.
(translated by Avraham Holtz, The Holy City: Jews on Jerusalem, New York, 1971, pp. 108-109)
This version was accepted by the religious kibbutzim as early as 1968 and by Kevutzat Yavneh in 1992 (Levin Katz, pp. 78-79); in Siddur Avodah Shebalev of the Israeli Reform Movement in 1982 (p. 233); and in the siddurim of the Masorti Movement in Israel (Va’ani Tefilati, Jerusalem, 5758, p. 139; second edition published by Yediot Sefarim, 2009, p. 67).
C. The Version of Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1967)
Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1918-1994) was Chief Rabbi of the IDF (1948-1971) and the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel (1972-1983). He wrote this text in 1967 and he published it in Siddur Tefillot L’hayal L’khol Hashanah, 1970, p. 217 and again, perhaps in the year 1975, as a separate page published by the Chief Rabbinate (see Levin-Katz, pp. 73-77, as well as Malul’s article which includes a photo of that page). He explained in the introduction to his Siddur (p. 69) that the traditional wording that speaks of the “despised and desolate city” etc. is not appropriate for the new reality, “therefore we chose a different wording for the ‘Nahem‘ prayer, based on the wording of the Talmud Yerushalmi, Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam, omitting the passages that seem inappropriate now”.
נחם, ה’ אלקינו, את אבלי ציון ואת אבלי ירושלים ואת העיר האבלה החרבה וההרוסה [שתי המילים האחרונות נמחקו בדף הבודד]. ציון במר תבכה, וירושלים תתן קולה. לבי לבי על חלליהם, מעי מעי על הרוגיהם. ולישראל עמך נתתה נחלה, ולזרע ישרון ירושה הורשת. נערה, ה’ אלקינו, מעפרה, והקיצה מארץ דויה, נטה אליה כנהר שלום וכנחל שוטף כבוד גויים, כי אתה ה’ באש הצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה, כאמור: “ואני אהיה לה נאם ה’, חומת אש סביב, ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב:ט). ברוך אתה ה’ מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
Comfort, O Lord our God, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem, and the city that is in mourning, laid waste and destroyed. Zion shall weep bitterly and Jerusalem shall give voice. My heart, my heart [goes out] to their corpses, my innards, my innards to their slain. And to your people Israel you have given inheritance, and, to the seed of Jeshurun you have granted possession. Stir her up, Lord our God, from her dust, and awaken her suffering land. Extend to her like a river of peace and like a rushing stream flooding the honor of the nations. For Thou, O Lord, didst consume her with fire and with fire shalt Thou rebuild her, as it is said “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” (Zachariah 2:9). Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Comforter of Zion and Builder of Jerusalem. (translated by Prof. Sperber, p. 164)
This version continued to appear in subsequent editions of the above-mentioned Siddur and it’s recited by specific communities and by individuals.
D. The Version of Rabbi Avraham Rosenfeld (1970)
Rabbi Avraham Rosenfeld (1914-1984) was born in Jerusalem and ordained by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. He served as a rabbi and cantor in London and as a rabbi and Av Bet Din in Wellington, New Zealand from 1934-1977 and returned to Israel in 1977. His Seder Haselihot (1956) and Seder Hakinot Hashalem L’tisha B’av (1965) were published with the Sanction of Rabbi Yisrael Brodie, Chief Rabbi of England. As Prof. Wachs explains (p. 250), Rabbi Rosenfeld published his new version of the Nahem prayer in the second edition of the Seder Hakinot Hashalem L’tisha B’av, which he published himself in Israel in 1970 (pp. 217-216). The traditional version appears there in small letters and then he writes in English: “This version of נחם was substituted by the author after the recapture of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.” Then it says in small letters: “”ע”י אברהם יצחק יעקב” [written by Avraham Yitzhak Yaakov] and then he printed the alternative version in a larger font like the rest of the Amidah blessings. In other words, he did not delete the normal text, but used the different font sizes to show the reader that he wanted his text to be recited instead of the traditional text. After that, Rabbi Rosenfeld sold the rights to Seder Hakinot to Judaica Press. In the 1972 printing, they retained both versions, but printed the regular version in larger letters and the new version in smaller letters. Starting in 1989, they simply omitted Rabbi Rosenfeld’s version. On the other hand, Rabbi Rosenfeld himself reprinted his version in the Seder Tefilat Zikaron L’veit Avel, Jerusalem, 1981, p. 33, but this time the normal version appears in a larger font than his version.
נחם ה’ אלקינו, את אבלי ציון ואת אבלי ירושלים
ואת העיר הקדושה המבכה על עמך ישראל אשר הוטל לחרב,
ועל חסידי עליון שנהרגו בזדון,
ועל גבורי ישראל שמסרו נפשם על קדושת השם.
ציון במר תבכה, וירושלים תתן קולה.
לבי לבי על חלליהם, מעי מעי על חלליהם.
אבינו שבשמים, נקום את נקמת עירך אשר נתתה לנו לנחלה,
וקבץ את שארית ישראל מכל הארצות אשר הדחת אותם שם,
“וישבו בה” (זכריה יד:יא), וחרם לא יהיה עוד, כאמור:
“פרזות תשב ירושלים מרוב אדם ובהמה בתוכה.
ואני אהיה לה, נאם ה’, חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה (זכריה ב:ח-ט).
ברוך אתה ה’ מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
Comfort, O Lord our God, the mourners of Zion, the mourners of Jerusalem, and the holy city that is weeping for Thy people Israel, who was thrown to the sword, and for the pious of the Most High that were slain in arrogance; and for the mighty ones of Israel who suffered martyrdom for the sanctification of thy Divine name. Indeed, Zion weeps bitterly, and Jerusalem raises her voice: “O my heart, my heart (grieves) for those who were slain! O my innermost heart, my innermost heart (yearns) for those who were slain! Our Father who art in heaven, avenge Thy city which Thou hast given to us as an inheritance, and gather the remnants of Israel out of the counties whither Thou hast driven them and they shall swell therein, and there shall be no more extermination, as it is said: “Jerusalem shall be inhabited without walls, for the multitude of men and cattle therein. And I will be to her a wall of fire round about, saith the Lord, and I will be for a glory in the midst of her.” Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Comforter of Zion and Rebuilder of Jerusalem! (translated by Rabbi Avraham Rosenfeld himself, ibid.)
E. The Version of Rabbi David Chelouche (1976)
Rabbi David Chelouche (1920-2016) was the Chief Rabbi of Netanya from 1953 until his death. He also studied at the Porat Yosef yeshiva in Jerusalem as a child, together with Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Hayyim David Halevi. He published this version of Nahem in his book Hemdah Genuzah (Jerusalem, 1976, No. 21, 8; quoted by Levin Katz, p. 87 and Sperber, pp.164-165). In his opinion, it’s impossible to continue to recite the original version “When Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, bustles with its children and ‘spreads west and east and north and south’ [cf. Genesis 28:14] with buildings of splendor and honor.” In stark contrast to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, he continues: “When tens of thousands of scholars and students sit and meditate on the Torah… Is it possible that our mouths shall say ‘and foreign legions swallowed her and inherited her ‘ when the soldiers of Israel and its armies have complete rule over Jerusalem and the cities around it… we will be guilty of hypocrisy!” Therefore, it is appropriate to change the wording so that it applies only to the Temple. Here then, is his version:
נחם ה´ אלוקינו את אבלי מקדשך ואת הר ציון ששמם מבלי בניו הוא יושב, שפחה תירש גברתה, בני הגר בנו עליו מסגדם, ואין אנו יכולים לעלות וליראות ולהשתחוות לפניך בבית בחירתך בנווה הדרך בבית הגדול והקדוש שנקרא שמך עליו, בעונותינו שרבו למעלה ראש ובאשמותינו שגדלו עד לשמים. לבי לבי על הר המוריה, מעי מעי על קדש הקדשים שטמאים הלכו בו. כי אתה ה’ באש הצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה ככתוב “ואני אהיה לה נאם ה’ חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב:ט). ברוך אתה ה’ מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
Comfort, O Lord our God, the mourners of Your Temple and Mount Zion, which dwells desolate without her children. The bondwoman lords it over her mistress, the children of Hagar have built on it their mosque, and we cannot go up to see and prostrate ourselves before you in the House of Your choice, the wayside habitation, the great and holy dwelling-place which is called by Your name, by reason of our manifold sins that have piled up and our transgressions that have grown upwards to the heavens. My heart, my heart [goes out] to Mount Moriah, my innards, my innards, to the Holy of Holies, wherein tread the unclean. For Thou, O Lord, didst consume her with fire, and with fire shalt Thou rebuild her as it is written “for I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Comforter of Zion and Builder of Jerusalem. (translated by Prof. Sperber, pp. 164-165)
F. The Version of Rabbi Mendel Lewittes (1984)
Rabbi Mendel Lewittes (1912-1994) was an Orthodox rabbi in the United States and Canada who later immigrated to Israel and died in Jerusalem. He published this version of Nahem in his book Zemihat Geulateinu (Jerusalem, 1984, pp. 20-24; quoted by Levin Katz, pp. 87-88 and Sperber, p. 165):
נחם ה´ אלוקינו את אבלי ציון ואת אבלי ירושלים ברחמיך הרבים ובחסדיך הנאמנים עלינו ועל ישראל ועל ירושלים עירך ועל ציון משכן כבודך. ולישראל עמך נתת נחלה ולזרע ישורון ירושה הורשת, ותרחיב את גבולנו ויכירו וידעו כל באי עולם כי עירך עירנו ומקום מקדשנו כי אתה ה´ באש הצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה כאמור: “ואני אהיה לה נאם ה´ חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב:ט). ברוך אתה ה´ מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
Comfort, O Lord our God, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem with Your great mercies and Your faithful grace, for us, for Israel, for your city Jerusalem and for Zion, the dwelling place of your honor. And to your people Israel you have given inheritance, and to the seed of Jeshurun you have granted possession. Extend our borders so that all peoples of the earth may recognize and know that Your city is our city and the place of the Temple. For Thou dist consume her with fire, and with fire shalt Thou rebuild her, as it said, “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her.” Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Comforter of Zion and Builder of Jerusalem. (translated by Prof. Sperber, p. 165)
G. The Version of Yosef Ben-Brit (1988)
Yosef Ben-Brit was a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence. In 1988, he published a new version of Nahem in the journal Amudim published by the Religious Kibbutz Movement (Vol. 36/10, No. 510, Tammuz 5788, pp. 408-411; quoted by Levin Katz, pp. 88-89 and Sperber, pp.165-166). He explained that he cannot continue to recite a prayer which laments Jerusalem as a city “ruined, despised and desolate…”. As in the version of Rabbi Chelouche, he shifts the emphasis to the Temple Mount; and as in the Conservative Siddur, he emphasizes the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the ingathering of the exiles.
נחם ה´ אלוקינו את אבלי ציון וירושלים, ואת הר הבית האבל מאין מקדש ומאין תפילה יהודית עליו. לכן ציון במר תבכה וירושלים תתן קולה. לבי לבי על חלליה, מעי מעי על הרוגיה. נטה אליה כנהר שלום וכנחל שוטף כבוד גויים, כי אתה ה´ באש הצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה, כאמור: “ואני אהיה לה, נאום ה´, חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב:ט).
“הללויה כי טוב זמרה לאלוקינו, כי נעים נאוה תהילה. בונה ירושלים ה´, נדחי ישראל יקבץ. הרופא לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם. שבחי ירושלים את ה´ הללי אלוקיך ציון. כי חזק בריחי שעריך ברך בניך בקרבך” (תהלים קמ”ז:א’-ג’; י”ב-י”ג). “ה´ הושיעה המלך יעננו ביום קראנו” (שם כ’:י’). ברוך אתה ה´ מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
Comfort, O Lord our God, the mourners of Zion, and the Temple Mount which is in mourning, bereft of the Temple and without Jewish prayer upon it. Therefore, Zion shall weep bitterly and Jerusalem shall give vent to her cries. My heart, my heart [goes out] to her corpses; my innards, my innards to her slain. Extend to her like a river of peace and a rushing stream flooding the honor of the nations. For Thou, O Lord, didst consume her with fire, and with fire shall thou rebuild her, as it is said, “I will be to her, saith the Lord, a wall of fire round about, and I will be the glory in the midst of her.” (Zachariah 2:5). “Praise ye the Lord, for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is comely. The Lord doth build up Jerusalem, gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalm 147:1-3). “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise thy God, O Zion, for he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; He hath blessed thy children within thee” (ibid., 12-13). “Save Lord! May the King hear us when we call!” (ibid., 20:10). Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Comforter of Zion and Builder of Jerusalem. (translated by Prof. Sperber, pp. 165-166)
H. The Version by Dr. Amos Hakham (before 2012)
Dr. Amos Hakham (1921-2012) was a well-known Bible scholar who published eight volumes in the immensely popular Da’at Mikra series. After his death, his son, Prof. Noah Hakham discovered that he had written in his siddur a new version of Nahem for Tisha B’av. Prof. Hakham disseminated that version and it appears now on the Mehalkei Hamayim website which is edited by Asher Yuval, his father-in-law (see Mehalkei Hamayim). There is, as of yet, no English translation of this version.
רחם ה’ אלוקינו עלינו ועל ישראל עמך ועל ירושלים עירך הנבנית מהריסותיה ועל ארצך ונחלתך אשר רשעי גויים זוממים רע עליה. ולישראל עמך נתתה נחלה ולזרע ישורון ירושה הורשתה. על הרוגי עמך ישראל שניספו בידי הצרים הצוררים, ציון במרר תבכה וירושלים תתן קולה; לבי לבי על חלליהם, מעי מעי על הרוגיהם. נקום ה’ אלוקינו את דמם ושמור והגן על נחלתך. נערה ה’ אלוהינו מעפרה והקיצה מארץ דוויה ופרוש עליה ועלינו סוכת שלומך, אתה ה’ באש הצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה, ככתוב על יד נביאך “ואני אהיה לה נאום ה’ חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה” (זכריה ב:ט), ברוך אתה ה’ מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
I. The Version by Rabbi Avi Gisser (before 2014)
Rabbi Avi Gisser (born 1958) is the rabbi of the town of Ofra. Hanan Greenwood reported on the Kippah website in 2014 that Rabbi Re’em Hacohen ruled that Rabbi Gisser’s version should be said and not what is written in the siddurim “because whoever says the prayer as is, is reciting lies, because Jerusalem is neither ruined nor desolate” (see Greenwood). There is, as of yet, no English translation of this version.
נַחֵם יי אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ אֶת אֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן וְאֶת אֲבֵלֵי יְרוּשָׁלָיִם, אֶת הָעִיר הָאֲבֵלָה וְאֶת הַמִּקְדָּשׁ הָאֲבֵל הֶחֳרֵב הַבָּזוּי וְהַשּׁוֹמֵם. הָאֲבֵל מִבְּלִי בָּנָיו וְהֶחֳרֵב מִמְּעוֹנוֹ וְהַבָּזוּי מִכְּבוֹדוֹ וְהַשּׁוֹמֵם מֵאֵין פּוֹקֵד. וַיְבַלְּעוּהוּ לִגְיוֹנוֹת וַיִּירָשׁוּהוּ זָרִים וַיָּטִילוּ אֶת עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לֶחָרֶב וַיַּהַרְגוּ בְזָדוֹן חֲסִידֵי עֶלְיוֹן. עַל כֵּן צִיּוֹן בְּמַר תִּבְכֶּה וִירוּשָׁלַיִם תִּתֵּן קוֹלָהּ. לִבִּי לִבִּי עַל חַלְלֵיהֶם, מֵעַי מֵעַי עַל הֲרוּגֵיהֶם. וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמְּךָ נְתַתָּהּ נַחֲלָה וּלְזֶרַע יְשׁוּרוּן יְרֻשָּׁה הוֹרַשְׁתָּהּ. כִּי אַתָּה ה’ בָּאֵשׁ הִצַּתָּהּ וּבָאֵשׁ אַתָּה עָתִיד לִבְנוֹתָהּ. כָּאָמוּר: “וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָּהּ נְאֻם ה’ חוֹמַת אֵשׁ סָבִיב וּלְכָבוֹד אֶהְיֶה בְתוֹכָהּ” (זכריה ב:ט). בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי מְנַחֵם צִיּוֹן וּבוֹנֵה יְרוּשָלָיִם
J. The Version by Rabbi Dr. Nachum Rabinovitch (before 2017)
Rabbi Dr. Nachum Rabinovitch (1928-2020) was an Orthodox rabbi who was born in Montreal, Canada, immigrated to Israel, and served as head of the Birkat Moshe Hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim from 1982 until his death. This version of Nahem was published on the Kipa website on Tisha B’av 5777 (1.8.17) but had been recited in his yeshiva for many years (see Kipa). As in the version by Rabbi Chelouche, Rabbi Rabinovitch shifted the emphasis from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. There is, as of yet, no English translation of this version.
נחם ה’ אלקינו את אבלי ציון ואת אבלי ירושלים.
רחם ברחמיך הרבים ובחסדיך הנאמנים עלינו ועל עמך ישראל
ועל ירושלים עירך ועל ציון משכן כבודך
ועל ההר האבל והחרב וההרוס והשומם הנתון ביד זרים הרמוס ביד עריצים
ויירשוהו לגיונות ויחללוהו עובדי פסילים
ויתנו נבלת עבדיך מאכל לעוף השמים ולבהמת הארץ.
על כן ציון במר תבכה וירושלים תתן קולה.
לבי לבי על חלליהם, מעי מעי על הרוגיהם.
ראה ה’ והביטה ורחם על שוממותיה ונחמה.
כי אתה באש יסדתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה ככתוב: “וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָּהּ נְאֻם ה’ חוֹמַת אֵשׁ סָבִיב וּלְכָבוֹד אֶהְיֶה בְתוֹכָהּ” (זכריה ב:ט).
ברוך אתה יי מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים.
III. A response to the three approaches presented above
I have no doubt that the third approach is the correct one. The Nahem prayer must be rewritten in light of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War and its transformation into the largest city in the State of Israel and the largest city of Jerusalem in all of its history.
I will respond primarily to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s strict approach because he published a detailed responsum opposing any change in the Nahem prayer. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was a major halakhic authority and a true genius who knew thousands of books by heart word for word, but as I explained elsewhere (Teshuvot Va’ad Hahalakhah 6 [5755-5758], pp. 13-14, 70-71), even a student may disagree with his own teacher “in any ruling or judgement if he has evidence and proofs that he is correct” (the Rema to Yoreh De’ah 242:3). Therefore, with all due respect, Rabbi Yosef’s approach to our topic does not stand up to careful criticism.
On the other hand, there are two very good reasons to change the wording of the Nahem prayer after the Six Day War, and especially today, 55 years after 1967:
A Jew who prays today “Nahem, O Lord our God, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem, and the mournful and ruined and despised and desolate city. Mourning without her sons, ruined from her dwellings, despised from her honor, and desolate without inhabitants. And she sits with her head covered like a barren woman who has not given birth” – is praying false words. Not only is Jerusalem not a ruin, but she is at the height of her glory compared to all of Jewish history! Here is a comparative chart in square km:
End of the Second Temple period: 1.8 square km.
May 1967: 38 square km.
2019: 126 square km.
Is this a city in mourning, ruined, despised and desolate!
IV. Summary and Practical Halakhah
In the Tannaitic period and in Babylon in the Talmudic period they apparently did not add to the Amidah a special prayer related specifically to Tisha B’av (Ginzberg, pp. 306-307). The Nahem prayer was written by Rabbi Huna Ruba of Tzipori ca. 300 CE. He did not mention its concluding benediction and Israeli Amoraim two generations later already argued about its exact place in the Amidah. Over the course of time, Nahem made its way to Babylon. Rav Sa’adiah Gaon in the tenth century viewed it as a new custom and felt the need to justify its recitation. Over time, the halakhic authorities considered it obligatory and argued as to whether it should be recited once or three times during Tisha B’av. Its wording changed from century to century and from country to country.
In light of these facts, I reached the conclusion that not only is it permissible to change the wording of Nahem — as many rabbis, scholars and large Jewish movements have done since the Six Day War and even before it – but it is required to do so. It’s forbidden to recite a prayer which is contradicted by the simple facts. One who does so, violates the verse “he who speaks lies, shall not stand before my eyes” and is also expressing ingratitude to God. There is no halakhic requirement to preserve a supposed “original” version of Nahem which today contradicts the truth. Therefore, many rabbis and laypeople changed the wording beginning in 1961 but were careful to maintain the beginning and the end and the verse from Zekhariah 2. All of the alternative versions quoted above are permissible according to halakhah and every Rabbi and/or congregation are free to choose a version according to their beliefs.
May it be God’s will that just as we have merited “the beginning of the Redemption”, so may we merit the complete Redemption.
Jerusalem the Holy City
3 Av 5782
My thanks to Prof. Doron Bar; Prof. Noah Hakham; Gad Navet; and Rabbi Hazzan Lionel Rosenfeld for helping me with specific aspects of this Teshuvah.
Aviner — הרב שלמה אבינר, “בא לבקר בישיבתנו לפני שאתה משנה נוסח ‘נחם'”, סרוגים, 14.8.16, י’ באב תשע”ו
Brody — Robert Brody, The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture, New Haven and London, 1998
Da’at — אנציקלופדיה יהודית דעת, ערך “נחם”
Frimer — Rabbi Aryeh Frimer, “Review Essay” (of Sperber), Hakirah 12 (2011), pp. 65-87
Gartner — ד”ר יעקב גרטנר, “תפילת נחם בט’ באב”, גלגולי מנהג בעולם ההלכה, ירושלים, תשנ”ה, פרק ג’
Ginzberg — הרב פרופ’ לוי גינצבורג, פירושים וחידושים בירושלמי [ברכות], חלק ג’, ניו יורק, תש”א, עמ’ 315-306
Greenwood — חנן גרינווד, “הרב ראם הכהן: תפילת ‘נחם’ בסידור, דרושה שינוי”, כיפה, ח’ באב תשע”ד, 4.8.14, kipa.co.il
Kipa — “נוסח מחודש לתפילת ‘נחם’ מאת הרב נחום רבינוביץ”, חדשות כיפה 1.8.17, ט’ באב תשע”ז
Levin Katz — ד”ר יעל לוין כ”ץ, “נוסח תפילת ‘נחם'”, תחומין כ”א (תשס”א), עמ’ 90-71
Malul — 30.7.17 חן מלול, “ירושלים המקוממת מהריסותיה? הקינה של תשעה באב, גרסת 1967”, blog.nli.org.il
Mihalkei Hamayyim — “נוסחים לתפילת נחם”, תשעה באב, תשע”ט, עדכון אחרון: 30.7.20 Mayim.org.il
Sperber — Rabbi Daniel Sperber, On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations, Jerusalem and New York, 2010, p. 128, note 6 and pp. 161-167
Wachs — Saul Wachs, “Birkat Nahem: The Politics of Liturgy in Modern Israel”, in: Ruth Langer and Steven Fine, eds. Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue, Winona Lake, Indiana, 2005, pp. 247-258
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David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.