At the heart of most worship services is a prayer that asks for God’s blessing for a specific person or people. Of particular note is the version of this blessing made popular by folk singer Debbie Friedman. This Mi Sheberakh (literally “the One who blesses”) prayer asks for healing for all those who are ill; as such, it has become a staple of many synagogue services—even in those where such prayers were out of vogue as recently as fifteen years ago. In the Conservative movement, the question arose as to whether these prayers could be said for those of other religious backgrounds. We applaud its recent responsum (an answer to a question of religious practice) which encourages individuals to say a prayer for healing for others, regardless of their religious background. Given both the increase in family members from other faiths and the movement’s struggle over how to include those family members in synagogue life, this is a welcome sign of inclusiveness.
Rabbi David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical School in Jerusalem, and a leading authority on halakha (Jewish law) within the movement, authored the responsum. Golinkin’s simple wisdom: we should include all of humanity in our prayers of healing. He cited the following examples to support his conclusion:
In II Kings, Chapter 5, we read the story of Na’aman, the General of Aram, who goes to see the king of Israel in order to be cured of his leprosy. The Prophet Elisha then cures Na’aman from his leprosy by telling him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River (v. 10-14). If a Jewish Prophet can heal a non-Jew, then he can certainly pray for a non-Jew who is ill.
R. Hayyim Palache (1788-1869) of Izmir, Turkey was asked by a Jew: a non-Jew whom he does business with is sick. Is it permissible to pray for him that he should live and also give tzedakah to scholars that they should learn on his behalf to heal him? Rabbi Palache replied that this is “mutar gamur”, entirely permissible. He relied on Sefer Hassidim (The Book of the Pious) and on the story of Elisha and Na’aman.
This complements JOI’s own work with STAR (Synaogues: Transformation and Renewal) to implement the “Call Synagogue Home” initiative, a project that encourages clergy and professional leaders of synagogues to be especially welcoming of interfaith families at lifecycle events, as they are such ripe moments for a family to connect to the Jewish community. So here is the big question: if we include those of other religious backgrounds in our prayers for healing, how else can we include them at other times as well?