“It is with a feeling of deep reverence and consecration that I rise to open the Constituent Assembly of the state of Israel the first Knesseth Israel of our time in this eternal city of Jerusalem.
“This is a great moment in our history. Let us give thanks and praise to the God of Israel, Who in His mercy, granted us the privilege of witnessing the redemption of cur people after centuries of affliction and suffering. Today’s event issued from the great awakening of national will that aroused our people in the last few generations. The first signs came about 70 years ago.
“The best among our people, men whose names were then unknown, arose to lead their generation towards fulfillment of the dream of all generations, towards the return to Zion and the restoration of Jewish nationhood.
Those who strove to realize this dream took two paths. The first was the way of spiritual revival and the return to the wellspring of Jewish tradition, the | renewal of the Hebrew language and literature, the gathering of the scattered forces of our people Into one bond, the public proclamation of our historic rights and the enlisting of help and support from the rulers of nations.
“Two gatherings mark decisive steps on this road the Katowice conference and the first Zionist Congress. The first conference led to the creation of the World Zionist Organization workshop where the vision hammered itself Into reality, and to the establishment of the Jewish Agency as the Zionist movement’s supreme political organ and the Instrument of colonization.
“Following this path, we secured the Balfour Declaration, the first external recognition of our right to settle as a nation in the land of our fathers.
“The second path, that of practical action, of carrying out things, was the, path taken by those who could not wait any longer for the nation to gird up its strength in exile and for others to recognize their rights.They thought to force God’s hand, as it were; theirs was the daring to go up to the land to try to hasten the redemption of their people by their own handiwork and by the sweat of their brows and by their life’s blood.
“These were the first pioneers the Biluim and all who followed the flag to carve out the road of return and to lay the stone on which the future would be built. In their footsteps came a new generation of immigrants to settle on the land, until the Yishuv was created.Those who took the second path also erected an organizational structure, institutions of self-government, local councils in towns and townships and assemblies of the new Jewish community, the Assefath Banivcharim and the Vaad Leumi, which also has its seat In this “building.
“It is a good while now since the two paths converged and like two members of one body helped reinforce each other until the great day nine months ago the fifth of Iyer 5708, 14 May 1948 when we proclaimed independence and the establishment of the state. The union of two friends was now completed
Then, compassed about as we were with blood, fire and pillars of smoke, with the Arab war waged against us from without and within our own house, with chaos bequeathed us by the Mandatory, we were not able to hold elections to lay the permanent foundations of our state. A provisional government was set up, comprising a legislature and an executive whose authority was derived’ from earlier elections. In this provisional government two former supreme institutions the Jewish Agency executive and the Vaad Leumi Joined together and were fused into one.
“Today we stand on the threshold of a new era. We leave the dawn light of provisional authority and enter the full sunshine of ordinary democratic rule. this Assembly was elected by a body of citizens. In the elections the will of the entire people was fully and freely expressed. From the outset we are building on solid foundations of freedom, equality, collective responsibility and national self-discipline.
“It was no longer an isolated band of pioneers who elected this Assembly, but an Independent nation dwelling in its own, free country. This nation is being conceived as a gathering in of the exiles, for there is not a Jewish community through that the world whose members have not a share in the state of Israel.
“Every day, to our hearts Joy, tens of thousands of our brethren from countries near and far are entering the gates of the country which stand wide open to receive them. It is our whole prayer that this gathering of exiles will increase and embrace an ever-larger multitude of our people who will strike roots here and work side by side with us in building the state and making our unproductive places “fruitful again. We will make this our goal before all else, to devote to it our best powers of thought and action.
“Heavy indeed is the responsibility laid on us in this Assembly. What we began nine months ago on the same date, we bring to completion tonight the restoration of the realm of Israel. If we are using stats forms molded by the experience, of the enlightened nations of the modern world, we know truly that these forms contain its treasured essence of the heritage of Israel.
“In the ancient world this tiny country of ours raised the standard of spiritual revolt against the rights of tyranny and brute force. The law of Israel and the vision of her prophets sounded a new epic of relations between man and man, a new ordering of human society. The authority of the King of Israel was limited by law and tradition; The prophets of Israel did not fear to utter rebuke and reproof to kings or princes, and with inspired words forged weapons to defend the poor and oppressed, stranger and slaves, and the orphan and the widow.
“The very principle of the institution of kingship was hateful to the spiritual leaders of the people. I will not rule over you nor shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule over us,’ declares the judge to the assembled people. The warning of the prophet against the dangers of tyranny thunder from on high to the ears of people to our last generation. “In Israel, this authority of one man was derived from the noble conception that people are naturally free and are freely accepting the rule that law and use judgment do not need compulsion from above to live as ordered by society. The root of the principle of the constitution of that novel state was the limit set for the authority of the king and in this sense the ancient Hebrew policy was the mother of constitutional government in the modern age,
“And now it has fallen to our generation to cement anew the links of that life of freedom that were snapped by tyranny’s force nearly 1,900 years ago. I do not know why it is precisely our generation that has been privileged to bring about what many generations before us longed for in the exiles of darkness. Unless we earned it by all the hardships, weariness, sorrow and tribulation that have been our portion during the past 70 years, when one-third of our nation was annihilated.
“We suffered torture and affliction as no other nation in the world and be-cause we are a remnant—and no more than a remnant—double and treble responsibility lays upon us to fill the terrible void in our national life.
“It is our people who once gave the whole world the spiritual message fundamental to civilization. The world is watching us now to see which way we choose for ourselves in ordering our lives, and is listening to hear whether a new message will go forth from Zion, and what that message will be. The new message was not born without travail and our creative spirit. The creative force of our nation will soon meet the new, serious challenge. The Assembly is called on to frame the will for the supreme test. Let us strive in search of the basis of human life. Let us build a new bridge between science and the spirit of man.
“This day is a great day in our lives. Let us not be over-arrogant if we say that this is a great day in the history of the world. In this hour a message of hope and good cheer goes forth from this place in the Sacred City to all oppressed people and to all who are struggling for freedom and equality. From this place we send fraternal blessings to our brethren throughout the world and to all states, great and small, that have recognized Israel.”
Knesset Members, I congratulate you on your first meeting. Remember that the eyes of the whole Jewish world are upon you, and that the yearning and prayers of past generations accompany you. May we all be worthy of this great moment and this immense responsibility.
Before we start our labors, let us remember the leaders and teachers of the nation, the founders of the (Zionist) movement and the commanders of our enterprise, whose vision and deeds have brought us to this moment. We reverence in particular the leader of the movement, the creator of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl; his colleague, the defender of his people, Max Nordau; Nahum Sokolow; our teacher and preacher, Ahad Ha’am; the genius of our poetry and our national culture, Chaim Nachman Bialik; the reviver of our Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben Yehuda; the pillar of devotion to Zion, Menahem Ussishkin; the flower of American Jewry, Louis Brandeis; and the great benefactor, the father of Jewish settlement, Edmond de Rothschild.
We remember all our brethren in this country and in the Zionist movement who have passed on without witnessing this day with us. We stand to attention and honor the memories of our precious and beloved children, those young heroes, who died so that the State of Israel might be established.
The First Knesset of the State of Israel is convened.
14 February 1949 (15 Shevat 5709)
Jewish Agency Building, Jerusalem, 4 p.m.
Compiled from several English sources. Original Hebrew will be posted at a later date.