Celebrating Yom Ha-atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim
On the fifth of Iyar, 5708 (May 14, 1948), three years after the conclusion of World War II and the destruction of European Jewry, including the murder of six million Jews, fifty-one years after the First Zionist Congress, and close to two thousand years after the destruction of the second Beit Ha-mikdash, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel, based upon the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) approved on November 29, 1947. The next day, the armies of five Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq—attacked Israel, launching the War of Independence, which lasted close to a year.
Nineteen years later, shortly after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser expelled the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) from the Sinai Peninsula (May 1967), Egypt amassed 1,000 tanks and nearly 100,000 soldiers on the Israeli border. Jordan and Syria signed mutual defense treaties, and Iraqi tanks lined the Jordanian border. Fearing an imminent attack, Israel launched a preemptive strike on the Egyptian air force on June 5, 1967. Jordan responded by attacking Jerusalem, Netanya, and the outskirts of Tel Aviv. On June 9th, Israel attacked the Syrian controlled Golan Heights, from which Israeli settlements in the Galilee were shelled for the previous seventeen years.
By June 10th, Israel had Israel had seized the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, including the Old City of Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control for seventeen years. Israel's territory grew by a factor of three.
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, representing the first Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel in almost 2,000 years (see Rambam, Hilkhot Megilla Ve-chanuka 3:1), as well as the ensuing military victory, signaled the return of Am Yisrael to Zion and the rescue of the Jewish People – those who lived in the Land of Israel, as well as those who now had a nation to which they could flee. The victory of the Six Day War not only saved the young country from almost certain defeat at the hands of its Arab neighbors, but returned Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to the Jewish People, as well as the heart of the Biblical land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria.
For the religious Jew, such events demand a spiritual response. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 94a) teaches:
The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to appoint Chizkiyahu as the Messiah, and Sancheiriv as Gog and Magog, whereupon the Attribute of Justice said before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Sovereign of the Universe! If You did not make David the Messiah, who uttered so many hymns and psalms before You, will You appoint Chizkiyahu as such, who did not praise You in spite of all these miracles which You wrought for him?”
Chizkiyahu was due to be appointed the Mashiach, but his lack of gratitude denied him, and the Jewish People, this opportunity.
Therefore, all who recognize God’s hand in modern historical events feel obligated to respond – but how? What are the proper, permissible, or obligatory means of thanking Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu? In this shiur, we will discuss two issues raised regarding Yom Ha-atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim: the establishment of a new holiday and the recitation of Hallel. We will also discuss whether one should distinguish between these two significant days.
At the outset, I would like to state: Whether or not one embraces the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha-atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim is not a litmus test of one’s level of Zionism or commitment to the State of Israel. However, it behooves all of us to acknowledge the significance, both historical and spiritual, of these events and grapple with the proper means to respond.
The Establishment of New Holidays – Bal Tosif
Upon the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, halakhic authorities discussed the legitimacy of the establishment of a holiday, Yom Ha-atzmaut, as a day of praise and thanksgiving. Numerous posekim looked for prior historical/halakhic precedents. Centuries earlier, the Acharonim debated whether a community may establish a “Purim” – a day of thanksgiving commemorating a miraculous event that occurred – and whether the observance of such a day would be obligatory upon the residents of a given city even for generations afterwards.
R. Moshe Alshakar (1466-1542), in his Teshuvot Maharam Alshakar (49), rules that a community certainly has this authority to establish a “Purim in order to publicize a miracle that happened on a specific day,” and it is binding upon generations to come. The Magen Avraham (686) cites this responsum. R. Chezekiah da Silva (1659-1698), in his commentary to the Shulchan Arukh, the Peri Chadash (Orach Chaim 696), confirms that numerous communities have instituted festive days in order to commemorate miraculous events. He cites R. Alshakar, but disagrees. He contends that nowadays we rule that “batla Megillat Ta’anit” – the days enumerated by the chronicle known as Megillat Ta’anit, which commemorate joyful events that occurred to the Jewish People during the time of the Second Temple and were celebrated as festive days, are no longer in practice. Therefore, not only are these days not observed, but one may no longer institute holidays that commemorate festive events.
R. Moshe Sofer (1762-1839), known as the Chatam Sofer, rejects the Peri Chadash’s argument. In a teshuva written in 1805, he argues that although one may not establish a day which commemorates an event related to the Beit Ha-Mkdash, one may certainly establish days which commemorate other miracles. Furthermore, the Talmud never meant to discourage or prohibit establishing festive days for cities or countries, but rather only a festival meant to be observed by the entire Jewish People.
In fact, he relates that the Sefer Yosef Ometz (1109) records a miracle that occurred in Frankfurt am Main on the 20th day of Adar, and they established it as a festive day for generations to come. He relates that his teacher, R. Natan Adler, as well as his community, which was located far away from the city, also observe this festive day. Interestingly, in a different responsum (Yoreh De’ah 234) he criticizes the celebration of the “hilulla” (yarhtzeit) of R. Shimon bar Yochai on Lag Ba-omer in Tzfat. He claims that this celebration may constitute the establishment of a holiday not in commemoration of a miraculous event, which even he maintains would be prohibited.
Indeed, throughout the Middle Ages and until modern times, communities have instituted their own festive days, often known as Purim Sheini or Purim Katan. R. Ovadia Hadaya (1890-1969), in his Yaskil Avdi (Orach Chaim 44:12), cites examples of other communities that observed their own local “Purims.” Yehuda Dovid Eisenstein (Otzar Yisrael, erekh Purim) also records over twenty “Purims” observed by different communities (see http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/tetzaveh/gel.html#_ftnref2).
R. Avraham Danziger (1748-1820), author of the Chayei Adam (155:41), also rules in accordance with the R. Alshaker, and relates that each year he celebrates the day his family was saved from a fire that destroyed his home and homes of others in 1804. His family emerged unharmed. He describes how they would like candles, as on Yom Tov, recite specific Tehillim, participate in a festive meal for those who learn Torah, and give money to charity. He called this day the “Pulver Purim” – “Purim of the Gun Powder.”
Although these sources relate to personal or communal commemorations, some argue that instituting a festive day for the entire Jewish People to celebrate, even those who did not personally experience the miraculous events of 1948 or 1967, constitutes a violation of the Biblical injunction of bal tosif, derived from the verse, “You shall not add [to the mitzvot]” (Devarim 4:2). Although in the Talmud, we find that this prohibition applies to adding parts to already existing mitzvot, such as adding an extra parasha to tefillin, wearing five tzitzit instead of four, or sitting in the Sukka after the seventh day with the intention of fulfilling the mitzva, the Ramban (Devarim 4:2) implies that this injunction may also include adding a new holiday. He writes:
In my opinion, evening creating a new mitzva by itself, such as the holiday which Yeravam made up (Melakhim I 12:33), violates this prohibition. Similarly, they said regarding the reading of the Megilla (Megilla 14a), “There were 180 prophets who prophesied for Israel, and they did not subtract or add to what is written in the Torah even one letter, except for the reading of the Megilla…”
Ramban alludes to the conclusion of the gemara, which describes how the Sages found a Biblical precedent for the establishment of the reading of the Megilla.
Others argue that this view of the Ramban is not cited by other Rishonim. Indeed, we often see that the Rabbis instituted mitzvot. Rather, the distinction lies in whether these mitzvot are perceived as biblically obligatory, as the Ramban himself mentions. Furthermore, the Ramban may have only questioned the institution of the mitzva of megilla reading, and not the establishment of a festive day (see the Ramban’s comments to the Rambam’s Sefer Ha-mitzvot, shoresh 2). In addition, Yom Ha-atzmaut is not perceived as an obligatory festival, but optional. Finally, commemorating Yom Ha-atzmaut is not an addition to the Torah, but rather an application of the well-established principles of gratitude and thanksgiving (hakarat ha-tov and hoda’ah) to God for saving the Jewish People and giving them a country in Eretz Yisrael.
R. Hadaya (Yaskil Avdi 8, hashmatot 4) strongly argues in favor of establishing a festive day marking the establishment of the State of Israel. Similarly, R. Meshulam Roth (1875-1963), a member of the Israeli Chief Rabbinic Council, also authored a responsum (Kol Mevasser 1:21) arguing that it is certainly permitted to establish a festive day which commemorates the salvation of the Jewish People, and that the Ramban cited above referred to the establishment of a holiday without any purpose. He writes:
Indeed there is no doubt that that day [the 5th of Iyar], which was established by the government and the members of the Parliament, who are the elected representatives of the people, and the majority of the great Rabbis to celebrate through the land, to commemorate out salvation and our freedom – it is a mitzva to make it [a day of] happiness and Yom Tov and to recite Hallel.
Hallel on Yom Ha-atzmaut
The Talmud (Arakhin 10a) records the eighteen days upon which one recites the full Hallel (twenty-one days in the Diaspora, due to Yom Tov Sheini). The Talmud (Berakhot 14a, Ta’anit 28b) seems to present contradictory evidence regarding the origins of Hallel. The Rishonim therefore debate whether the recitation of this Hallel constitutes a biblical mitzva or a rabbinic one.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla Ve-chanuka 3:6) writes that the recitation of Hallel on the festivals and on Chanuka is only a mitzva mi-derabbanan. The Ramban (Sefer Ha-mitzvot, shoresh 1), however, disagrees. He writes that Hallel on the festivals is either a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai or included in the fulfillment of the biblical obligation of simcha (rejoicing) on the festival. The Ra’avad (Rambam, ibid.) describes the obligation to recite Hallel as “mi-divrei kaballa” – from the prophets.
In addition to these eighteen days upon which the entire Hallel is recited, the Talmud (Ta’anit 29s) mentions the custom of reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and omitting part of two of its psalms. This “half-Hallel” is recited on Chol Ha-moed Pesach as well. The Rishonim debate whether one should recite a berakha upon reciting this Hallel or not, or whether to do so only when it is recited publically. The custom of Ashkenazim is to say the blessing, while Sephardim omit the blessing.
While seemingly all would agree that the Hallel recited on Chanuka is surely mi-derabbanan, the Chatam Sofer (Orach Chaim 208) writes:
Commemorating the miracles which saved us from death which occurred on Purim, Chanuka, and the days enumerated in the Megillat Ta’anit is certainly mi-de’oraita… However, the quality and amount of commemoration is mi-derabbanan.
In other words, the Chatam Sofer (see also Yoreh De’ah 233 and Orach Chaim 191) believes that through reciting Hallel on Chanuka or fulfilling the mitzvot on Purim, one fulfills a biblical commandment of commemorating deliverance from near death. While the Hallel recited on the festivals expresses one’s simchat Yom Tov, the Hallel of Chanuka relates directly to the miracle of Chanuka.
What is the source for this type of Hallel, and may it be recited on other occasions? The Talmud (Pesachim 117a) teaches:
And who recited this Hallel? The prophets among them ordained that Israel should recite it at every important epoch and at every misfortune — may it not come upon them! And when they are redeemed, they recite [in gratitude] for their redemption.
According to this passage, the prophets instituted that Hallel be recited on every holiday and upon the redemption of the Jewish People from misfortune. Rashi (s.v. ve-al) explains that an example of such redemption from misfortune is Chanuka.
To what extent does this source serve as a precedent for reciting Hallel upon being saved from danger? The posekim raise a number of issues:
First, what kind of “redemption” obligates one to recite Hallel? R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes (1805-1855), known as the Maharatz Chayot, suggests in his commentary to Shabbat that the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) refers only to the miracle of the flask of oil, and not to the military victory. Hallel, he believes, was instituted only because the miracle of the oil was a “nes nigleh” – blatant and apparent to all.
Some argue that the pronouncement of Israeli independence and the ensuing military victory do not constitute a “nes nigleh.” Those who disagree may argue that other sources (Rambam, Hilkhot Megilla Ve-chanuka 3:2; Megilla 14a) indicate that Hallel may even be recited over a redemption that occurred through natural means. Others simply maintain that the victory of the small Jewish army against the surrounding Arab states constitutes a “nes nigleh.”
Second, when the gemara states that upon being redeemed, “they” should say Hallel, of whom is the gemara speaking? The Behag (Hilkhot Lulav, p. 35), commenting on this gemara, writes:
When our Rabbis remarked that there are eighteen occasions during the year on which the individual Jew recites Hallel, they did not mean to imply that it must be recited in private; rather … whenever we speak of the entire house of Israel as opposed to the individual Jew, they are not restricted to the eighteen occasions in the year, and they may recite Hallel whenever they are delivered from trouble.
Similarly, Rabbenu Tam (cited in Tosefot, Sukka 44b( writes:
Hallel was introduced to be recited only on those occasions when all of Israel has been saved by a miracle; then, a new festival is introduced and Hallel is recited together with its blessing – but this is only if the miracle happens to all of Israel…
These Rishonim clearly limit this gemara to cases in which all of Israel was saved, such as during the Chanuka miracle. This gives rise to the question of how we view the miraculous events of 1948 or 1967, and whether they can be said to have affected “all of Israel” in the same manner as the Chanuka miracle.
The Meiri, however, disagrees. He writes:
Any person who was delivered from trouble is allowed to establish a custom for himself to recite Hallel on that day every year, but may not do so with a berakha. A similar ruling applies to a community [of the Jewish People]. This is, in fact, the institution of the Prophets, i.e., to recite Hallel when delivered from trouble.
According to the Meiri, even an individual person or community that experiences salvation should recite Hallel, but without a berakha.
In summary, we see that a number of Rishonim derive from the passage in Pesachim (117) that if the entire nation is saved from danger, they may recite Hallel. They disagree as to whether this applies to individuals as well and whether this Hallel should be recited with a blessing. Incidentally, the Netziv, in his commentary to the She’iltot (26), disagrees with the Chatam Sofer, and limits the obligation to commemorate one’s deliverance from danger to the time of the miracle, and not years later.
May one invoke these sources in order to justify or mandate reciting Hallel on Yom Ha-atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim?
R. Ovadia Hadaya (Teshuvot Yaskil Avdi, Orach Chaim 10:7) cites a responsum from R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1807), known as the Chida, who discusses a case in which a community wished to recite Hallel after escaping great misfortune. R. Azulai (Chaim She'al 2:11) notes that the central halakhic codes of the Rif, Rambam and Rosh do not cite the passage from Pesachim (117a). In addition, numerous Rishonim (including Rabbeinu Tam and Meiri cited above) rule that a miracle which does not occur to an entire nation does not warrant Hallel. And even according to the Meiri, this Hallel is recited without a blessing.
Based upon the above reasoning, R. Hadaya rules that Hallel should be recited without a blessing on Yom Ha-atzmaut. He adds that due to the precarious security situation, one should not recite Hallel with a blessing. R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabi’a Omer, Orach Chaim 6:41) also rules that Hallel may be recited without a blessing, as did R. Yitzchak Herzog (cited by R. Yosef).
Nevertheless, R. Meshulam Roth, in the responsum cited above, argues that Yom Ha-atzmaut should be observed as a festive day, and that naturally one should recite Hallel as well.
The non-Zionist religious community, who in large part oppose the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha-atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, have generally not formulated their halakhic objections. R. Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (1902-1989), former head of the Eida Chareidit, recorded his opposition to the establishment of Yom Ha-atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim and to the recitation of Hallel (Minchat Yitzchak 10:10). Aside from his general belief that supporting the State of Israel constitutes heresy and his adherence to the doctrine developed by the former Satmar Rabbe, R. Yoel Teitelbaum, that the establishing a Jewish State violates the “three oaths” (Ketuvot 111a) God made the Jewish People swear to uphold, which include not returning to Israel by force (“she-lo ya’alu ba-choma”), R. Weiss also raises halakhic objections. He, like R. Azulai, notes that the Shulchan Arukh does not codify the passage from Pesachim, which teaches that the prophets established that one should recite Hallel when one is redeemed from danger. In addition, even according to that source, as we mentioned above, some limit it to a miracle experienced by the entire nation. Furthermore, he cites the Peri Chadash (see above), who opposed local annual festive commemorations.
Interestingly, R. Soloveitchik (Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 97), whose recognition of the significance of the events of 1948 and 1967 is well-documented (see Kol Dodi Dofek, for example), objected to reciting Hallel, as he objected to any other change of the liturgy. He sanctioned, however, reciting half-Hallel, without a blessing, at the end of Shacharit, as this does not constitute a major change in the liturgy.
Although we have seen different motivations for reciting Hallel without a blessing on Yom Ha-atzmaut, either due to doubt, because the takana of the prophets never included reciting a blessing over Hallel, or due to the undesirable security and spiritual situation of the State of Israel, we might suggest a different approach.
In addition to the eighteen days upon which one recites the full Hallel, one recites Hallel on the evening of Pesach during the seder. This Hallel has puzzled the commentators for centuries, as it appears to violate numerous classic halakhic norms: it is recited at night (the mishna in Megilla 20b teaches that Hallel is recited only by day), it is interrupted by the meal, and it is not preceded by a berakha. The Rishonim question the nature of this Hallel and why it does not conform to the classic models of Hallel.
R. Hai Gaon, as cited by the Rishonim, offers an intriguing explanation. He distinguishes between Hallel of the eighteen days, upon which one is obligated to read (korei) Hallel, and the Hallel of the seder, which one is obligated to sing (shira) in response to the miraculous events of yetziat Mitzrayim. (R. Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, in his Chiddushei Ha-Griz, Chanukah 3:4, elaborates upon this distinction.) This Hallel of “shira” is meant to be a spontaneous outburst of song expressing praise and gratitude to the Almighty for the redemption from Egypt. A berakha before such a Hallel is not only unnecessary, but also inappropriate, as it undermines and negates the very essence of this Hallel.
One might suggest the Hallel described by the gemara in Pesachim, which one recites in response to a miracle, should also be “spontaneous,” a “shira,” and not preceded by a blessing. The closer one is to an event, the less formal and more “natural” the Hallel becomes. If so, then this model of Hallel, without a blessing, may actually be the more appropriate Hallel for Yom Ha-atzmaut. Those who daven (or have davened) in Religious Zionist communities in Israel on Yom Ha-atzmaut can most likely testify to the genuine feeling of fervor and relevance with which Hallel is recited on Yom Ha-atzmaut.
While what is written above may be applied equally to Yom Yerushalayim, some believe that the victory of the Six Day War more closely resembles the redemption described by the Talmud. Therefore, the Chief Rabbinate, in a ruling signed by Chief Rabbis Isser Yehuda Unterman and Yitzchak Nissim, along with the renowned R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin and R. Shaul Yisraeli, ruled that Hallel on Yom Yerushalayim should be recited with a blessing.
Yom Ha-atzmaut and the Mourning Practices of Sefirat Ha-omer
Yom Ha-atzmaut falls on the fifth of Iyar, during the customary period of mourning during which weddings, haircuts, and other public festive events are forbidden. Do the Yom Ha-atzmaut celebrations suspend the minhagei aveilut of the omer?
R. Yitzchak Nissim (1896-1981), Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel (1955-1972), ruled that one may hold weddings and take haircuts on Yom Ha-atzmaut (Sinai, April-May, 1958). His ruling is partially based upon a ruling of R. Chayim Palaggi (1788-1869), who records that in his city, certain individuals observed festive days commemorating a miraculous event that occurred to them during the omer, upon which they would shave (Mo’ed Le-Khol Chai 6). R. Hadaya (Yaskil Avdi 6:10) rejects this argument and rules that one should continue his observance of the mourning practices of the omer. R. Soloveitchik (Nefesh Ha-Rav, ibid.) also maintained that the mourning practices of the omer should not be suspended in order to celebrate Yom Ha-atzmaut.
Many are accustomed to suspend the prohibition of live music, and even shaving, but refrain from taking a haircut, which would undermine the entire mourning for the duration of the sefira period.
As demonstrated, one can certainly build a strong case in favor of establishing a day dedicated to praising God for the creation of the State of Israel, as well as the victory from near certain national destruction of the Six Day War.
Over the past six decades, rabbinic figures have grappled with the appropriate means of celebrating these days, including the recitation of the berakha of she-hechiyanu (see Kol Mevasser, cited above), reading a portion from the prophets during the morning service, and reciting Hallel at night and/or during the day, and even at mincha time! Ultimately, Klal Yisrael, guided by their sages, will determine the most fitting means of celebrating these days. One should view, in retrospect, these attempts in their proper context: finding the proper means to offer thanksgiving to Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu.