Israel’s Independence Day: Yom Ha’atzmaut
First a quote about Independence Day:
Rabbi Slifkin writes, “the single greatest miracle in post-Biblical history: the return of the Jewish People to their ancestral homeland.”
Obviously not everyone agrees with the esteemed Rabbi Slifkin.
Rabbi Pruzansky writes: “The Brisker Rov, Rav Velvel Soloveitchik, strenuously opposed a declaration of statehood on the grounds that it would precipitate a war, and lead to the “destruction, God forbid, of the entire yishuv.”
Every eight year old would have predicted that the declaration of Israeli statehood would precipitate a war. One need not have been a Talmudic scholar, which Rav Velvel certainly was. (As Rabbi Pruzansky points out, in the six months leading up the the declarations of the state of Israel, 1,200 Jews were killed by the Arabs). But his prediction that the war would entail the “destruction of the entire yishuv” was wrong.
After the state was created, the Chazon Ish is said to have predicted that Israel would be destroyed. He also is said to have believed that the state of Israel was Sof Hagalos, literally the end of the exile, and in practical terms the darkest part of the exile (similarly to how many of us view the holocaust as the worst part of the exile). In an interesting anecdote, the Chazon Ish would say tachanun on Independence Day even if he was sandak by a bris.
Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss, who was initially more lukewarm on the issue of Zionism (to the extent that, my father tells me, he had an Israeli flag hanging in his shul in Manchester) said that supporting Israel constitutes heresy. Rabbi Weiss was the head of the Edah HaChareidis, and that assertion can be said to represent that group, and all the people that group represents.
This charge of heresy is interesting. Would Rabbi Weiss deem Eliyahu the prophet heretical for running backwards in a show respect to the evil king Achav? (Achav was guilty of worshiping idols, a charge never laid against Ben Gurion.) Would he deem it heretical to support, like Rabbi Akiva did, Bar-Kochba, who killed his illustrious uncle Rabbi Elazar HaModa? (No has accused Begin of murdering his uncle.) Would he deem it heretical to consider Herod the Great a legitimate Jewish king, as Rambam does? (Herod was a thug and a murderer. He even killed own children which prompted Augustus of Rome to say that it is better to be one of Herod’s dogs than one of his sons. Jabotinsky did not kill his sons.)
The Satmar Rebbe had said Israel would not be created in the first place. He exerted tremendous energy attempting to fulfill his own prophecy, trying to thwart the creation of the state. He did not succeed in his main endeavor. But his efforts did not end with the creation of the state on May 14, 1948. He refused to lobby the US government to sell weapons to the Jews in the 1948 war. His purported reason: the Jews had no business fighting a war there, so we should not try to help them by sending them weapons. (A lifeguard who says that a drowning person ought not be thrown a life-preserver on the grounds that the dying man ought not have been in the pool in the first place, would, in my estimation, be a murderer.) The Satmar Rebbe also refused to lobby the US government to not sell weapons to the Arabs, on the grounds that they would get their weapons from the Soviets. This part about the Soviets selling weapons to the Arabs, in and of itself, has a serious basis in realpolitik thinking. But this, in combination with his stance against trying to give weapons to the Jews, meant in effect, that the Satamar Rebbe was in favor of giving weapons to the Arabs for them to use to kill the Jews, but not in favor of sending weapons to the Jews to defend themselves with.
How are we to react to this sort of thing? Each person should draw their own conclusions. But let’s move on to discussing saying Hallel.
Back in 2014, I was reading an article in the (print) Jewish press, entitled “Observance of Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim”. When I finished, I decided that this was the most comprehensive newspaper article I have read on the subject. Naturally, I cut out the newspaper clipping and put in storage. I still have it, four years later. (True story.) So I would like to quote a little from this article, by Rabbi David Brofsky, from the April 25, 2014 Jewish Press.
Initially, when Chief Rabbis Hertzog and Uziel recommended that the fifth day of Iyur be observed as commerateing “the beginning of the redemption of the Jewish people”, there were objections on grounds of Bal Tosef. Bal Tosef is the prohibition against adding to the Mitzvos. The classic example is wearing five Tztizis instead of four, which is prohibited. The question would be, would making Yom Ha’atzmaut into a holiday be such a violation?
The Peri Chadash writes that there are numerous communities that instituted festive days–a sort of personal Purim–to celebrate a miracle that happened on a specific day. He comes out against it. But Rabbi Moshe Aslashkar, who lived a hundred years prior had come out in favor.
No less an authority than the Chsam Sofer, disagrees with the Peri Chadash, in arguing that one may establish a day to commemorate miracles. He cites examples where his teacher, Rabbi Nasan Adler observed Frankfurt Purim on the 20 of Adar.
It seems clear that there are strong grounds in favor of being able to establish holidays in the post-Biblical era. For one thing there are all these minor holidays recorded in Megillas Taanis, that took on some aspect of Holdiday, such as not saying Tachnun.
As far as saying Hallel, one can compare Independence Day to Purim and Chanukah, when we do say Hallel. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in his decision against saying Hallel to mark Yom Ha’atzmaut mentions that many people died, and that we are still threatened militarily. In that case, Hallel on Chanukah should be cancelled. Many people died in the war, and they were still militarily weak. As Rabbi David bar Hayim explains in this video at length, the reason why we say Hallel on Chanukah is because of victory in the war. The Marahal and others say that the war is the main miracle, not the lights. The 1948 war is on par, if not greater, than the victory back then. Less soldiers (per capita) died in the modern Jewish wars. And the military situation today is better than it was after the Chanukah story.
The Gemara in Pesachim 117a could be understood in different ways. But I believe the straightforward understanding is that the prophets instituted the saying of Hallel when the Jews are redeemed from trouble. And that is exactly what Independence Day is all about.