Celebrating Yom Ha-atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim
By Rav David Brofsky
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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:
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
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
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.
and the Mourning Practices of Sefirat Ha-omer
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.