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Yom Ha'atzmaut-- Israel Independence Day 1998/5758
Dr. Aharon Arend
Department of Talmud
Yom Ha'atzmaut in Halakhah, Custom, and Story
Two prayer services have been composed specially for Israel Independence Day: Tikkun Yom ha-Atzmaut, under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate and composed by Rabbi M. Z. Neriah; and Seder Tefillot le-Yom ha-Atzmaut, published by members of the Religious Kibbutz movement. These widely known works were reviewed in a previous article. Two other lesser known works, one old and one new, deserve mention.
A worthy example of initiative taken by synagogue members in formulating a service for Yom ha-Atzmaut is provided by the Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem ("according to the practice of the Jews of Rome"). In 1961 the synagogue printed a "Service for Yom ha-Atzmaut" (Seder Avodah le-Yom ha-Atzmaut), compiled in 1956 by three members: Prof. A. S. Hartoum, Dr. S. A. Nahon, and Prof. G. Tzarfati. According to the introduction to this work, the service was based on the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate, as well as the practices of the Religious Kibbutz movement and the Italian Synagogue in previous years. Moreover, the editors wrote:
Two important items have been added to the instructions of the Rabbinate. In our opinion this in no way detracts from the Chief Rabbis, since varying instructions have been published in the name of these Rabbis, and since, as far as we know, several synagogues have practiced thus, even in the presence of the Rabbis themselves and not exactly according to their instructions. Moreover, these additions in no way contradict any explicit instruction. The two additions are: reading the Torah and a Haftarah, with blessings; adding the passage of al ha-nissim to the shmoneh-esreh prayer.
Halakhic justification for these additions is presented later in the introduction. This Seder ha-Avodah also includes special liturgical poems to be recited during the service. Among these is a yotzer (a piyyut, or liturgical poem) for Independence Day, to be recited during Shaharit after Pesukei de-Zimra and before Barkhu. It is called Reu Tovot and was composed by Rabbi Menahem Hartoum, a member of the congregation. The Torah reading is Deuteronomy chapter 30 in its entirety. In the Haftarah blessings after magen David a sentence is added, without a benediction, as follows: "for the Torah, for the divine service, for the prophets, for the Land of Israel and for the beginning of Redemption which Thou, O Lord, hast given us ... blessed is He who hallows Israel and redeems His people." Even a special formulation of al ha-nissim, to be recited during the shmoneh esreh and at grace after meals, is included. We cite an excerpt:
Then didst thou in thine abundant mercy ... deliver the armed into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, ... and as thou didst do for us [a miracle], so too, O Lord our G-d, work wonders and miracles in our day and in the future.
Suggestions for a festive meal on the eve of Yom ha-Atzmaut are presented at the end of Seder ha-Avodah. Aside from wine (for reciting bore pri ha-gafen, and a new fruit (for shehekheyanu), it is recommended to serve three matzahs and one loaf of leavened bread:
One breaks bread over three matzahs and one leavened loaf (in remembrance of the thanksgiving offering, Korban Todah, which included leavened and unleavened bread), and eats a small amount ("ka-zayit") of one of the matzahs and the leavened loaf.
This small booklet, published by the Italian Jewish community in Jerusalem, is another link in the long chain of halakhah, tradition and religious thought that has always characterized the Italian Jewish community and has enriched Jewish culture as a whole.
The second work we wish to mention is a prayer book in the Sephardic tradition, published in 1991 and edited by Rabbi Uri Amos Sharki, a graduate of Merkaz ha-Rav yeshiva. Aside from prayers, it includes a section for study comprised of various Jewish sources on the subject of redemption of the Land and on Independence Day. It also includes an original work of the author, called "Behold, your light has come" [kuntras ba orekh] by the author, presenting halakhic discussions on whether or not one should recite Hallel and say shehekheyanu. This prayer book follows the golden mean between the two prayer services mentioned above in the beginnng of this article. It received several endorsements, including one from Rabbi Shalom Mashash, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, who wrote:
I have seen the volume, and find it to be a marvelous prayer book pertaining to Independence Day ... for reinforcing and carrying out the ruling of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate ... by Rabbi Ben Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Rabbi Herzog of blessed memory, who ruled that Hallel should be recited in its entirety on Independence Day. The author also goes to great lengths to provide cogent arguments and strong evidence against the reservations expressed by certain learned figures, although the rulings of the eminent Chief Rabbis need no reinforcement, for who could gainsay what these great men have ruled for all time and what has already been the practice for 43 years, and who would dare abrogate this custom and be so ungrateful towards the Holy One, blessed be He, our Lord who has rescued and delivered us and shown us things beyond our wildest dreams, living to see a sovereign State of Israel and proliferation of Torah.
Rabbi David Chelouche, Chief Rabbi of Netanya, also endorsed the prayer book. An excerpt of his remarks follows:
If the generation were ready for it, one ought to take out the Torah scroll and call three people up to the Torah (reading from Va-Ethanan, Deuteronomy, chapter 7 [sic., should say: 4], verses 1-14, ... and continue with all of chapter 7, and chapter 8, verses 1-18, from Ekev), and recite the blessings for reading the Torah; for there is no prohibition against doing so. ... One ought to take out the Torah on Independence Day and read from it, reciting the blessings for the Torah to show proper respect.
We see that those in favor of reading the Torah on Independence Day disagree about the passages that ought to be read: the opinion voiced by Rabbi Chelouche, the view that one should read Deuteronomy, chapter 30, and the practice of the Religious Kibbutz movement to read Deuteronomy 7:12 through 8:18. What these views have in common, however, is that the reading be chosen from Deuteronomy. A suggestion was also made by the Chief Rabbinate to read Numbers, chapter 10.
Rabbi Amram Aburabia, formerly Rabbi of Petah Tikva, relates to the opinion in Kaf Ha-Hayyim (189) that when reciting grace after meals at a wedding feast, upon conclusion of a tractate, or at a Purim feast one should say migdol. He says: "Accordingly it seems that also at a feast celebrating redemption of a first son or a feast celebrating Independence Day, which is a joyous occasion for the entire nation of Israel, there is surely celebration and so migdol should be said on these occasions." Further, with respect to the daily prayer, Rabbi Joseph Mashash, formerly Rabbi of Haifa, wrote a responsum to a questioner on whether one should say tahanun and selihot on Independence Day.
Do not trouble your mind in these matters. You are a devout Sephardic Jew, so you should do as we do and celebrate the day as a holiday, reciting all of Hallel and giving thanks to the King of Glory, bless His name. We eat, drink, and are happy and what others do is not our affair.
Rabbi Mashash even composed a liturgical poem for Independence Day which is recited in several synagogues in Jerusalem and Haifa in the evening service, after the amidah. We present a free translation of a few lines:
I give thanks to Thee, attired in grandeur,
Working wonders on the Festival of Independence
The end of bondage to the British,
Exodus of the broken-hearted to deliverance.
Our Saviour, who fights our cause,
has smitten the mixed multitude with wondrous blows.
The fifth of Iyyar shall be decorated,
Residents and visitors giving great thanks.
At Yeshivat Merkaz Ha-Rav, Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook used to give a sermon every year on Independence Day on the progress of our Redemption, tying it to that chapter of Psalms whose number matched the number of years since the establishment of the state. I learned of the Independence Day customs of Rabbi M. Z. Neriah from his son, Rabbi Petahya Neriah: On his table, evening and morning, he used to spread a white cloth and make the blessing of ha-motzi over bread and matzah together. On the eve of the holiday he would place his Hanukkah menorah on the table and light eight candles. He also made sure to walk at least four steps over a part of the Land of Israel that he had not yet covered, and used to listen to the radio broadcast of the military parade and the World Bible contest.
We cited in a previous article the opinions of Rabbis affiliated with ultra-Orthodox groups (Satmar, Neturei Karta), who do not go along with the idea of celebrating Independence Day. Opposition was also voiced by Rabbi Reuben Grozovski, who presided over the Council of Torah Sages (Moetzet Gedolei ha-Torah) in the United States (d. 1958). He listed several reasons why Israeli independence was not to be considered the beginning of Redemption: ingathering of the exiles would be done by the Messiah; there was still much lack of religious faith; materially, the situation in Israel was not particularly good, either,
"for the principal part of salvation is also much in question, surrounded as we are by enemies on all sides ... economic well-being also rests on miracles, especially with the workers' government [Mapai, the present Mifleget Ha-avodah] whose main intention is to implement their socialist ideas."
He concluded with one more reason: even if it were a good idea to celebrate Independence Day, since this practice was instituted by the leadership of the State to mark "my own power and the might of my own hand,"(Deut.8:17) this constitutes a heretical idea, denying G-d's providence over His people, and therefore should be objected to.
Today, although even the more moderate among the ultra-Orthodox do not institute any changes in their prayers on Independence Day, nevertheless the special quality of the day appears to be making some mark in their midst; they certainly do not fast on this day or display black flags as tokens of mourning. With regard to displaying flags, the late Rabbi Joseph Cahanaman, founder and Rosh Hayeshiva of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bne Brak, the largest and most important ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in the country, was noted for displaying the Israeli flag from atop his yeshiva on Independence Day. Incidentally, the practice is observed to this day.
Now for two stories. In Ish Tzadik Hayah (1972) and Tzadik Yesod Olam (1996), the author Simhah Raz describes the life and deeds of the Jerusalem tzaddik Rabbi Aryeh Levine. The second work (p. 326) contains a story about the tzaddik's practices on Independence Day:
Dr. Hillel Zeidman [famed Yiddish journalist] recounted: It was the first year after the founding of the State. I had come from the United States on a visit to Jersualem, to celebrate along with the Israeli people on their Independence Day. On of the eve of Yom ha-Atzmaut I went out with my wife to the streets of Jerusalem to see the masses of celebrants. I was surprised to bump into Rabbi Aryeh dancing with youths in the city streets. His face beamed with joy as he danced with religious fervour ... Noticing me, he said, "After the sea of tears and the flood of hardships that befell our Jewish brethren in the Holocaust, we finally have the good fortune to see Jewish children dancing with joy in their hearts. You tell me, is not this alone sufficient reason for us to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord of the Universe?
Secondly, the following story is told about Rabbi Abraham Vaknin, from the Nahalaot neighborhood of Jerusalem, who used to be regretful
that young Torah scholars studying in yeshivot were scornful of those who rejoiced on the 5th of Iyyar and recited Hallel on that day. How he would reprove them to their faces for not acknowledging the great kindness that the Almighty had bestowed upon us on that day.
 Cf. M. Hartom, Ha-Minhag ha-Italki be-Yerushalayim Ir ha-Kodesh, Jerusalem 1991, p. 21. Here Hartom introduced a change from the "Service for Independence Day" in that he ruled that Hallel should be said with a benediction. For his reasons cf. ibid., p. 8. A new version of Reu Tovot appears there, on p. 52 (as well as in Seder Zikhron ha-Rav Dr. Menahem Emanuel Hartom, Z"L, Tel Aviv 1996, p. 417).
 The third edition of the prayer book published by the Religious Kibbutz movement (1968, p. 101) includes a different version of al ha-nissim, longer than the Italian version. This version was proposed by Prof. E. Tz. Melamed in Deot 1, 1957, p. 10. The fourth edition (1992) omits al ha-nissim due to the reservations expressed by Rabbi S. Goren. A version of al ha-nissim was also composed by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, cf. Rabbi M. Azari, Hag ha-Atzmaut ve-Hitpatkhuto be-Yisrael (Independence Day and Its Development in Israel), Jerusalem 1991, p. 93. (For a critique of this book, cf. M. Yager, "Hag ha-Atzmaut -- Hag or Stam Yom?" ("Independence Day -- A Holiday or Just Another Day?" Gesher, 133 (1996), pp. 117-118.)
 Siddur Beit Melukhah ke-Yom ha-Atzmaut ve-Yom Yerushalayim, experimental edition, Jerusalem 1991. I wish to thank my friend, Hakham Tzi Mark, for bringing this prayer book to my attention.
 Cf. Rabbi S. Y. Halevi, "Keriah ba-Torah be-Yom ha-Atzmaut be-Vrakhot, ke-she-khal be-Yom Heh," Hilkhot Yom ha-Atzmaut ve-Yom Yerushalayim (ed. N. Rackover), Jerusalem 1985, p. 315. R. E. Eliner (ibid., p. 307) mentions a "strange custom" that he encountered in Jerusalem: on Monday the Torah was read with three aliyot from the weekly portion, as usual for a weekday reading, and then continued with the passage, "When all these things befall you" (Deut. ch. 30), without benedictions.
 Netivei Am, Jerusalem 1989, p. 122. On the history of alternations between migdol and magdil in grace after meals, cf. B. Tz. Fischler, "????" Leshonenu La-Am, 37 (1986), pp. 258-264; R. E. Maimon, "Should one say migdol or magdil on Hannukah and Purim?" Or Torah, Tevet 1997, pp. 283-295.
 From Otzar ha-Mikhtavim (of R. Mashash), vol. III, Jerusalem 1975, 1.769.
 Original Hebrew in M. M. Alharar, Shirat ha-Geulah shel ha-Hakhamim ha-Sefardim be-Dorot Aharonim, Kiryat Arba 1990, p. 51. Liturgical poems were also written by R. Moshe Malkha, Rabbi of Petah Tikva; cf. his book, Nitfei ha-Mayim, Vol. 1, Jerusalem 1984, pp. 291-302. Several of R. Malkha's sermons for Independence Day have been published in his books: Nitfei ha-Mayim, Vol. 3, Jerusalem 1989, pp. 24-50; Darash Moshe, Lod 1994, pp. 241-246.
 Cf. R. Tz. Drori, Mizmor 45 le-Medinat Yisrael, in Mi-Shiabud le-Geula -- Mi-Pesah ad Shavuot (From Bondage to Redemption -- From Passover to Shavuot), Jerusalem 1996, p. 183.
 the Tikkun Yom ha-Atzmaut, Jerusalem 1956, p. 33 (written by Rabbi M. Tz. Neriah) says, "One generally lights candles at the dinner table."
 R. Grozovksy, Ba-ayot ha-Zeman, Bnai Brak 1988, pp. 143-144.
 Alharar, supra n. 7, p. 33. For a story that reflects the controversy over the halakhic standing of Yom ha-Atzmaut, see D. Sadan, Ke'arat Tzimukim, Tel Aviv 1950, p. 521.