Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Tazria-Metzora and Yom ha-Atzma’ut

Rosh Hodesh Iyyar 5766/ April 29, 2006

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

Rabbi Zevin  and Yom ha-Atzma’ut

 

Dr. Aharon Arend

 

Department of Talmud

 

Since the early days of the State, rabbis have published articles about Israeli Independence Day and the proper way to mark the event.   These articles reflect the attitude of their authors towards the establishment of the State of Israel and the proper halakhic way to relate to this fact. [1]   In some cases, the sage in question did not relate directly to the subject, but his views may be discerned from his general Torah writings. One such case is that of Rabbi Shelomo Yosef Zevin (1886-1978) concerning Yom ha-Atzma’ut.

Rabbi Zevin was one of the Torah giants of the previous century.   As a young man he served as spiritual leader in several Jewish communities in Russia.   He immigrated to the land of Israel in 1935, and in 1942 began editing the Encyclopedia Talmudit, the work he conceived and brought into existence.  His broad and orderly knowledge of the classic Jewish texts, acuity, and talent as a writer produced a series of books which became widely circulated and were in great demand:  Ha-Mo’adim ba-Halakhah (Halakhah and the Festivals), Soferim u-Sefarim (Scribes and Scrolls), Ishim ve-Shitot (Famous Scholars and their Methods), and others. [2]   Rabbi Zevin was a Chabad hassid and well-versed in hassidic literature; he was highly regarded in the ultra-Orthodox world and closely involved with religious Zionist circles.   He did not publish an halakhic article or essay expressing his views on the establishment of the State or the proper character of Yom ha-Atzma’ut, but some of his ideas on these subjects can be gleaned here and there from his writings.

His views on the establishment of the State found expression in a short article which he published in 1948, which he signed “Ahad ha-Rabbanim” [“One of the Rabbis”]. In this article he came out sharply against a placard pasted up in the religious neighborhoods entitled Da’at Torah (“Torah Opinion”) which had called on yeshivah students not to respond to the draft.   Rabbi Zevin held that it is a religious obligation of yeshivah students to defend the country.   He wrote, among other things, as follows:

The entire Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora, no matter of what circle or stripe, party or sector, understand full well that the Jewish community in the land of Israel and the communities remaining in the Diaspora can have no existence without the establishment of an independent state in our land that will take in with open arms our brethren who bleed from their wounds, wandering homeless over the soil of the Diaspora as it burns beneath their feet.

His positive attitude towards the establishment of the state found expression also at the end of this piece, in his remarks whether, in accord with the Shulhan Arukh, one should rend one’s clothes in mourning upon seeing the cities of Judah lying in desolation (emphasis ours): [3]

Posekim (halakhic authorities) have written:   The desolation of the cities of Judah is the fact that non-Jews rule over them.  It turns out that with the liberation of the cities of Judah from gentile rule and the establishment of the State of Israel (how blessed are we to have had this good fortune!), one no longer need rend one’s garments over those cities.

As a member of the Council of the Israel Chief Rabbinate from 1964, Rabbi Zevin participated in the council’s deliberations concerning the observance of Yom ha-Atzma’ut and expressed his opinion regarding the details of several customs and rules of halakhah.   For example, he held that one should not recite the psalm for the Sabbath day (Ps. 92) in the morning hymns (pesukei de-Zimra) on Yom ha-Atzma’ut. [4]   Rabbi Zevin also responded to the query of a member of Kibbutz Alumim on whether or not to recite Hallel with a blessing on the morning of Yom ha-Atzma’ut. [5]   His response was:

Even though in my opinion whatever one does in this case is correct, nevertheless since the Chief Rabbinate in its time ordained that on Yom ha-Atzma’ut one should recite Hallel without a benediction, that is what one should do.

Explicit remarks of his concerning Yom ha-Atzma’ut appeared in two weekly magazines.  An issue of Mahanayim, a weekly for religious soldiers, that appeared before Yom ha-Atzma’ut 1959, published his response to the editor’s question, how can we give religious significance to Yom ha-Atzma’ut. [6]   

The existence of an independent State of Israel is a wondrous miracle and is considered the most important event in all of Jewish history in recent generations.   Nevertheless, I am not inclined to express my opinion whether the rebirth of Israel marks the beginning of Redemption.  We are not party to the Lord’s secrets and we have no notion of the Lord’s Redemption that awaits us in the future.  Thus it would be foolish to say that the rebirth of Israel in its land, as expressed in the Bible, is fulfilled in the Redemption of Israel at present.   Because independent Jewish sovereignty is undeniably a marvelous thing to behold, we are commanded to give thanks and praise to G-d.  Whoever does not do so is as one who denies the lord’s beneficence.

This rejoicing that we are commanded, however, must stem from Jewish law and tradition, and should find its expression as such.  The customs of eating matzah and various weeds (in commemoration of the residents of Jerusalem who ate weeds during the siege on the city) [7] are no more than a parody of the Shulhan Arukh.

Midrash Rabbah on Exodus 23 says:  “‘They said’ (Vayomru lemor):  We shall say to our children, and our children to their children, that they should sing such a song as this [the Song at the Sea] to You when You do miracles for them.”   And the baraitha in Megillat Ta’anit, ch. 9, says:  “Why did they see fit to recite the entire Hallel in the month of Kislev, during the eight days of Hanukkah?  It is that every time the Holy One, blessed be He, delivers Israel they greet Him with song of adulation, praise and thanksgiving, as it is written:   ‘They sang songs extolling and praising the Lord’ (Ezra 3:11).”

Accordingly we are obliged to recite the Hallel and to have a festive meal.   We should make Yom ha-Atzma’ut a day of thanksgiving to the Lord, a day of festive rejoicing that bears the mark of our tradition.  In my opinion one ought to emphasize that Israel’s independence is divinely miraculous; there is no place for the illusion that our own might and strength brought about this State.   Hence it is to be hoped that in the fullness of time celebrations of Yom ha-Atzma’ut that have a character of sanctity drawing on sources of Torah will spread among the public at large.

The idea expressed here, shared by many national-religious Jews, is that the establishment of the State of Israel was a religious event in which G-d’s role is evident, but there is no assuredness that this marks the beginning of Redemption.   Rabbi Zevin viewed Yom ha-Atzma’ut as a day of thanksgiving to G-d, which helps ward off any thought that the state came into being by virtue of our own might; he held that reciting Hallel and having a festive meal are obligatory.  His ideas were presented again, a year later, with minor modifications, this time in the weekly, Panim el Panim. [8]   There, too, he sharply criticized certain practices, especially the Tikkun le-Yom ha-Atzma’ut edited by Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria several years earlier:

It is not for us to establish religious practices.  All the “rituals” held by us on this day are nothing but artificial and ceremonious.  The attempts to compose a Tikkun le-Yom ha-Atzma’ut and institute various customs are simply ridiculous.  It truly makes a laughing-stock and parody of the Shulhan Arukh.   It is worse than Masekhet Purim, [9] for this tractate was written from the outset for jest and fun, whereas the Tikkun Yom ha-Atzma’ut was written with serious intention, but has become a parody and derision.

This argument, which had previously been voiced by members of the religious kibbutz movement, on the one hand, and Neturei Karta [ultra-Orthodox, who do not acknowledge the State of Israel], on the other, stems from the fact that this tikkun draws on customs from other Jewish holidays. [10]  

On Yom ha-Atzma’ut Rabbi Zevin customarily prayed at Beit Yehudah, the synagogue in the Rav Kook Institute where Rabbi Judah Leib Maimon regularly prayed, and there he heard Hallel recited with a benediction as well as Sheheheyanu.   I heard that Rabbi Zevin did not himself say a benediction over Hallel (for the reason mentioned above), but only listened to the benediction, since in his opinion one ought to make a distinction between personal practice and general directives given the Jewish people at large, which can be issued solely on the authority of the Chief Rabbinate. [11]   Occasionally Rabbi Zevin delivered a short sermon there upon conclusion of the service, and occasionally he spoke about Yom ha-Atzma’ut on the radio program, Kol Zion la-Golah (“Voice of Zion to the Diaspora”). [12]   In his own home he generally held a festive dinner and put an Israeli flag on display.

In conclusion, Rabbi Zevin was of the opinion that Yom ha-Atzma’ut should be celebrated by reciting Hallel and feasting, but that artificial practices drawn from other holidays should not be adopted.  Several of his works are devoted to the Jewish holidays:  Ha-Mo’adim ba-Halakhah, La-Torah ve-la-Mo’adim, Sippurei Hassidim:  Mo’adim, and a few chapters in Le-Or ha-Halakhah; none of these books mention Yom ha-Atzma’ut.  One can only speculate why – perhaps because he wished to focus solely on ancient holidays, or perhaps because he had a broad target audience in mind, or perhaps for some other reason. [13]   Clearly, however, the reason was not that he did not view Yom ha-Atzma’ut as a special day with religious significance.



[1] Cf. A. Arend, Pirkei Mehkar le-Yom ha-Atzma’ut (hereafter:   Pirkei Mehkar), Jerusalem 1998, pp. 12-23.

[2] On his life and literary teaching see J. Hutner, “Zevin, S. J.,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 16 (1971),  col. 1005-1006; R. J. Hutner, “Ha-Gra S. J. Zevin z”l ke-fot’hah shel tekufa be-sifrut ha-halakhah,” Encyclopedia Talmudit, 16 (1980), pp. 11-22.

[3] Rabbi S. J. Zevin, Ha-Mo’adim ba-Halakhah, Jerusalem 1955, p. 371.   Also see note 11, below, and see as well, Le’Or ha-Halakhah,  p. 65:  “In our days, we who have had the good fortune to witness the rebirth of an independent state of Israel, free of foreign rule and released from exile. . . .”

[4] Cf. R. S. Katz, “Ha-Rabbanut ha-Rashit ve-Yom ha-Atzma’ut,” in Ha-Rabbanut ha-Rashit le-Yisrael Shiv’im Shanah le-Yisudah (ed. E. Wahrhaftig and R. S. Katz), Jerusalem 2002, p. 896.  For his views on appropriate customs to be observed on Jerusalem Day, see ibid., pp. 971-974.

[5] The responsum is to be found in the archives of Chief Rabbi Nissim. It dates from 1968.

[6] A weekly that was published from 1953-1960 by the IDF Rabbinate and sometimes contained answers by rabbis and intellectuals to questions of the day that the editorial board raised:  attitudes towards a unified prayer book, science and religion, the re-awakening of Hassidism in our times, the dangers of television, etc.  The passage below is from Mahanayim, vol. 6, issue 25 (4 Iyar 1959), p. 4.

[7] Cf. Pirkei Mehkar, pp. 93-96.

[8] S. Shamir, “Zeh ha-Yom,Panim el Panim, 52, 2 Iyar 5720 (1940), pp. 8-9.  There he is quoted as saying:  “One or the other.  Whoever thinks that the establishment of the State was a misfortune, ought to fast on the Day of Independence; and whoever thinks it was an act of deliverance, ought to give thanks to the Lord.”

[9]  A parody of the Talmud, intended as a satire for Purim.

[10] Cf. Pirkei Mehkar, pp. 74, 88.  However, there are those that claimed that the prayer book is also an anthology of passages from Scripture, the writings of the Sages, liturgical piyyut, and more, and the fact that the prayer service for the Day of Independence was composed  of prayers taken from the Sabbath and Festival services is indeed appropriate to the nature of the prayer book.  See J. Tabory, “The Prayer Book (Siddur) as an Anthology of Judaism,” Prooftexts 17 (1997), pp. 115-132.

[11] In Panim el Panim, loc. sit., p. 9, there is a photograph of Rabbi Zevin standing in prayer beside Rabbi Maimon on the Day of Independence.   His grandson, Rabbi N. Zevin, told me that his grandfather believed one ought to recite Hallel without a benediction, but that he had had to chose between two options:   either to attend services in his own community, where Hallel was not recited at all, or to go to the synagogue of Rabbi Maimon, where Hallel was recited with a benediction, and he preferred the second option.

[12] Rabbi N. Zevin relayed the gist of one of the sermons to me:   in the splitting of the Red Sea the Israelites experienced a great act of deliverance, yet it is not written that they sang songs of praise forthwith; only after it is said that they “had faith in the Lord and His servant Moses” did they sing:   “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord.”  From this we conclude that only if the miraculous event leads to faith is one to sing.   Moreover, in every miracle one ought to see the hand of G-d and then to sing the Lord’s praises.

[13] On   the tendency of certain religious literature to refrain from mentioning Yom Ha-Atzma’ut cf., for example, Pirkei Mehkar, pp. 18, 32;   A. Arend, “Pirkei Mehkar le-Yom ha-Atzma’ut – Hashlamot,” Derekh Ephrata 8 (1999), p. 114; Arend, “Tzitzim u-Ferakhim al Yom ha-Atzma’ut,” Kovetz ha-Zionut ha-Datit (ed. S. Raz), Jerusalem 2001, p. 655.  One of the printers of Ha-Mo’adim ba-Halakhah omitted the words, “How blessed we are to have had this good fortune!” which we cited above, n.3.