On the night of the 16 Kislev 1804, Rabbi Abraham Danzig was saved – miraculously in his telling – from a major fire in his home, and to mark the day, he established that date as a holiday for himself and all his descendants, including the recitation of parts of Hallel to commemorate the day. Similarly, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller establishes the first of Adar as a holiday “on my sons and daughters and my sons-in-law and daughters-in-law and their descendants until the coming of the Messiah” (conclusion to Megillat Eiva). There are numerous other examples of this phenomenon; Jews have established holidays to celebrate their personal miraculous celebration for centuries. Each is tied to a specific date in the calendar, and each contains its own unique celebration and thanks to the Almighty.
In our day and age, we mark and celebrate the miraculous salvation tied to the establishment of the State of Israel (including the fact that the international community supported its creation, the fact that the nation united in the writing of its Declaration of Independence, and the fact that the new country survived the War of Independence that followed) with a day of celebration, having selected the 5th of Iyar, the date of the declaration and the end of the British Mandate as the day of celebration. Next week, this calendar date falls on Shabbat, and I plan to say Hallel on that date, in recognition of my many feelings of thanks and gratitude on that day.
Obviously, many of the celebrations of Yom HaAtzmaut will not be held on Shabbat as they conflict with the sanctity of the day, but typically in the halakhic literature even when some observances of a holiday are moved to a different day on account of Shabbat, many observances of the holidays still remain as originally planned on Shabbat. The parallel to our situation comes from the scenarios of Shushan Purim or Tisha B’Av that coincide with Shabbat, where most observances are moved off of Shabbat, but some are retained on the original date.
The Talmud is clear that though many observances of Shabbat Shushan Purim, the so-called Purim Meshulash, are celebrated and commemorated in advance, 15 Adar, the actual day of Shushan Purim with its special liturgy is never moved off that specific calendar date. Even if Megilla reading and the mitzva of charity are moved off to Friday, and Purim Seuda is delayed until Sunday according to most opinions, the recitation of Al ha-Nissim and the Purim Torah reading remain on the appropriate calendar date, unmoved from Shabbat. Some even argue that Hallel is recited on that Shabbat in recognition of the day (Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 693:2). The parallel in our case is clear – if 5 Iyar has been set aside as a day to commemorate a miraculous miracle, then that date still retains its special halakhic status, even if other aspects of the commemoration are moved to a different date.
Similarly, when Tisha B’Av coincides with Shabbat, the day of fasting is moved to the following Sunday, but some of the observances of remain in effect on Shabbat (See Orah Hayyim 554:19, 559:9, and Magen Avraham 553:7.). Indeed, some are of the view that the core day of commemoration should never be moved (see Megilla 5b) because when an observance is tied to the calendar, it always remains on the appropriate day, at least somewhat.
Thus, it seems reasonable to me that even when we move the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut off of Shabbat, we can still also recite Hallel in recognition of the residual meaning to the calendar date, as it falls this year on Shabbat. Moving a celebration does not deny the day ever had significance, and few would argue this sacred date lacks meeting. True, the stakes are low in my situation, given the founding Rabbi of our congregation did not endorse reciting a blessing on Hallel (see Nefesh Ha-Rav, 94-96), and so at worse we are just adding additional praises of God from the Tehillim next Shabbat. But it seems like the right thing to do.
Rav Shlomo Goren notes in his essay on our topic (in Nachum Rackover’s Hilkhot Yom HaAtzmaut, 319-323) that anyone who sees Yom HaAtzmaut within the model of an anniversary of a day of miraculous salvation, should continue to recite Hallel on the appropriate date, no matter the day of the week. Yet, Rav Goren, himself, saw the Hallel of Yom HaAtzamaut as being tied to a day of celebration and not to the anniversary of a miracle. When the Rabbanut first established the holiday they built-in a moving calendar date, and since they saw it more as a holiday and not as an anniversary, the date was designed to move year to year. But as we approach Yom HaAtzmaut this year, I ask myself whether perhaps there are two models for the holiday, two reasons to celebrate, and perhaps two days of Hallel. We don’t need to choose between a holiday of celebration or a day of historical recollection, because Yom HaAtzmaut may be both at the same time.
Students of the Tanakh know and realize that Jewish holidays can serve as celebrations of the present, or as recollections of past, historical events. For example, the holiday of Sukkot is presented both as a time for each Jew to celebrate the bounty of that present year (Deut. 16:13-17), and also as a time to celebrate the moment of the redemption of the past and God’s assistance during the Exodus from Egypt (Lev. 23:33-44). We have holidays that are simultaneously two things – thanksgiving for the past and gratitude for the present. Perhaps this holiday, too, is both grounded on specific, granular past events, like the miracles of the 5th and 6th of Iyar, while also focused on thanks and celebration for the present reality of Medinat Yisrael, detached from anything specific and historical.
I will add that the Talmud, itself, recognizes that there are two reasons for Hallel (Pesahim 117a). Hallel can be recited “al kol perek,” in commemoration for every holiday, and also “al kol tzara she-lo tavo” for every miracle of the past. There is no need to declare one Hallel as superior to the other, as there are two valid reasons for Hallel, each resonating with us on a different day next week. On Yom HaAtzmaut regardless of which day it lands we might celebrate a holiday of celebration, and on the 5th of Iyar, even on a Shabbat detached from the celebrations, we might recall a miracle of salvation in our past.
About a decade ago, I started thinking about the extent to which Yom HaAtzmaut is a celebration of history and the founding of the state, or a celebration of the modern Medinat Yisrael and the enduring Divine support our Creator continues to give it. My thoughts were initially sparked by an advanced tenth grade Talmud lesson I observed on a random day in May, and heard a conversation I recall as if it was yesterday:
One Monday, the teacher entered and asked his Modern Orthodox students if they knew the Hebrew date.
“Yom HaZikaron” the class all replied in unison, all dressed in white in commemoration of the day.
“That’s true, but what is the date?” he replied.
The students were not entirely sure of the exact date, so one student recalled that Rosh Hodesh had been the previous week and began counting on his fingers: “One, two, three, four – today is Hey Iyar” he answered proudly.
“Good!” the teacher replied. “And what event happened on that date?”
“Is that like the yarzheit of some important rabbi?” one student said.
“No, I know, it’s the date that the Yom Kippur war ended,” said another.
“Are we supposed to skip Tahanun today?” said a third.
“Didn’t something happen on that date?” the teacher replied. “Can you think what?”
I would not have believed this story, had I not seen it with my own eyes.
These students were not clueless novices or non-Zionists by any means. They knew it was Yom HaZikaron and erev Yom HaAtzmaut, they were all dressed in blue and white, but those facts could not help them determine the rather famous Hebrew date. When they finally realized it was the 5th of Iyar, it still did not ring a bell to the date famously emblazoned on the last line of Israel’s declaration of independence, to the end of the British Mandate, or to the start of Israel’s War of Independence.
This was so shocking to me, because planted firmly in my mind, likely the result of years of discussion starting in elementary school, is the fact that Yom HaAtzmaut is celebrated on the fifth of Iyar, the date the declaration of the state was made. It sits beside the dates of Pesach and my own birthday as dates that I can recall instantly and without any hesitation. Yet, these students, ardent Zionists and celebrants of Yom HaAtzamaut, did not seem to have ever learned this fact, and could not recall it even when prompted by their teacher.
Those 10th graders celebrated the “celebration of the present” – the Israel that is alive and well today. And their joy was just as great, even if they lacked the historical component. Yet, I was also thinking about the “celebration of the past” as well, something they perhaps did not feel. Are we celebrating Israel as it is now, the start-up nation and falafel capital, the land of Torah academies and a melting pot of Jewish cultures; or were we celebrating the events of yesteryear – the miracles and great deeds of decades past that still resonate today? Or is it both?
It wouldn’t surprise me if the answer was partially generational. This year’s tenth-grade cohort was born in 2005, and for them 80% of the story of Medinat Yisrael is past history and secondhand stories. They do not remember any of Israel’s wars, the joy of 1948 or 1967, the Entebbe raid, or the Lebanon war. They cannot even remember the Oslo Accords, the second Intifada, or a time the Prime Minister of the state had not been educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their Israel is grounded in present realities, in the fun vacations they have had visiting family, not tied into the details of past history. Older generations, who have lived through a majority of the lifetime of Medinat Yisrael, who themselves or their parents could tell stories about the early histories or might feel differently.
Celebrations of the present tend to not be tied into specific dates in the calendar; after all they are about the here and now, while celebrations of the past are connected to specific key dates. The Sukkot of history is specifically tied to the 15th of Tishrei in Leviticus, while the Sukkot of contemporary life has no date provided in Deuteronomy. Even Pesach is presented with only a month and not an exact date when it appears in the section of the present-focused agricultural holidays (Exodus 23:14-19, 34:18-26). But the major historical commemorations that we have both as Jews and as Americans – July 4th, September 11th, November 11th, Nissan 15, Kislev 25, Adar 14 – are pegged to a particular date in the calendar when the event occurred, irrespective of the day of the week. The major commemorations that are lived as being more about the present – Labor Day, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Presidents Day – are not linked to a date in the calendar.
As an American Rabbi, I recognize that I do not fully appreciate all the dynamics of this question vis-a-vis those who make their homes in Medinat Yisrael, and so I limit my remarks to Jewish life in the United States, so Israeli readers should consider this almost as a “Yom HaAtzmaut Sheni shel Galuyot” as it were. I should note that American Zionist Jews on the whole do not take off from work to mark the holiday of Yom HaAtzmaut, and though Hallel is recited – often quickly – at the early, pre-work minyanim, most American Jews will daven at home on the morning of the 3rd of Iyar and not be especially careful to come to shul to recite Hallel communally. As R. Soloveitchik noted (Community, Covenant, and Commitment, letter 15), the most important liturgical observance of the holiday is the morning recitation of Hallel, and my approach will significantly maximize the recitation and feeling of said Hallel. My goal isn’t to celebrate a different day than the residents of Israel, it is to enable American Jews to feel the joy of the season which I fear they might not be able to do otherwise.
There is another important factor at play in America that members of the Israeli rabbinate may not realize. This year, few Americans will do as much as they typically do to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut on the 3rd of Iyar, especially because of the continued COVID pandemic in this country that will mute or limit many in-person celebrations, and even fewer of them will recite Hallel on that day. Year after year, Jews in our American communities may be too busy to make their way to the community-wide celebrations, so adding something on Shabbat, the day of greatest synagogue attendance will amplify their appreciation of the day. In our case, adding an additional day of Hallel will in no way detract from their Yom HaAtzamut earlier that week for those that are committed to it, but will also enable everyone else to experience the day more deeply than we would have otherwise. Rather than weakening our connection to Israel or our identification with its residents, this will enable for us greater connections, and deeper appreciation of Israel, including both its present wonders and its miraculous history.
Yaakov Jaffe is the Rabbi of the Maimonides Kehillah and Dean of the Maimonides School.