Should I recite Hallel with the blessings on Yom Ha'atzmaut?

Question: Our synagogue has been debating whether it is appropriate to recite Hallel for Yom Ha’atzmaut Day (Israel Independence Day) and if so, whether it should be said with the berachot?

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is the CEO of the Spiritual Capital Foundation.

The Talmud states that Hallel should be recited whenever the Jewish people are rescued from oppression (Pesachim 117a). The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the return of Jewish sovereignty and self-determination after two millennia of oppression and persecution was a moment of extraordinary liberation for the Jewish people. It follows, then, that on its anniversary each year it is fitting to recite Hallel.

However, there are a number of sound halachic arguments as to why it should not be recited with a
blessing.

Firstly, according to many halachists a blessing can only be recited if the miracle was experienced by the totality of the Jewish people and in 1948 only a part of the Jewish people were present in the newly founded Jewish state.

Secondly, it is only appropriate to recite a blessing when the miracle being celebrated resulted in total redemption or liberation. This was hardly the case in 1948, when Israel’s Declaration of Independence precipitated the first of numerous wars between Israel and her Arab neighbours.

Thirdly, there is doubt as to which day one should celebrate by reciting Hallel; Yom Ha’atzmaut? November 29 — the date the UN voted to create the Jewish state? Or on the day the War of Independence was won?

For all of these reasons, it is the widespread practice not to recite a blessing on Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The question also arises in the literature as to whether one should recite the Shehechiyanu blessing as it is recited on all Jewish festivals, and while there are rabbis who argue that it should be recited, the majority opinion is opposed to its recitation.

This is because Shehechiyanu is primarily recited on festivals on which work is prohibited, unlike Yom Ha’atzmaut on which work is permitted. The exception is the recitation of Shehechiyanu on Chanucah and Purim when work is permitted, but then it is recited not for the festival per se but rather over the unique mitzvot of the day such as lighting the menorah and listening to the Megillah.

Yom Ha’atzma’ut is a day imbued with deep religious significance and should be celebrated accordingly; through prayer and thanksgiving.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

If you look at most faiths, their festival calendar has been unchanged for centuries. Yet Judaism, for all its insistence on tradition, has also been sufficiently flexible to introduce a new date, Yom Ha’atzmaut, marking Israel’s rebirth. It is a remarkable addition.

It is also recognition that major events which have affected both Jewish history and collective consciousness should not be left standing alone but be integrated into Jewish religious life, lest those events be neglected and, just as importantly, lest religious life becomes stale and irrelevant.

As a religion, we mourn and celebrate together. A key aspect of Judaism is its social nature: whereas, to generalise, Christianity is more concerned with individual salvation, Judaism concentrates on the communal experience. We encourage a minyan for services and most prayers are in the plural. You can daven alone, but it’s better together.

It follows that such a massive part of Jewish life today as Israel should be given full religious expression in synagogue. We may occupy positions on the right or left politically, as do Israelis themselves, but either way Israel is central to Jewish conversation.

It also permeates the liturgy. Whether it be us midweek asking God to turn in mercy towards Jerusalem, or on Shabbat declaring that God restores the Divine presence to Zion, or at Pesach asserting that we will be there next year.

To those, both religious and secular, who argue that Israel was due more to Ben Gurion than Divine providence, the same could be said about the Exodus and Moses, or Chanucah and the Maccabees; but the Jewish way is to marry the efforts of both heaven and earth without worrying too much about percentage points allocation.

For those who marvelled in 1948 at the creation of Israel after 2,000 years of exile, or who were electrified in 1967 when it survived against all odds, or who are amazed today at its creativity in so many fields , the best way to express such pride, relief and admiration (without ignoring the problems) is religiously.

Singing the Hatikvah is fine, but adding the Hallel (an outburst of joy) and its blessings (why be half-hearted and leave them out; it is either a wonder or not) envelops Yom Ha’atzmaut much more fully in the soul of the Jewish people.

    Last updated: 10:43am, April 8 2013