Yom Ha’atzmaut is not quite a festival. While today may well be a big day for many children in Jewish schools which annually celebrate Israel’s birthday, it has yet to take its place on the religious calendar in the same way as Chanukah or Purim.
Some Anglo-Jewish synagogues may hold special services of thanksgiving but it is by no means the norm.
There is no set liturgy. The latest edition of the Singer’s Prayer book for the Chief Rabbi’s congregations notes Hallel is recited in “most communities” in the morning service (just as on Chanukah, because of events which took place in the land of Israel, but not on Purim).
Still, some religiously hedge their bets by reciting Hallel without the accompanying brachot. In view of the unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, perhaps the most appropriate custom would be to recite a half-Hallel with blessings.
But there is one tried and trusted way to acknowledge any Jewish occasion - and that is to get together with a group of friends and study. To mark Israel’s 70th anniversary, Limmud has brought out an eight-page resource pack, which reflects on the significance of the state of Israel and its place in contemporary Jewry.
Read the Limmud resource below:
Since for once our weather is happily spring-like, you may feel it more in the spirit of the day to follow Israeli example and bring out the barbecue, leaving learning for another time. But the Limmud pack is not simply tied to Yom Ha’atzmaut and can be used as a prompt for any discussion on Israel in this milestone year.
The resource couples the text of Israel’s Declaration of Independence with a selection of passages by way of commentary from the Bible to modern Zionist speeches, as well as a collection of maps illustrating the changing borders of the Land of Israel.
The Declaration sets out the state’s ideals and aspirations but it is also an ambiguous text because of the balance it had to strike between religious and secular sensitivities. Hence there is no explicit reference to God - another reason perhaps why Yom Ha’atzmaut has struggled for full calendrical acceptqance - but instead a phrase from the psalms, Rock of Israel, which the non-religious can understand in a secular way.
One of the questions Limmud poses is whether the Declaration of Independence is a “sacred text”. In its invocation of the values of freedom, justice and peace “as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” many treat it as one.