7 – Hallel With or Without a Blessing?

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Some say that even though we should thank Hashem on Yom HaAtzmaut, we should not say Hallel with a blessing. They mention five main reasons: 1) Based on several Rishonim, the Chida holds that Hallel is said with a blessing only when all of Israel experiences a miracle; and when we declared independence only a minority of world Jewry lived in Eretz Yisrael. 2) We should give thanks only for a complete salvation; and our enemies still threaten us on all sides. 3) The spiritual state of the country’s leaders and many of its citizens [diminishes our joy]. 4) It is proper to show deference to the opinion that holds that Hallel should be said only when a revealed miracle occurs, like the miracle of the Menorah, whilst the establishment of the State was a natural miracle. 5) It is unclear whether the day of thanksgiving should be set for the day we declared independence [the 5th of Iyar], the day the War of Independence ended, or the day the United Nations decided to establish a Jewish State, which was the sixteenth of Kislev(Nov. 29).

Because of all, or some, of these concerns, the Chief Rabbinate’s Council originally prescribed that one recite the Hallel without a blessing during the morning prayers of Yom HaAtzmaut. Over the course of the next twenty-six years, however, the State of Israel’s situation improved dramatically. We were privileged to liberate Judea and Samaria in the Six-Day War, and we even came out of the Yom Kippur War with a great victory, despite the adverse conditions at the start. More than three million Jews already lived in the Land, five times the number that lived there at the State’s inception [1948]. Therefore, on the 25th of Nisan, 5734 (1974), the Chief Rabbinate’s Council assembled once again, at the initiative of the [Ashkenazi] Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, zt”l, to discuss the issue of Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut. They decided, by majority vote, that a strong case can be made in favor of saying the full Hallel with a blessing on Yom HaAtzmaut morning. On this basis, our Rosh Yeshiva,HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, zt”l, instructed the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva to recite Hallel with a blessing, and all of his students act accordingly.

In response to the claim that Hallel may be said only on a miracle that affects all of Israel, the Rabbis explained that the establishment of the State constituted a salvation for all of Israel (as explained above, sec. 3). In addition, the residents of the Land of Israel are considered the entirety of Israel (Klal Yisrael). The Day of Independence was specifically chosen as the day of thanksgiving because it was the foundation for the deliverance and salvation7.


[7] According to the gaon Rabbi Meshulam Roth, it would have been appropriate to institute the saying of Hallel with a blessing on Yom HaAtzmaut immediately after the State was established. He writes: “The leaders who chose this day in particular were correct, for that was when the main miracle occurred, when we went from bondage to freedom by declaring independence. Had we postponed this declaration for a different day, we would have missed the opportunity and we would not have attained the recognition and consent of the world’s major powers, as is well known. This miracle also brought in its wake the second miracle: being saved from death to life, both in terms of our war against the Arabs inEretz Yisrael and the salvation of the Diaspora Jews, who immigrated to the Land. This led to the third miracle: the ingathering of the exiles.” Our master and teacher, HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook explains further (L’Netivot Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 248-49) that the courage displayed in declaring the State was miraculous, in and of itself; see Bava Metzia 106a, with Tosafot.

However, Rabbi Ovadyah Hadayah (Yaskil Avdi, vol. 6, O.C. 10) – although agreeing fully that the establishment of the State was the beginning of redemption – cites the Chida in Chayim Sha’al (2:11) as saying that Hallel should be said only over a miracle that happened to Klal Yisrael, adding that the salvation [of 1948] was not complete. Furthermore, he asserts that no miracle happened on Yom HaAtzmaut; on the contrary, the war intensified. Rabbi Hadayah is also unsure of the appropriate date on which to establish the holiday: perhaps the day of the cease fire is most fitting, or maybe the 17th of Kislev (Nov. 29), when the United Nations confirmed the Jewish people’s right to a state. To avoid disrupting the order of our prayers, which were arranged on the basis of deep kavanot (intentions), Rabbi Hadayah concludes that one should recite Hallel without a blessing at the end of the Shacharit service. The Rishon LeTzion, Sefardic Chief Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef (Yabi’a Omer, vol. 6, O.C. 41) agrees that we should omit the blessing, because the miracle did not happen to all of Klal Yisrael and because we still have a long way to go before reaching a state of rest and security, from political, military, and spiritual standpoints. Rabbi Yosef Mashash (Otzar HaMichtavim 3:1769) holds that one should recite the full Hallel with a blessing. Rabbi Shalom Mashash felt that one should recite the blessing, but when he heard Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef’s opinion, he ruled that one who already has a custom to say the blessing should continue to do so, while one who does not have such a custom should refrain from reciting the blessing (Shemesh U’Magen 3:63, 66). Our teacher, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, holds that one should recite the Hallel without a blessing. Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, and the Rishon LeTzion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, both of blessed memory, concur, but Rabbi Shapiro agrees that one who wants to recite the blessing, in accordance with his custom, is permitted to do so (cited in Sefer HaRabbanut HaRashit, vol. 2, pp. 901-903).

Those who hold that Hallel should be said with a blessing explain that the miracle actually did happen to Klal Yisrael, as Rabbi Roth writes [above]. Thus, even the Chida would agree. Furthermore, the residents ofEretz Yisrael are considered the entirety of Israel. This is how Rabbi Goren and Rabbi Gershuni explain the matter (their words are cited in a book entitled Hilchot Yom HaAtzmaut VeYom Yerushalayim). In Yabi’a Omer (loc. cit. 3), Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef writes that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are considered Klal Yisrael only for specific issues. Rabbi Sharki rebuts this claim in his Siddur Beit Meluchah (Essay Ba Oraich, sec. 2). Regarding the claim that the salvation was incomplete, we can learn from Chanukah that this is irrelevant. After all, the Jews of the time observed the holiday after their first victory, even though they needed to fight many more difficult battles over the next few decades (see below 11.3), establishing a holiday after every subsequent victory (ibid. 11.1). Moreover, when the wars finally ended, Hellenism had already spread throughout the Hasmonean Empire, indicating the wanting spiritual level of the general populace (ibid. 11.4). It is implausible to say that the Rabbis instituted Chanukah only in commemoration of the Menorah miracle, because the first day surely celebrates the military victory. Furthermore, the kal va’chomer upon which everything is based relates to the salvation, not the miracle. The fact that many holy soldiers have been killed does not preclude the saying of Hallel; after all, more fighters were killed in the Hasmonean wars, and they nevertheless established a holiday. In addition, we have at least as much political independence as the Hasmoneans did. Rabbi Goren substantiates the mitzvah of reciting Hallel with a blessing in his work Torat HaMo’adim, as does Rabbi Natan Tzvi Friedman in Responsa Neitzer Mata’ai (36). This is also the opinion of Rabbi Chayim David HaLevi in Dat U’Medinah, p. 82.

Quoting testimony by Rabbi Yehuda Ushpizai, Rabbi Shmuel Katz writes in his work HaRabbanut HaRashit (vol. 2, p. 841, n. 33) that Chief Rabbis Herzog and Uziel believed that it was appropriate to say Hallel with a blessing from the moment the State was established, but since they were told that the Chazon Ish and other Rabbis strongly opposed this, they refrained from issuing such a ruling, so as not to increase strife. On page 890, note 6, Rabbi Katz cites Rabbi Zevin as saying that this is cause for eternal weeping, that due to external intervention by Rabbis who were not members of the Chief Rabbinate’s Council, the Chief Rabbis did not rule immediately when the State was born to say Hallel with a blessing. Similarly, Rabbi Sha’ar Yashuv HaKohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, relates that his father, the Nazir, held that one should say Hallel with a blessing, but since his opinion was not accepted, he did not recite the blessing, explaining: “I am missing the ‘ve’tzivanu’ (‘He has commanded us’) of the Chief Rabbinate.”

It is fitting to cite here part of a sermon that our master and teacher, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, delivered on the nineteenth Independence Day, when the Rabbinate had not yet instructed the public to recite a blessing on Hallel (L’Netivot Yisrael, vol. 2, pp. 359-60): “An important man approached me and asked why our Rabbis do not permit us to recite Hallel with a blessing on Yom HaAtzmaut? I answered that the Rabbinate’s decision is balanced and correct. The Chief Rabbinate’s edicts are made for the entire population, and – unfortunately and disgracefully – many of our people do not acknowledge God’s great deeds as revealed in the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty [in the Land]. And since they lack this belief, they lack the joy [that goes along with it] and we cannot obligate them to recite a blessing. This can be compared to the blessing a person says upon seeing a [long-lost] friend: if he is happy to see his friend, he recites the blessing, but if he feels no joy, he does not recite it. Rabbi Maimon, who was totally dedicated to the rebuilding of God’s nation and inheritance, was filled with the joy of faith [when the State was born]. He, therefore, instituted the recitation of Hallel with a blessing in his synagogue. The same is true of other, similar places, like the army and the religious kibbutzim. However, the all-inclusive Chief Rabbinate cannot issue a comprehensive ruling for the entire population, instructing them to recite a blessing, when many people are not ready for this. In our Central Yeshiva (Mercaz HaRav), we follow the Rabbinate’s ruling, because we are not some kloyz (small house of study) of a specific group. We belong to the concept of Klal Yisrael, which is centered in Jerusalem, and since – painfully and shamefully – there are currently obstacles preventing the public as a whole from attaining perfect faith and joy… it is appropriate that we, too, act in accordance with the Rabbinate’s ruling for the general public.”

After the Six Day War, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda bemoaned the fact that the Rabbinate did not immediately institute the saying of Hallel with a blessing on Yom HaAtzmaut. When Rabbi Goren did so after the victory of the Yom Kippur War, Rav Tzvi Yehuda was elated, and this became the custom of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. Even though all types of events have occurred since then – ups and downs – and the Chief Rabbinate is not what it used to be, nonetheless, the recitation of Hallel with a blessing was already accepted, and this is how Rav Tzvi Yehuda’s students conduct themselves.

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