Peninei Halakha

Close this search box.
Peninei Halakha > Zemanim > 4 - Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, Yom HaZikaron

4 – Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, Yom HaZikaron

1 – The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel

When the State of Israel was established, on the fifth of Iyar, 5708, the Jewish people as a whole were privileged to fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (settling the Land of Israel). Even before the declaration of statehood, every Jew who lived in the Land fulfilled this mitzvah. The Sages even said, “A person should always dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city inhabited mostly by heathens, and he should not dwell outside the Land, even in a city inhabited mostly by Jews, for anyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a God, and anyone who dwells outside the Land is like one who has no God” (Ketuvot 110b). Nonetheless, the mitzvah is mainly incumbent upon Klal Yisrael (the entire Jewish community) – to take control of the Land. The mitzvah to dwell in the Land, which applies to every individual Jew, is an offshoot of the general mitzvah that is incumbent upon Klal Yisrael as a whole.

This is the meaning of the verse “You shall possess the Land and dwell in it, for to you have I given the Land to possess it”(Bamidbar, 33:53). “You shall possess” denotes conquest and sovereignty, while “you shall dwell” implies settling the Land so that it not remain desolate. Similarly, the Torah states, “You shall possess it and you shall dwell therein”(Devarim, 11:31). Accordingly, the Ramban defines the mitzvah as follows: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land that God, may He be blessed, gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov; and we must not leave it in the hands of any other nation or let it remain desolate” (Addendum to Rambam’sSefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 4).

This mitzvah is incumbent upon the Jewish people in every generation. For a long time, however, we lacked the means by which to fulfill it. We were forced to neglect it, because we did not have an army or weapons with which to conquer and settle the Land. A few generations ago, God showed kindness to His nation and a spirit of nationalism began to stir, causing Jews to go forth and gather in the Land. They planted trees, developed the country’s economy, established an organized defense force, and struggled against the foreign power that controlled the Land, so that when the British Mandate expired, the Jews in Israel were able to declare the establishment of Medinat Yisrael. On that day, the Jewish people began fulfilling the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz. Granted, we are not yet in control of the entire Land, and we are partially dependent on the nations of the world, but we are actually fulfilling, once again, the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz.

We find in halachah, as well, that Jewish sovereignty over the Land is a significant factor], for the laws of mourning over Eretz Yisrael’s destruction depend on sovereignty. Our Sages prescribed that one who sees the cities of Judea in ruins should say, “Your holy cities have become a wilderness”(Yeshayah 64:9), and tear his garments. The poskim explain that the definition of “in ruins” depends on who is in control. If Gentiles rule the Land, its cities are considered ruined, even if most of the inhabitants are Jewish, and one must tear his garment upon seeing them. But if the Jews are in control, the cities are not considered ruined, even if Gentiles constitute the majority, and no tearing is required (Beit Yosef and BachO.C. 561; Magen Avraham 1, and Mishna Berura 2).

In addition, Chazal lavished praise upon the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, going so far as to say that it is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Sifrei, Re’eh 53)1.

[1] The Ramban lays down the foundations of the mitzvah of settling the Land in his Addendum to Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 4, and our master and teacher, Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook zt”l, expands upon them in his work L’Netivot Yisrael (Vol. 1, LeTokef Kedushato Shel Yom HaAtzmaut, Beit El Publications, pp. 246-50, see also pp. 160-62; Vol. 2, Mizmor Yud Tet shel Medinat Yisrael, pp. 357-68). The mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz applies in every generation, as the Ramban (loc. cit.) and Rivash (387) write. Therefore, the halachah that a husband and wife can force each other to make aliyah (Ketuvot 110b) is applicable at all times, as the Shulchan Aruch determines (Even HaEzer 75:3-5). This is also the consensus of the Rishonim and Acharonim, as the Pitchei Teshuvah cites there (6). True, Tosafot in Ketuvot (110b) quote Rabbeinu Chayim’s opinion that the mitzvah “does not apply today,” but the greatest Rishonim and Acharonim disregard this opinion, claiming that a mistaken student authored it (Maharit, Yoreh Deah 28; many of the greatest Acharonim agree; see also Gilyon Maharsha, Ketuvot 110b; Responsa Chatam Sofer, Y.D. 234). The fact that the mitzvah is mainly fulfilled by way of Jewish sovereignty is elucidated in Yeshu’ot Malko, Y.D. 66, Avnei Neizer, Y.D. 455, and elsewhere.

Chazal comment on several other mitzvot that they are equal to all the rest (circumcision – Nedarim 32a; charity – Bava Batra 9a; tzitzitShevuot 29a; tefillinMenachot 43b; ShabbatYerushalmi Nedarim 3:9; Torah study – Peah 1:1; acts of kindness – ibid.). Nonetheless, from a halachic standpoint, Yishuv HaAretz takes precedence over them all, for it is the only one that overrides a rabbinic injunction relating to the Sabbath (a “shevut”). If someone needs to violate a shevut in order to perform a brit milah (circumcision) on Shabbat, we postpone the brit instead of violating the shevut. For the sake of Yishuv HaAretz, however, the Rabbis allow one to purchase a home in Eretz Yisrael on the Sabbath, if necessary, even if this entails violating the shevut of amirah le’nachri (telling a non-Jew to do work for you on Shabbat), as the Talmud states in Gittin 8b and Bava Kama 80b (with Tosafot). We are not talking about the redemption of the entire Land, just the purchase of one house, and it still overrides a shevut! Furthermore, in order to make a protective “fence” around the Sabbath, our Sages abrogate the biblical commandments of shofar and lulav, when Rosh HaShanah and the first day of Sukkot coincide with Shabbat. When it comes to Yishuv HaAretz, however, the Sages revoke their words and permit the violation of a shevut, which is a serious offense, as it is supported by a scriptural text (and the Smag apparently considers it a biblical prohibition).

We are commanded to sacrifice our lives for the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz. After all, the Torah commands us to take possession of the Land, i.e. to conquer it; and soldiers are called upon to endanger their lives in war. See Minchat Chinuch 425.

The reason the Rambam does not include this mitzvah in his count of the 613 is that it is beyond the regular “value” of mitzvot; therefore, it is not included in their detailed enumeration. This coincides with the rules the Rambam lays down at the beginning of Sefer HaMitzvot, stating it is inappropriate to reckon commandments that encompass the entire Torah, as he writes in Mitzvah #153 [that settling the Land of Israel is all-inclusive]. Besides which, it is implausible to say that the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz is only rabbinically ordained today [and that that is why the Rambam leaves it out of the count]. After all, Chazal’s statement that settling the Land is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah was made after the destruction of the Second Temple. Now, it is unlikely that they would say such a thing about a rabbinic mitzvah. Moreover, it is improbable that the Rabbis would dismantle a family (see above regarding divorce), and allow one to violate a shevut, merely for the sake of a rabbinic mitzvah (see Rabbi Zisberg’s Nachalat Ya’akov, Vol. 1, pp. 201-249).

2 – The Beginning of Redemption and Sanctifying God’s Name

The establishment of the State removed the disgrace of exile from the Jewish people. Generation after generation, we wandered in exile, suffering dreadful humiliation, pillage, and bloodshed. We were an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we were regarded as sheep led to the slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten, and humiliated. Strangers said to us, “There is no more hope or expectation for you.” That situation was a terrible Chillul HaShem (desecration of God’s Name), because HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Name is associated with us, and when we are degraded, His name is desecrated among the nations (see Yechezkel, 36).

The prophets of Israel prophesied, in God’s name, that the exile will eventually end: “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your own soil”(Yechezkel, 36:24). “They will build houses and inhabit them; they will plant vineyards and eat the fruit thereof” (Yeshayah, 65:21). “You will yet plant vineyards upon the mountains of Samaria; the planters with plant and eat of the fruit”(Yirmiyah, 31:4). “The desolate Land will be tilled, instead of having been desolate in the eyes of all passersby. They will say, ‘This Land which was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden and the cities which were ruined, desolate, and destroyed, have been fortified and inhabited”(Yechezkel, 36:34-35). “I will return the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the destroyed cities and inhabit them; they will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruits. I will plant them upon their Land and they will never again be uprooted from their Land that I have given them, says the Lord, your God”(Amos, 9:14-15).

However, when so many years passed without God’s word coming to fruition, Hashem’s Name became increasingly desecrated in the world, and the enemies of Israel proclaimed that there was no chance that the Jews would ever return to their Land. Even Chazal spoke exaggeratingly about the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles, to the point that they said, “The ingathering of the exiles is as great as the day upon which the heaven and earth were created” (Pesachim 88a). And behold, the miracle occurred! Hashem fulfilled His promise, causing an enormous and awesome Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s Name), which gained even more strength during the Six Day War, when we liberated Jerusalem and the holy cities of Judea and Samaria.

This process – the ingathering of the exiles and the blooming of the wasteland – which gained tremendous momentum when the State was established, is the beginning of the redemption, as Rabbi Abba says (Sanhedrin 98a), “There is no clearer [sign of the] End [of the exile] than this [verse]: “But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are soon to come”(Yechezkel, 36:8). Rashi comments, “When Eretz Yisrael gives forth its fruit in abundance, the End will be near, and there is no clearer [sign of the] End [of the exile].”

True, many things still need fixing – unfortunately, we have not yet repented fully from our sins, and many Jews have not yet immigrated to Eretz Yisrael – but our Sages have taught that [redemption can come in one of two ways]: if we achieve complete repentance, God will hasten the redemption, and if not, it will come “in its time,” through natural processes (Sanhedrin 98a). That is, when the predetermined time for redemption arrives – even if Israel fails to repent – natural historical processes, loaded with complications and severe hardships will come to pass (such aswars, persecutions, political movements, and international treaties), causing the Jewish people to return to their Land and rebuild it. We will proceed from stage to stage in this manner, until the ultimate redemption materializes. These hardships, which stimulate the redemptive process, are called the birth pangs of Mashiach. The more we strengthen ourselves in the areas of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael and penitence, the more pleasant and less bitter these birth pangs will become (based on the Gra in Kol HaTor). Concerning this type of redemption, Chazal say, “Such is the redemption of Israel: at first little by little, but as it progresses it grows greater and greater” (Yerushalmi, Berachot 1:1).

Explicit verses in the Torah and the Prophets indicate that the order of redemption is as follows: first, there will be a small degree of repentance, and the Jewish people will gather in their Land, which will begin to yield its fruit. Afterwards, Hashem will bestow upon us a spirit from on high, until we return to Him completely2.

[2]> My teacher and Rosh Yeshiva , HaRav. Tzvi Yehuda-h HaKohen Kook, explains in detail – in an essay entitled “HaMedinah KeHitkymut Chazon HaGeulah,” LeNetivot Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 261-72 – that this is the order of redemption: first there will be a small degree of repentance, with a return to the Land and a national revival; then, with the passage of time, a complete return to God will ensue. Many sources confirm this; we will mention but a few. In the section dealing with repentance in the Book of Devarim (chap. 30), the Torah states that there will first be a return “unto (עד) God,” which refers to a minor repentance stemming from fear and harsh decrees. Afterwards, the exiles will gather in the Land, and then a complete return “to (אל) God” will take place. Rav Tzvi Yehuda explains, based on his father’s teachings, our master, HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, that the minor repentance will manifest itself in a return to the Land. This return began with a holy awakening of love, when the Chassidim and the students of the Gra immigrated to the Land in the 1800s). The book of Yechezkel (Chap. 36) also describes the redemption in this order, as does the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b). There, Rabbi Yehoshua opines that redemption does not depend on repentance; rather, God will give power to a king as cruel as Haman, and this will cause the Jews to repent – partially. Rabbi Eliezer, who argues with him, remains silent at the end of the debate, implying that he concedes to Rabbi Yehoshua. Other sources that indicate that redemption is independent of repentance are: Shemot Rabbah 25; Tikkunei Zohar Chadash; Ramban,Parashat Ha’azinu; Or HaChayim HaKadosh, VaYikra 25:28; Rav Elyashuv’s Hakdamot VeSha’arim 6:9. Elsewhere in Rav Elyashuv’s book (pp. 273-76), he quotes some of the greatest Acharonim who viewed the modern-day ingathering of exiles as the beginning of redemption. Our teacher and master, Rav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook adds, in vol. 2, p. 365, that one who fails to recognize these acts of kindness on Hashem’s part lacks faith. This lack of faith sometimes wraps itself in a garb of ultra-Orthodoxy and righteousness, but it is actually a denial of the [Divine nature of] the Written Law, the words of our Prophets, and the Oral Law. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98b) quotes [several] Amora’im who were so afraid of the terrible suffering that would occur during the era of the birth pangs of Mashiach that they said, “Let him [Mashiach] come, but let me not see him.” See other sources in Eim HaBanim Semeichah [by Rabbi Y. S. Teichtal]; HaTekufah HaGedolah by Rabbi M. M. Kasher; and Kol HaTor – reprinted at the end of Rabbi Kasher’s book – which contains many deep ideas which the Gra revealed to his students on the topic of redemption. See also Ayelet HaShachar by Rabbi Yaacov Filber, the section entitled Shivat Tziyon HaShelishit.

3 – Salvation of Israel

On Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), the Jewish people were delivered from bondage to freedom – from subjugation to the kingdoms of the world, to political independence. This also brought about an actual resurrection from death to life. Until then, we were unable to defend ourselves against the enemies who pursued us. From that day on, thanks to God’s kindness, we began to defend ourselves and win our battles. True, all the enemies who rise up to destroy us have yet to be destroyed, but after the establishment of the State of Israel, we formed an army, thank God, and we have the strength to fight back and triumph. And even though more than 20,000 holy souls have been killed in wars and terror attacks since the State came into being over sixty years ago, just a few years beforehand, during the horrific Holocaust, more than six million holy Jews were killed in the span of five years – more than three hundred times the amount. This is the difference between having the ability to fight back and being a helpless victim.

That day brought about a salvation for Diaspora Jews, as well. They now have a country that is always willing to absorb them, and even works on their behalf in the international arena. Before the State was established, almost no one paid attention to our complaints against the murderous, anti-Semitic persecutions that raged in many countries. After Israel gained independence, however, even the most evil regimes were forced to take into consideration Israel’s possible reprisals on behalf of the Jews living in their midst. Even Communist Russia had to relent and allow the Jews to leave from behind the Iron Curtain, something that was unfathomable before the State was born.

The establishment of the State also brought spiritual salvation to the Jews. Previous to this, the Jewish nation underwent a profound spiritual crisis since the dawn of the modern era. The opportunity to integrate into the civil and national frameworks of the developed nations, which the Jews were granted, generated a strong desire to assimilate. This is not the place to elaborate on the reasons for this crisis; our master, Rav Kook, zt”l, deals with the issue at length, discussing its various facets. In brief, a dangerous process of assimilation and the abandonment of Judaism developed in all countries that embraced modernization. This process threatened the very existence of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Assimilation began approximately two hundred years ago in Western Europe, spreading gradually to Eastern Europe and the capitals of the more developed Arab countries. Today, most young people in the Jewish community of America marry out of the faith, and even those who marry Jews beget very few offspring. Under these circumstances, Diaspora Jewry is fading away. Only in the State of Israel is the Jewish population growing; and intermarriage is relatively rare. Moreover, the percentage of Jews connected to Torah and mitzvot in Israel is higher than that of any other Jewish community in the world. This spiritual salvation came about in the merit of the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, which enabled the ingathering of the exiles and diminished the temptations of assimilation.

Thus, Yom HaAtzmaut is invested with three sanctities: the mitzvah of settling the Land, the beginning of redemption which created a Kiddush Hashem in the eyes of the nations, and the various salvations that the Jewish people merited with the rebirth of sovereign nationhood in our Land.

4 – The Three Oaths

A verse in Shir HaShirim says, I made you swear, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken nor arouse the love until it desires(Shir HaShirim, 2:7). The Sages explain that God administered three oaths when Israel went into exile amongst the nations: two to Israel, and one to the Gentiles. He adjured Israel not to ascend “as a wall” (some versions read, “against the wall”) and not to rebel against the nations; while He adjured the Gentiles not to overly subjugate the Jews (Ketuvot 111a). Afterwards, the Gemara adds three other oaths that Hashem administered to the Jews: “That they will not reveal the End [of Days], delay the End, or reveal the secret to the Gentiles.” Furthermore, “Rabbi Elazar says, The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said to Israel: ‘If you fulfill the oath, fine; but if not, I will allow your flesh [to be devoured] like that of the gazelles and the hinds of the field.’” (there).

One of the Rishonim, Rabbi Yitzchak De Leon, author of Megillat Esther [on the Rambam’sSefer HaMitzvot], understands the oaths to mean that “we may not rebel against the nations and conquer the Land forcibly,” and this is the intention of “not to ascend as a wall.” Based on this, he concludes that there is no mitzvah to settle the Land until Mashiach arrives (Gloss on the Ramban’s Addendum to Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 4).

However, the greatest Rishonim and Acharonim hold that the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz is fixed and eternal, as the Ramban, Shulchan Aruch(Even HaEzer 75:3-5), and Pitchei Teshuvah(ibid. 75:6) determine. Thus, one should not learn from this aggadic statement that the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz no longer applies nowadays.

Many interpretations have been given for the three oaths. Several of them imply that we must not precipitate the End [of the exile] and ascend to the Land forcibly, without first considering the matter realistically. For there is reason to fear that, because of the hardships of exile and the protracted anticipation for redemption, people will ascend to the Land impetuously, without any practical means by which to build the Land and stand up against the nations of the world. This will lead to destruction and crisis instead of the beginning of redemption. Therefore, God made us swear that we will not attempt to return before carefully calculating our actions. Rather, we should ascend and build the Land gradually, in coordination with the nations of the world, or by way of manifest miracles, which comes to pass if we deserve the “I [God] will hasten it” form of redemption (Yeshayah, 60:22).

Indeed, the modern return to Zion occurred gradually. The Jewish community in the Land established itself step by step, while the Zionist Organization simultaneously engaged in international diplomatic efforts, until the nations recognized the Jewish people’s right to return to their Land and build there a national home. Accordingly, after the League of Nations agreed in San Remo to return the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, zt”l, wrote that “the fear of the oaths has faded away.”3.

[3] The [full] quote can be found in HaTekufah HaGedolah, p. 175. We will mention a few of the sources. Rashi explains [the Gemara’s statement] “They shall not go up as a wall” [to mean], “Together, with a strong hand.” The Avnei Neizer (Y.D. 453) writes that if the Jews ascend to the Land with the permission of the nations, it is not considered strong-handed. Rabbi Teichtal concurs in Eim HaBanim Semeichah, pp. 226-28 [English edition], adding that when the Jews in exile encounter great suffering, it is a heavenly sign that they must ascend to Eretz Yisrael (see the index there). Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook explains this principle briefly in L’Netivot Yisrael, vol. 2, pp. 274-75. The entire, comprehensive work of Rabbi M. M. Kasher, HaTekufah HaGedolah, is filled with sources on the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, the beginning of redemption, and explanations on the three oaths; see pp. 175-76, 273ff.

Even if someone wants to explain the oaths differently, the rule is that we do not derive halachah from aggadic statements. So writes the Avnei Neizer (Y.D. 454). Hence, the Rif, the Rosh, and all the other early commentators on Tractate Ketuvot disregard the three oaths. On the contrary, they write that there is a mitzvah to ascend to the Land. The Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, as well, leave the oaths out of their works. The author of Pinei Yehoshua (on Ketuvot 111a) points out that the Gemara in Yoma (9b) implies the opposite – that the redemption did not come because the Jews did not ascend as a wall. And since these two aggadic sources contradict each other, we must understand them in some other way, not related to halachah. According to the author of Sefer Hafla’ah (Ketuvot, ibid.), the “wall” only relates to aliyah from Babylonia. The Gra writes in his commentary to Shir HaShirim that the oaths relate to the building of the Temple, [warning us] not to burst forth and build it without Divine authorization, given through a prophet. According to Rebbe Tzaddok (Divrei Sofrim 14), even the author of Megillat Esther would agree that there is a mitzvah to settle the Land nowadays. For a comprehensive treatment of this issue, see Nachalat Ya’akov by Rabbi Ya’akov Zisberg, vol. 2, pp. 715-815.

5 – Establishing Yom HaAtzmaut as a Lasting Holiday

There is a mitzvah to establish a holiday, to rejoice and praise God, on a day when Jews were delivered from distress. This is what prompted the Rabbis to establish Purim and Chanukah as everlasting holidays. Even though it is forbidden to add mitzvot to the Torah, this mitzvah is an exception, for it is derived from a logical inference (a kal va’chomer): when we left Egypt and were delivered from slavery to freedom, God commanded us to celebrate Pesach and sing praise to Him every year; all the more so [must we celebrate] Purim, when we were saved from death to life (Megillah 14a). This is what the Rabbis relied on when establishing Chanukah as well (Ritva, ibid.). The Chatam Sofer explains (Yoreh Deah end of 233, Orach Chaim 208) that since this mitzvah is derived from a kal va’chomer, it is considered a biblical commandment. However, the Torah does not prescribe exactly how to make a holiday; therefore, one who does anything to commemorate these great salvations fulfills his biblical obligation. It was the Rabbis who determined that we read the Megillah, prepare a festive meal, send portions of food to others, and give charity to the poor on Purim, and light the candles on Chanukah.

Many Jewish communities throughout the ages kept this mitzvah of instituting days of joy in commemoration of miracles that happened to them. Many of them used the name Purim in reference to these days, like “Frankfort Purim” and “Tiberias Purim.” Some communities had a custom to eat festive meals, send portions of food to one another, and give alms to the poor on these days. Maharam Alshakar(49) writes that the enactments made by these communities have binding force, obligating all of their descendants to keep them, even if they move to a new community. Other Acharonim concur (Magen Avraham and Eliyah Rabbah 686:5)4.

The great gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth (Rata), writes: “There is no doubt that we are commanded to rejoice, establish a holiday, and say Hallel on [the fifth of Iyar], the day which the government, the members of the Knesset (who were chosen by the majority of the people), and most of the greatest rabbis, fixed as the day on which to celebrate, throughout the Land, the miracle of our salvation and freedom” (Responsa Kol Mevaser 1:21)5.

[4] The Pri Chadash (Orach Chaim 496, Kuntras HaMinhagim 14) disagrees with Maharam Alshakar, writing that we should not establish new holidays after the destruction of the Temple, when the Rabbis canceled the already-existing holidays enumerated in Megillat Ta’anit. However, the Chatam Sofer (O.C. 191) proves that we should create new holidays; saying the fact that they canceled, after the destruction, the festive days mentioned in Megillat Ta’anit is no proof, for they canceled only the holidays that were connected to the Holy Temple. The Chatam Sofer adds and relates that he himself celebrates “Frankfort Purim,” on the 20th of Adar, because he was born there, even though he had since moved elsewhere. It is also well-known that the Rambam established holidays for himself and his offspring in commemoration of salvations that he experienced – for example, surviving a storm at sea. A similar account is found in Chayei Adam (155:41). The author of Yaskil Avdi (vol. 7, O.C. 44:12) cites many examples of the institution of “Purim” days in various communities and consequently rules (vol. 8, omissions 4) that we may establish Yom HaAtzmaut as a holiday. Two more important sources on this issue from the Rishonim are: Ibn Ezra, Bamidba,r 10:10; Rabbeinu Tam, cited in Tosafot Ri to Berachot (8a in the Rif pages).

[5] In his Responsa Kol Mevaser (vol. 1, 21:2-3), the brilliant Rabbi Meshulam Roth (about whom our master HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook said that he was the gadol ha’dor after the passing of HaRav Kook, zt”l,) explains – based on the Ramban, the Ritva, and other Rishonim and Acharonim – that the foundation of the mitzvah to establish Yom HaAtzmaut as a holiday is the kal va’chomer [mentioned above]. Therefore, establishing it was not in violation of “You shall not add [to the commandments]” (Devarim 13:1), for the prohibition against inventing a holiday refers only to holidays that do not commemorate a salvation. Based on the kal va’chomer, however, we are obligated to institute holidays that commemorate salvations. Rabbi Roth adds that a prophet is forbidden to establish a new holiday based on prophecy. The need to come up with a special scriptural exposition regarding Purim (Megillah 7a) was [only] in order to canonize the Scroll of Esther.

Pay attention to Rabbi Meshulam Roth’s reliable statement that Yom HaAtzmaut was instituted by the majority of the greatest rabbis. Granted, they argued about reciting Hallel with a blessing, but the majority of the greatest rabbis agreed on the basic obligation to give thanks and rejoice. The Chatam Sofer writes (O.C. 191, s.v. mihu) that one might violate the prohibition of adding on to the commandments by establishing a holiday for all of Israel. This does not contradict our thesis, because he means that one may not establish a nationwide holiday to commemorate a miracle that happened to one individual community. We are, however, obligated to establish a holiday for all of Israel for a miracle that happened to the Jews as a whole. See also Rabbi Rakover’s Hilchot Yom HaAtzmaut VeYom Yerushalayim, which includes articles on the mitzvah to establish a holiday on Yom HaAtmaut written by the Chief Rabbis and other great Torah scholars.

Some ask, why did Yehoshua neglect to establish a holiday to celebrate the conquest of Eretz Yisrael? The answer is that the holiday of Pesach commemorates both the redemption from Egypt and Israel’s subsequent entry into the Land. This corresponds to the fifth expression of redemption [see Shemot 6:6-8]. Rebbe Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin posits that the holiday of Tu B’Av (the fifteenth of Av) was established for this reason. Also see below, note 7.

6 – The Recitation of Hallel

It is a mitzvah to say Hallel on special occasions, in order to thank and praise Hashem for the miracles He performs on our behalf. First and foremost are the holidays that the Torah commands us to observe: Pesach, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot, on which we remember the miracles and acts of kindness that God did for us when He took us out of Egypt, gave us the Torah, and brought us through the desert to Eretz Yisrael.

Our Sages also instituted the recitation of Hallel on all eight days of Chanukah, as the beraita states (Megillat Ta’anit, chap. 9): “Why did they see fit to [require us to recite the] complete Hallel on these days? To teach us that for every salvation HaKadosh Baruch Hu performs for Israel, they [the Jews] come before Him in song and praise. Accordingly, it says in the Book of Ezra(3:11), ‘They sang responsively with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, for He is good….’

Similarly, the Talmud (Pesachim 117a) states that after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, “the prophets among them instituted that the Jews should recite Hallel for each and every season [i.e., festival] and each and every trouble that should ‘not’ come upon them; [meaning], when they are redeemed, they should say it upon their redemption.” Rashi explains that the Sages of the Second Temple era relied on this to institute the recitation of Hallel on Chanukah.

Thus, it is incumbent upon us to say Hallel over the miracle that Hashem did for us on Yom HaAtmaut. On that day we were saved from the greatest trouble of all, that of exile and subjugation to foreigners, which caused all of the terrible decrees and massacres that we suffered for nearly two thousand years6.

We must be very careful not to deny God’s benevolence to us. The Sages say, “Whoever acknowledges his miracle will be privileged to have another miracle done for him.”* On the other hand, if we fail to thank Hashem, we will delay the redemption, God forbid, as the Talmud relates regarding King Chizkiyahu. He was a very righteous man who spread a great deal of Torah throughout Israel, but difficult times eventually beset him. Sancheriv, King of Assyria, descended upon Jerusalem with a mighty army, intending to destroy it, and Chizkiyahu fell deathly ill. Nevertheless, he did not lose faith; instead, he cried out to God, Who performed a great miracle on his behalf, curing his illness and destroying Sancheriv’s entire army in one night. At that moment, God wanted to declare Chizkiyahu as the Mashiach and make the war against Sancheriv into the final war of Gog andMagog, bringing redemption to the world. But Chizkiyahu did not say shirah, a song – i.e., Hallel – over his redemption. The Attribute of Justice said to God, “Master of the Universe, if You did not make David, King of Israel, the Mashiach, even though he uttered so many songs and praises before You, will You make Chizkiyahu the Mashiach, seeing that he failed to say shirah after You performed all of these miracles for him?” Therefore, the Talmud continues, the matter was sealed, and there was great sorrow in all the worlds. The earth wanted to say shirah in his stead, and the celestial ministers of the world wanted to defend him, but their pleas were rejected, and the opportunity was lost. The prophet said, “Woe to me! Woe to me! Until when?” (Sanhedrin 94a)

The same is true of us. For many generations we prayed, “Raise a banner to gather our exiles,” and “Swiftly, lead us upright to our Land.” Now that our prayers have been answered, shall we not thank Hashem?! Similarly, it says, Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may thank Your holy name, and glory in Your praise(Tehillim 106:47). Now that He has gathered us, shall we not thank His Holy Name and glorify His praise?!

[6] The Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:6) also teaches that Hallel should be said on such occasions: “When the Holy One, Blessed Be He, performs miracles for you, you should say shirah (song),” meaning, you should recite Hallel. Shemot Rabbah (23:12) on the Song at the Sea concurs: “And they said, saying (Shemot 15:1) – we will say to our children, and our children [will say] to their children, that when You perform miracles for them, they should say before You a song like this one.” The Talmud (Megillah 14a) asks why we do not say Hallel on Purim. Three answers are given: 1) From the moment the Jews first entered the Land, we do not say Hallel on miracles that occur outside of the Land in Chutz LaAretz. 2) Rav Nachman says that the reading of Megillat Esther is in place of Hallel. 3) Rava answers that we recite Hallel only if the salvation includes freedom from foreign rule; and we remained subjugated to Achashveirosh after the Purim story. The miracle of Yom HaAtzmaut occurred in Eretz Yisrael and freed us from the yoke of the nations. Therefore, according to all opinions, we must say Hallel.

The poskim dispute whether the obligation to say Hallel on days the Jews were saved from distress is biblically or rabbinically mandated? The author of Halachot Gedolot (the Behag) and other Rishonim hold that it is a biblical obligation. (Until King David’s time, no specific formula for praising Hashem was instituted; everyone would compose his own, private thanksgiving prayer. After David composed the Book of Psalms, however, the prophets instituted that we say specific chapters of Psalms, by which we fulfill the mitzvah of praising and thanking Hashem.) According to the Rambam, the whole concept of saying Hallel – whether on the biblical holidays, or in commemoration of the salvations that God performed for the Jews – is a rabbinic mitzvah. The Netziv posits (She’iltot 26:1) that reciting Hallel at the time a miracle occurs, as [the Jews did when they sang] the Song at the Sea, is a biblical commandment, while reciting it every year after that is a rabbinic mitzvah. The Chatam Sofer implies that the biblical commandment exists every year (O.C. 208, s.v. u’mikol makom; Y.D. end of 233).

* [The exact source of this statement is unknown, but it is commonly quoted in the name of Chazal. See Responsa Yaskil Avdi, vol. 6, O.C. 10:8.]

7 – Hallel With or Without a Blessing?

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.

8 – SheHechiyanu and Hallel at Night

According to the gaon Rabbi Meshulam Roth, since Yom HaAtzmaut is a holiday, commemorating the great salvation that Israel experienced on that day, it is appropriate to recite the SheHechiyanu blessing on the day, as we do on all the holidays, including Purim and Chanukah. He believes, however, that the obligation to say SheHechiyanu depends on one’s joy. Therefore, one who is not particularly happy may recite the blessing but is not obligated to do so, while one who is joyous about the establishment of the State is obligated to recite it on Yom HaAtzmaut.

Many others hold that one should not say SheHechiyanu on Yom HaAtzmaut, because the Sages instituted the recitation of this blessing only for holidays on which one is forbidden to do work, like the three pilgrimage festivals, Rosh HaShanah, and Yom Kippur. The SheHechiyanu blessing that we say on Chanukah and Purim, which do not entail a prohibition against work, pertains to the special mitzvot we perform on these days – the Megillah reading on Purim and the candle lighting on Chanukah – not to the very essence of the day. For, as we said, one does not recite SheHechiyanu over the essence of a holiday unless it is forbidden to do work on that day.

One who wants to be meticulous and satisfy all opinions should wear a new garment and recite SheHechiyanu on it, having in mind that the blessing relates to the holiday as well. If he is the chazzan (prayer leader), it is best to say the blessing on the garment right before Hallel. This way, the listeners can also discharge their obligation8.

Some say that the salvation of Yom HaAtzmaut is similar to the exodus from Egypt, requiring us to say Hallel at night. This was Rabbi Goren’s custom, and some communities follow this practice. However, many authorities hold that the halachah of saying Hallel on the night of Pesach is unique, and we cannot deduce other holidays from it, the proof being that we say Hallel on the other holidays during the daytime alone. Therefore, one should not say Hallel on the night of Yom HaAtzmaut. This is the practice of most of Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook’s students9.

[8] Rabbi Meshulam Roth’s words are found in Responsa Kol Mevaser 1:21. The author of the Mishna Berura concurs in his Bi’ur Halachah (692, s.v. she’hechiyanu), writing that one recites SheHechiyanu over the essence of a holiday, even if it does not entail a prohibition against work. Rabbi Roth adds that it is preferable to say the blessing before the recitation of Hallel, for then it might be considered a blessing over the mitzvah, like the SheHechiyanu we say before lighting the candles on Chanukah. He also relies on the opinion of the Bach and his adherents, who hold that the rule of, “A doubtful case, involving blessings, is decided leniently” [i.e., one omits the blessing] does not apply to the blessing of SheHechiyanu. The Chatam Sofer (Orach Chaim 55) adds that in any doubtful case involving SheHechiyanu, one is obligated to recite the blessing if he knows that he is happy. Rabbi Goren concurs in Torat HaMo’adim, as does Sefardic Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Chai Uziel in Mishpatei Uziel, third edition, O.C. 23. On the other hand, the author of Yaskil Avdi (6:10) writes that one should not recite SheHechiyanu on Yom HaAtzmaut, for the reasons stated above. He also doubts whether the miracle took place specifically on Yom HaAtzmaut. Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef writes the same in Yabi’a Omer 6:42, quoting many poskim who hold that the rule of, “A doubtful case, involving blessings, is decided leniently,” applies to SheHechiyanu, as well. This is also the Beit Yosef’s opinion, and, according to the Rambam, reciting a blessing in vain is a biblical transgression. Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neryah agrees that one should not recite the SheHechiyanu blessing on Yom HaAtzmaut.

[9] Rabbi Goren’s words are found in Torat HaShabbat VeHaMo’ed. See Rabbi Shmuel Katz’s article HaRabbanut HaRashit VeYom HaAtzmaut (4, notes 7, 8, 17, 18). A book entitled KeLavi Shachein, in memory of Gad Ezra Hy”d, contains articles on this issue – one by Rabbi Sharki, who supports the saying of Hallel at night, and one by R. Yaakov Ariel, who opposes it. Rabbi Neryah expressed this view before Rabbi Ariel did (see Kovetz Hilchot Yom HaAtzmaut VeYom Yerushalayim), quoting several reasons why Hallel is recited specifically on Pesach night, none of which are relevant to Yom HaAtzmaut. Rabbi Ariel Edri concurs in a booklet called Shachar Ahalileka. According to Rav Hai Gaon, it seems that we recite Hallel on the first night of Pesach because a person is obligated to view himself as if he is actually leaving Egypt that night. Consequently, he must sing praise as the miracle occurs. This does not apply to any other holiday. Most Rabbis accept this viewpoint. After all, until Rabbi Goren’s tenure as Chief Rabbi, everyone agreed that Hallel pertains to the day alone. And when he publicized his ruling to say Hallel at night, it stirred a dispute, and it is unclear whether the Rabbinic Council agreed. Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook instructed Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav to recite Hallel at night, in accordance with Rabbi Goren’s ruling. However, it seems that he personally disagreed. Later on, when Rabbi Avraham Shapiro became Chief Rabbi (and Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz HaRav), the Yeshiva stopped saying Hallel at night. Most of Rav Tzvi Yehuda’s students follow this practice.

9 – The Different Dates of Yom HaAtzmaut

The fifth of Iyar can fall out on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday (Shabbat). When it falls out on a Friday or Shabbat, there is good reason to fear that the celebrations and ceremonies will cause public desecration of the Sabbath. Therefore, it was decided – at the request of the Chief Rabbinate – that whenever Yom HaAtzma’ut falls out on a Friday or Shabbat, the holiday is celebrated on [the previous] Thursday (the 3rd or 4th of Iyar). Eventually, the Rabbis realized that even when Yom HaAtzmaut falls out on a Monday, the preparations for Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), which begins on Saturday night, cause many Jews to violate the Sabbath. Therefore, it was decided – at the request of the Chief Rabbinate – that both of these special occasions be postponed by a day, establishing Yom HaZikaron on the fifth of Iyar and Yom HaAtzmaut on the sixth of the month. In practice, then, on three of the four days on which Yom HaAtzmaut can fall, we celebrate it either before or after its genuine date.

We find a similar concept elsewhere. Out of concern that one might carry a shofar or lulav on Shabbat, the Sages canceled these mitzvot. Therefore, when Rosh HaShanah falls out on Shabbat, we do not blow the shofar that day, and when the first day of Sukkot falls out on Shabbat, we do not take the Four Species. Thus, the Sages canceled biblical commandments in order to avoid Sabbath violation, but we may not change the actual date of a holiday since it is written explicitly in the Torah. Rabbinically-ordained holidays, however, may be postponed, or observed earlier. For example, when Purim falls out on Shabbat, we read the Megillah and give gifts to the poor on Friday, read the special Torah reading and say Al HaNissim on Shabbat, and eat the festive Purim meal and send portions of food to others on Sunday (Shulchan Aruch. Orach Chaim 688:6; Mishna Berura 18; below 17.5). And when Tish’a B’Av falls on Shabbat, we postpone the fast until Sunday (see Shulchan Aruch. O.C. 551:4, 554:19).

The same is true of Yom HaAtzmaut – it all depends on how the holiday was instituted. Whichever day the representatives of the people and the Chief Rabbinate decide is the day to celebrate the establishment of the State is the day that we must thank Hashem for His salvation10.

It is interesting to note that the declaration of independence took place earlier than originally planned, in order to prevent Sabbath desecration. After all, the British Mandate ended on Friday night, [May 14, 1948], at midnight, but the heads of the People’s Council did not want to declare statehood amidst Sabbath desecration, so they moved the declaration up to Friday afternoon, the fifth of Iyar.

[10] This has been the Chief Rabbinate’s position throughout. True, in 5741 (1981), Rabbi Goren thought that one should say Hallel on the fifth of Iyar that falls on Shabbat, reasoning that whatever does not entail Sabbath desecration should be done in its proper time, as is the case on Purim (Torat HaShabbat VeHaMo’ed). Nevertheless, all the other Rabbis held that no distinction should be made, as Rabbi Ariel explains in Ohalah Shel Torah 73. Rabbi Ariel assumes that we omit tachanun on the fifth of Iyar (if it falls on a Friday), similar to Tish’a B’Av that falls out on Shabbat: even though we postpone the fast until Sunday, the day retains its status of Tish’a B’Av with regard to certain laws (see there). If, however, the fifth of Iyar falls out on Shabbat, we say Av HaRachamim, because of the misfortunes that occurred in Iyar (this concludes Rabbi Ariel’s comments). It seems to me that we should, nevertheless, omit Tzid’katcha from the Minchah service. It also seems – and so decided the Chief Rabbinate in 5764 (2004) – that when the fifth of Iyar falls on a Monday, pushing off Yom HaAtzmaut until Tuesday, we do not say Tachanun on Monday. In his work, HaRabbanut HaRashit (pp. 898-99), Rabbi Shmuel Katz explains that even Rabbi Goren originally held that Hallel should be said on the day that was chosen for the general celebrations, as opposed to Shabbat. He changed his mind only in 5741 (1981). In footnote 33, Rabbi Katz relates, in the name of Rabbi Alfasi, that in 5761 (2001) the members of Rabbi Goren’s synagogue, Komamiyut Avraham, followed the prevalent custom not to say Hallel on Shabbat, because there were those who heard from Rabbi Goren that the general public did not accept his ruling on this matter.

Rabbi Kook writes in Mitzvat Re’iyah (Orach Chaim 688:1) that the Sages instituted two days of Purim in order to distinguish between a biblical commandment, which has one fixed time for everyone, and a rabbinic one, which is observed at different times in different locations. Perhaps this explains why the Rabbis instituted two levels of Mehadrin with regard to the Chanukah candles, something we do not find in relation to biblical commandments, whose laws are fixed. Based on this, we can say that it is fitting for Yom HaAtzmaut not to have a fixed date, seeing that it is a rabbinic enactment.

10 – Yom Yerushalayim

In the Six Day War, the Jewish nation, with God’s help, achieved a tremendous victory over its enemies. The war began on three fronts, and in the span of just six days, we utterly shattered our enemies’ military strength and dealt them a total defeat. At the same time, we liberated all of the holy places in Judea and Samaria – most significantly Jerusalem and the Temple Mount – along with the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan. Anyone who viewed these events honestly, and had even the slightest spark of faith in his heart, saw clearly the words of our holy Torah, “For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to save you and to deliver your enemies before you”(Devarim 23:15). This great victory was truly a manifest miracle.

In order to thank Hashem and publicize the miracle, the Chief Rabbinate, headed by Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman and Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim, established the twenty-eighth day of Iyar, the day on which Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were liberated, as a day of thanksgiving and joy for all of Israel. They also instituted the recitation of Hallel with a blessing after the morning services (Shacharit). Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin and Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli also participated in and supported this decision11.

[11] See Rabbi Shmuel Katz’s article on the topic in HaRabbanut HaRashit, vol. 2, especially pp. 974-75. For the exact wording of the Chief Rabbinate’s decision, see Rabbi Rakover’s Hilchot Yom HaAtzmaut VeYom Yerushaliyim, p. 387. On page 125, Rabbi Rakover cites a teshuvah (responsa) from Rabbi Unterman, discussing the great importance of the mitzvah to publicize a miracle, which is possibly even greater than reciting the Shema; we even interrupt Torah study on Purim to participate in the reading of the Megillah, in order to publicize the miracle. There, Rabbi Unterman also expands upon the mitzvah of establishing a holiday on a day the Jews were delivered from distress. Rabbi Kaplan writes likewise (ibid. p. 204). See there, page 61, for an essay by Rabbi Diblitsky on the need to establish a day of thanksgiving for the Six Day War. According to Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef, however, one should not recite a blessing on the Hallel, for he holds, based on the Chida’s opinion, that we cannot institute the saying of Hallel with a blessing unless a miracle happens to all of Israel, and Rabbi Ovadyah does not view the Jews of Zion as the entirety of Israel.

11 – Shaving, Haircuts, Weddings, and Tachanun

After Yom HaAtzmaut was established as a day of joy and thanksgiving, the question arose: do the customs of mourning that we observe during the Sefirat HaOmer period apply to Yom HaAtzmaut? The halachic authorities have expressed their opinions in both directions. The accepted practice is not to keep customs of mourning that diminish expressions of the joy. Therefore, it is permissible to dance and play music. However, one should not make a wedding on that day, because avoiding weddings is not considered an expression of mourning that clashes with the joy of Yom HaAtzmaut.

Those who shave regularly should shave in advance of Yom HaAtzmaut, just like one puts on special clothing before the holiday begins. Regarding haircuts, it seems that only one who looks disgraceful because of his [long] hair may take a haircut prior to Yom HaAtzmaut. Someone who looks fine, however, is allowed to take a haircut only on Yom HaAtzmaut itself, for then the joy of the day overrides this custom of mourning12.

The Chief Rabbinate, under the leadership of Rabbi Unterman and Rabbi Nissim, determined that even Ashkenazim who observe the customs of mourning during the latter part of Sefirah should not curtail their joy on the 28th of Iyar, Yom Yerushalayim. After all, many communities terminate all the restrictions after Lag BaOmer (the 33rd day of the Omer) (see above 3.2-4). This is all the more so, now that the 28th of Iyar has been instituted as a day of thanksgiving and joy over the miracle that HaKadosh Baruch Hu performed for His nation, Israel. Therefore, one may even make a wedding on Yom Yerushalayim.

We do not say Tachanun on Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, or during the Minchah service preceding these days (Peninei Halachah, Tefillah 21.7; see also 21.2, n. 1).

[12] Rishon Letzion, Sefardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim, writes (Hilchot Yom HaAtzmaut VeYom Yerushalayim, pp. 334-40) that all customs of mourning are canceled on Yom HaAtzma’ut. He bases his ruling on those poskim who hold that one who has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation may get married during Sefirah (Radvaz, Pri Chadash). Similarly, some people take haircuts in honor of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh (Radvaz, Ya’avetz). Furthermore, Rabbi Chayim Palagi writes (Mo’ed LeChol Chai 6) that a miracle happened to some of the people of his city on the eighth of Iyar, and to others on the eleventh, and they take haircuts on these days. These are Rabbi Nissim’s proofs. There is even more room for leniency when it comes to shaving, because shaving is not festive in nature; it simply eliminates the mournful appearance, as we explained above (3.7). The author of Responsa Yaskil Avdi (6:10), on the other hand, does not permit haircuts or weddings on Yom HaAtzmaut. Our master and teacher, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, used to rebuke those students who usually shave but look like mourners on Yom HaAtzmaut, saying, “Their countenance testifies against them (cf. Yeshayah 3:9) that they are not happy and that they do not truly thank Hashem for the miracle.” See Rabbi Shmuel Katz’s essay in HaRabbanut HaRashit, vol. 2, pp. 877-82.

Regarding mourners, Rabbi Katz’s abovementioned book (p. 900, n. 37) cites a responsa from Rabbi Goren, ruling that, similar to Chanukah, the holidays of Yom HaAtmaut and Yom Yerushalayim do not cancel shiv’ah (the seven day period of mourning for a close relative). Therefore, a mourner does not recite Hallel, nor is Hallel said by others in a house of mourning, rather elsewhere. If the mourner has completed shiv’ah, he should join the festive prayers and celebrations, as long as there is no live music. A mourner may not take a haircut during shloshim (the thirty day period of mourning for a close relative) in honor of these holidays.

12 – Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) for the Fallen Soldiers of Tzahal

From a halachic standpoint, there is no need to institute a general memorial day for the holy soldiers who were killed in battle. Rather, one should do what the Jewish people do for anyone who has passed away: on the anniversary of death (yahrtzeit), a memorial prayer is said, and the deceased’s sons or relatives say Kaddish, study Torah, and give charity to elevate their loved one’s soul. Those who are more meticulous hold a memorial service and organize Torah lectures to elevate the deceased’s soul.

We have fought many wars throughout our long history, often losing more soldiers in one war than Tzahal has lost in all of its battles put together. Nevertheless, we do not find that our Sages ever instituted a memorial day for those killed in battle. When we won, we celebrated, and when we lost, we mourned individually. The only battle for which the Sages instituted public mourning, in the form of selichot prayers and fast days, is over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash, which was a spiritual and national catastrophe for the Jews. Indeed, the churban is the source of all the troubles, evil decrees, and bloodshed that our nation has suffered throughout the exile. Even the Fast of Gedalyah was instituted in commemoration of the churban, not because Gedalyah was such a great tzaddik that all of Israel needs to mourn his death. Rather, his assassination extinguished the last ember of hope for the Jews who remained in the Land after the destruction of the First Temple.

Moreover, just a few years before the State of Israel was born, six million Jews were murdered in a dreadfully cruel manner. They are our brothers no less than the Israeli soldiers who fell in battle, and they are more than three hundred times the number of soldiers who have died in all of Israel’s wars. How, then, can we establish a day of mourning for the soldiers, on the same scale as for the six million?

Rather, if there is any allowance for a memorial day, it is on condition that we dedicate the day to educating the public about the essence and purpose of the Jewish nation, and about the value of self-sacrifice for Klal Yisrael. Many people mistakenly believe that the more we bow our heads in grief and portray our pain over the fallen soldiers in somber hues, the more we honor their memories. The opposite, however, is true. We should view the slain as holy souls, whose entire lives were refined and sanctified through their self-sacrifice for the people and Land of Israel. About such heroes Chazal say, “No one can dwell in the section of Gan Eden where those who were killed by the kingdom dwell” (Pesachim 50a). A nonbeliever thinks that they are dead in comparison with the living, but a believing Jew knows that they are more alive than all the rest. They died young in this world, but they are very alive in the everlasting world, the World to Come. They are much more alive than we are. They are holy, and our Sages say, “What is holy exists forever” (Sanhedrin 92a).

By giving their lives in sanctification of God’s Name, they rose above the personal existence of an individual Jew to the comprehensive level of the holiness of Klal Yisrael. By sacrificing their lives for Klal Yisrael, they were elevated to the stature of Klal Yisrael, and they are more connected to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the source of life. Therefore, they added great light and blessing in both the World of Truth and this world when they died. Moreover, we live here today in their merit, and all of our accomplishments belong to them.

Sadly, people with little faith, who do not understand Klal Yisrael’s past and ongoing mission, have seized control of the State of Israel’s media and cultural life. In the beginning, the secularists still had an inkling of what Judaism was all about, based on what they heard in their parents’ home, but over time, their alienation from Torah values took its toll, and they turned Yom HaZikaron into a day of weakness and defeatism. Instead of honoring the holy memories of the fallen, trying to understand the essence of Am Yisrael, and investing meaning into the soldiers’ self-sacrifice, they emphasize the pain, despair, and destruction, portraying the deaths of these soldiers as meaningless. They appear to be honoring the fallen, but in reality, there is no greater affront to the honor of these holy souls than the inappropriate character that these people have attached to Yom HaZikaron – the fundamental flaw being a disregard for the sacred Jewish national destiny of Klal Yisrael for whose sake the soldiers sacrificed their lives.

If we nonetheless observe Yom HaZikaron, we must underscore the soldiers’ self-sacrifice in sanctifying God’s Name. We must emphasize how they demonstrated to us that the prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles and the rebirth of the Jewish nation in its [ancient] Homeland is so great that it is worthwhile to give up one’s life in this world for its sake. This will strengthen us and inspire us to follow their lead. The children we bear and raise exist in their merit; the settlements we establish flourish because of them; the Torah we learn is theirs; the ethical Jewish society we want to build here, as the prophets foretold, is theirs also. If we remember this, and exert a great deal of effort, we will be able to continue in their path, the path of self-sacrifice for Klal Yisrael. Then we will truly honor them, as holy and pure souls, illuminating and shining like the glow of the heavens.

This is also what we must say to the bereaved families in whose midst these holy warriors sprouted: Do not surrender to death; continue to live by their strength. Do not bow your heads; rather, stand up straight and tall in their honor. Lift your eyes beyond the ordinary horizon and look towards the vision of the redemption and the End of Days. And even if there are tears in your eyes, let them be tears of grandeur.

13 – The Siren and Standing Silently on Yom HaZikaron

In its “Memorial Day Law,” the Knesset determined that the day before Yom HaAtzmaut will be “A memorial day for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF or Tzahal), who gave their lives to ensure the continued existence of the State of Israel, and for those who fought and fell in the campaigns to create the State of Israel – to memorialize them and pay tribute to their courage.” “Memorial services, public gatherings, and ceremonies will be held on army bases and in educational institutions. Flags will be lowered to half-mast on public buildings.” In addition, the Knesset decided that “Two minutes of silence will be observed throughout the country, during which all work and travel will cease.” To facilitate the two minutes of silence, a siren wails throughout the country, and people stand still in honor of the fallen. In practice, at 8:00 p.m. Yom HaZikaron evening, the siren sounds for one minute, and at 11:00 a.m., the next morning, it wails for two minutes, during which time everyone dedicates his or her thoughts to the memory of the fallen. The official ceremonies begin immediately thereafter.

Some claim that it is forbidden to stand at attention when the siren blasts, because this custom has no basis in rabbinic literature. Rather, we copied it from the Gentiles, and one may not follow the ways of the nations, as it says, “Do not follow their ordinances”(Vayikra, 18:3). In practice, however, the vast majority of poskim hold that the prohibition against following the ways of the Gentiles applies only when one of two conditions is met: 1) the custom entails a breach of modesty or humility, 2) it has no apparent reason or benefit, making it clear that it is based on a vain heathen belief (Maharik,Shoresh 88; Rivash 158). Rabbi Yosef Cairo and the Rama concur (Beit Yosef and Haga, Yoreh Deah 178:1). Thus, since the custom under discussion has a purpose – by way of the siren and standing silently, everyone unites together to remember the fallen – it is not considered a gentile practice13.

Others claim that one should not interrupt Torah study on account of the siren. However, our teacher, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, zt”l, writes, “Standing silently for the fallen soldiers of Tzahal contains within it the holy mitzvah of remembering the glory of the holy ones.” Moreover, it is possible to say that meditating upon the memory of the holy soldiers and the mitzvah to sacrifice one’s life to save the nation and conquer the Land is tantamount to thinking Torah thoughts. And even those who do not understand this must be mindful of Hillel the Elder’s teaching: “Do not separate from the community” (Avot 2:4)14.

[13] Indeed, the Vilna Gaon opines that we may not imitate the nations even with regard to a custom that has a rationale behind it. He, therefore, prohibits placing branches in a synagogue on the holiday of Shavuot, because the heathens put trees in their houses of worship on their holidays (Chayei Adam 131:13; see Biur HaGra, Yoreh Deah 178:7). Practically speaking, though, most poskim disagree with him and uphold the custom of decorating the synagogue on Shavuot, as the Rama (O.C. 494:3) and Magen Avraham (ibid. 494:5) write: since there are reasons for this custom, it is not considered following the ordinances of the nations. Now, if that is what they say about the custom of placing branches in a synagogue, which is actually done in houses of idol worship, there is certainly nothing to worry about with regard to the custom of standing silently at the sounding of the siren, which has no hint of idolatry whatsoever. Furthermore, I have been told that this custom is almost unheard of amongst the Gentiles.

[14] Pesikta Zutrata (Lekach Tov) on Shemot 2:11, states: “It came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out… He went out to see the suffering of Israel. This is what Hillel taught, ‘Do not separate from the community.’ If a person sees the community in pain, he should not say, ‘I will go to my house, eat and drink, and all will be well with me.’ Rather, one should bear the burden with his fellow Jews.” Midrash Seichel Tov on the same verse adds: “This is what Hillel taught, ‘Do not separate yourself from the community.’ Our Rabbis taught, ‘If the community is in pain and someone separates from them and eats and drinks, two ministering angels accompany him, place food on his head, and say, ‘So-and-so separated himself from the community in their time of trouble; he shall not see the community’s consolation.’ The Rabbis further taught: ‘When the community is in pain, a person should not say, “I will go to my house, eat and drink, and all will be well with me.” And if he did so, the verse says about him, ‘Behold, joy and gladness, slaying cattle and slaughtering sheep, eating meat and drinking wine; eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die’ (Yeshayah 22:13). What is written afterwards? It was revealed in my ears by the Lord of Hosts, that you will not be atoned for this sin until you die.’ ”

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s words are quoted in Techumin, vol. 3, p. 388. See also Rabbi Ariel’s Responsa Ohalah Shel Torah, Yoreh Deah 23. Rabbi Chayim David HaLevi writes in Asei Lecha Rav (4:4) that one who is involved in Torah study at home should continue learning, for standing silently is illusionary honor, which one must practice only when others are watching. He adds that in public, one may stand and continue thinking about the topic he was studying. Rabbi Henkin concurs in Techumin, vol. 4, p. 125. However, I believe that what I wrote above is correct, for contemplating the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying God’s Name) is itself considered meditating on Torah, and it is preferable to include oneself in the community with holy thoughts.

14 – Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Knesset legislated that the twenty-seventh of Nisan is “A day of remembrance for the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust, devoted to the remembrance of the disaster that the Nazis and their collaborators brought upon the Jewish people, and the acts of heroism and revolt performed in those days.” “It will be marked throughout the State by a two-minute silence, during which all work and travel will cease. Memorial services, public gatherings, and commemorative ceremonies will be held on army bases and in educational institutions. Flags will be lowered to half-mast on public buildings, and radio broadcasts will express the special character of the day.” The two minutes of silence take place at 11:00 a.m., after which the official ceremonies begin.

However, unlike Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers of Tzahal, to which the Chief Rabbinate consented, the Torah sages objected to the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th of Nisan. After all, the month of Nisan is a time of joy, as the halacha determines: one does not say Tachanun or establish a public fast day during the entire month of Nisan (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 429:2). In addition, we refrain from delivering eulogies and saying memorial prayers (hazkarat neshamot) throughout the month (Mishna Berura 429:8). Many even have a custom not to visit cemeteries in Nisan, and one who has a relative’s yahrtzeit in Nisan visits the grave the day before the month begins. Therefore, it is clearly inappropriate to institute, in the month of Nisan, a memorial day for the holy souls who were murdered in the Holocaust. Rather, the proper time to remember them is on the fast days that the Rabbis already established in commemoration of the destruction of the Holy Temple, especially Tish’a B’Av (the Ninth of Av). Indeed, the Chief Rabbinate established the fast of Asarah B’Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet) as a day of general mourning (Yom HaKaddish HaKlalli) over the souls of the holy ones who were killed in the Holocaust, whose date of death is unknown.

It seems to me that the way to, nonetheless, endow the 27th of Nisan with some sort of appropriate character is to establish it as a day for cultivating the “Jewish family.” Undoubtedly, the last request of the six million who were tortured and killed in cruel and unusual ways was that the Jewish people should continue to live, multiply, and grow. They surely hoped that the terrible suffering that our nation underwent for thousands of years, especially during the Holocaust, should not be for naught, that every surviving Jew should do everything in his or her power to marry, bear children, and continue the legacy, in order to fulfill the verse “The more they afflicted them, the more they increased and spread out”(Shemot 1:12). Therefore, it is fitting that public figures get together on this day and come up with ways to encourage marriage and procreation, while the teachers speak about the great responsibility that we – the remnants of the sword – have in ensuring the continued existence and growth of the Jewish nation.

Additonally, when the siren wails, we should think how to further the development of the Jewish nation, in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Then, our participation in this practice will not be an expression of mourning or hazkarat neshamot, but an expression of rebirth and revival, which is appropriate for the month of Nisan. Furthermore, such thoughts would not constitute bitul Torah (wasting time when Torah could be studied). In any event, even one who does not have these things in mind should not separate himself from the community.

With God’s help, our judges will soon be restored as at first, and we will pose this question to them, and they will instruct us how and when it is fitting to memorialize our holy martyrs.

Chapter Contents