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Hallel with a Blessing on Yom Ha’atzmaut

It is a mitzvah from the Torah to set a Yom Tov on the day salvation is performed for Israel, saving them from death to life, and this was the reason the Council of the Chief Rabbinate relied upon when it determined Yom Ha’atzmaut to be a Yom Tov * Regarding the reciting of Hallel, the rabbis of the Yom Ha’atzmaut generation were divided, and in order to minimize controversy, the Chief Rabbis decided not to say it with a blessing * After the Six Day War, when Rabbi Goren was the Chief Rabbi, the Rabbinical Council decided by a majority of opinions to say a complete Hallel with a blessing in the morning prayer of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was very pleased with the decision, and following that, would say Hallel with a blessing at Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, and so do his students

Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) is invested with three sanctities: 1) the sanctity of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (Settling the Land), which is a mitzvah equivalent to all the mitzvot. 2) The sanctity of the fulfillment of the words of the prophets and the sanctification of Hashem in the eyes of the nations, for since the days of the Temple, there has been no greater sanctification of Hashem than this. 3) In the sanctity of Israel’s salvation from the hands of their oppressors, which is also a mitzvah equivalent to all other mitzvot (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 4:1-3).

The Mitzvah to Establish a Yom Tov on the Day on which Salvation is Performed

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 (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 4:5, footnote 4).

Determining Yom Tov on Yom Ha’atzmaut

And thus the Council of the Chief Rabbinate determined, at a time when the most eminent rabbis in the country served on it and was headed by two of Israel’s top Torah geniuses, Rabbi Uziel and Rabbi Herzog. This was also the opinion of the majority of rabbis in Israel, as testified by Rabbi Meshulam Roth in his book, Responsa ‘Kol Mevaser’ (volume 1, 21).

The Obligation to Recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut

Thus, it is incumbent upon us to say Hallel over the miracle that Hashem did for us on Yom Ha’atzmaut. 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 years. 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” (also, in the Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim chapter 10, halakha 6).

The Dilemma Whether to Establish Hallel with a Blessing

However, at the time of the establishment of the state, there were some rabbis who were apprehensive of reciting Hallel with a blessing, because it was not yet so clear whether the state would hold out. And especially because some rabbis from the Haredi circle doubted the magnitude of the salvation, and estimated that the state would not last more than a few years. As a result of this, the rabbis raised several arguments according to which the saying of Hallel should not be recited with a blessing:

1) In the opinion of the Chida, according to some Rishonim, Hallel with a blessing can only be said when a miracle is done for all of Israel, and there were only about 650,000 Jews in Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

2) We should give thanks only for a complete salvation; and our enemies still threatened us on all sides.

3) The spiritual state of the country’s leaders and many of its citizens diminishes our joy, which also endangers the existence of the nation.

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).

The majority of the claims were made by rabbis from the Haredi circle, but there were also some of the greatest Zionist rabbis who were apprehensive of establishing saying Hallel with a blessing, as Rabbi Ovadia Hedaya ztz”l opined (Yaskil Avdi, volume 6, Orach Chaim 10).

The Rabbis’ Decision Not to make it Obligatory to Recite Hallel with a Blessing

Although the position of the majority of rabbis of Eretz Yisrael was that it should be established as an obligation to say Hallel with a blessing on Yom Ha’atzmaut as the Gaon Rabbi Meshulam Roth wrote (Kol Mevaser volume 1, 21), and this was also the position of the Chief Rabbis, the Rishon Le’Tzion Rabbi Ben Tzion Meir Chai Uziel (1880 -1953) and Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac HaLevi Herzog (1888 -1959). However, when the Chief Rabbis were informed of the strong opposition of several Haredi rabbis, such as the Chazon Ish and the Rabbi of Brisk, they did not want to increase strife, and refrained from determining reciting Hallel with a blessing. There were rabbis who regretted this immensely. Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin said that this was cause for eternal weeping, that due to external intervention by rabbis who were not partners in the public leadership nor members of the Chief Rabbinate’s Council, the Chief Rabbis did not rule immediately to say Hallel with a blessing when the State was born (HaRabbanut HaRashit (vol. 2, p. 890, footnote 6).

However, in the end, the majority of rabbis accepted the decision of the Chief Rabbis, and refrained from saying Hallel with a blessing. Similarly, Rabbi Sha’ar Yashuv HaKohen ztz”l, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, relates that his father, Rabbi David HaKohen ‘the Nazir’, one of the heads of Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav, held that one should say Hallel with a blessing, but acknowledging that his opinion was not accepted, did not recite the blessing, explaining: “I am missing the ‘ve’tzivanu’ (‘He has commanded us’) of the Chief Rabbinate” (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 4, 7).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s Explanation on the Rabbinate’s Decision

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, the head of Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, also made an effort to explain the decision of the Chief Rabbis. In a sermon, he related: “An important man approached me and asked why our Rabbis do not permit us to recite Hallel with a blessing on Yom Ha’atzmaut? 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 accompanying joy, and we cannot obligate them to recite a blessing. This can be compared to the blessing a person says upon seeing a friend who he has not seen for a long period of time: if he is happy to see his friend, he recites the blessing, but if he feels no joy, he does not recite it.” Indeed, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah justified those who rejoice and bless. “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 (Merkaz HaRav), we follow the Rabbinate’s ruling, because we are not some type of kloyz (small house of study) of a specific group. We belong to the concept of Clal 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” (Le’Netivot Yisrael, vol. 2, pp. 359-60).

After the Six Day War

Nineteen years later when the State of Israel had already taken in over a million additional immigrants, the number of Jews in the country had reached close to two and a half million, and the State of Israel achieved a great victory over its enemies – liberating the holy sites in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – the obligation to thank God by reciting Hallel with a blessing was already clear. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was also very upset the Rabbinate did not immediately institute the saying of Hallel with a blessing on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

In the year 1973, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz”l was elected Chief Rabbi, and on the 25th of Nisan 1974, scheduled a discussion in the Chief Rabbinate Council concerning reciting Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.  His colleague, the Rishon Le’Tzion, Rabbi Ovadiya Yosef ztz”l, who had somewhat Haredi views, believed that it was appropriate to say Hallel but strongly opposed saying it with a blessing; however, since he knew the majority of rabbis would support Rabbi Goren’s position, chose not to participate in the discussion. The Rabbinical Council decided by a majority to say a complete Hallel with a blessing in the Shacharit (Morning) prayers of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Our rabbi and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was extremely pleased with the decision, and from then on, made it a practice to say Hallel with a blessing at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, and so do his students.

The Custom of the Eminent Sephardic Rabbis

Due to the position of the Rishon Le’Tzion, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ztz”l not to recite a blessing on Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, some believe this is the custom of Sephardim, and that there is supposedly a dispute between Sephardim and Ashkenazim on this matter. However, the truth is that many of the eminent Sephardic rabbis instructed to say Hallel with a blessing, even before the Chief Rabbinate decided on it. I will mention some of them: Rabbi Haim David Halevi, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and author of ‘Makor Haim’, ‘Aseh Lecha Rav’, and others; Rabbi Amram Aburbeh, Chief Rabbi of Petah Tikva, and author of ‘Netivei Am’; the Chief Rabbi of Petah Tikva after him, Rabbi Moshe Malka; Rabbi Yosef Mashash, one of the greatest halachic respondents in recent generations. Likewise, his relative, the eminent rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Mashash, Chief Rabbi of Casablanca and Morocco, and later Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. And thus was the custom of all the other rabbis in Casablanca, where about 100,000 Jews lived in 1956. Among the rabbis who said Hallel with a blessing (even at night): Rabbi Chaim Shoshana, Rabbi Yitzchak Hazan, Rabbi Rahamim ben Amara, Rabbi Shalom Yisrael, Rabbi Chaim David ben Susan, Hacham Shlomo Adhan, Rabbi Almakais. And those who were accustomed to recite a blessing on Hallel on the day: Rabbi Yehuda Ashkenazi (Manitou), his colleague Rabbi Avraham Hazan, and the Rabbi of the Kotel, the Kabbalist Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz.

Strengthening the Reciting of Hallel with a Blessing

Our Sages said of King Hezekiah that he was worthy of being the Messiah, and bringing redemption to Israel, but because he did not say shirah (a song), i.e., Hallel – the opportunity was lost, the Temple was destroyed, and Israel went into exile (Sanhedrin 94a). Therefore, it is incumbent we strengthen the saying of Hallel with a blessing. Over time, it became clear that the vast majority rabbis who believe it is a mitzvah and obligation to serve in the army, believe it is obligatory to say Hallel with a blessing on Yom Ha’atzmaut. We must strengthen ourselves in the sacred path, to recite Hallel with a blessing, and as a result, merit more salvations and successes in Israel’s security, and the settlement of the Land.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.


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