In celebration of Yom Haatzmaut of our beloved Medinat Yisrael, we will review the major points of the debate whether one should recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. We will discuss some of the major Talmudic sources that have been the focus of this debate. Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Teshuvot Yabia Omer (Orach Chaim 6:41) is an invaluable resource for both sides of the debate on this issue and serves as the basis for much of this essay.
We should note that there is no definitive position regarding this issue. Refraining from Hallel is not necessarily the best option. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 94a) strongly reprimands King Chizkiyahu for failing to recite Hallel upon the miraculous defeat of Sancheirev, the king of Assyria. In fact, the Gemara states that Chizkiyahu was a serious candidate to be the Mashiach. He was rejected because of his failure to recite Hallel. On the other hand, reciting Hallel is also not necessarily the best option. The Gemara (Shabbat 118b) condemns those who recite Hallel every day. Hallel is reserved for special occasions. The Gemara describes one who does not reserve Hallel for such occasions as a blasphemer. Accordingly, one must take a stand on this issue, either to recite Hallel or not to recite Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut.
The Chanukah Precedent
The Gemara (Pesachim 117a) discusses the source of the obligation to recite Hallel. The Gemara cites the Sages who stated, “The prophets instituted the recitation of Hallel at various times of the year and whenever Jews are redeemed from dire straits.” Rashi (s.v. Ve’al) adds that Chanukah is an example of reciting Hallel in celebration of redemption from a crisis. The Meiri (Pesachim 117a) writes that if a miracle happens to an individual or to a community of Jews, then that community may establish the day of redemption as a day for reciting Hallel without a bracha. Only if the miracle occurred to all Jews, such as Chanukah, may we recite Hallel with a bracha. We note, though, that the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch do not codify this Gemara. The Magen Avraham (686:4) and Mishna Berura (686:8), however, write that a community is authorized to declare a “Purim” celebration for all generations on a day that a miracle occurred. The Chayei Adam (155:41) recounts at length how he instituted a “Purim” for his family and future descendents for a miracle that occurred to his family.
Poskim debate whether Yom Ha’atzmaut constitutes a miracle for the entire Jewish community. Some argue that the restoration of the Beit Hamikdash constitutes redemption for the entire Jewish nation, but that restoration of Jewish sovereignty over a portion of Eretz Yisrael redeems only the Jews who reside in Eretz Yisrael. On the other hand, the fact that Eretz Yisrael is a safe haven for persecuted Jews worldwide does constitute redemption for all Jews. The fifth day of Iyar is appropriate to celebrate since it is the day that Jews were redeemed from having no refuge in times of persecution.
An Open Miracle?—
Maharatz Chiyut to Shabbat 21b
The Maharatz Chiyutz (Shabbat 21b) asserts that we recite Hallel on Chanukah only because a neis nigleh (an blatant miracle) occurred on that day. He notes that the Gemara, in explaining why we celebrate Chanukah, mentions the miracle of the oil but does not mention the military victory of the Hasmoneans. Some therefore argue that Hallel is inappropriate for Yom Ha’atzmaut since no blatant miracle occurred during the establishment of the State of Israel and its War of Independence. While they acknowledge that many subtle miracles occurred (as is apparent from reading the detailed account of this war in Benny Morris’ monumental work “1948”), they argue that no obvious miracle occurred—such as one day’s supply of oil lasting eight days.
One may respond, though, that the Al Hanisim prayer presents the military victory of the Maccabees as the primary reason for celebrating Chanukah. The Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 3:1-3) writes that we celebrate Chanukah for a variety of reasons. These include not only the miracles of the oil and the military victory, but also that Jewish sovereignty was restored over Eretz Yisrael for more than 200 years. Moreover, the Gemara (Megillah 14a) questions why we do not recite Hallel on Purim. The Gemara presents a variety of answers but does not offer the absence of an open miracle in the Purim story as an answer. In fact, a characterizing feature of Megillat Esther is that its miracles of Megillat Esther were subtle. Many believe that the name of Hashem does not appear in the megilla because no blatant miracle occurred. We are able to sense from the progression of events in the megilla that Hashem quietly orchestrated them. Similarly, one who studies the history of the State of Israel with a discerning eye (see the extensive discussion in my “Reason to Believe: Rational Explanations of Orthodox Jewish Thought” pp.115-175) readily perceives the guiding hand of the Creator tilting the events in our favor.
Two anecdotes from Israel’s War of Independence illustrate this point. Rav Dr. Mordechai Cohen of Yeshiva University
relates that his father, while in the midst of a critical battle while fighting in Israel’s War of Independence, was issued an order by his commanding officer to use fewer bullets (ammunition shortages were acute, especially at the beginning of the war). Rav Yehuda Amital, zt”l, the venerated rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, recalls that when he enlisted to join the army he was assigned the rank of an officer. They told him that since he presumably knew how to shoot a gun, he is qualified to serve as an officer. These stories typify the desperate situation that we faced in the War of Independence. We emerged victorious because of Hashem’s guiding hand.
Many claim that this constitutes sufficient reason to recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. In addition, Rav Amital has stated many times that even if one does not believe it is appropriate to recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, he should find some vehicle for expressing thanks to Hashem for granting us Medinat Yisrael. Some suggest using the Ve’hi She’amda section of the Pesach haggadah to express gratitude to Hashem for Medinat Yisrael. Indeed, Medinat Yisrael has served for the past 70 years as Hashem’s instrument to save us from the oppressors who arise in our generation.
In light of the challenges faced by Medinat Yisrael, it is of critical importance for everyone to do their utmost for the State of Israel and klal Yisrael. The NORPAC trip to Washington, Wednesday, April 25, is an outstanding opportunity to do something significant for klal Yisrael—meeting with almost every senator and congressman to strengthen American-Israeli alliance. I humbly submit that while reciting Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut is a significant expression of support for the State of Israel, participating in the NORPAC trip is of equal if not greater importance. For more information, visit www.norpac.net.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.