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 Haatzmaut. 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 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 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.
Pesachim 117a – 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 Beracha. Only if the miracle occurred to all Jews, such as Chanukah, may we recite Hallel with a Beracha. 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 Haatzmaut constitutes a miracle for the entire Jewish community. Some argue that the restoration of the Bait 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 place to go 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 Haatzmaut 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, 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 Hanissim 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 two hundred years. Moreover, the Gemara (Megila 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 Megilat Esther is that it’s miracles of Megilat Esther were subtle. Many believe that the name of Hashem does not appear in the Megila because no blatant miracle occurred. We are able to sense from the progression of events in the Megila that Hashem quietly orchestrated them. Similarly, one who studies the history of the State of Israel with a discerning eye (see Connor Cruise O’Brien’s “The Siege”) is able to perceive the involvement of the Creator.
Two anecdotes from Israel’s War of Independence illustrate this point. A father of a friend of mine recalls that when he was sent to battle he was given only one bullet. His commanding officer instructed him to use it well. Rav Yehuda Amital (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 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 Haatzmaut. Rav Amital has stated many times that even if one does not believe it is appropriate to recite Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, he should find some vehicle for expressing thanks to Hashem for granting us Medinat Yisrael. Rav Yehuda Henkin of Jerusalem suggests using the Ve’hee She’amda section of the Pesach Hagada as an opportunity to thank Hashem for Medinat Yisrael. Medinat Yisrael saves us from our oppressors who arise in every generation. Hashem will also save Medinat Yisrael from it’s current oppressors.
Successes and Failures of Medinat Yisrael
Many note that although we are grateful to Hashem for giving us Medinat Yisrael, we must acknowledge the shortcomings of Medinat Yisrael. Besides the chronic (and current acute) security problems, there are spiritual shortcomings. Rav Ovadia Hadaya (Teshuvot Yaskil Avdi O.C. 10:7) rules that Hallel should not be recited on Yom Haatzmaut because of the unstable security situation. Instead, he suggests reciting the chapters of Hallel (omitting the Beracha) after the completion of Tefillah. Rav Ovadia Yosef relates that Rav Zvi Pesach Frank did not recite Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut in his Bait Midrash because of the security problems and the spiritual shortcomings of the nation. Moreover, the Chazon Ish (Letters of the Chazon Ish, number 97) writes that it is inappropriate for this generation, with all of its spiritual flaws, to institute new practices. The Chazon Ish wrote this in connection with establishing Yom Hashoah, and his reasoning applies to instituting the recitation of Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut.
Nevertheless, many Gedolim endorse reciting Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut. Rav Meshulem Roth (Teshuvot Kol Mevaser 21) and Teshuvot Neitzer Mataai (number 36) rule that Hallel may be recited with a Beracha, while other Gedolim believe that it should be recited without a Beracha. These Gedolim include Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 6:O.C. 41), Rav Aharon Soloveitchik (Gesher, Yeshiva University, 1969), and Rav Yitzchak Herzog (cited in Teshuvot Yabia Omer 6: O.C. 42).
Rav Ovadia notes that although we are profoundly disappointed at the overall spiritual level in Israel, we should appreciate the incredible growth of Torah study and observance in many sectors of the population. He writes that Israel has become the world Torah center. We add that today almost all very serious Halachic questions are referred to the great Halachic authorities in Israel for adjudication. This constitutes a sea change relative to the situation that existed in America only two decades ago.
Some cite the Halacha (Mishna Berura 219:2) that one recites Birchat Hagomel only upon full recovery from illness and not partial recovery as support for omitting Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut. They claim that the Jewish People have only partially recovered from the illness of the Holocaust and the Exile and thus it is not yet time to recite Hallel for the establishment of the State of Israel. Others respond that the Gemara (Berachot 59b) states that when one hears of his father’s death, he should recite two Berachot if there is an inheritance. He recites Dayan Emet upon the death and Shehechiyanu upon the joy of the inheritance. Halacha appreciates and addresses complexity and ambivalence. Accordingly, many recite Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut as well as mourn on Tisha B’av. We celebrate the accomplishments of Medinat Yisrael on Yom Haatzmaut and mourn what we lack on Tisha B’av.
It is difficult to arrive at a definitive conclusion whether one should recite Hallel with a Beracha on Yom Haatzmaut. Hence, most of those who recite Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut omit the Beracha. The practice of reciting Hallel without a Beracha upon a miracle is mentioned in the Meiri’s commentary to Pesachim 117a. Moreover, the practice of reciting Hallel without a Beracha is familiar to Sephardic Jews who follow the opinion of the Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 3:7) to recite Hallel without a Beracha on Rosh Chodesh and the last six days of Pesach. Far from being a “cop-out,” the approach of reciting Hallel without a Beracha is an expression of a sophisticated recognition of both the positive and negative aspects of Medinat Yisrael. We are full of joy that Medinat Yisrael exists, but we are pained by its shortcomings.
In light of the current situation in Eretz Yisrael, it is important for everyone to do their utmost for the State of Israel and Klal Yisrael. The NORPAC trip to Washington, June 12, is a great opportunity to do something for Klal Yisrael, meeting with Senators and Congressmen to support the State of Israel. [For more information: visit www.norpacweb.org]