The Mitzvah of Yom HaAtzma’ut
There is a mitzvah to establish a holiday, rejoice, and praise God on a day the Jews were delivered from distress. This is what prompted the Rabbis to establish Purim and Chanukah as eternal holidays. Even though it is forbidden to add mitzvot onto what is written in 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 also what the Rabbis relied upon when establishing Chanukah (Ritva, ibid.). The Chatam Sofer explains (Y.D. end of 233, O.C. 208) that since this mitzvah is derived from a kal va’chomer (a fortiori argument), it is considered a biblical commandment. However, the Torah does not prescribe exactly how to celebrate the holiday; therefore, one who does anything to commemorate the salvation fulfills his biblical obligation. It was the Rabbis who determined that on Purim we read the Megillah, prepare a festive meal, send portions of food to others, and give charity to the poor, and on Chanukah, light the candles.
Custom Of Jewish Communities to Celebrate Miracles
Many Jewish communities throughout the ages kept this mitzvah, 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 were customary to eat festive meals, send portions of food to one another, and give charity to the poor on these days. Maharam Alshakar (paragraph 49) writes that the enactments made by these communities are obligatory, requiring 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).
Determining Yom HaAtzma’ut a Holiday
The illustrious gaon, R. Meshulam Rata (Roth), thus wrote: “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 the majority of eminent rabbis, fixed as the day on which to celebrate, throughout the Land, the miracle of our salvation and freedom” (Responsa “Kol Mevaser” 1:21).
The Recitation of Hallel
It is a mitzvah to say Hallel on special occasions, in order to thank and praise God 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 led us through the desert to the Land of Israel.
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] stand 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; and 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 God did for us on Yom HaAztma’ut, the 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.
Don’t Be Ungrateful
We must be very careful not to deny God’s benevolence. 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 Him, we will delay the redemption, God forbid, as related in the Talmud regarding King Chizkiyahu. He was a very righteous man who spread a great deal of Torah throughout Israel, but difficult times eventually beset him. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, ascended upon Jerusalem with a mighty army, intending to destroy it, and Chizkiyahu himself, fell deathly ill. Nevertheless, he did not lose his faith and cried out to God, Who performed a great miracle on his behalf, curing his illness and destroying the entire army of Sennacherib in one night. At that moment, God wanted to declare Chizkiyahu as the Messiah, the war against Sennacherib as the final war of Gog and Magog, and bring redemption to the world. However, Chizkiyahu did not say shirah [song] – i.e., Hallel – over his redemption. The Heavenly attribute of Justice said to God, “Master of the Universe, if You did not make David, King of Israel, the Messiah, even though he uttered so many songs and praises before you, will You make Chizkiyahu the Messiah, seeing that he failed to say shirah after You performed all of these miracles for him? Thus, the matter was sealed.” There was great sorrow in all the worlds. The earth sought to exclaim shirah in its place, and Matatron (the “Minister of the World”) wanted to plead on the earth’s behalf, but their words were not accepted, and the opportunity was lost. The Prophet said, “Woe to me! Woe to me! How much longer?” (Sanhedrin 94a).
The same also applies to 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 God?! Similarly, it is written, “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?!
Therefore, we have a sacred obligation to thank and praise God for bestowing upon us His great favor, by allowing us to establish the State of Israel, and thus, merit realizing the mitzvah of settling the Land and fulfilling the prophetic vision of the Ingathering of the Exiles. As a result of this, a great sanctification of God in the eyes of the nations was achieved, as well as a great salvation for Israel, providing us the ability to defend the inhabitants of the country, and even come to the aid of our brothers living in the Diaspora.
Nevertheless, the Rabbi’s of the generation were divided on the question of whether Hallel should be recited with or without a blessing on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut.
Hallel With or Without a Blessing?
Some authorities are of the opinion that although we must thank God on Yom HaAtzma’ut, we should not say Hallel with a blessing. They mention five main reasons: 1) Based on the opinion of the Chida as understood by a number of Rishonim, 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 oil-flask miracle, but 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 [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 (November 29th).
This was the opinion of R. Ovadiah Hadaya zt”l (Yaskil Ovdi, Part 6, O.C. 10), that Hallel should be said without a blessing, as was the opinion of our master and teacher, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and the Rosh Yeshiva of “Merkaz HaRav”, R. Avraham Shapira zt”l and his colleague R. Shaul Yisraeli zt”l. This is also the opinion of the Rishon L’Tzion, R. Ovadia Yosef shlita, (Yibiah Omer, Part 6, O.C. 41), and the Rishon L’Tzion R. Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l.
Rabbis In Favor of Reciting a Blessing
At the time of the establishment of the State, the opinion of R. Mushulam Ratta (Roth) zt”l, was to say Hallel with a blessing (Kol Mevaser, 1:21). R. Yehudah Ushpizai zt”l (Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan) confirmed that this was also the opinion of the Chief Rabbis, R. Herzog and R. Uziel, 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. Concerning this, R. Zevin zt”l said it was cause for eternal weeping, that as a result of external intervention of rabbis who were not members of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, (whose members at the time were eminent Torah scholars), the Chief Rabbis did not rule immediately upon the establishment of the State to say Hallel with a blessing.
On the 25th of Nisan, 5734 (April 17, 1974), at the initiative of the Chief Rabbi, R. Shlomo Goren zt”l, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate reconvened to discuss the reciting of Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut. It was decided by a majority vote that taking into consideration the State of Israel had reached its 26th year of independence, had been privileged to liberate Judea and Samaria in the Six-Day War, and had even emerged from the Yom Kippur War with a great victory, despite the adverse conditions at the start of the confrontation; and bearing in mind that more than 3 million Jews were living in the Land – five times the number that lived there at the State’s inception – a strong case could be made in favor of saying the full Hallel with a blessing on Yom HaAtzma’ut morning. On the basis of this decision, our master and teacher, R. Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook zt”l instructed the “Merkaz HaRav” Yeshiva to recite Hallel with a blessing. This is the custom of all of his students, and thus my father and teacher, R. Zalman Baruch Melamed, instituted for the community of Bet El, and similarly, this is our custom in the community of Har Bracha.
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. In addition, the residents of the Land of Israel are considered the entirety of Israel (Klal Yisrael). The reason that the Day of Independence was specifically chosen as the day of thanksgiving, because it was the foundation of the deliverance and salvation.
At first, R. Shalom Mashash zt”l, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, was of the opinion that a blessing should be recited over Hallel, however when he heard the opinion of the gaon and Rishon L’Tzion, R. Ovadiah Yosef, he instructed that a person who’s custom was to recite a blessing should continue saying a blessing, and a person who was not accustomed to recite a blessing, should not (Responsa “Shemesh u’Magen”, Part 3, 63, 66).
It should be further pointed out that our rabbis, R. Shapira zt”l and R. Eliyahu zt”l, agreed that a person who’s custom was to say Hallel with a blessing, inspired by our master and teacher R. Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook zt”l, may continue to do so.
Haircuts and Shaving on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut
Since Yom HaAtzma’ut was established as a day of joy and thanksgiving, the question arose: Is one permitted get married, take a haircut, or shave on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, even though it falls within the mourning period of Sefirat Ha’Omer?
There are differing opinions in this matter. In practice, our rabbis agree that one should not perform customs of mourning which mar the joy of the day. Therefore, it is permissible to dance and play music. However, weddings should not be conducted, because not getting married isn’t considered an expression of mourning which conflicts with the joy of Yom HaAtzma’ut.
Those who normally shave should do so before Yom HaAtzma’ut begins, just as one puts on special clothing before the holiday starts. Regarding haircuts, apparently only a person who looks unseemly due to his long hair may take a haircut prior to Yom HaAtzma’ut. However, someone who looks fine is permitted to take a haircut only on Yom HaAtzma’ut itself, because then the joy of the day cancels this custom of mourning, but not before Yom Ha’Atzma’ut.