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Chapter 4: Yom Ha-atzma’ut

7. Reciting a Berakha on Hallel

Some say that even though we thank God on Yom Ha-atzma’ut, we should not recite Hallel with a berakha.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Cheshvan 4 5782

Some say that even though we thank God on Yom Ha-atzma’ut, we should not recite Hallel with a berakha. They mention five main reasons: 1) Based on several Rishonim, Ĥida maintains that Hallel is recited with a berakha only when all of Israel experiences a miracle, and when Israel declared its independence only a minority of world Jewry was living 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 4) It is proper to show deference to the opinion that maintains that Hallel should be said only when a revealed miracle occurs, like the miracle of the oil on Ĥanuka, not on a natural miracle like the establishment of the state; 5) It is uncertain whether the day of thanksgiving should be set for the day Israel declared independence (the fifth of Iyar), the day the War of Independence ended, or the day the United Nations decided to establish a Jewish State (the sixteenth of Kislev, or November 29).

Because of all or some of these concerns, the Chief Rabbinate Council originally prescribed that one recite Hallel without a berakha during Shaĥarit on Yom Ha-atzma’ut. Over the course of the next 26 years, however, 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 turn of events at the start of the war. More than three million Jews already resided in the land, five times the number that lived there at the State’s inception in 1948. Therefore, on the 25th of Nisan, 5734 (1974), the Chief Rabbinate Council assembled once again – at the initiative of the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, R. Shlomo Goren – to discuss the issue of Hallel on Yom Ha-atzma’ut. They decided, by majority vote, that a strong case can be made in favor of reciting the full Hallel with a berakha on Yom Ha-atzma’ut morning. On this basis, it was the practice of my teacher and master, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook, to recite Hallel with a berakha at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, and all of his students follow this practice as well.

In response to the claim that Hallel may be recited only on a miracle that affects all of Israel, the council explained that the establishment of the state constituted a salvation for all of Israel (as explained above, section 3). In addition, the residents of Eretz Yisrael are considered the entirety of Israel. The day when independence was declared was specifically chosen as the day of thanksgiving because it was the foundation for the deliverance and salvation that took place.[7]

[7] According to R. Meshulam Rath, it would have been appropriate to institute the recitation of Hallel with a berakha on Yom Ha-atzma’ut 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, both in terms of our war against the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael and the salvation of the Diaspora Jews who immigrated to the land. This led to the third miracle: the ingathering of the exiles” (Kol Mevaser 1:21). My teacher and master, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook, explains further (Li-netivot Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 248-249) that the courage displayed in declaring the state was miraculous in its own right; see bm 106a and Tosafot ad loc.

However, R. Ovadia Hadaya (Yaskil Avdi 6:10) – although agreeing fully that the establishment of the State was the beginning of the redemption – cites Ĥida in Ĥayim Sha’al 2:11 as saying that Hallel should be recited only over a miracle that happened to all of Israel, adding that the salvation of 1948 was not complete. Furthermore, he asserts that no miracle happened on Yom Ha-atzma’ut itself; on the contrary, the war intensified. R. Hedaya was also uncertain of the appropriate date on which to establish the holiday: perhaps the day of the cease-fire is most appropriate, or the sixteenth of Kislev (November 29), when the United Nations confirmed the Jewish people’s right to a state. To avoid disrupting the order of our prayers, which contains deep meaning and significance, R. Hedaya concludes that one should recite Hallel without a berakha after the conclusion of Shaĥarit. R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabi’a Omer 6:41) agrees that we should omit the berakha, because the miracle did not happen to all of Israel and because we still have a long way to go before reaching a state of peace and security, from both a political-military and spiritual standpoint. R. Yosef Messas (Otzar Ha-mikhtavim 3:1769) maintains that one should recite the full Hallel (with a berakha). R. Shalom Messas felt that one should recite the berakha, but when he heard R. Ovadia Yosef’s opinion he ruled that one who already has a custom to recite the berakha should continue to do so, while one who does not have such a custom should refrain from reciting the berakha (Shemesh U-magen 3:63, 66). My teacher and master, R. Shaul Yisraeli, maintains that one should recite the Hallel without a berakha. Former Chief Rabbis R. Avraham Shapiro and R. Mordechai Eliyahu, concur, but R. Shapiro agrees that one who wants to recite the berakha, in accordance with his custom, may do so (cited in Ha-Rabbanut Ha-Rashit, vol. 2, pp. 901-903).

Those who maintain that one should recite Hallel with a berakha explain that the miracle actually did happen to all of Israel, as R. Rath writes (above). According to them, even Ĥida would agree that one should recite the berakha. Furthermore, the residents of Eretz Yisrael are considered the entirety of Israel. This is how R. Shlomo Goren and R. Yehuda Gershuni explain the matter (their position is cited in Hilkhot Yom Ha-atzma’ut Ve-Yom Yerushalayim). Yabi’a Omer loc. cit. 3 states that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are considered the entirety of Israel only for specific issues. R. Uri Sherki rebuts this claim in his Siddur Beit Melukha (Ba Orekh, sec. 2). Regarding the claim that we should not recite the berakha because the salvation was incomplete, we can learn from Ĥanuka that this is irrelevant. After all, the Jews at 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). They would establish a holiday after every subsequent victory (see below 11:1). Moreover, when the wars finally ended, Hellenism had already spread throughout the Hasmonean Empire (see below 11:4). It is implausible to say that the Sages instituted Ĥanuka only in commemoration of the miracle of the oil, as the first day of Ĥanuka is observed in celebration of the military victory. Furthermore, the kal va-ĥomer that is cited to support the very foundation of our observance of Yom Ha-atzma’ut relates to the salvation, not the miracle. The fact that many holy soldiers have been killed does not preclude the recitation 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 geo-political independence as the Hasmoneans did. R. Goren substantiates his position that it is a mitzva to recite Hallel with a berakha in his work Torat Ha-mo’adim, as does R. Natan Zvi Friedman in Responsa Netzer Mata’ai §36. This is also the opinion of R. Ĥayim David Halevi in Dat U-medina, p. 82.

Quoting testimony by R. Yehuda Ushpizai, R. Shmuel Katz writes in his work Ha-Rabbanut Ha-Rashit (vol. 2, p. 841, n. 33) that Chief Rabbis Yitzĥak Herzog and Ben-Zion Uziel believed that it was appropriate to recite Hallel with a berakha from the moment the state was established, but since they were told that Ĥazon Ish and other rabbis strongly opposed this, they refrained from issuing such a ruling, so as not to increase strife. R. Katz cites R. Shlomo Yosef 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 Council, the chief rabbis did not rule immediately when the state was established in favor of reciting Hallel with a berakha (loc. cit. p. 890 n. 6). Similarly, R. She’ar Yashuv Cohen relates that his father, R. David Cohen (known as “the Nazir”), maintained that one should recite Hallel with a berakha, but since his opinion was not accepted, he did not recite the berakha, explaining: “I am missing the ve-tzivanu (‘and commanded us’) of the Chief Rabbinate.”

It is worth citing here part of a sermon that my teacher and master, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook, delivered on Israel’s nineteenth Yom Ha-atzma’ut, when the Chief Rabbinate had not yet instructed the public to recite a berakha on Hallel:

An important man approached me and asked why our rabbis do not permit us to recite Hallel with a berakha on Yom Ha-atzma’ut. 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 Eretz Yisrael. And since they lack this belief, they lack the joy that goes along with it and we cannot obligate them to recite a berakha. This can be compared to the berakha a person recites upon seeing a long-lost friend: If he is happy to see his friend, he recites the berakha, but if he feels no joy, he does not recite it. R. [Yehuda Leib] Maimon, who was totally dedicated to the rebuilding of God’s nation and territorial inheritance, was filled with the joy of faith when the state was born. He therefore instituted the recitation of Hallel with a berakha 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 berakha, when many people are not ready for this. In our central yeshiva (Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav), we follow the Rabbinate’s ruling, because we are not some kloyz (private house of study) of a specific group. We belong to the concept of the entirety of Israel, which is centered in Jerusalem, and since – painfully and shamefully – there are currently obstacles preventing the public as a whole from attaining full faith and joy…it is appropriate that we, too, act in accordance with the Rabbinate’s ruling for the general public. (Li-netivot Yisrael, vol. 2, pp. 359-360)

After the Six-Day War, R. Zvi Yehuda bemoaned the fact that the Rabbinate did not immediately institute the recitation of Hallel with a berakha on Yom Ha-atzma’ut. When R. Goren did so after Israel was victorious in the Yom Kippur War, R. Zvi Yehuda was elated, and this became the custom of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. Even though various events have occurred since then – ups and downs – and the Chief Rabbinate does not have the same status as it once had, nonetheless, the recitation of Hallel with a berakha was already established, and this is the practice of R. Zvi Yehuda’s students. 

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