On Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Kibbutz HaDati communities in Israel recite Al Ha’Nissim in the Shmoneh Esrei. This would seem to be appropriate, as this prayer recognizes the miracles that were part of the salvation of the Jewish people that God has done for us in the post-Biblical period—either from the threat of annihilation in exile (Purim) or the restoration of our free practice of religion and self-rule in the Land of Israel (Hanukkah). Of course we should be saying it on Yom Ha’atzmaut! But this is not generally done in the Dati Leumi community. I wanted to know if I could say it in my personal Shmoneh Esrei, or if there is a way that my minyan could recite this during the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei?
Let me start by saying that I identify with the religious impetus behind your question. You are searching for a way to give voice to deep religious feelings of gratitude and praise, and looking to do so as part of a traditional and halakhic form of tefillah. Too often, our fixed forms of prayer are said in a rote fashion, and personal, heartfelt prayer—when it happens—is expressed only in private, personal prayers that serve no halakhic role. Whenever possible, we should be looking for the opportunity to give expression to heartfelt prayers through the statutory, halakhic prayers; that is, to make our tefillah truly avodah she’bi’lev, a service of the heart. That being said, we must make sure that any change to current practice is halakhically valid, and be sensitive to the general conservatism regarding changes to the text of tefillah, especially at the communal level (see, for example, Mishneh Brurah 101:13).
When it comes to saying Al Ha’Nissim on Yom Ha’atzmaut, this is a matter that was discussed and debated in the early years of the State. As you correctly note, the accepted practice in most of the Dati Leumi community is not to say it. The halakha is that one is permitted to make insertions in the Shmoneh Esrei for personal requests, an under-utilized halakhawhose goal is exactly what was discussed above: to give expression to one’s personal prayers in the context of the statutory Shmoneh Esrei. However, this may only be done for the middle brakhot—which are request-oriented—and not the first or last three brakhot (see Berakhot 34a, Rambam Laws of Prayer 6:2-3). As Al Ha’Nissim appears in Modim, the first of the last three brakhot, it would seem that it may not be added when not already part of the fixed text.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. During the Aseret Yimei Teshuva, we insert zakhreinu li’chayim and mi kamokha into the first three brakhot and u’khtov li’chayim and bi’sefer chayim into the last three. These insertions do not appear in the Gemara, and although they seem to violate the above rule, they have been justified on the basis that they are tzarkhei tzibbur, expressions of communal need. Thus, Shulkhan Arukh rules: אל ישאל אדם צרכיו בג’ ראשונות, ולא בג’ אחרונות; ודוקא צרכי יחיד, אבל צרכי צבור שרי, “A person may not insert his personal requests in the first or last three of the brakhot; but this only applies to requests for individual needs; requests for communal needs may be inserted” (SA OH 112:1).
This exception and its scope were vigorously debated in the period of the Geonim and Rishonim in the matter of the insertion of piyutim on the Yomim Tovim, which was practiced by the Ashkenazic communities, and rejected by Sphardic ones. Following the lines of this debate, Shulkhan Arukh rules that an individual or community may not insert piyutim in the Shmoneh Esrei, while Rema allows it (SA OH 112:2).
Although it would seem that Rema’s ruling would be a good basis to allow the insertion of Al Ha’Nissim for Yom Ha’atzmaut, there are important differences between these two cases. Many Rishonim were only able to find justification for adding the traditional piyutim because they were written by Rabbi Eliezer haKalir, who was believed to be a Tanna. This gave them Talmudic weight, and validated their inclusion in Shmoneh Esrei (see Tur and Beit Yosef, OH 112). As far as the Al Ha’Nissim for Hanukkah and Purim are concerned, although the text per se does not appear in the Gemara, the obligation to insert a text of this nature in the Modim brakha appears in the Tosefta (Berakhot 3:14), and a version of the text appears in Mesekhet Sofrim (ch. 20) (the first use of the phrase Al Ha’Nissim can be found in Sheiltot, parashat VaYishlach). All of these insertions, then, have a Talmudic or Geonic weight, which is not true in our case.
In addition, although certainly the expression of gratitude and thanks associated with Yom Ha’atzmaut is of a communal and national nature, the recitation of Al Ha’Nissim is not currently practiced by, nor has it been adopted by, the community at large. It thus may not fall under the same tzibbur justification as the insertion of piyutim. However, it is true that even piyutim were only said in some communities and not others, and thus in communities where Al Ha’Nissim has been adopted, such as the Kibbutz HaDati community, there would be more basis to permit its insertion in Shmoneh Esrei (although there still remains the difference of the antiquity and authorship of the text).
It should also be noted that some of the reservations about making insertions in the last three brakhot focus on the fact that inserting a request is inappropriate in these brakhot which focus on praise and thanksgiving (see Beit Yosef, ibid.) Thus, the insertion of Al Ha’Nissim, which is a prayer of praise and consistent with the themes of the last brakhot might very well be appropriate.
In the final analysis, since it is not the accepted practice in other communities, I do not believe that one can introduce this change—barring a more communal-wide shift in practice—given the halakhic hurdles identified above.
Nevertheless, I believe that there is a halakhically justifiable option to include Al Ha’Nissim in the Shmoneh Esrei, and that would be to insert it in the Shomeiah Tefillah brakha. This brakha—the last of the middle brakhot—is of a generic nature (“Who Listens to Prayer”) and thus any personal request may be inserted into it (see SA OH 119:1). On the basis of this, one could insert Al Ha’Nissim in his or her personal Shmoneh Esrei. However, there is a problem; Al Ha’Nissim is a prayer of praise, not a request. As such, it would not be appropriate to insert it in Shomeiah Tefillah, or in any middle brakha for that matter, since the middle brakhot are request-brakhot. The irony is that it cannot be added at the end where it belongs because it is a new insertion, and it cannot be added where insertions may be added because it is not a request.
If the Al Ha’Nissim prayer ended with a request, would that allow its insertion in Shomeiah Tefillah? There are texts of the classic Al Ha’Nissim that end in request. The Yeminite text—and similarly the Italian one—ends as follows: כְּשֶׁם שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּהֶם פֶּלֶא וְנִסִּים כָּךְ עֲשֵׂה עִמָּנוּ נִסִּים וּגְבוּרוֹת בָּעֵת וּבָעוֹנָה הַזֹּא, “just as You did wonders and miracles to them, so You should do miracles and acts of valor now and in this time.” This text was rejected by other communities because such a request is inappropriate for a prayer of praise (see Beit Yosef, ibid.). However, if one were to end the Al Ha’Nissim for Yom Ha’atzmaut in this way, it would seem that it might be appropriate and permitted to add it to the Shomeiah Tefillah prayer.
Against this, one could argue that since the prayer is primarily one of praise, it still does not belong in Shomeiah Tefillah. This issue is dealt with in the case of someone who forgets to say Atah Chonantanu on motzei Shabbat in the brakha of Chonen ha’Daat. The question arises: may he insert this paragraph in Shomeiah Tefillah prayer? On one hand, it is primarily a prayer of praise. On the other hand, it ends with a request – אבינו מלכנו החל עלינו הימים הבאים לקראתנו לשלום…. Mishne Brurah (OH 294:6) deals with this question, and concludes that
מיהו אם נזכר קודם שומע תפלה לא יחזור אלא יאמר אתה חוננתנו בשומע תפלה דכשמבדילין בתפלה אומרים אבינו מלכנו החל עלינו וכו’ דהוא בקשה והוי מעין שומע תפלה דהוא כולל כל הבקשות
However, if one remembers [that he omitted Atah Chonantanu] before concluding Shomeiah Tefillah, he should not go back [to repeat the brakha of Chonen ha’Daat] but should rather say it in Shomeiah Tefillah, for when one makes havdalah during the Amidah we say “Our Father, our King, begin for us these days…” which is a prayer of request, and thus of the same theme as Shomeiah Tefillah, which incorporates all forms of request.
Mishne Brurah does qualify this by saying that if someone has a cup of wine and will be able to make havdalah over the cup of wine, he should wait to make havdalah then, and not insert Atah Chonantanu in Shomeiah Tefillah, inasmuch as the prayer is primarily one of praise.
That qualification is only relevant for havdalah where there is an alternative ritual for reciting the text—if one does not do it during Shmoneh Esrei, one can still do it over the cup of wine. In a case such as ours, where no alternative halakhicritual exists, it would be permissible and acceptable to add into Shomeiah Tefillah an Al Ha’Nissim prayer, provided that it would end with a prayer of request. So as to ensure that this insertion does not shift the overall tone of Shomeiah Tefillah, the text should be crafted in a way that the theme of request is given equal weight to the theme of praise and thanksgiving. Our gratitude to God for the State of Israel should evoke prayers for its continued flourishing and for the safety and security of its inhabitants If prayers such as these are a central theme to this Al Ha’Nissim, it would be appropriate to insert the Al Ha’Nissim in Shomeiah Tefillah.
Can we take this one step further? Can a Shaliach Tzibbur add this in his repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei? At the outset, it would seem that the answer is no, since the rule of making insertions in the middle brakhot was formulated specifically regarding personal requests. However, as discussed above, there is sometimes even more allowance to make insertions on behalf of the entire community: the piyutim that were inserted in Ashkenazic communities for Yomim Tovim were said exclusively in the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei. May we then insert a request prayer in the middle brakhot in the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei on behalf of the entire community?
This issue is addressed by the poskim in the case of a community that is in need of rain. Shulkhan Arukh rules that if an individual or community needs rain, but it is not yet the time to say ותן טל ומטר לברכה in the Shmoneh Esrei, they may make the request for rain in Shomeiah Tefillah (SA OH 117:2). Taz, however, states that this may only be done in one’s private Shmoneh Esrei, but not in the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei. His reason is not that there is any restriction against the community making an addition to the Shmoneh Esrei, but that the specific phrase ותן טל ומטר לברכה, was established by the Rabbis to be said only in the Birkat Ha’Shanim blessing. Following this, Mishne Brurah (no. 7) states in the name of Pri Megadim and the Achronim in general, that the widespread practice is to ask for rain in Shomeiah Tefillah even during the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei, as long as one does not use the ותן טל ומטר text. What this discussion makes clear is that the same way the needs of an individual may be inserted in this brakha for the silent Shmoneh Esrei, the needs of the community may be inserted in this brakha for the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei.
In our case, the text of Al Ha’Nissim is not the classic, Rabbinically established text of that prayer, and there would be no problem using it in Shomeiah Tefillah. Thus, if the community wishes for Al Ha’Nissim to be said, and this reflects the prayers and requests of the community, felt most poignantly on the day that we celebrate Israel’s independence, then the community has halakhic justification to insert it in the Shomeiah Tefillah prayer for the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei.
Barring a broadly-accepted communal practice to recite Al Ha’Nissim on Yom Ha’atzmaut, one should not recite it during Modim in the private or public Shmoneh Esrei. However, there is good halakhic basis to allow for it to be inserted in Shomeiah Tefillah provided that one chooses a text that ends with and gives equal weight to the theme of request. This may be done for one’s private Shmoneh Esrei, and also, with the consensus of the tzibbur, for the communal repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei.