Yom Haatzmaut is among the newest addition to the calendar of Jewish holidays, commemorating the establishment of the modern State of Israel on the 5th of Iyar, in 1948 (Jewish year 5708).
Questions: Does Yom Haatzmaut earn the "holiday status" required to recite Hallel? What classical Jewish sources did rabbis consult to make this decision for their communities?
Topic #1: When do we typically recite Hallel?
- What do Sukkot, Hanukkah, Passover, and Shavuot have in common?
- What is missing that you would have expected to be on the list?
Topic #2: Why do we recite Hallel specifically on these holidays and not on others?
- This passage states that Hallel is meant to be recited to commemorate experiences of redemption.
- Which holidays commemorate experiences of redemption?
- Do all of the holidays above recall redemption of the Jewish people?
- Why don't we say Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, according to the Talmud?
- (the full Hallel is only recited on a "mo'ed", a festival where we refrain from labor)
- But wait...what is the current practice regarding Hallel on Rosh Chodesh?
- Keep this contradiction in mind - we will revisit this topic later.
- Is saying Hallel on Hanukkah consistent with this rule?
- Why do we say Hallel on Hanukkah?
- On Hanukkah we do not refrain from labor - what happened to the criteria of being a yom tov?
- Apparently Hallel can be recited on days that are not a yom tov, as long as the holiday commemorates a miracle performed for the Jewish people.
- According to Rabbi Yitzhak, why do we not say Hallel on Purim?
- In his opinion, a Hallel-qualifying miracle must occur within the land of Israel.
- This passage adds two more possible reasons why we do not recite Hallel on Purim, what are they?
- The Megillah counts as a form of Hallel.
- The miracle of Purim was incomplete because at the end of the story the Jews remained in exile (in contrast, the Passover and Hanukkah miracles resulted in returning to the land of Israel and establishing a nation there).
- In closing, what are the criteria we have gathered that are required to recite Hallel on a non yom tov day?
- The holiday must commemorate a miracle.
- To qualify for saying Hallel, the miracle must either have occurred in the land of Israel, or ended the Jewish exile from Israel.
Topic #3: Waiting For A Miracle
To fit the criteria for saying Hallel, a holiday must commemorate a miracle of redemption.
Part 1: Was gathering Jews back to a communal homeland foretold as an act of redemption?
- נס, in addition to meaning "miracle" in modern Hebrew, refers to a "signal" in biblical Hebrew.
- How do you interpret the use of the word in this context?
- Do you recognize this terminology from our daily prayer liturgy? [the Amidah - ושא נס לקבץ גליותינו - and hold up a sign to gather our exiled]
- Did modern Jewish political sovereignty in Israel end the exile and fulfill this prophecy? Why or why not?
- (Note: these biblical verses are not authoritative in making Jewish legal determinations, but were used homiletically by rabbis in arguments for establishing Yom Haatzmaut as a religious commemoration of deliverance experienced by klal Yisrael, the Jewish community worldwide.)
- How do the words of this Psalm connect the gathering of Jews back to the land of Israel to deliverance of the Jewish people and offering praise to God?
Waiting For A Miracle, Part 2: Israeli statehood was accomplished through political and military means; can we consider this human accomplishment to be a "miracle"?
- This passage was cited by Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook (leading thinker of Religious Zionism) to classify Israel's establishment as a modern miracle, and by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (author of comprehensive studies of Jewish law) to justify reciting Hallel on the holiday.
- The shepherd who neglected his duty says: my presence would not have made a difference; I would have been outmatched by the killer lion.
- His master said: You would have been outmatched, but the biblical David, an outmatched servant, also prevailed against a lion and a bear. Perhaps you would have defeated the lion in a miracle.
- What do you make of the use of miracles in legal arguments to determine liability for damages? Can this legal definition of miracle be applied in other categories of Jewish law? How would you describe the Talmud's characterization of a large versus a small miracle?
OUR LINGERING QUESTION: Why would a man defeating a lion constitute a miracle?
- The Talmud establishes that the shepherd could only have won the fight through a miracle. According to Tosafot (medieval commentaries on the Talmud, written in Germany, Italy, and France during the 12th to 14th centuries), what miraculous transformation would have led him to victory? In other words, what makes this scenario a miracle?
- How do the Talmud and Tosafot imply that miracles can be a partnership between God and human beings? What part of the miracle comes from God and what comes from human beings?
- Is there a connection between miracles and fulfilling a biblical verse?
Topic #4: Can we establish new holidays based on new miracles of redemption?
- What power do we have to establish new holidays according to the Mishnah Berurah (19th century commentary on Shulchan Aruch)?
- What role does God play in the miracle of Purim?
- How do the Mishnah Berurah, the Purim story, and the story/commentary on Bava Metzia work together to validate miracles carried out by human hands?
שו"ת קול מבשר חלק א סימן כא ד"ה (א) הנה
(א) הנה אין ספק שהיום ההוא (ה' אייר) שנקבע על ידי הממשלה וחברי הכנסת (שהם נבחרי רוב הצבור) ורוב גדולי הרבנים לחוג אותו בכל הארץ, זכר לנס של תשועתנו וחירותנו, מצוה לעשותו שמחה ויו"ט ולומר הלל.
ואף ציבור שבעיר אחת או יחידים שקובעים עליהם יו"ט לעצמם על נס שנעשה להם, חייבים לקיים עליהם ועל זרעם והבאים אחריהם עד עולם.
ואף שהולכים לעיר אחרת להשתקע חייבין לקיים היום ההוא.
Kol Mevaser 1:21, R' Meshulam Roth (1875-1963)
(Israeli Chief Rabbinic Council)
There is no doubt that this day (5 Iyar) that was set by the government and the members of the Knesset (who represent the majority of the population) and the majority of the great rabbis to celebrate in all the land as a memorial to the miracle of our salvation and freedom, it is a mitzvah to make it into a day of rejoicing as on a holiday and to say Hallel. And even a community in one city or a few individuals who establish a holiday for themselves in commemoration of a miracle that was done to them are obligated to maintain that holiday for themselves and for their descendants in future generations for all time. And even if one goes to a new city he is obligated to celebrate that day.
- How does Rabbi Roth justify reciting Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut?
- How does he employ the sources we have looked at to make his argument?
Topic #5: If reciting Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut is a custom, can we say the blessing?
Reciting the blessing for Hallel includes stating that we were commanded by God to recite Hallel on this day, but we recite Hallel on days that are not on our original list. Do we say this blessing when reciting Hallel out of custom rather than out of law (commandment)?
- How does this passage classify the practice of reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh?
- It is a custom but not a law.
- Why does the passage insist that someone who begins Hallel should complete it even if it is not the law?
- Inherited custom is a valid reason to recite.
- The passage seems to suggest that some recite an abbreviated Hallel and some recite a complete Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. What are possible reasons for each practice?
- What is the difference between the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch main text (typically the Sephardic practice) and that of the gloss (the Mapah, representative of Ashkenazic practice)?
- Based on our sources, would it be appropriate to recite a blessing for Hallel when reciting out of custom rather than out of law? Why or why not?
Rabbinic opinions and local customs vary from community to community, and diverse Jewish legal arguments have been published alternatively supporting and denouncing the practice of Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut. Ultimately, the validity of reciting Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut depends on whether the establishment of the modern State of Israel can be considered a miracle of redemption for the Jewish people. There is documented halakhic precedent to consider the end of the Jewish exile and return to the Jewish homeland a modern miracle, validating the practice of communities who recite the full Hallel on this day with a blessing.
- Which arguments and sources did you find most compelling for reciting Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut? What did you find the least compelling?
- Based on the sources we looked at, do you think there is a Jewish legal basis for reciting the full Hallel with the blessings on Yom Haatzmaut? What sources can be used to either support or oppose the conclusion?
- Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook taught his students to say Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, but argued that some blessings are subjective, and those who do not believe that Israel's establishment was a miracle for the Jewish people can decide not to say Hallel. Since arguments have been made for and against Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, what are the implications for diverse interpretation and practice regarding the holiday? What is good and bad about validating this type of pluralism/disjunction within Jewish practice?
- Are there additional events that you might argue are miracles meriting a new "Purim" according to Jewish legal sources?