One of the most controversial topics in the Jewish world of the last century is how one should relate to the establishment of the State of Israel. There are those who view the event as a sin of trying to force the final redemption before its time. Others view it with ambivalence and caution, distancing themselves from anything to do with the State due to its establishment by those who are anti-religious and the non-religious nature of the state. Yet a third group views it as the fulfillment of the words of the prophets ushering in a new epoch in history where the Jewish people return to their land, and once again function as a nation and not just as a people scattered across the world. This approach views the State as the beginning of the final redemption with cataclysmic halachic and spiritual ramifications. They view the establishment of the State as a miracle that necessitates giving thanks and praise to Hashem as well as a responsibility not to squander this opportunity. Hence, they view guiding the State and giving it spiritual direction as a halachic imperative. This article will address the question of suspending the laws of aveilut (mourning) during the sefira period on Yom Ha’atzmaut from the perspective of those who view the establishment of the State in a positive – nay, miraculous – light.
The Halachic Status of the Customs of Mourning During the Sefira Period
The Talmud relates that the students of Rabbi Akiva died between the period of Pesach and Shavuot. The Gemara does not explicitly state that any halachot were enacted as a result, but the Tur quotes the Geonim that the custom is not to marry during this period due to this tragedy. In fact, some Acharonim even suggest that this minhag began during Talmudic times. The Tashbetz clarifies though that in any case, this practice only has the status of a minhag and not a bona-fide prohibition. Regarding the exact timing of when these restrictions apply, while different customs have been recorded, the common denominator among most is that the period should be thirty-three days long. In addition to the custom concerning weddings, the Tur writes that some had the custom not to take haircuts or shave, either.
Although all agree that these restrictions do not have the status of a rabbinic decree but rather of a minhag, they have been codified as normative halacha by the Shulchan Aruch and Rema. Furthermore, the Beit Yosef treats them severely enough that he disagrees with certain authorities who permitted having haircuts on Rosh Chodesh. He states that if this were true, the mourning period would by necessity be less than the required thirty-three days. Hence, he rules that even on Rosh Chodesh it would be prohibited to take a haircut or shave.
On the other hand, the Radbaz states that it is definitely permitted to shave and take a haircut on Rosh Chodesh. He reasons that since not taking a haircut is only a minhag, it does not override the joy and respect we give to Rosh Chodesh. He further states that it is even permitted to take a haircut on Erev Shabbat, as well as the entire month of Nissan, since it is prohibited to fast and give eulogies during this month. He concludes that he himself would take a haircut during these days and notes that many communities never adopted this custom to begin with. The Chida also concurs that these customs were relatively new and do not override the quasi-festival status of Rosh Chodesh.
On the other extreme, the Bach states that the custom not to get married applies even where a person has never had children, despite the fact that this would delay the fulfillment of the Torah obligation of pru urvu (having children).
It seems that the basis for the above machloket is that the Beit Yosef and Bach hold that the customs of mourning must be maintained even if they clash with other mitzvot (possibly even Torah obligations). Thus, the Beit Yosef stresses that since thirty-three days of mourning are needed, we cannot make an exception even for Rosh Chodesh. On the other hand, the Radbaz and Birkei Yosef did not see any critical need to keep a full thirty-three days, and any time this custom clashes with another halachic value, the custom is overridden.
The Rema adopts a compromise approach. He rules that the father of an eight-day old baby that is receiving a brit mila is permitted to take a haircut (or shave), and the Mishna Berura adds that one even is permitted to do so the day before. The Mishna Berura explains that for the father it is a personal yom tov, which overrides the mourning customs. The Rema also rules that when Lag B’omer falls on Sunday, it is permitted to shave on Erev Shabbat. In both of these cases, the Rema is unconcerned that one has not observed a full thirty-three days of mourning. Interestingly, Rav Ovadia Yosef in Chazon Ovadia lists a number of Sefardic poskim who are also lenient like the Rema. In fact, Rav Ovadia claims that this is even the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch.
To summarize, the first opinion of the Beit Yosef and Bach is that observing the thirty-three days of mourning is of such paramount importance that it overrides most other halachic considerations such as honoring Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat. The second opinion of the Radbaz and the Birkei Yosef is that since this is only a minhag (and a late one at that), it does not override even a very light halachic consideration, such as maintain the semi-festive nature of the days of Nissan. The Rema has a third intermediate opinion. On the one hand he holds that the custom does override certain halachic considerations such as Erev Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. On the other hand, other halachic considerations such as a personal yom tov (e.g., the father or sandek on the day of a brit) do override the custom of mourning, and there is no concern for not observing a full thirty-three days. According to Rav Ovadia, this is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch as well.
Celebrating a Miracle that Occurred During Sefira
If we adopt the position of the Rema that one is permitted to take a haircut or shave for a personal yom tov such as a brit, it stands to reason that the same would apply to other types of personal holidays as well, such as commemorating a miracle that one experienced. Indeed, this is the position of Rav Chaim Palaggi, who writes that in the city of Izmir, a miracle occurred to the Jewish community on the eighth and eleventh of Iyar. Hence, they subsequently instituted those days as a type of “Purim” for them, including rejoicing through eating and drinking. He mentions that people also shaved and took haircuts on those days, as the customs of mourning were suspended. Might this serve as a model for us today as well in instituting a yom tov during sefira and suspending the sefira restrictions? Can we follow the precedent of the Chida and the community of Izmir? The answer is, as we will see, that it is subject to some controversy among the poskim.
Instituting a New Day of Rejoicing
The Maharam Alshaker was asked whether the elders of the city of Pinto had a right to establish a Purim for themselves and all their progeny after them, obligating them to celebrate the eleventh of Tevet as a day of rejoicing due to a miracle that happened to the community in that town. The Maharam Alshaker concludes that it is definitely permitted to establish such a day, and it is binding on the generations that follow. This ruling is recorded by the Magen Avraham.
The Pri Chadash quotes the opinion of the Maharam Alshaker and Magen Avraham and also mentions that communities in Egypt and elsewhere instituted such days of rejoicing. Yet the Pri Chadash himself concludes that their ruling is erroneous. He explains that once Megilat Ta’anit was nullified, we do not have the jurisdiction to institute a day of rejoicing to commemorate a miracle. He proves this from the Gemara in Rosh Hashana that discusses a custom instituted by the Chashmonaim of writing Hashem’s name on top of documents. The Gemara states that a yom tov was established when this custom was abolished (since documents being thrown out caused the violation of the prohibition of destroying Hashem’s name). The Gemara then asks that if the previous holidays of Megillat Ta’anit were indeed nullified, how was it permissible to add others? The Pri Chadash argues that this demonstrates that it is prohibited to add any holidays of rejoicing after the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed.
The Chatam Sofer wrote a lengthy rebuttal of the Pri Chadash. One of his proofs is that the Gemara in Masechet Megilla states in the name of Rava that after the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, it is permitted to say shira (Hallel) in all of the lands (before that time, if a miracle happened in chutz la’aretz, one would not be able to say Hallel, but after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash the law reverted to that of before Am Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, where it was permitted to recite Hallel for a miracle in chutz la’aretz such as yetziat mitzrayim). The Chatam Sofer notes that Rava states this even though he agrees that Megilat Ta’anit was nullified. Hence, the meaning of the Gemara in Megilla is that days of rejoicing that were connected to the Beit HaMikdash were nullified after its destruction, but establishing other days of rejoicing that are not connected to the Beit HaMikdash would still be permitted.
Furthermore, in a different responsum the Chatam Sofer holds that if a miracle of salvation took place, the obligation to rejoice and thank Hashem is a Torah obligation. Indeed, he claims that the obligation of celebration on Purim and Chanuka is actually mandated by the Torah, and only the specific mechanics of how we celebrate and thank Hashem on these days were delineated by the Sages.
The Chatam Sofer concludes his responsum by stating that the whole question only arises where the entire nation wants to establish such a day, but it is certain that one city or even one country could institute such a day. He then adds that this is only true if the salvation was from a life threatening situation, similar to the story of Purim, but if it was only salvation from servitude, we cannot institute such a day of rejoicing since we are still in chutz la’aretz and do not possess true freedom.
The Ruling of the Chatam Sofer, Sefirat Ha’omer, and Yom Ha’atzmaut
According to the Chatam Sofer, would it be permitted to establish Yom Ha’atzmaut as a religious holiday? In his responsa Kol Mevaser, Rav Meshulam Roth argues that the answer is clearly yes. He contends that we are obligated to celebrate the day of Yom Ha’atzmaut as a day of rejoicing, including reciting Hallel. He explains that this day was the beginning of the miracle where we were saved from the servitude of the nations to become a free nation in our own land. This, in turn, led to the saving of thousands of lives both in Israel and in the Diaspora, as many were able to make aliyah as a result. Finally, he claims that this led to the third miracle of the ingathering of the exiles. Rav Roth holds that since the miracle occurred in Israel and gave us sovereignty as well as saved lives, the Chatam Sofer would certainly agree that this day should be considered a yom tov.
Suspending the Laws of Aveilut for Yom Ha’atzmaut
Assuming that we adopt the approach of the Chatam Sofer to establishing a yom tov for a miracle, and assuming that Yom Ha’atzmaut is considered a yom tov for the entire Jewish nation, one can argue that the case of Rav Chaim Palaggi is definitely a solid precedent for us as well. Thus, it stands to reason that shaving and taking haircuts should be permitted on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Rav Yitzchak Nissim, the Rishon L’tzion (Sefardic chief rabbi of Israel) in the 1950s and 1960s, indeed held as practical halacha that all the customs of aveilut are suspended on Yom Ha’atzmaut due to the fact that they are overridden by the rejoicing of the day. He reasons that if the Rema suspended the laws of mourning for a ba’al brit, we should most certainly suspend those laws for this auspicious occasion. This is also the opinion of other modern poskim, including Rav Avraham Shapira, former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel. On the other hand, Rav Ovadya Hadaya in his responsa Yaskil Avdi argues that although the establishment of the State of Israel is considered atchalta d’geula (the beginning of the redemption) and many miracles occurred, he concludes that this did not necessarily all happen on the day of Yom Ha’atzmaut (it was a process). Therefore, although we should rejoice and thank Hashem, we cannot suspend the laws of aveilut, and shaving and haircuts are not permitted. Rav Ovadia Yosef writes in a footnote in his responsa that one who shaves has whom to rely upon, but his own opinion is also that the laws of aveilut are not suspended. Rav Hershel Schachter states that Rav Soloveitchik too was against relaxing sefira restrictions on Yom Haatzmaut.
On the other extreme, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook would tell students who usually shaved during the year to shave on Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut. In fact, he would refer to those who did not shave using the verse “hakarat peneihem antah bam,” “their faces have revealed their true selves.” My two Roshei Yeshiva zt”l of Yeshivat Har Etzion had slightly differing views on this opinion. Rav Yehuda Amital held that one should shave on Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut, similar to the ruling of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, while Rav Aharon Lichtenstein would only shave after reciting Ma’ariv, on Yom Ha’atzmaut itself. Interestingly, we find a similar argument regarding a ba’al brit as well. The Mishna Berura writes that one is permitted to shave even before the day of the brit, while the Chida holds that one should only do that if the brit is scheduled for early in the morning and the person would not have time to shave beforehand otherwise.
Rav Eliezer Melamed rules that there is a difference between shaving and taking a haircut. Shaving merely removes the status of looking like a mourner, while taking a haircut is a positive, joyous act. Hence, on Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut he only permits shaving so as not to enter the day with the appearance of a mourner, while taking a haircut may only be done on Yom Ha’atzmaut itself. He also rules that one should not celebrate a wedding on Yom Ha’atzmaut since not having a wedding does not conflict with the joy of the day. This logic could be argued for haircuts as well – yet Rav Melamed does not do so.
Yom Ha’atzmaut That is Postponed (Nidcheh)
There are many years that the day of the week on which Yom Ha’atzmaut is celebrated is switched due to the violation of Shabbat that would be caused by the celebrations or by the ceremonies for Yom Hazikaron that take place the day before (e.g., if Yom Ha’atzmaut is on Friday, Shabbat, or if Yom Hazikaron is on Sunday). Most of the poskim that view celebrating on Yom Ha’atzmaut as an obligation hold that the obligation to celebrate applies to whichever day the Chief Rabbinate designate as the one to celebrate and thank Hashem for the miracle, and not the specific day of 5 Iyyar itself. Therefore, those in this camp that hold that one may or must shave in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut would agree that this applies even when Yom Ha’atzmaut is not celebrated on the fifth of Iyyar. This could be at the heart of the argument between Rav Roth and the Yaskil Avdi quoted above.
We have seen that many poskim hold that certain halachic considerations override the minhag of mourning during sefira. For those who view the formation of the State of Israel as a major miracle from Heaven accompanied by many minor miracles, one can make a strong halachic argument that the laws of mourning are suspended, as this day is one of rejoicing and thanking Hashem. Accordingly, many poskim (though not all) hold that it is permitted (or even a mitzva) to shave (and perhaps take a haircut) on Yom Ha’atzmaut, both when it is celebrated on the fifth of Iyyar as well as when it is pushed off or celebrated early.
As a final thought, let us remember that the reason for this mourning period is because the students of Rabbi Akiva did not respect each other. We should instead strive to emulate the students of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, who notwithstanding all their disputes, nevertheless held each other in the highest esteem and would wed each other’s children. May we learn to respect each other even if we have different opinions and thereby bring this mourning period to an end with the final geula.
 Masechet Yevamot 62b
 Tur, O.C. 493
 Rav Yitzchak Nissim (Hilchot Yom Ha’atzamut, (ed. Nachum Rakover, p. 334). Cf. Birkei Yosef (O.C. 493:10), who quotes other Acharonim that this minhag was only adopted later.
 Responsa of the Tashbetz 1:178
 Ibid. The custom not to shave is also mentioned by the Tashbetz and others.
 Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 493
 Responsa of the Radbaz 2:687
 Responsa Chaim Sha’al 1:6
 Bayit Chadash 493
 Rema, O.C. 493:2
 Or the sandek; see Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 559
 Chazon Ovadia, Yom Tov, p. 264, footnote 52.
 Responsa Chesed L’avraham, O.C. 17; Teshuva Me’ahava Vol.1, p.35
 See Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 559:14.
 It remains to be seen whether the Beit Yosef would agree that certain considerations would override the customs of mourning. This will be clarified in the continuation of the article.
 Sefer Mo’ed L’chol Chai 6
 Responsa Maharam Alshaker 49
 Magen Avraham, O.C. 686
 Pri Chadash, O.C. 496
 Megilat Ta’anit is a list of yamim tovim established to commemorate miracles that happened to Am Yisrael during the period of the bayit sheini. The Gemara claims that after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, all of these holidays were nullified save for Purim and Chanuka.
 Masechet Rosh Hashana 19b
 Masechet Rosh Hashana 18b
 The Gemara then answers that this day of celebration was enacted while the Beit HaMikdash still stood, but once it was destroyed, it would indeed not be possible to establish such a day of celebration.
 Responsa Chatam Sofer 191
 Masechet Megilla 14a
 Responsa Chatam Sofer 208
 Reponsa Kol Mevaser 1:21
 Responsa Yayin HaTov Vol.2, O.C. 11
 Sefer Rabbanut HaRashit, p. 878, footnote 83
 See Nefesh HaRav p.94. See also Responsa Mareh HaBazak 4:53 (published by Eretz Chemda), which further discusses this issue.
 Cited in Peninei Halacha, Zemanim 4:11
 Yeshayahu 3:9
 Mishna Berura 493:13
 Peninei Halacha, loc cit.
 See Peninei Halacha, Zemanim 4:9; Hilchot Yom Ha’atzmaut V’yom Yerushalayim (ed.Nachum Rakover), where some of the articles discuss this question in detail.