In 1949, one year after the declaration of Independence, the establishment of Yom Ha’atzmaut as a national holiday was accompanied by these words by the council of the Chief Rabbinate led by Rav Uziel and Rav Herzog:
“The fundamental turning point that has occurred by the declaration of our independence in Eretz Yisrael, with Hashem’s mercy upon us to save us and redeem our souls, obligates us to establish and accept upon ourselves for all future generations the date of the declaration of the State of Yisrael, the 5th of Iyar each year, as a day of celebration of the “Atchalta d’Geulah” (beginning of the redemption) of the Jewish people…”
In that year the Chief Rabbinate also established the custom of saying Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut without a bracha. 26 years later, after the victory in the Six Day War and in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, the council of the Chief Rabbinate was reconvened at the instruction of Rav Shlomo Goren and voted to institute the recitation of Hallel with a bracha on Yom Ha’atzmaut that year and in all future years.
What were the halachic factors which led the Chief Rabbis to conclude that Yom Ha’atzmaut is a worthy enough cause to recite Hallel with a bracha?
Of course, any halachic ruling of this nature will necessarily be influenced by the hashkafic question of how one views the state of Israel from a Torah perspective – as a fulfilment of “Atchalta deGeulah”, the beginning of the redemptive process as envisioned by our prophets, or simply a tremendous political and military achievement. Our aim in this essay is not to settle this debate, but rather to focus on some of the halachic arguments for and against the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The majority of Poskim who deal with this issue begin their discussion with an analysis of the Gemara in Pesachim (117a):
|וחכמים אומרים נביאים שביניהן תיקנו להם לישראל שיהו אומרים אותו על כל פרק ופרק, ועל כל צרה וצרה שלא תבא עליהם לישראל, ולכשנגאלין אומרים אותו על גאולתן.
|The Sages maintain: The prophets among them enacted that Israel should recite [Hallel] at every epoch and at every trouble — may it not come to them! — and when they are redeemed, they recite it [in thankfulness] for their delivery.
From this Gemara we learn the obligation to recite Hallel anytime that the Jewish people achieve salvation from persecution and destruction. However it is not immediately apparent whether the Gemara intends to establish Hallel as an annual commemoration of the deliverance, or simply as a once-off obligation at the time such a miracle occurs.
Rashi, in explaining what is meant by “every trouble” mentioned by the Gemara, cites Channukah as an example. Since Hallel was established by the Sages on the 8 days of Channukah as an annual commemoration of the salvation of the Jewish people, the implication of Rashi’s words seems to be that we are dealing with a yearly obligation to be repeated on the anniversary of the miracle.
Another source which seems to indicate likewise is the Gemara in masechet Megillah which asks why Hallel is not said on Purim. The impetus behind this question is the logic of the Gemara in Pesachim we quoted above. Clearly here too the question of saying Hallel does not affect the year in which the salvation took place, but every year henceforth.
Thus it would seem that the saving of Jewish lives that occurred on the very first Yom Ha’atzmaut should warrant saying Hallel each year afterwards. Yet there may be those who would argue that in the absence of a Sanhedrin we no longer have the ability to establish new takanot and create new festivals as was the case with Purim and Channukah.
The answer to this claim is found in a careful reading of the Gemara’s words. The Gemara states that the prophets already enacted for Israel that they should say Hallel whenever they are saved from distress. In other words, the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut would not constitute a new enactment, but rather the fulfillment of an ancient enactment by the prophets. Once the correct conditions are fulfilled, the potential enactment can come into effect.
The Chatam Sofer notes that in the case of Channukah (and Purim) the requirement to recite Hallel is actually from the Torah. He learns this from the Gemara in Megillah (14a) which states:
|Our Rabbis taught: 48 prophets and 7 female prophets prophesised for Israel, and none of them subtracted from or added onto what is written in the Torah, except for the reading of the Megillah. From where did they derive [this obligation]? Rabi Chiya bar Avin said in the name of Rabi Yehoshua ben Karcha: If from slavery to freedom we recite songs of praise – how much more so from death to life!
|תנו רבנן: ארבעים ושמונה נביאים ושבע נביאות נתנבאו להם לישראל, ולא פחתו ולא הותירו על מה שכתוב בתורה, חוץ ממקרא מגילה. מאי דרוש? אמר רבי חייא בר אבין אמר רבי יהושע בן קרחה: ומה מעבדות לחירות אמרינן שירה – ממיתה לחיים לא כל שכן
The Gemara learns the institution of Purim from a kal v’chomer, thus making it a Torah requirement. If the Torah gave us a Yom Tov to celebrate Pesach, when we were released from slavery to freedom, how much more so are we required to celebrate and give thanks when a miracle occurred by which we were saved from death to life! The Chatam Sofer therefore concludes that salvation from the threat of destruction warrants an obligation on our part to say Hallel – as a requirement on a Torah level.
The Netziv argues that the above kal v’chomer applies only at the time when the original miracle occurs. By contrast in future years the obligation would be rabbinic in nature. However we note that he still agrees that in practice the obligation of Hallel remains every year as a commemoration of the miracle.
The Entire Jewish People?
As we have seen, when Am Yisrael is saved from a life-threatening situation there is a need to recite Hallel, and according to some this is even a Torah obligation. However several Rishonim mention an important limitation to the scope of this ruling, which may bear weight on our discussion regarding Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The Gemara in Archin lists 18 days on which Hallel is recited, including the various chagim, along with Channukah. However the language of the Gemara is unusual. It states “These are the days on which the individual recites Hallel.” The days in question are ones on which undoubtedly all of Am Yisrael are to recite Hallel. What are we to learn from the wording – “the individual”?
An answer is suggested by Tosfot:
|Even a community that does not constitute the entire nation of Israel is called “individual” since we said in Arvei Pesachim – [The prophets among them enacted] that Israel should recite [Hallel] at every epoch and at every trouble — may it not come to them! — and when they are redeemed, they recite it [in thankfulness] for their delivery. Therefore here it says “individual” since when the entire nation is not affected, Hallel is not recited except for on those days [listed here by the Gemara], but where the redemption affects the entire nation of Israel, [Hallel] may be said.
|דאפי’ צבור שאין שם כל ישראל יחיד קרי להו משום דאמרינן בערבי פסחים (דף קיז.) נביאים אמרוהו ותיקנו להם לישראל שיהו אומרים אותו על כל פרק ופרק על כל צרה וצרה שלא תבא עליהן וכשנגאלין אומרין אותו על גאולתן ולכך נקט יחיד דכי ליכא כל ישראל אין גומרין אותו אלא באלו הימים אבל לגאולת כל ישראל אומרים אותו לעולם
Tosfot, as well as the Behag understand that the word “individual” comes to exclude when salvation occurs for the entire nation. Although the Gemara in Pesachim explains that we establish Hallel on any day on which salvation occurred (and not just the festivals listed by the Gemara in Archin), this is only when the deliverance occurred for the entire Jewish people (or at least the majority of the nation). Anything less is considered to be of an “individual” nature. This view is also taken by the Chida, who claims that this is the reason why the Gemara in Pesachim was omitted by the Rif, Rosh and Rambam respectively. In addition he quotes the opinion of the Meiri that in such a case one may recite Hallel (even an individual by himself) but the bracha should be omitted. Accordingly, this is the approach taken by Rav Ovadya Yosef regarding Yom Ha’atzmaut. He rules that Hallel should be said without a bracha since the rescue of the Jewish population with the victory in the war of Independence affected only the approximately 600,000 Jews living in Israel at the time – a minority of the entire nation.
What About Channukah?
There is an obvious difficulty with the proposition raised by Tosfot, Behag and the Chida (that we require salvation affecting the entire Jewish people to obligate the recitation of Hallel) from the miracle of Channukah. This miracle ostensibly did not affect the entire Jewish people. How then could the sages have established the recitation of Hallel as a result?
In dealing with this question, Rav Ovadya Yosef quotes the Rav of the Chida, Mahari Navon who explains that the salvation of Channukah was unique. Here, he admits, neither the entire Jewish nation nor their majority were under threat, however the Beit HaMikdash was. And since every member of the Jewish people had a belonging and connection to the Beit HaMikdash, this fact was enough to define the miracle of Channukah as one which affected the entire Jewish people.
Even if we accept the notion that Hallel is only recited for salvation affecting (at least) the majority of the Jewish people, there may still be room for it’s recitation (with a bracha) on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The case may be argued in one of two ways.
1. What Constitutes a Majority of the Jewish People?
The Gemara in masechet Horayot (3a) teaches that when it comes to calculating the majority of the Jewish people for halachic matters, only those in Eretz Yisrael are taken into account. The Gemara’s discussion is related to a korban brought by the Sanhedrin when they issued an erroneous ruling which caused the majority of the Jewish people to sin. However the Gemara explains that the “majority” for this matter is defined by the residents of Eretz Yisrael only.
In several other places the “majority” of the community is similarly judged according to the residents of Eretz Yisrael. Thus the Rambam writes in his commentary to the Mishnah:
|Since the residents of Eretz Yisrael are the ones who are called “community”, and Hashem called them “the entire community” even if they are just ten individuals, and we don’t take into consideration those in chutz la’aretz, as we explained in Horayot.
|לפי שבני ארץ ישראל הם אשר נקראין קהל, וה’ קראם כל הקהל ואפילו היו עשרה אחדים, ואין חוששין למי שזולתם בחוצה לארץ כמו שבארנו בהוריות
Based on the above sources and others, Rav Shlomo Goren and Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah ruled that for any halachic matter where we require the entire community, only those living in Eretz Yisrael are taken into account. Therefore if we ask if Yom Ha’atzmaut affected the entire Jewish people living in Israel at the time, the answer becomes a resounding yes.
2. Yom Ha’atzmaut – Salvation for All Yisrael
A second argument that could be made is to suggest that Yom Ha’atzmaut affected the entire Jewish nation, in the simplest sense of the term. This is the approach taken by Rav Meshulam Roth who writes that it is clear that the miracles and salvation of Yom Ha’atzmaut affected the entire Jewish nation, that the establishment of the state and political independence constituted redemption from slavery to freedom and our deliverance from our enemies constituted being released from death to life.
In order to explain we can differentiate between two types of salvation which we commemorate on Yom Ha’atzmaut. On the one hand we remember the miraculous victory of the war of independence in which our newly-formed army overcame enemies far greater in number and in strength, and the 600,000 Jews who lived in Eretz Yisrael were saved from the threat of annihilation.
However on a deeper level the very establishment of the State provided safety from persecution on a far greater scale than the war that took place in 1948. The creation of the State meant that Jews all over the world who found themselves under threat had a safe place to go and escape. It meant that refugees from the Holocaust were no longer left wandering from country to country, sometimes to end up in prisons or aboard sinking ships. And it meant that the Jews had a way of protecting themselves from threats of persecution the world over.
Thus writes Rav Ovadya Hodaya: “Even though not all the Jewish people were in Eretz Yisrael and the troubles and wars were in Eretz Yisrael and only here were the residents surrounded by enemies on all sides… nonetheless the salvation relates to the entire Jewish people in the Diaspora. Before the establishment of the State, Eretz Yisrael was sealed off to the Jewish people… and without the establishment of the State we would still be wandering and persecuted amongst the nations of the world…Even those who didn’t suffer and still don’t face persecution at the hands of foreign rulers… each Jew has the opportunity whenever he wants to return to his homeland, to the land of his forefathers…”
Another objection raised to the saying of Hallel is based on the opinion of the Maharatz Chayut in his commentary to the Gemara in masechet Shabbat (21b). He writes that regarding Channukah, Hallel can only be recited because of the miracle of the oil, something that was completely supernatural. The military victory, unlikely as it may have been, could always have been explained in natural terms, thereby limiting us from reciting Hallel as a result.
Several difficulties exist regarding this approach. Firstly how are we to explain Purim? The Gemara in Chullin explains that the name of Esther is an allusion to a verse in the Torah in which we are told that Hashem’s face will be hidden. The entire nature of the Purim miracle was one which occurred through natural means, yet a festival was established, and were it not for one of the three answers given by the Gemara, Hallel would be recited as well.
Secondly, the Gemara in Pesachim upon which we have based our discussion, stated that the prophets established that Hallel should be recited for “every trouble” from which Am Yisrael is redeemed. There is not even the slightest hint or allusion to a requirement that the salvation be beyond the realms of nature.
An Incomplete Redemption
Another objection raised by many is that while the establishment of the State was accompanied by great deliverance for the Jewish people, we are still far from the complete redemption. On a physical level we remain surrounded by enemies who wish to destroy us and the security situation in the State of Israel is far from stable. On a spiritual level, while there is much to be thankful for and the explosion of Torah learning taking place in the State of Israel is unprecedented (perhaps in all of
Jewish history) we still find ourselves far from the ultimate vision of the prophets. We may have reached “Atchalta deGeulah” but is that enough?
Rav Shaul Yisraeli gives two answers in dealing with these concerns:
- The Shulchan Aruch states that one whose father dies and leaves behind a great inheritance is required to say two brachot: “Dayan HaEmet” over learning of the tragedy of a parent’s death, and “Shehecheyanu” over his newly-found fortune. Even though the sorrow of mourning far outweighs the good fortune, nonetheless the happiness does not disappear. The two emotions are not nullified by one another.
Even if one is to say that the State of Israel is at fault and is the cause of the physical and spiritual maladies to which we bear witness, our happiness and thanksgiving need to remain intact, alongside our disappointment and yearning for a greater fulfilment of our redemption.
- Furthermore, we need to differentiate between our obligation of thanks towards HaKadosh Baruch Hu to how we have taken hold of the gift with which we were presented. An outpouring of chessed from Above is always a nisayon – it may be that the State has not fulfilled it’s potential, it may be that we have not lived up to our expectations, but that in no way exempts us from giving thanks to Hashem for the opportunity and in no way detracts from the gift with which we were presented.
On Yom Ha’atzmaut we commemorate the salvation of Am Yisrael which was brought about by the establishment of the State – miracles which had bearing on the lives of the entire Jewish people. We have seen that there is great halachic basis for the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut and this has been the practice of many great halachic authorities. The arguments for and against making a bracha on this Hallel are based on several halachic considerations and are not necessarily a reflection of one’s commitment (or lack thereof) to the State of Israel.
The Gemara explains that Chizkiyahu could have been the Mashiach, but he was punished for not singing songs of praise over the miracles which were done for him. As religious Jews, we are obligated in finding the correct response to the events which take place around us. Whether one reaches the halachic conclusion of saying Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut or not, it is crucial that we acknowledge and find the appropriate way of giving thanks to Hashem for the tremendous gift we received with the establishment of the State of Israel.
 The halachic question of establishing a new Yom Tov requires lengthy analysis and is beyond the scope of this essay. For more see Rav Nachum Rakover’s Hilchot Yom Ha’atzmaut veYom Yerushalayim.
 National Archives 8562/651
 Chief Rabbinate council decision, 25 Nissan תשל”ד
 According to this logic it would seem that we should say Hallel on Purim as well, and in several places the Gemara questions why this isn’t the case. The Gemara gives 3 different answers to this question: Either because the miracle of Purim took place outside the land of Israel, or because the Megillah itself constitutes a unique form of Hallel for this holiday, or because we remained servants of Achashverosh at the end of the Megillah story. None of the above reasons would seem to apply to Yom Ha’atzmaut.
 Orach Chaim 208, Yoreh Deah 233.
 Were it not for the reasons listed by the Gemara (Megilla 14a) Hallel would be recited on Purim as well.
 Ha’emek Sheelah Vayishlach 26
 Sukkah 44b
 Hilchot Lulav 35
 Chaim She’al 2:11
 Yebia Omer 6:41
 Masechet Bechorot Chapter 4
 Pg 625 Torat HaMoadim
 Hilchot Yom Ha’atzmaut veYom Yerushalayim, “On Establishing Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut” Pg. 187
 Kol Mevaser 1:21
 Shut Yaskil Avdi 6:10
 Zeh Hayom Asah Hashem, “Letter to a confused youth” Pg. 59-60
 Orach Chaim 223:2
 Rav Meshulam Roth, Rav Goren, Rav Neriah, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Also (without a bracha) Rav Ovadya Yosef, Rav Ovadya Hodaya, Rav Herzog, Rav Uziel.
 Sanhedrin 94a