The Rebbe's Hallel

The Halachic basis for Hallel on Independence Day.

Rabbi David Bar-Hayim,

Rabbi Bar-Hayim
Rabbi Bar-Hayim
Arutz 7
The story is told of the Hassidic rebbe who, upon the establishment of the State of Israel, began to recite the thanksgiving prayer of Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmauth, Israel's Independence Day. After a few years, his followers noticed that the rebbe no longer recited Hallel. When queried about this, he explained: "When a child is born, everyone is happy. But if, as he grows up, he goes off the correct path and moves away from the Torah, the earlier jubilation becomes inappropriate."

It is becoming increasingly apparent that certain circles within the national-religious camp feel the same way. One year ago, in the weeks leading up to Independence Day - and in the wake of the unprecedented tragedy and debacle of the "Disengagement" - a lively debate was conducted in newspapers and Internet forums regarding the correct attitude to Yom Ha'atzmauth, particularly with reference to Hallel. Some of the participants expressed second thoughts about the previously unchallenged practice of reciting Hallel. I have since become aware of at least one rosh yeshivah (dean) who has instructed his students to desist from celebrating the day altogether.
Hallel was recited in the two leading Lithuanian-style Haredi yeshivas in the country, Ponevezh and Hevron.

Recently, I received four documents. One was written by a student of mine. The others are the distilled thoughts of three serious neo-national-religious thinkers, one of whom is the rabbi of a Jewish town in Samaria. All re-examine the long-standing practice in national-religious circles of reciting full Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmauth and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day, which falls on the 28th of the Hebrew month Iyar, three weeks after Independence Day) - and they are unanimous in rejecting this approach. Some recommend saying the abridged form of Hallel without a beracha (blessing), while others favour dropping it altogether.

It is illuminating to note that there is nothing new under the sun: the same on-again, off-again phenomenon regarding Hallel was played out in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world two generations ago. In 1949, with the memory of the great salvation and victory still fresh, Hallel was recited in the two leading Lithuanian-style Haredi yeshivas in the country, Ponevezh and Hevron - a fact that has since been hushed up and which present-day students would refuse to believe.

This pattern repeated itself in the ultra-Orthodox Zichron Moshe and Romema neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. Hallel on Independence Day, however, did not last long in Haredi society; in certain cases, threats of physical violence by anti-Zionist extremists helped tip the balance, but in general the ultra-Orthodox community simply lost the stomach for it.

The common denominator in all variants of this phenomenon is a profound sense of disappointment with the way the state has turned out thus far, as well as the perceived need, for educational reasons, to keep one's distance from a secular and "ungodly" system.

While certainly agreeing with these sentiments, I question whether an essentially Halachic issue can be determined based on subjective impressions, changing political realities or educational constraints. To better grasp the issues at stake, we must examine the sources.

Why Say Hallel?
The Talmud (Pesahim 117a) informs us that the Hallel prayer "was instituted by the prophets to be said by the Jewish People on festivals, and [in addition] upon having been saved from grave danger, they are to recite it in thanksgiving for their salvation." This statement is quoted by several Halachic codifiers (e.g., Rid, ad loc.; Rosh Pesahim 1:10). The commentators (Rashi and Rashbam) note, by way of example, that the Hallel recited during Hannukah is an implementation of this principle.

Salvation from national disaster is the yardstick; where this standard is met, we are obligated to express our gratitude to HaShem. Indeed, the Hatham Sopher (OH 161; 191 and 208) opines that this obligation is mandated by the Torah.

This, in a nutshell, is the Halachic basis for Hallel on both Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.

The Hannukah Precedent
But what to do when things do not live up to our expectations? Is there an historical precedent for all this from which we might learn? I believe there is - and it's called
Salvation from national disaster is the yardstick.
Hanukkah.

The initial victory over the Greco-Syrians and their home-grown Hellenist supporters (so reminiscent of parts of today's Establishment), which we continue to celebrate 2,170 years later was, in fact, short-lived. The decrees against Judaism were repealed and the Jews rededicated the Mikdash (Temple), but the political situation remained fluid: at times, the Hellenist party controlled the country, at others, the Hasmoneans and their nationalist party were in power.

Even the revolt's central achievement – religious freedom and the supremacy of the Torah in Jewish life – evaporated: within two generations the Hellenists were firmly in control once more, actively persecuting and even killing those whose primary allegiance lay with the Torah. The name of the family once revered as the nation's saviours was now synonymous with Hellenism.

Yet, despite this, the sages never suggested that Hanukkah be abolished, or that the recitation of Hallel be discontinued. The reason for this is that Hanukkah celebrates the events and salvation of the Jewish People at a specific historical juncture. The Divine salvation that our forefathers experienced is an immutable fact, independent of subsequent developments. In my opinion, the same Halachic reasoning applies for Yom Ha'atzmauth and Yom Yerushalayim: the former commemorates the salvation of 1948, the latter of 1967.

The Case for Al HaNissim
Having said that, I believe that this soul-searching in some quarters of the national-religious camp is a blessing. For the first time, national-religious society is re-evaluating its relationship with the State of Israel. I have always felt that the adulation of the state not uncommon in national-religious society is a form of idol-worship - a kind of Torah fascism - and it is high time that this be addressed.

In their efforts to delineate a more balanced approach, the authors mentioned above propose something that I have been advocating for years: that a special version of the Al HaNissim prayer - which is added to the Amidah (silent prayer) and Birkath HaMazon (Grace after Meals) on Purim and Hanukkah, recounting the miracles of those times - be adopted for Yom Ha'atzmauth and Yom Yerushalayim.

The authors note correctly that even those who dispute the recitation of Hallel would have little choice but to admit that the addition of Al HaNissim is Halachically unassailable (see Tur Orah Haim 582 and Hagahoth Maimoniyoth Tephillah 6:3 that one may add a supplication or words of praise in the Modim section of the Amidah). They further point out that even on days when Hallel is not recited, such as Purim, Al HaNissim is said.

The rationale here is simple and irresistible: our sages teach us that when HaShem grants us victory and salvation from great danger, it is incumbent upon us to thank Him and not appear ungrateful (see Talmud Meghilla 14a). If an individual must express his thanks to HaShem at the end of journey (Talmud Berachoth 54b) and say the HaGomel blessing in public, how much more so should an entire nation that fights a war against terrible odds and emerges victorious be required to thank Him?
It is incumbent upon us to thank Him and not appear ungrateful.

In fact, I would go further. The beracha "She'Assah Nissim" - said on days commemorating great national salvations - is entirely appropriate for Yom Ha'atzmauth and Yom Yerushalayim (see Sheiltoth no. 26). No supernatural miracle is required, as evidenced by the fact that we say this blessing on Purim even though no supernatural events are associated with the events celebrated on that day.

Surely, our reconstitution as a sovereign nation is a greater milestone in our history than the events of Purim. In the words of the Talmud (Meghilla 14a): "There [Pesah] we could rightly proclaim ‘Praise Him, you servants of HaShem,' and not the servants of Pharoah (Tehillim 113:1); here [Purim], can we proclaim ‘Praise Him, you servants of HaShem' and not the servants of Ahashwerosh? After all, we remained the servants of Ahashwerosh!"

Ideology vs. Halachah
Much of the confusion associated with Yom Ha'atzmauth and Yom Yerushalayim stems from viewing reality through an ideology-specific lens. Not infrequently, ideologies, or "hashkafoth," as they are known in the yeshiva world, tend to add background noise to Torah discussions; rather than clarify, they often serve only to obfuscate.

Ideologies are malleable and are often stretched and twisted in order to fit the facts; this frequently results in a warped view of reality. Halachah, on the other hand, deals with definable quantities and objective analysis.

The Torah trains us and requires us to block out the static and examine the issue before us as objectively as humanly possible. This is no simple matter. Rabbis, too, are susceptible to prejudice and inclination, but this does not justify painting an Halachic canvas with an ideological brush.

Note: The Beth HaWaad beth din of Machon Shilo has recently published a suggested text for Al HaNissim at http://machonshilo.org/PDF/Machon_Shilo_Al-HaNissim_YA_YY.pdf.


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