Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Being Anti Zionist on Yom Ha’atzmaut

There is much celebration in Israel today as its citizens celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day. But today is not really that day. Yom Ha’atzmaut is the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar - which is tomorrow. It is being celebrated today, a day early because the Chief Rabbinate wants to avoid any possible Chilul Shabbos that might happen if celebrations were held on Friday that might last past nightfall – when Shabbos begins.

For those saying Hallel and/or not saying Tachnun on Yom Ha’atzmaut, that should be done tomorrow, not today. This is the Psak of Rav Ahron Soloveichik. It is the actual day that generates this obligation and not necessarily the day where celebrations take place.

Rav Ahron said Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Although he never obligated anyone else to say it, the two Yeshivos he headed here in Chicago, HTC and Brisk did say it. He felt that the fact that the land of Israel had returned to the Jewish people for the first time in 2000 years and the miraculous way it happened against all odds - warranted it.

There are those who do not say Hallel. I am one of those. I do not feel that this event warrants saying Hallel. Although there were many miracles involved, I believe they occurred through natural means which makes them hard to peg as actual miracles. There was nothing like the parting of the Red Sea - or any other overt miracle of that type that I am aware of. Nor do I believe that creation of the State of Israel is the first flowering of our final redemption – which is what many of those who say Hallel believe. At the same time I agree that the retrun of Israel to Jewish hands is of major significance and warrants  an exemption from Tachnun.

This was in fact the position of Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the Rosh Hayeshiva of Ponevitch who had re-established that Yeshiva as one of the major Yeshivos in the Jewish world.

There is a humorous anecdote about this. When Rav Kahaneman was once asked by a secular or religious Zioinst Jew if he said Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, he supposedly answered that he does what Ben Gurion does, he doesn’t say Hallel and he doesn’t say Tachnun.

Rav Kahaneman recognized the  importance of re-establishing Jewish sovereignty over our country. He had Hakaras HaTov for it and tangibly expressed it by his entire Yeshiva not saying Tachnun on Yom Ha’atzmaut  and displaying the Israeli flag on that day as well.

To the best of my knowledge none of this would ever happen today in any Charedi Yeshiva, including Ponevitch. When Rav Shach took over, he restored saying Tachnun on that day. Something which he had always done even as a Rosh Yeshiva in Ponevitch under Rav Kahaneman.

Today’s Charedi is mostly rejectionist and sees any connection to Zionism as anti-Torah. One does not have to look very hard to see constant evidence of this antipathy. The attitude is that one cannot be religious and be a Zionist. End of story. They see the founding fathers as Reshaim – evil people out to destroy Torah Judaism by eradicating any vestige of religious observance.

While this may be true in some cases, I do not believe that there was any official Zionist policy to destroy observance. Although there were probably some who felt that way and tried to do things along those lines, I don’t think that was the intent of Israel’s founding fathers. True they were secular and had secular values. But I don’t think they declared war on the Torah.

Many people accuse the founding father of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl, of being a Rasha because of those values. They claim he had no interest in Judaism… that he even considered converting to Christianity as a means to end anti-Semtism or that he would have been happy with a Jewish State in Uganda. His stated purpose after all was not to build up a Torah society, but to end anti-Semitism.

It’s probably true that he flirted with the idea of conversion. As a completely assimilated Jew with no connection to Judaism it should not be a surprise that he thought conversion would eliminate anti-Semitism. But he quickly abandoned that idea.  In the end he did value Judaism. And actually became more culturally Jewish.  He even expressed regret that he was not raised in the Jewish tradition and that he didn’t know more about it.  

It is was Herzl that generated the desire in many Jews to do return to Zion. And Herzl’s philosophical heirs made that return a reality. While it is true that he wanted a secular Jewish state, he valued Judaism enough to call his idea “the Jewish State” and not a “State for the Jews”.  He valued Judaism enough to seek the approval of Zionism from the Gedolei HaDor of his time – a remarkable thing considering his ignorance of the Torah and its values.

He was rebuffed by those Gedolim because among other things they did not approve of  an irreligious Jew in a position of leadership of all of Klal Yisroel. That belonged to Gedolei Torah, not assimilated Jews ignorant of it. I suppose he was turned off a little bit about Torah Judaism after that . But I don’t think he ever abandoned his new found respect for Judaism’s tradition and culture nor do I think it was ever his goal to create a state free form any vestige of it.  

The bottom line is that we owe Herzl and his philosophical heirs a great debt of gratitude. If not for them we would have no State. And it is highly unlikely that the Yeshiva world would be anything like it is today.

That is where our current obligation to express our Hakaras Hatov comes in. And there is no better day than the 5th day of Iyar to express it. Something Rav Kahaneman realized but has long since been forgotten by the vast majority of Charedi leadership and their constituents. Both here and even in Israel.

For the most part the opposite is true. Mention the word Medina, or Yom Ha’atzmaut or the Israeli flag or Hatikvah and you might get smirks - or worse – condemnations!  Even religious Zionism is disparaged. One cannot be religious and be a Zionist they will say because it is a contradiction in terms.

This attitude does not only exist among extremists like the flag burners of Meah Shearim and Bet Shemesh. It exists even among some of the more moderate mainstream Charedim! I can’t tell you how many times I would say something positive about the State to some of my Charedi friends and out comes all the venomous anti Israel rhetoric.

Thankfully not all Charedim feel that way. Some actually realize that the State has done many positive things for all of us – including the Charedi world. Some have even joined the army. And yet there is little public recognition of that in any official way.

No one is asking any Charedim to say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Or even to avoid saying Tachnun. But the constant bashing of the state and the failure to ever publicly recognize what The State of Israel has accomplished for the Torah world and all of Jewry, not the least of which is providing a place for survivors of the Holocaust to live - is an outrage to me, and I am sure of no small significance to God.