Monday, April 19, 2010

Thanking God for Yom Ha’atzmaut

Today is the the 5th of Iyar. This is the anniversary of Israeli Independence. And it ought to be celebrated with great joy in Klal Yisroel.

In Israel this year that celebration was moved to the 6th of Iyar (tomorrow) in order to avoid any possibility of Chilul Shabbos on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day. Memorial day precedes it and technically began on Motzoi Shabbos (Sunday). So both days were moved forward.

I bring it up because of the issue of saying Hallel. Rav Ahron Soloveichik held that no matter when the actual celebration takes place Hallel is to be said on the 5th of Iyar. This was the Minhag he established when he was Rosh HaYeshiva of the Hebrew Theological College, where it is still celebrated on that day. And later in Yeshivas Brisk.

I do not follow my Rebbe’s Minhag in this because I do not believe that Hallel is warranted. I agree with those that say we cannot establish public Minhagim like this in our day. Rav Ahron concedes to the extent that no Bracha should be made. But he feels that it is appropriate to recite the Pesukim from Tehilim which comprise Hallel. We have recaptured Eretz Yisroel for the first time since we lost it 2000 years ago upon the destruction of the 2nd Temple. There were clearly many Nisisim Nistarim – hidden miracles that enabled Israels’ small army and even smaller arsenal to overcome mighty armies and great odds. He felt that this is a highly significant event for which Hallel should be recited.

Although I do not say Hallel on this day, neither do I say Tachanun. It is indeed significant that we have the land of Israel back in Jewish hands. And that ought to be recognized in some way by all Jews – religious or otherwise. I have taken a cue from the following.

There is an anecdote about the famed Ponevezhe Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav, Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (pictured above). He was once asked if he said Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. He answered in his typically humorous but truthful way by saying that he followed founding Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s Minhag – he did not say Hallel and he did not say Tachanun. The point being that he too saw the significance of this day.

Rav Kahaneman was not the only Gadol who had thought it appropriate to in some way recognize the significance of having Eretz Yisreol return to Jewish hands. Rav Ovadia Yosef not only agrees but actually Paskins that one should recite Hallel without a Bracha after Teffilah (Yabia Omer - OC 6:41) - even while expressing his profound disappointment with the low spiritual level of the state. Rav Yosef also notes (6:42) that Rav Yitzchak Herzog recited Hallel on that day.

Then there is the well known story about Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz. During a Seudas Hoda’ah after a near miss by a rocket attack of his Yeshiva, Yeshivas Mir, he expressed thanks to the Israeli Defense Forces.

There were of course Gedolim who were opposed to giving any recognition to the state on any day, least of all Yom Ha’atzmaut. There are two a stories that illustrate just how far that opposition went.

One story is that when Rav Kahaneman was alive - Ponevezh did not say Tachanun on Yom Ha’Tazmaut. Except for Rav Shach who succeeded Rav Kahaneman as Rosh Hayeshiva of Ponezezh. He was Poresh from his Rosh HaYeshiva and the entire Beis HaMedrash - sat down and said Tachanun.

There is also a story about the Chazon Ish. He once said Tachanun at a Bris which took place on Yom Ha’atzmaut so that people would not think he skipped it because it was Yom Ha’atzmaut.

I am not here to criticize the Chazon Ish or Rav Shach. Nor do I criticize anyone who does not say Hallel and does say Tachanun on this day. I am only here to criticize those who think that they do not owe any Hakoras HaTov to the State of Israel and instead curse it at every opportunity. They ought to think again - and see the literal explosion of Torah since the establishment of the State.

The idealism that led so many religious Jews to immigrate and live a Torah lifestyle in Israel would not have been enough to have what exists today - without Yom Ha’atzmaut. The State of Israel has made it comfortable for any of us to live there.

Had the founders not won the war for independence – I do not believe there would be anything near what exists today – if it existed at all. One must in some way express Hakoras HaTov to both God and the State for making it all possible. And there is no better day for doing that than Yom Ha’atzmaut.