Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Charedi Approach to Yom Ha'atzmaut

R’ Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman,ZTL (Wikipedia)
This coming Shabbos, April 17th (corresponding the 5th of Iyar on the Jewish calendar) is Yom Ha’atzmaut - Israeli intendance day. It will be the 73rd anniversary of the return of Israel into Jewish hands. The celebration of that day in Israel has been moved forward to today in order to prevent Chilul Shabbos that any such celebration would surely entail. 

This is why Tachanun should be recited today. The early celebration of that momentous event does not exempt saying it. Only the actual day itself does. The same thing is true about saying Hallel. For those who recite it – it should be recited this Shabbos. Not today. This is the Psak (religious ruling) of R’ Ahron Soloveichik, ZTL (who himself recited Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut). 

It is at this time of year that I both celebrate the day and yet get upset that Yom Ha’atzmaut is not universally recognized by Orthodox Jewry. Not even in Israel. The Charedi world does not recognize at all the importance of - after 2000 years - the return of Israel into Jewish hands. Their educators never make mention of it. It does not exist. In the event that they ever do, it is usually in negative terms... usually condemning the Zionist founders of the State - or even the current leaders - as anti religious. And if you are on the extreme right of Orthodoxy (e.g. Satamr) it is a day of mourning. As it is for many Arabs. There are even more extreme elements (Neturei Karta) that believe Israel should be handed over to the Palestinians in its entirety. 

It both saddens and angers me that there is such divisiveness about something that deserves universal approval from the Jewish people. The land of Israel belongs to the us. But we lost control until 1948. 

I am not here to dispute Neturei Karta or Satmar. The former is in my view purely evil and should be shunned by anyone with the slightest connection to Judaism. The latter believes that the return of Israel into Jewish hands is forbidden based on their interpretation of a Gemara that deals with this issue. Even though I am in profound disagreement with them, they are entitled to those beliefs. 

My quarrel is with the rest of the Charedi world. They refuse to recognize the state even though since its independence their goal of achieving the kind of success in Torah study and lifestyle they currently enjoy today must have seemed like a pipe dream back at its founding. 

They not only enjoy their success, much of it is due to the State’s generosity. As well as the infrastructure the state built in order for them to live in the relative comfort of the 21st century middle class. And not least of all it is due to the protection they receive daily from Israel’s military. Where over the years many lives were lost in battle protecting its residents. 

And yet, most Charedi Yeshivas completely ignore this day. It does not exist. To the extent they might mention it at all is to condemn it and its Zionist founders as anti religious! And to therefore forbid saying Hallel as though it was a cardinal sin to do so. 

This was not a universally held view in the early days of the State. The pioneering Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, ZTL - who rebuilt the great Lithuanian Yeshiva, Ponevezh in Bnei Brak recognized that day. Neither he nor his student body said  Tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Like R' Ahron, he recognized the importance of the return of Israel into Jewish hands. He even raised the Israeli flag over his Yeshiva. The great Mir Rosh Yeshiva, R' Chaim Shmulevitz also understood the importance of the State to the Yeshiva world - having publicly praised the IDF for protecting his Yeshiva during one of Israel’s  wars.

But even leaving religious issues aside... Israel became the home for survivors of the holocaust who had no palce else to go. Before Israel’s independence the British mandatory severely limited the number of Jews they allowed in. Even though they so many of them were Holocaust survivors languishing in DP (Displaced Persons) camps after being liberated from concentration camps. No country wanted them. Israel open its doors wide open once they declared independence. Those survivors were then able to re-build their lives and in most cases flourish. 

That alone should be enough to celebrate the day the Jewish people got Israel back into our hands. this was indeed recognized by a Chasidic Rebbe who had himself survived the camps.(I do not recall which one.) 

If I remember the story correctly he was assigned sweeping the concentration camps grounds when he was interred there during the Holocaust. At the time he had made a promise  that if he would survive the camps, he woul move to Israel and sweep the grounds there. After he immigrated there, this is exactly what he did every Yom Ha'atzmaut.

But this is not how the Charedi world reacts. Instead we get 2 kinds of reactions. Silence or condemnation. When the Charedi world sees Zionism, they see evil. Why? Because they saw Zionism and its followers as anti religious. This continues to be their view today despite so much evidence to the contrary. Like the Zionist State’s generosity. They are quick to take it and then demand more. And yet when it comes to recognizing them for that, no one is home. The example set by R’ Kahaneman is ignored. As is the example set by R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz who publicly thanked the IDF for defending them during one of Israel’s  many wars. 

Making matters even worse is when they do not ignore Yom Ha’atzmaut.  But instead take every opportunity to bash Israel and its Zionist founders as anti religious. They actually believe that they have flourished despite the State of Israel. Not because of it. To not express appreciation for all for what Israel’s has done... that has enabled them to surpass even their loftiest dreams... and instead to keep condemning it is the worst kind of denial I can imagine. 

I am sure there was not the slightest reference to Yom Ha’atzmaut in the vast majority (if not all) of the Charedi schools. Or if there was - it was to condemn it as an unacceptable celebration of anti Torah proportion!  

They don’t want to say Hallel…? Fine. They want to say Tachanun…? I can live with that. But to completely ignore it or worse to condemn it really disgusts me.