Today is Iyyar 5, the 65th anniversary of the day Jewish sovereignty returned to the Land of Israel after a 1878 year hiatus. For secular and Orthodox Zionists alike, the day is a major calendar date: It is a day to reflect on and to give thanks for our accomplishments here, to pay tribute to the generations of Zionist leaders and thinkers who were not satisfied with the poor state and status that Jews had in Europe and who laid the groundwork for all that we have today.
For religious Zionists, Iyyar 5 has an additional element of significance: religious. In 1948, leading Zionist rabbis (including the country’s first chief rabbis) compared the day to other post-Biblical holidays such as Chanukah and Purim, and they ruled that the celebratory Hallel prayer should be recited to thank God for His benevolence on this special day.
But our synagogue did not recite Hallel this morning, nor did any other synagogue in Israel. The date might be Iyyar 5, but today has been declared Memorial Day, a day of mourning for the 23,085 soldiers who have died in the defence of our freedom. The Memorial and Independence Day celebrations have been pushed off by one day, in order to avoid having Memorial Day ceremonies on Saturday night.
It is noteworthy that this is a recent development; prior to 2004, our national holidays were pushed off only if they fell on Shabbat. But Saturday night services meant that work crews would necessarily work on Shabbat in order to get ready for the ceremonies, and religious politicians pushed a bill to amend the law. As a result, we have only marked Independence Day on the “correct” day twice since 2004 (in 2006 and 2009). We won’t do so again until 2020.
But if we Religious Zionists believe that there is halachic significance to the fifth day of Iyyar – just as we ascribe religious significance to the 25th of Kislev (Chanukah) and to the 14th day of Adar (Purim), then surely the day cannot pass without note. It is an accepted fact that our religious festivals do not mark approximate dates, but rather exact ones. Chanukah is marked on Kislev 25, regardless of the day of the week in any particular year.
Same for Purim, although there are some amendments made to the holiday when 15th of Adar (Shushan Purim) falls on Shabbat. In that instance, known as “triple Purim”, some of the holiday’s mitzvot are marked before or after the actual anniversary of the miracle.
But even then, we mark God’s benevolence on the 15th of Adar, because that is the precise day that He showed his grace on our nation.
Orthodox adherence to “messing around” with Independence Day seems to justify the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) position that Independence Day has little religious significance, and certainly not enough religious significance to alter our prayers. With our own agreement, we have given credence to a belief that is prevalent in Haredi society – that Religious Zionism is much more Zionist than religious, and far less concerned with Jewish law and the halachic process than we Orthodox Zionists claim. “You guys don’t even believe in the sanctity of Yom Ha’atzmaut,” one haredi friend of mine told me. “If you did, you’d consider Iyyar 5 as concrete a date as Chanukah.”
So what to do today, when we “should” be reciting Hallel and celebrating our independence, but instead we join together with our nation to pay respects to those soldiers and victims of terror who have died in defence of our country? Certainly we cannot recite Hallel at 7 am, only to bow our heads for the memorial siren at 11.
I would suggest two solutions to this dilemma. In diaspora communities abroad, I would suggest they recite Hallel and celebrate Israel’s independence on the correct day, Iyyar 5, regardless of the day of the week and irrespective of Israeli government decisions. From a religious perspective, I would suggest that this is the correct way to demonstrate our belief that Iyyar 5 was a seminal moment in Jewish history, not one to be glossed over.
In Israel, perhaps the correct way to mark Iyyar 5 as the country marks Memorial Day is to recite the al hanisim prayer, either as part of the standing Amida prayer, or as a separate prayer to be recited after the completion of the Amida. Personally, I have added al hanisim into my amida and Grace After Meals prayers for Independence Day, and I’ve told my kids to do the same. Seems to me that this is an appropriate way to mark a day that we believe is steeped with religious significance while also respecting the government decision to push off our civil celebrations in order to reduce the amount of Shabbat violations connected with the ceremonies.
As we say in the Prayer for the State of Israel, may our country represent the first flowering of the final and ultimate Redemption.