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Yom Ha’Atzmaut: To Say or Not to Say Hallel / Al Ha’Nissim, That Is the Question

There’s an old joke about a Jewish news reporter who interviewed an American politician:

Reporter: “Are you an ‘American-Jew’ or a ‘Jewish-American’?”  The implied question being: “Where do your loyalties lie?  Are you first and foremost an American, or are you, first and foremost, a Jew?”

Politician: “I’m an American-Jew.”

Reporter:  “That’s okay, because in Hebrew, we read from right-to-left.”

Unfortunately, there are many Jews who live in the United States who, without giving it a second thought, celebrate the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day, but who would never even consider celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut.  More troubling is the subset of Jews who reside in the United States who are religious, but, like their non-religious brethren, also do not celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

In the Amidah (תפלת העמידה), the thrice-daily prayer which is recited by religious Jews the world over, we say:

תקע בשופר גדול לחרותנו, ושא נס לקבץ גליותינו, וקבצנו, יחד מארבע כנפות הארץ לארצנו. ברוך אתה ”, מקבץ נדחי עמו ישראל

Blow the great shofar [of redemption] to [signal] our freedom [from the dominion of the nations].  Raise a banner [as a sign] to gather our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.  Blessed are You, HaShem, Who gathers the dispersed of his people Yisra’el.

Ever since 5 Iyyar 5708 (May 14, 1948), the date on which the modern-day State of Israel was founded, the Jewish nation, against all odds and for the first time in 2,000 years, raised a banner (flag) of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel) and began to gather its exiles from the four corners of the earth.

The founding of the State of Israel was not just an historic event; it was, and continues to be, the fulfillment of HaShem’s promise to His people Yisra’el and an open miracle which we are privileged to experience in our time.

Notwithstanding this open miracle, many religious Jews believe, or have been taught, that it is inappropriate on Yom Ha’Atzmaut to recite Hallel or add Al Ha’Nissim to their recitations of the Amidah (תפלת העמידה) and Grace After Meals (ברכת המזון).

The Talmud provides guidance on when it is appropriate to recite Hallel:

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל: שִׁיר שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה, מֹשֶׁה וְיִשְׂרָאֵל אֲמָרוּהוּ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁעָלוּ מִן הַיָּם. וְהַלֵּל זֶה מִי אֲמָרוֹ? נְבִיאִים שֶׁבֵּינֵיהֶן תִּקְּנוּ לָהֶן לְיִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁיְּהוּ אוֹמְרִין אוֹתוֹ עַל כׇּל פֶּרֶק וּפֶרֶק, וְעַל כׇּל צָרָה וְצָרָה שֶׁלֹּא תָּבֹא עֲלֵיהֶן. וְלִכְשֶׁנִּגְאָלִין, אוֹמְרִים אוֹתוֹ עַל גְּאוּלָּתָן.

Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: The song in the Torah, i.e., the Song at the Sea (Exodus 15:1–19), Moses and the Jewish people recited it when they ascended from the sea. The Gemara asks: And who said this Hallel mentioned in the Mishna, Psalms 113–118?  The Gemara answers: The Prophets among them established this Hallel for the Jewish people, that they should recite it on every appropriate occasion; and for every trouble, may it not come upon them, they recite the supplications included in Hallel. When they are redeemed, they recite it over their redemption, as Hallel includes expressions of gratitude for the redemption.

T.B. Pesahim 117a.

Several commentators hold that one should recite Hallel not only on festivals, but also on every appropriate occasion, for trouble to not come upon the Jewish people, and when the Jewish people are redeemed.  One halakhic decisor even holds that it is a Torah obligation to recite Hallel in commemoration of such occasions.  Hatam Sofer, O.H. 161, 191, 208.

The return of Jewish sovereignty to at least a portion of Eretz Yisra’el and the beginning of the ingathering of the exiles, events which we request in prayer three times a day, certainly qualifies as an “appropriate occasion” to recite Hallel and, arguably (at least to some), also constitutes the beginning of the Redemption.  Thus, it is clearly appropriate for one to recite Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

Whether to recite Al Ha’Nissim (על הניסים), at least in the context of the Amidah (תפלת העמידה), is a bit more nuanced.  It is prohibited to insert personal requests in the first and last three (3) blessings of the Amidah (תפלת העמידה), notwithstanding that insertion of personal requests is allowed (and, indeed, even encouraged) in the “middle” blessings of that prayer.  However, because Al Ha’Nissim (על הניסים) is in the nature of praise, rather than in the nature of a personal request, the prohibition of inserting personal requests in the blessing of Modim (מודים), the second of the last three blessings of the Amidah (תפלת העמידה), does not apply to Al Ha’Nissim (על הניסים).  Indeed, at least one halakhic decisor affirmatively holds that there is no halakhic impediment to inserting words of praise in the blessing of Modim (מודים).  Tur, Ohr HaHayim 582; M.T., Hilhot Tefilah 6:3.

Furthermore, just as one may insert Al Ha’Nissim (על הניסים) into his recitation of the Amidah (תפלת העמידה), so too, he may insert this same addition to his recitation of Grace After Meals (ברכת המזון).

Click here to view and download various versions of Al Ha’Nissim (על הניסים).

One final issue on the appropriateness of reciting Hallel and Al Ha’Nissim (על הניסים) on Yom Ha’Atzmaut is the objection some might have regarding whether the government of the State of Israel is on a level that would make it appropriate for us to insert these additions into our Yom Ha’Atzmaut prayers. Although it is true that there is more than ample room for improvement in the government of the State of Israel, the fact remains that, after 2,000 years, HaShem has, and continues, to answer our prayers to “[r]aise a banner [as a sign] to gather our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.”  Regardless of the substantial failings of Israeli government, as well as Israeli (and in some cases, non-Jewish) politicians, let us not be blind to the miracles of Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

חג עצמאות שמח

Happy Independence Day!

About the Author
Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel. He is the Executive Director of The Israel Foundation, a U.S.-based not-for-profit organization that provides Jews and Noahides with a Torah perspective on The Land of Israel, Contemporary Jewish Law, and Torah for Noahides. HaRav Sasson can be contacted via: www.TheIsraelFoundation.org.
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