Weekly Shiur – Hallel and Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Rav Milston
On Friday 14th May 1948, 5th Iyar, Israel was declared to be an independent state.
As a consequence of this long awaited declaration, after two thousand years
of exile we were now free to return to our Biblical homeland. The significance of this historical occasion was emphasized by the fact that in the preceding decade, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime had systematically slaughtered a third of the Jewish people to the extent that the future of our nation looked more uncertain than it ever had done in the past. Hence, for our people to be returning to our homeland just three years after the holocaust was indeed a matter for celebration. Consequently, the new Government of Israel, together with the Chief Rabbinate of the time, ordained the 5th Iyar to be a public holiday for all Jews. This day is known to us as “Yom Ha’Atzmaut”.
The aim of this essay is to discuss whether or not the occasion has the status of a Jewish holiday in regards to the prayer of Hallel: that is to say, can one recite Hallel with it’s blessing on Yom Ha’Atzmaut?
In dealing with this question, we will discuss several halachik issues that deal with
the recitation of Hallel in general, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut in particular. Let us firstly
study the relevant Talmudic sources:
The duty to recite Hallel to commemorate those occasions when we have been saved
from impending tragedy, or for occasions when a miracle has occurred, is stated clearly In the tractate of PESACHIM (117A):
“Our Rabbis have taught: who composed Hallel? The prophets decreed it for Israel,
to be recited on festivals, and also whenever they are delivered from trouble”.
It would appear from our primary source that Hallel is recited whenever any
miracle occurs to any Jew, or whenever a Jew is saved from certain tragedy. Hence,
one might conclude, by simply referring to the passage in Pesachim that Yom Ha’Atzmaut ,falls into the stated category. There is, however, an important qualification regarding the miracles, and types of trouble from which there is a deliverance, in order to make Hallel mandatory. This qualification is quoted by Sefer Hilchot Geddot ( Hilchot Lulav P35):
“When our Rabbis remarked (in tractate Archin 10A of the Babylonian Talmud) that
there are eighteen occasions during the year on which the individual Jew recites
Hallel, they did not mean to imply that it must be recited in private; rather it is
the custom of the Rabbis to refer to an assembly of Jews which is anything less than
the entire people of Israel as “an individual”. Their reason for expressing their
view in this manner was to imply that whenever we speak of the entire house of Israel
as opposed to the “individual Jew”, they are not restricted to the eighteen occasions
in the year and may recite Hallel whenever they are delivered from trouble.”
The Talmud in the tractate of Archin, has listed eighteen days within the Jewish Calendar on which Hallel is recited. (They are: Eight days of the Tabernacles festival,
the first day of Passover, the day of the Pentecost festival, and on the eight days
of Chanuka.) According to the author of Hilchot Gedolot, this mandatory number of
eighteen times during the year, cannot be added to unless the entire nation of Israel
is involved in a deliverance from trouble or a miracle. It would appear therefore,
that even if an individual was saved from tragedy or encountered a miracle, he cannot
recite Hallel, and therefore the passage in Pesachim must be referring to incidents involving the entire Jewish nation. This opinion is also stated by one of the Tosafists,
Rabeinu Tam (in his commentary to Succah 44b(:
“Hallel was introduced to be recited only on those occasions when all of Israel has
been saved by a miracle; then a new festival is introduced and Hallel recited together
with its blessing – but this is only if the miracle happens to all of Israel”.
Hence, it would seem that according to both Hilchot Gedolot and Rabbeinu Tam that
in the case of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Hallel is not recited, because the events did not
involve, directly, the entire people of Israel and thus the prayer is inappropriate.
Indeed, it appears from these sources that there is considerable doubt as to whether
Hallel could be recited without a blessing; however, Meiri clarifies this point:
“Any person who was delivered from trouble is allowed to establish a custom for
himself to recite Hallel on that day every year, but may not do so with a blessing.
A similar ruling applies to a community (of the Jewish People). This is, in fact,
the institution of the Prophets viz. to recite Hallel when delivered from trouble”.
For Meiri, not only did the Prophet introduce the concept of reciting Hallel with a
blessing when the entire people are saved, but also ruled that even on those occasions
when part of our nation is saved, Hallel should be said without a blessing.
We have, therefore, at this stage, seemingly established a general ruling concerning
the recitation of Hallel, in that the event must involve the entire nation of Israel
if it is to be considered worthy of the Hallel prayer, together with its blessing.
However, this ruling is not so clear-cut. The author of Hilchot Gedolot quoted a
Talmudic passage from the tractate of Archin that listed eighteen days on which Hallel is recited; eight of those days belong to the festival of Chanuka, yet the events of this festival occurred during the period of the second Temple when only a part of the Jewish people were living in Israel. Therefore, the miracle of Chanuka is one that
did not involve “all of Israel”, nevertheless we still recite Hallel with its blessing –
so surely this contradicts the rulings of Hilchot Gedolot and Rabbeinu Tam?
Rabbi Yona Navan, author of “Get Mekushar” explains that since the victory of the
Maccabean army lead to the restoration of activities in the Second Temple, which
otherwise would have been destroyed, this deliverance may be considered as, and
under the category of, saving the entire people of Israel, and hence we do recite
Hallel with its blessing throughout the festival of Chanuka.
It is, however, possible to apply the logic used by Rabbi Navan to our question
regarding Yom Ha’Atzmaut; Since it can be argued that even though the establishment of the State of Israel did not directly involve all Jews, it did lead to the
restoration of a Jewish state after two thousand years of exile, and thus enabled
the “ingathering of the exiles” to begin. Therefore, just as Chanuka can be considered
a salvation for the entire Jewsh people, so too should Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
In answering this point, commentators have differentiated between Chanuka and Yom
Ha’Atzmaut; since the former miracle resulted in the restoration of the Second
Temple and hence, is relevant to all of Israel, whilst the latter resulted in the
return of part of the Jewish people to Israel in an exilic period and can, therefore, not be regarded as relevant to the entire nation.
Chida, in his responsa, is in agreement with the opinion of Rabbi Navon. He notes
the comments of Rashi to the statement earlier quoted from the tractate of Pesachim:
Rashi explains that an example of a miracle for which we would recite Hallel is
Chanuka. Chida continues to explain that since we are aware that the miracle of
Chanuka did not involve all Jews, Rashi must be implying by his comment that because the Maccabean army through their action restored the Second Temple, it is a miracle that is considered to have directly involved the entire Jewish nation and
consequently, Hallel is recited together with its blessing.
Once again, it would seem that the original rulings of Hilchot Gedolot and Rabbeinu
Tam have been established to the exclusion of Yom Ha’Atzmaut. However, there is
still a question of definition:- How is the entire nation of Israel defined?
There are some Rabbis who suggest that whenever deliverance takes place which
rescues all the Jews who are living in Israel, even if they do not comprise all,
or the majority of the Jews, they are nevertheless considered halachikally as
representing the Jewish People as a whole. This opinion is based on a passage in
“Rabbi Asi said: In matters of Halachik ruling, we follow the majority of those
living in Israel, as it is said “And Solomon made a festival and all Israel with
him, a great congregation from Chamat to the Nile before the L-rd our G-d for seven
days”, since the verse says ‘and all Israel with him’ why did it need to add ‘a large
congregation’? It is to teach us that ‘all Israel’ is called ‘congregation’ but
those living outside of Israel are not called a ‘congregation”‘.
It appears from the passage in Horayot that if a miracle occurred to the community
within the land of Israel, it comes under the category of a miracle involving the
entire people, and thus, in that case, Hallel would be recited with its blessings.
Hence, Chanuka occurred in Israel and even though it did not involve all of the
Jewish people, we still recite Hallel with its blessing; and so with our case of Yom
Ha’Atzmaut, since the miracle occurred within the land of Israel.
However, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in his responsa Yabia Omer, disagrees with this opinion, claiming that such a general rule cannot be derived from the Talmudic statement, and that there are certain areas in Jewish law when the congregation outside of Israel does have the
status of a community, and one of these areas is with regard to the recitation of
Nevertheless, even if one was to agree with Rabbi Yosef, and thus revert to the
original ruling which would only allow Hallel to be recited if the entire nation
was actually involved in the miracle; there is considerable disagreement concerning
this ruling in itself.
The author of the Halachik responsa, ‘Kol Mevasser’ implies from a statement made
by Chatam Sofer, that an individual or a congregation saved from a situation of
death, are obligated to recite Hallel together with its blessing in celebration of
their salvation. Furthermore, it appears that they are even permitted to dedicate
the day on which the miracle happened as a festival for future generations. Thus,
just as we recite Hallel on Chanuka, regardless of the fact that it did not involve
the entire Jewish people, but because Jews were saved from certain death; so too,
on any occasion where Jews are saved from certain death, Hallel should be recited.
Kol Mevasser is not the sole authority on this point; Magen Avraham states the same Halachik principle, and bases his opinion on a Talmudic passage (Megilla 14A):
“Our Rabbis taught: the 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses, who prophesied for Israel,
neither added nor subtracted from that which was written in the Torah, except for
the act of reading the Megilla (on Purim). Rabbi Joshua ben Karcha said (in
explaining why Purim was added): if when we were brought out from the slavery of
Egypt to freedom, we praised G-d (ie. after having crossed the Red Sea), then surely
when we are saved from certain death, we should recite praises!” (As in the case of
Magen Avraham concludes from this passage that there is an obligation for people to
recite Hallel when they are saved from certain death. Thus, regarding Yom Ha’Atzmaut, since the Jewish population was saved from surrounding Arab enemies, and certain death -surely there is an obligation for Hallel to be recited.
However, Dayan Waldenberg in his responsa ‘Tzits Eliezer’, notes another source in
Chatam Sofer that seemingly contradicts the one quoted by Kol Mevasser. In this
source, it appears from the Chatam Sofer, that it is forbidden to add in new festivals
to the Jewish calendar, regardless of whether a miracle happened or not. He continues
to explain that even though we know Maimonides to have added a day of celebration
into his calendar ‘on which to recite Hallel, because of a miracle that occurred to
him, there is a differentiation made in Halacha between the individual and the
congregation. Hence, individuals can fix for themselves a day of festival on which
to recite Hallel, whereas a congregation may not do so. Thus, Dayan Waldenberg
concludes that if the congregation is forbidden to recite Hallel, then it is clear
that in cases like Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Hallel is also not recited. Furthermore, he notes
that even though the individual is allowed to make a festival for himself in the year
in which the miracle occurred, there is considerable doubt as to whether such a festival can be fixed for future generations.
In summary, we have discussed various opinions regarding whether or not Hallel can
be recited with a blessing when the miracle in question did not involve the entire
Jewish People. We further discussed whether Hallel is said at all when a miracle
happens to a community. However, even if one sided with the view of Kol Mevasser,
and thus did categorize Yom Ha’Atzmaut as a day worthy of Hallel; there are still a
number of considerations to take into account.
In his commentary to the Talmudic tractate of Shabbat 218, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes
notes the following: The Talmud asks “What is Chanuka?” According to Rashi, that
question should be explained to mean: “over which miracle was Chanuka instituted?”
In answering this question, the Talmud describes the miracle of the oil (in that
there was only enough oil to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days until
pure oil arrived). The implication of the Talmud being that we celebrate Chanuka
because of the oil, and not because of the miraculous victory that the Hasmoneans
had over the Syrian army. Rabbi Chajes, therefore, concludes that a miracle is only
worthy of the recitation of Hallel if it goes beyond the limits of nature, however,
if the miracle occurs in such away so as not to disturb the laws of nature, then
Hallel is not recited. Thus, in regards to Chanuka, had the miracle concerning the
oil never occurred, then Hallel would not be recited, even though there had been a
miraculous victory in battle against the Syrian army, since the former was a miracle
beyond the limits of nature, and the latter was a natural phenomenon. The Abudarham agrees with this view of Rabbi Chajes regarding the beracha “sheasa li nes bemakom hazeh”, in that such a beracha cannot be said regarding natural events.
This point of view seems unchallengeable – until we discuss the events of Purim. Purim is in its entirety a miracle within the realms of nature, and yet we are told by Chazal, that the reading of the megillah is essentially in place of Hallel. So we do say “Hallel” for ‘natural miracles’.
Rabbi Chajes can answer this question by stating quite simply that Purim was also a
miracle beyond the limits of nature, in that certain aspects of the episode were,
indeed miraculous. Firstly, King Ahasuarus annulled his decree, and this was
unprecedented in that era, and secondly, whilst tens of thousands of the King’s citizens fell in battle, Israel had no casualties. This was a miracle beyond natural laws and thus worthy of Hallel recitation.
The author of Matteh Moshe agrees with the ruling of Rabbi Chajes, differentiating
between the natural and unnatural miracles. He explains that miracles within the
limits of nature can be challenged by Heretics and are therefore, not in the same
category as unnatural miracles which are irrefutable and hence, deserving of Hallel
recitation. Pri Megadim also agrees with this view referring to the miracle of oil
on Chanuka, as opposed to the victory in battle.
It appears, therefore, that Hallel ought not to be recited on Yom Ha’Atzmaut -a
natural miracle. However, there is not total agreement with the rulings of Rabbi
Chajes, Matteh Moshe and Pri Megadim.
Pri Chadash, in his responsa concerning Chanuka, notes that the miracle of the oil
only lasted for seven days, since there was naturally enough oil for the first day;
why therefore, do we celebrate Chanuka for eight days, surely it should be a seven
day festival? He concludes that the first day of Chanuka -25th Kislev -is celebrated
because of the victory in battle against the Syrian army, and the ensuing seven days
are celebrated to commemorate the miracle of the oil.
It would seem, therefore, that Hallel is recited even for natural miracles. Rabbi
Ovadia Yossef agrees with the conclusions of Pri Chadash, but is quick to point out
that this does not help with regard to Yom Ha’Atzmaut; since there is a difference
between the military victory of Chanuka, and that of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, in that the
former was conclusive, and followed by a period of peace, whilst the latter has not
been conclusive, and even though a state now exists -Israel is continually involved
in hostilities and unfortunately, even further wars with an implacable foe. Further-
more, he continues to explain that Hallel with a blessing is recited over a deliverance
from trouble, which is complete -where the delivery is incomplete, it is inappropriate
to recite Hallel. In this way, he interprets a statement in the Jerusalem Talmud:
“When G-d performs miracles for you, it is your duty to sing His praises (ie. Hallel).
If so, why did they not do so on leaving Egypt? (They only said Hallel once they had
crossed the Red Sea). That case is quite different, since it was only at the
beginning of their redemption.” (Pesachim Ch. 10 Halacha. (
Even though leaving Egypt was a major event, since Israel were still being pursued by
the Egyptians, it was not appropriate to recite Hallel, until their pursuers were
totally destroyed. Hence, Hallel was said once the Israelites had crossed the Red
Sea and the Egyptians drowned therein, and not beforehand. Rabbi Ovadia Yossef
therefore, concludes that even though Hallel can be recited over a natural miracle,
the miracle has to be complete, and since in the case of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the miracle
was incomplete, it is inappropriate to recite Hallel with a blessing on this occasion.
Kol Mevasser, however, refutes the argumentation of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef by claiming that even though Israel is not yet completely free from her surrounding enemies, the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel must be considered as a serious accomplishment and Baruch Hashem we do enjoy relative security on our borders. Furthermore, it can be claimed that even though the Egyptians had been drowned in the sea, the Children of Israel were still at risk from other peoples, such as Amalek and hence, their redemption was not totally complete, yet they still recited Hallel; so too, in the case of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, even though redemption is not complete, Hallel should be recited together with its blessing.
In summary, once again we have seen that the ruling (of Rabbi Chajes) has by no means been decisive, and that there are some cases where natural miracles are celebrated with the recitation of Hallel; whether or not Yom Ha’Atzmaut is included within that category is a matter of dispute.
At this stage, therefore, the Halacha regarding Hallel and Yom Ha’Atzmaut is still
very dependent on how one interprets certain rulings and situations. Nevertheless,
there are several further points that we must consider:
There are many great scholars who view the establishment of a Jewish State in the
Land of Israel as “the beginning of Redemption”. A hint to the process of final redemption is alluded to in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot):
“Rabbi Chiyya and Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta were walking together when they saw the morning break with rays of light. Rabbi Chiyya said to Rabbi Shimon ‘thus will be
the redemption of Israel; at first slowly, but gradually, as time passes, it will
Furthermore, the Talmud in Megilla 17b states that war is a sign of the beginning
of redemption. Both of these sources have been used to describe the significance of
the events that have occurred during this century. That is to say, that slowly but
surely the Jewish people are being taken from exile back to the land of Israel.
Rabbi Kasher in his responsa, displays an announcement, signed by many great Jewish scholars, calling the establishment of the State of Israel ‘the final redemption’.
It is with this perspective in mind that Kol Mevasser lists three miracles that are
represented by Yom Ha’Atzmaut:
- i) Salvation from certain death at the hands of surrounding Arab enemies.
- ii) Deliverance from the slavery of exile to the freedom of the land of Israel.
iii) The ingathering of the exiles and start of redemption.
Hence, Kol Mevasser concludes that on an occasion that represents such important
miracles for the entire nation of Israel, be they natural or unnatural, there is
an obligation to recite Hallel with a blessing.
Rabbi Ovadia Yossef points out that even those many great Rabbis who affirm that
what we are witnessing today is the ‘beginning of redemption’ will agree that
there is still a considerable way to go until redemption will be complete. The
author of Yaskil Avdi points out that not only is there much to be done in respect
to the military and Governmental situation -the work is far from complete.
Furthermore, he adds that in the same way that a person does not recite the blessing
of Hagomel (a blessing recited after a dangerous experience or illness) until he
has totally overcome his illness; so too, our thanks to G-D for our deliverance
would be inappropriate unless the deliverance was complete. It could, however,
be claimed that after the events of Purim and Chanuka there was also much to be
done, both in a physical and spiritual sense, yet the events were still celebrated
as being miracles in their own rights. So too, in the case of Yom Ha’Atzmaut,
even though redemption is incomplete, surely Hallel should be recited with its
blessing to celebrate the miracles that have happened and the process that is
Thus far, we have seen that depending on who’s opinions are followed, different
conclusions are reached. According to Kol Mevasser, one would recite Hallel with
a blessing on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, but according to Rabbi Yosef, one would not.
There is, however, one further consideration that we must relate to. Bet Yosef,
in the name of Midrash Harninu, states that we do not recite Hallel on the last
six days of the Passover Festival since our deliverance involved the death of many
Egyptians, and Jews are instructed by the Talmud not to rejoice at the downfall
of their enemies. The suggestion with regards to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, therefore, is
that since many Arabs died in the battle of Independence, Hallel should not be
In this case, however, even Rabbi Ovadia Yosef refutes the suggestion on two counts;
firstly, because there are several traditions as to why we do not recite Hallel for
the remaining six days of Passover, and hence, the reasoning of Bet Yosef is not
agreed upon by the majority of Halachists, and secondly, because when the Talmud
instructed the Jew not to rejoice at the downfall of his enemy, it was referring
only to a Jewish enemy as stated clearly in the tractate Megilla 16A; however,
there is no prohibition for rejoicing at the downfall of a non-Jewish enemy.
Rabbi Yosef adds that although the downfall of our enemies may not be
relevant, surely the fact that, so many of our brethren fell during these fateful
years should suggest that Hallel on such an occasion is inappropriate?! Nevertheless, it is important to note in answer to Rabbi Yosef that the day of Yom Ha’Atzmaut
is preceded by a day of remembrance specifically dedicated to those lost in the
battles for Israel, and thus no disrespect is shown by reciting Hallel on Yom
In conclusion, throughout this essay we have seen arguments both for and against
the recitation of Hallel with a blessing on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. As a result, different
customs have developed around the world: Some places totally omit Hallel, others
recite Half Hallel after the tefilla. There is also a custom to say Half Hallel
without its blessing after the Amida prayer. In Israel, the Chief Rabbinate has
declared the day to be an official Jewish festival and consequently, whole Hallel
is recited together with its blessing.
Thus we have seen that there is no clear-cut answer to the question posed: both
Rabbi Yosef and Dayan Waldenberg forbid the recitation with a blessing, whilst
Kol Mevasser allows it. It is only fair to add that Kol Mevasser at the end of his responsa states that:
“Even though all that I have written seems clearly to indicate that one should recite Hallel with a beracha, I will not offer my views as an Halachik statement unless the majority of great Rabbis agree with my view. I say this to avoid dividing our people into sections”.
The minhag in the vast majority of religious Zionist communities in Israel today is to say Hallel with a beracha, following the psak of Rav Shlomo Goren (z”l). Nevertheless each person must carefully study the Halachik issues and follow the direction of their Rabbi.
Yet I feel that I must add a few words on a personal note.
We must be very careful to avoid manipulating halacha in order to serve our own personal viewpoints. Whether we do or do not say Hallel with a beracha on Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a halachik issue. However, even if one comes to the conclusion that for halachik reasons, whenever we have a doubt by berachot we are lenient, and refrain, it should in no way deter from the importance of this day.
I am reminded of a comment attributed to Rav Soloveitchik (z”l) who was astounded at how so much celebration can take place on Lag Baomer, a day that for most Jews signifies the temporary cessation of a lethal epidemic, yet Yom Ha’Atzmaut a day signifying shivat Zion after 2000 years of exile can pass by without a mention. If we do not say Tachanun for Lag Baomer then it is clear that a miraculous reality such as the State of Israel should clearly be celebrated by one and all.
So many Jews in North America, celebrate “Thanksgiving” – if that day is worthy of celebration then surely the day of Yom Ha’Atzmaut is worthy – to say the least.
As religious Jews who believe that Hashem is with us at all times, can we really ignore this day and all that it implies. For me it is one of the greatest days of the year. We celebrate a return home after 2000 years of exile, we celebrate an inexplicable ongoing miracle of survival whilst being surrounded by enemies. How can we not see the parallels of Chanuka – ‘many were overcome by a few’, when reading the historic details of the war of Independence? How can we not see that same hidden hand of G-d that we celebrate on Purim in action here in Israel everyday in every way?
Undoubtedly, there is much to improve on, and things are not what they should be. So lets make them right, join the people in rectifying whatever may be wrong. To my mind we have an incredible situation and it is in our hands. To have returned home after so many years, to have received Yerushalayim miraculously after so much time of dreaming, surely we must now see this opportunity, realize it and make it work.
For me this day is a wonderful day, it is a day of absolute celebration. This is a day that I thank Hashem:
I thank Hashem for giving His people an opportunity to return home
I thank Hashem for the ongoing miracle of our survival despite our enemies
I thank Hashem for bringing me into the world at such an important time for our people.
I thank Hashem for enabling me to take an active part in this wonderful period of our nation.
I pray that in the coming year things will only get better; that we will have peace and prosperity in our land. That we will reach the ultimate level of being zocheh livnot et Bet Mikdasheinu.
- Yabiah Omer vol. 6 Ch 41 (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef(
- Kol Mevasser vol. 1 Ch 21 (Rabbi Roth)
- Article: Concerning the topic -Rabbi I Bernstein -Daf Halacha
- Tzitz Eliezer vo.. 10 Ch 10 (Dayan Waldenberg)