Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Liturgy for Yom Ha-Atzmaut

Since the establishment of the state of Israel, religious Jews of Zionist persuasion have struggled to create a liturgy for Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). The most widely observed religious custom for Yom Ha-Atzmaut is the recitation of Hallel, based on the Talmudic injunction that Hallel be recited when the Jewish people is delivered from distress (Pesahim 116a). To add anything more, however, entails finding a traditional paradigm suitable for a modern holiday, and there is little agreement as to the appropriate paradigm.

One early model, suggested by Yom Tov Lewinski, was for Yom Ha-Atzmaut to be observed in a manner similar to that of the festivals mandated by the Torah (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), with the lighting of candles, cessation from labor, recitation of kiddush, and the insertion of ya'aleh veyavo into the amidah prayer and the blessing after meals.* It was not to be, however; Orthodox Jews were reluctant to give a modern holiday the status of the ones in the Torah, and the national celebrations that eventually developed in Israel were incompatable with the traditional festival restrictions. Another model is based specifically on Passover, and includes readings from a haggadah retelling the story of the modern-day redemption. A number of haggadot have been composed for Yom Ha-Atzmaut, but none has gained widespread acceptance, perhaps in part because the atmosphere on Yom Ha-Atzmaut in Israel is so incompatible with a family seder.

Some of the liturgies currently used for Yom Ha-Atzmaut are not based on any particular paradigm, but these can seem a bit random and therefore lacking in force. The Israeli rabbinate, for example, authorized the recitation of certain psalms and the reading of a selection from the Prophets, but not from the Torah. A service that I heard in college consisted of an odd hodgepodge of texts taken from sources as diverse as kabbalat shabbat (the Friday evening service) and Naomi Shemer (a modern Israeli songwriter). The Reform movement has its own service for Yom Ha-Atzmaut, comprised mainly of original compositions -- fine for people who like that sort of thing, but again, I think it lacks force.

It seems to me** that the most reasonable liturgical paradigm for Yom Ha-Atzmaut is that of Chanukkah and Purim. Since these holidays comemorate events that occurred after the composition of the Torah,*** they don't have the status of the major festivals (which means fewer religious restrictions), but they do have their own liturgies including readings from the Torah and Prophets, and they are accomanied by a generally festive mood. The main liturgical innovation for Chanukkah and Purim was the al ha-nissim prayer, which thanks God for delivering our ancestors from their enemies. Versions of al ha-nissim for Yom Ha-Atzmaut have been composed for the religious kibbutz movement, the Conservative movement, the Masorti movement, and the Israeli Reform movement. (Yehonatan Chipman has a number of the texts with insightful comments. Avraham Hein adds the version from the Conservative Siddur Sim Shalom.) Communities that recite al ha-nissim generally also have a Torah reading (Deuteronomy 7:12-8:18 or 30:1-10) and a Haftarah (Isaiah 10:32-12:6).

Certain problems inevitably arise when a preexisting paradigm is applied to a new situation. The various versions of al ha-nissim, for example, all use the language of the al ha-nissim for Chanukkah, which describes a battle in which the "wicked" are delivered into the hands of the "righteous." (The Reform version substitutes "members of your covenant" for "righteous," which is a bit better. The Sim Shalom version uses "guilty" and "innocent" in its "translation," but the Hebrew is the same as in the others.) Now, there is no doubt in my mind that the Israeli War of Independence was a just war, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all the aggressors were "wicked," and it certainly doesn't mean that all the victors were "righteous." The Torah readings open with the same implication of Jewish righteousness, and one of them (Deut. 7:12-8:18) becomes more problematic as it proceeds: "You shall destroy the peoples that the Adonai your God delivers to you, showing them no mercy . . . You shall cast the images of their gods into the fire" (Deut. 7:16, 25). The choice of Haftarah, meanwhile, seems to have been motivated by the view that the establishment of the state was the beginning of the messianic era, which I find troubling on a number of levels. (Admittedly, the Haftarah doesn't have to be read in that sense in this context, but it would not have been my first choice.)

In spite of all this, I am not inclined to diverge from the existing liturgies. Chanukkah and Purim were controversial in their times precisely because they were new, but they eventually gained the acceptance of the Jewish community as a whole. I don't know what it would take to achieve the same degree of acceptance for Yom Ha-Atzmaut as a religious holiday, but some semblance of a standard liturgy couldn't hurt.

*Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Living the Holidays (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), p. 388. Greenberg references Lewinski's Sefer Hamoadim, vol. 8, Y'mai Moed V'Zikaron (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1956), p. 486.
**
Yehonatan Chipman agrees.
***Whether Purim actually comemorates an "event that occurred" is not really relevant here; clearly, those who composed the Purim liturgy believed that it did.

15 comments:

elf's DH said...

One early model, ... was for Yom Ha-Atzmaut to be observed in a manner similar to that of the festivals mandated by the Torah (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), with the ... insertion of ya'aleh veyavo into the amidah prayer and the blessing after meals.

The 1975(?) Union Prayer Book, which I *think* was the first to acknowledge that the modern State of Israel had some religious significance approached Yom Ha'atzmaut this way. Later, the Reform movement switched to the Al Hanissim type model. (I discovered this while writing a paper for a class, and had to use the version available at the university library, which happened to be a draft copy; I don't know if such a fundamental change was made between the draft and the final edition)

The choice of Haftarah, meanwhile, seems to have been motivated by the view that the establishment of the state was the beginning of the messianic era, which I find troubling on a number of levels.

It's much more spelled out in the Israeli Rabbinate's Prayer for the State of Israel, which we (and many others) say every week.

elf said...

The 1975(?) Union Prayer Book, which I *think* was the first to acknowledge that the modern State of Israel had some religious significance approached Yom Ha'atzmaut this way.

Interesting. It's a problematic approach, since the liturgical structure of the regalim is based on the temple service, and there was never a temple service for Yom Ha-Atzmaut. It does reveal something interesting about the various movements, though: the Reform movement assumes that contemporary Jews have the authority to make innovations comparable to those in the Torah itself; most Orthodox authorities assume that nothing can really be changed; the rest of us take various positions in between.

It's much more spelled out in the Israeli Rabbinate's Prayer for the State of Israel, which we (and many others) say every week.

Don't I know it. But what can you do? I'd rather stand with the community in support of Israel than make up my own prayer.

Mar Gavriel said...

Whether Purim actually comemorates an "event that occurred" is not really relevant here; clearly, those who composed the Purim liturgy believed that it did.

This reminds me of a friend of mine who says each Purim: "Somewhere in shamayim, the guy who invented the story of the Megilla is laughing, and saying: All I vanted to do vas write a comedy shtik, and they've made it into a whole holiday! And if he should find out that we actually insert על הנסים into the body of the Tefilla, he would say: Oy! This has gone too far! If you vant to have a party, that's fine; but shinnui matbeia` hattefilla?!"

Incidentally, I did say the על הנסים found in Siddur Sim Shalom, but considered it a mere פיוטא בעלמא, and therefore did not consider it worthy of mention in my post on Yom Ha`Atzma'ut. However, I have a discussion of Hallêl there.

Mar Gavriel said...

since the liturgical structure of the regalim is based on the temple service, and there was never a temple service for Yom Ha-Atzmaut.

Don't the Kahanists and Kachniks slaughter an Arab for the Qorbon Musof of the day?

(NOTE: I am in no way condoning this practice. I am not a racist. I do not believe in killing people. However, certain other factions, who are an embarrassment to the Jewish people, do believe in such activity. May these factions perish like a cloud and like smoke.)

debka_notion said...

Mar Gavriel,
What you said might rather easily be taken as slander. I'm note sure why you suggested it and then denounced it- but I'm fairly sure it's problematic.

Rachel said...

Thanks for this fascinating post, elf. I'm not particularly comfortable with Yom Ha'Atzmaut as a religious holiday -- but that's not terribly surprising, given my mixed feelings about Israel as a religious phenomenon. (I'm much more comfortable interacting with the state as a state than as the fulfilment of the end-of-exile -- perhaps because I don't feel exiled and don't wish for the return of Temple days.)

In any event, I'm always happy to spend some time learning about liturgy. :-)

Mar Gavriel said...

Debka,

Obviously ritual murder of humans is problematic! That's why I made such a point of distancing myself from groups that may support it.

Over the last week or so, I have been doing some reading (for reasons unrelated to Yom Ha`Atzma'ut) about Meir Kahana yimmah shemô ve-zikhrô and his followers, the Kachniks. Their idea of Judaism as a cult of terrorism and murder, although incredibly frightening, is moderately fascinating. In the context of this, a friend of mine sent me a joke-message yesterday, in which he said something about "slaughtering an Arab for the musof offering of Yom Ha`Atzma'ut". He was kidding, but I realize that this is something that would appeal to the Kahanists/Kachniks. I was reminded of this by Elf's comment about the lack of sacrificial practices on Yom Ha`Atzma'ut.

elf said...

Rachel said:

I'm not particularly comfortable with Yom Ha'Atzmaut as a religious holiday

Many people aren't. My feeling is, if we celebrate Chanukkah as a religious holiday, kal vachomer (all the more so) should we celebrate Yom Ha-Atzmaut. You don't have to think of it as the beginning of the messianic age or even the end of an exile. It only has to be a momentous event that brought glory to the Jewish people (even temporarily!) and saved lives. However, I do realize that you are more ambivalent about these matters than I am, and I know how you feel about Chanukkah.

Mar Gavriel said:

Somewhere in shamayim, the guy who invented the story of the Megilla is laughing

That would be appropriate, wouldn't it? Seriously, though, our version of the megillah does seem to endorse a celebration of Purim. It's not entirely clear whether that's the result of redactional activity (as Michael V. Fox believes), or an attempt to "Judaize" a pre-existing holiday, or some combination of the two, but the idea of celebrating Purim is in there. And if the guy who wrote our version of the megillah cared one whit about changing the nussach of the tefilah, I'll eat my three-cornered hat.

However, I have a discussion of Hallêl there.

I did read that post. It was a good one, with interesting comments.

Obviously ritual murder of humans is problematic!

I think you're missing part of what debka_notion was saying, which is that it may be slander to attribute such an idea even to the Kachniks.

BZ said...

I'm looking at Gates of Prayer (the 1975 Reform siddur), and they're not exactly calling it yom tov. (Unfortunately, I'm not so sure that this siddur reflects a single coherent stance on the nature of the day, so it may be futile to try to discern one.)

Interestingly, it includes options at various points for "on Shabbat". In the present time, Yom Ha'atzma'ut is never observed on Shabbat (I posted last year on why I think this is problematic, assuming Yom Ha'atzma'ut is observed as a religious holiday), but I don't know the history of this. I wonder if the practice of moving the date up started after 1975.

The service begins with candlelighting for Shabbat, but no "yom tov" candlelighting if it's not Shabbat. However, shehecheyanu is included in all cases.

The service provided in the siddur is an evening service, and at the beginning there are stage directions for a morning service: it says to go to the regular weekday or Shabbat morning service (depending on what day it is), followed by hallel, the supplementary Yom Ha'atzma'ut readings, Torah reading, and concluding prayers. Thus, it suggests that the amidah should be a regular weekday or Shabbat amidah. In the regular weekday service, ya'aleh ve-yavo includes an option for Yom Ha'atzma'ut. So if anything, they're giving it the same status as Rosh Chodesh or Chol Hamo'eid, not yom tov.

The amidah in the evening "Yom Ha'atzma'ut" service has mekadeish haShabbat for Shabbat only, followed by (for all days) thematically appropriate selections from the weekday Amidah (with no chatimot), and then ya'aleh v'yavo, and then the closing three berachot of the Amidah. So if one were to use this service on a weekday, the Amidah would only have 6 berachot. But that's not so unusual; many of the alternative weekday services in Gates of Prayer don't have a full Amidah.

In the yom tov Torah service, there is a special ending to the closing haftarah blessing for Yom Ha'atzma'ut, saying "ve'al yom ha'atzma'ut hazeh" and closing "mesameich tziyon bevaneha". (Note that this chatimah does not appear in the default haftarah blessing in Gates of Prayer.)

So the conclusion? It's an extra festive weekday (or Shabbat). There is no kiddush, no candlelighting, and no kedushat hayom. (I don't know what the Reform movement's understanding of issur melachah was in 1975, but the issue doesn't come up in the siddur.)

BZ said...

My feeling is, if we celebrate Chanukkah as a religious holiday, kal vachomer (all the more so) should we celebrate Yom Ha-Atzmaut.

This kal vachomer doesn't work for me. Because the events of Chanukah are so distant, we can treat the story as an archetype and talk about the righteous and the wicked. The events of Yom Ha'atzma'ut are still in many people's direct memories, so I feel it's too early to incorporate this story into our national myth; we're not done dealing with the real-world consequences. (Of course, for those who see Pesach as a historical event and not a myth, there need be no distinction.)

amechad said...

The 1975(?) Union Prayer Book wasn't the first to relate to Israel as having religious significance nor Yom HaAtzmaut. The Kibbutz HaDati liturgical changes (an interesting Al-Hanissim calling for a very large Greater Land of Israel and the hodgepodge of Kabbalat Shabbat and psalm type things, which is what I reluctantly do as, unlike Velveteen Rabbi, if you are not in Israel you are in exile. There may be pragmatic reasons for being in exile but it is still exile - no matter how comfortable it is -- and to think otherwise is a violation of Jewish norms and tradition since our second exile from the land). Also, as you cited, Greenberg's reference is from 1958 (never heard that before, but I also think the Chanukah (moreso than the Purim, b/c that took place in galut) paradigm makes sense). I say the Al-Hanissim from Siddur Sim Shalom, after looking at the onces on Rabbi Chipman's blog, I think it's the best.

and DH, don't slander Kahane or the Kachniks. You know they don't do such things as "ritual slaughters of Arabs." And why are they more reprehensive than Charedi anti-Zionists or far-leftists? Also, Kahane and the Kahanists are different. Of course I am not a follower of them and any sort of group where you follow a dead leader is quite problematic to me.

BTW, Rav Soloveichik and Rabbi David Hartman are both very much against the idea of ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו. I'm somewhat ambivilent but, if you follow Rambam's notion of גאולה (which is political sovereignty) it's not so problematic. OTOH, if you follow a different interpretation it is and that's why certain segments of the religious Zionist commmunity here in Israel are undergoing cheshbon nefesh after the disengagement, whereas I can say that (potentially) misguided policy (note: I am not calling getting out of Gaza misguided but there is legitimate political debate) does not change Israel's status (in this case, I think Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is correct).

elf said...

Amechad said:
>The 1975(?) Union Prayer Book wasn't the first to relate to Israel as having religious significance nor Yom HaAtzmaut.

I think DH meant that it was the first Reform siddur to do so.

and DH, don't slander Kahane or the Kachniks.

That was Mar Gavriel, not DH. While I do agree that the comment was a bit over the line, the Kachniks are a pretty awful bunch.

And why are they more reprehensive than Charedi anti-Zionists or far-leftists?

Anyone who advocates terror is equally reprehensible in my book. In any case, asserting that others are just as bad as the Kachniks hardly constitutes a valid defense.

if you follow Rambam's notion of גאולה (which is political sovereignty) it's not so problematic

That's essentially my view. Political sovereignty has its price, but IMHO, it is well worth it.

BZ said...

I think DH meant that it was the first Reform siddur to do so.

Just to clarify, the 1975 Gates of Prayer was also the first Reform siddur produced after the founding of the State of Israel (the last revision of the Union Prayer Book was in 1940), so there weren't previous siddurim that left Yom Ha'atzma'ut out.

Anonymous said...

It was pointed out to me that the Al ha-Nissim in Sim Shalom contains the phrase:

"ve-oyevim ba-aretz ve-shivah amamim ba`alei ve-ritam qamu le-hakhrit amekha yisrael"

"And the enemies in the land and the seven nations, their allies, arose to cut off your people Israel"

The reference to "shivah amamim" invokes the image of the seven nations deserving of genocide (ha-hareim taharim otam) according to Devarim 7:1-2, which I think is highly problematic both morally and politically. (As an aside, someone I know who tends to be conservative halakhically but liberal politically enjoys being able to claim a more moral stance on something than the Conservative movement.)

elf said...

bz said:

BThe events of Yom Ha'atzma'ut are still in many people's direct memories, so I feel it's too early to incorporate this story into our national myth

I see what you're saying, but I disagree. A living religion should be able to deal with reality, which is never perfect. Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates the actual events of 1948 (a tremendous victory for a weakened and demoralized people), but it also has "mythic" status in the sense that it evokes ideas about the way the state of Israel should be.

Anonymous said:

The reference to "shivah amamim" invokes the image of the seven nations deserving of genocide...which I think is highly problematic both morally and politically.

Agreed. (I noticed that at one point, and then disregarded it.) The C movement should really be much more careful with its use of language.