Thank you so much, Raffi, for continuing this conversation with me. I respect the thoughtfulness and passion that you bring to your relationship with Israel.’
I work very hard (as I’m sure you do) to ensure that my halachic practice reflects my values. I am not always successful, but I try. Text helps me explore what my values are, and how they define my practice. Both Masechet Pesachim and Rav Ovadyah Yosef’s teshuva give voice to what many American Jews have forgotten is a possibility: We can live religiously authentic, meaningful Jewish lives without a direct relationship with the modern state of Israel because our redemption is not about Israel.
American Jews and Israeli Jews are, simply, different. Look at central coming-of-age experiences: Non-Chareidi Israelis come into adulthood through military or national service, while (and this is a generalization) the American Jewish coming of age experience involves a college education. Religious American Jews subdivide based on praxis and attitudes towards gender, while religious Israeli Jews subdivide based on praxis and attitudes towards Zionism. With different sets of values, shouldn’t our halachic practice also be different? Neither geographic practice needs to be defined as better or worse. They’re just different. We can use differences in Ashkenazi and Sephardi halacha as a paradigm. Each community defined their practice based on their geographic and sociological norms. We can do the same. Israel should not dictate my religious practice, and vice versa.
Understanding the Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah example in Pesachim 117a depends on how you read the chachamim’s statement on Hallel’s establishment (in each and every era that the Jewish people experience danger, Israel’s prophets establish the recitation of Hallel, and, when the people are redeemed, Israel says Hallel because of their redemption). Note that the first mention of the statement appears a few lines up on Pesachim 117a. Is the Chachamim’s position a different example from the first six examples in the Hallel zeh mi amoro? baraita, or is it a summary statement? Either reading is legitimate; the Meiri chooses the latter, and distinguishes between an individual’s redemption and the people of Israel’s redemption.
The Pesachim 117a baraita has a much stronger support for the idea that national sovereignty merits Hallel. Joshua and the people said Hallel when they faced the Canaanite kings. That was a moment of national sovereignty, which, if you read the final statement in the baraita as a summary, and not a new example, is also defined as geulah (redemption). But we still have the problem of the establishment of the State of Israel not being a part of the American Jewish narrative.
Your reading of Rav Ovadya Yosef’s psak is confusing. He does not prescriptively support Hallel without a bracha. He says that if the congregation wants to say Hallel without a bracha we don’t protest. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
Superfluous Hallel, even without a bracha, is a sociological problem. Hallel loses its significance if it’s recited all the time. As is, American Jews who celebrate 8 days of Pesach say Hallel 12 times in the 3 weeks preceding the 5th of Iyar (8 days of Pesach + 2 Seders + 2 days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar). Adding extra Hallel, even without a blessing, makes Hallel lose its value.
On a more basic level, we disagree about what redemption means. My definition of redemption is the moment when a victim stops fearing for her life or freedom. National redemption happens when a nation stops worrying about devastation or oppression. National redemption is not about cultural renaissance. In Megillah 14a, R. Yehoshua ben Karcha does not make the argument that redemption is about the ability to study Torah. According to Pesachim 117a, Matan Torah is not even one of the times that Hallel was established! I don’t see what May 14th, 1948, has to do with slavery or near-death avoidance.
Does centrality of language and culture equal redemption? As I wrote in my original post, kinship with Israel, enjoying its culture, learning its Torah, following its politics, and eating its chocolate do not equal a redemptive experience. How Israeli artists incorporate Tanakh into their work is inspirational. Their ability to play with the Hebrew language and with sacred texts is limited to a culture where everyone speaks and understands Hebrew. Those cultural references may be limited to Israel. Despite that, I am not convinced that is redemption. Redemption is about existence, not about culture.
Aside from my narrower definition of what redemption means, I also find the importance that you ascribe to location problematic. If location is the connection between the Beit Hamikdash and Hallel, then you should be saying Hallel on Yom Yerushalayim. Most of Tanakh did not happen in the sites that the state of Israel took control of in 1948. They happened in places that the state of Israel took control of in 1967. This might lead you to say Hallel on Yom Yerushalayim. Is that your practice?
Why is America’s acceptance of your family less significant than the establishment of the State of Israel? Why is America’s status as the only country ever to print its own edition of the Talmud less Jewishly significant than Israel’s religious accomplishments? Why is Israeli Judaism better than American Judaism?
Your examples of what Israel has provided the American Jewish community seem to point towards the failure of the American Jewish educational system, and not the success of the American Jewish educational system in Israel (in and of itself a strange concept). Why can’t American rabbinical school students learn to daven in the United States? (Why don’t American rabbinical students come into rabbinical school knowing how to daven?) Also, where are we getting this idea that American Orthodox youth learn gemara in Israel, and disaffected Jews “come back” on Birthright? Insert snarky comment about Birthright and American gap year students here.
Someone long before me decided that the story that we tell about the destruction of the Second Temple is that mass exile occurred. Someone else also decided that the legacy of the Jewish people would be Rabbinic and not Karaitic. Neither of those battles is particularly relevant in 2013. Determining how we tell the Jewish narrative of the twenty-first century is relevant, and the American Jewish story is a crucial part of that. Let Israelis practice their Judaism, and we can practice ours, with the understanding that sharing ideas is a fruitful and mutually beneficial endeavor. Imposing one community’s practice on the other is problematic.
Hallel on Thanksgiving is a tough question for religious American Jews for the same reason that Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut should be a tough issue for religious Israeli Jews. What does it mean for our redemption to be intertwined with the exile of another people? American Jews should engage in a serious debate about it the religious significance of Thanksgiving, just as Israeli Jews should have a serious debate about the religious significance of Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Nakba.