Culture, Identity, Israel, Politics, Religion

Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut: Maintaining Distinct Identities

This guest post by Eliana Fishman is part of an ongoing dialogue, which starts with the original post by Eliana Fishman and continues with the response by Raphael Magarik.
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.

3 thoughts on “Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut: Maintaining Distinct Identities

  1. This is an interesting discussion.
    To throw another nationality in here, my concern with the continued narrowing of the definition of “redemption” is that it’s become a no true Scotman argument. It seems that Eliana’s earlier definition of redemption required it to involve redeeming an entire people. This removed everything but Exodus and Channukah. WIth the new restrictions of needing victims to stop fearing for life or freedom & to stop worrying about devastation or oppression, what’s left? We would no longer be redeemed merely by leaving Egypt. Would redemption then be when Jews had manna and water, but were still homeless and repeatedly attached by others? How about when they first entered Israel, but were still fighting and expanding the land? For how long would biblical Israel not have to defend itself from others to meet this definition of redemption?
    More broadly, national identity is radically different from what it was when major halachic texts were written. Creating new halachic variation that is inspired by the Ashkenazi/Sephardi divergence doesn’t fit modernity. People always moved and changed their national identities, but it usually went one direction and it was a big deal. We now live in a time where many can move back and forth between countries. One can create a stereotypical Israeli or American Jew, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to base halacha on stereotypes. What would be the halacic guidance for a Jew whose parents fled Iraq for Israel, was born in the US, raised in Israel, and moved back to the US?
    More personally, I am a proud American Jew. I was raised in the United Stated and have never been to Israel. As children, one set of grandparents fled the Nazis for the British mandate of Palestine. My grandfather fought and was wounded in 1948. He was fighting for the survival of the modern nation of Israel, but he was also fighting for his own right to exist. No matter what I think about current politics and actions, my family narrative and existence – my family’s redemption – is inseparable from the founding of Israel. My American identity and loyalty are clear, but I, and many people like me, cannot fit in the halachic boxes you are proposing.

  2. Dan Ab–
    Thanks for your thoughts. Tosafot (on Sukkah 44b) and the Meiri (on Pesach 117a) distinguish between national redemption and individual redemption. According to the Meiri, national redemption gets Hallel with a bracha for everyone, individual redemption (which includes communal redemption) gets Hallel without a bracha for those who were redeemed.
    In terms of what redemption means, I am trying to create a definition based on the six examples in Pesachim 117a (reading the seventh case as a summary). All of those cases involve redemption, and I think that the redemption suggested in that baraita would allow for both the establishment of the State of Israel and American immigration to count as redemption for the individual communities that were redeemed.
    The question of what your ancestors experienced vs. your current identity is a classic case of Minhag Avoteinu BiYadeinu vs. Minhag HaMakom. A possible solution is to apply the same reasoning that you apply to Yom Tov Sheini Shel Galuyot (only applies to those who think that chu”l should celebrate YTSSG). Ultimately, I am less concerned with individual cases than with establishing a strong Minhag HaMakom that can then be applied to individual cases.
    I’m surprised that you’re minimizing the differences between Israeli and American Jewry to stereotypes. Compare the percentage of egalitarian shuls in the US to the percentage of egalitarian shuls in Israel. Compare the percentage of Israeli Jews who serve in the IDF to the percentage of American Jews who serve in the US army. Compare how American Jews voted in the 2012 US election to who Israeli Jews supported in the 2012 election. ( vs.,-while-israeli-arabs-support-obama/)

  3. I think the part that’s bothering me is that when you combine criteria of needing a redemption to be national with specific requirements of any redemption, one is left with no scenario where national redemption has ever occurred. Even though we say Hallel on Pesach, the departure from Egypt does not meet these criteria. You clearly know these sources and texts better than I do, but the way you’ve fit them together doesn’t end up with a realistic definition of what would be a historical or modern national redemption that is worthy fo Hallel with a bracha.
    As for Israeli vs American Jews, stereotypes can be based on reality, but they’re still stereotypes. It’s the difference between saying Israeli Jews supported Romney vs 57% of Israeli Jews supported Romney. There is obviously national contrasts, but for halachic reasoning, just like secular law, it is often the variation and the many exceptions that build up case law. How can you create a Minhag HaMakom when so many individuals don’t fit the stereotypical case? Basing minhag on the current practice of the median individual also restricts what should be long-term halachic practice to current experiences and opinions. To bring up another current event, it’s like saying most men and women at the Kotel daven separately therefore, Minhag HaMakom is to keep that practice.

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