Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yom Ha'atzmaut - Haircuts and Shaving

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There is an interesting phenomenon among many individuals who observe Yom Ha'atzmaut. Even among those who celebrate and otherwise participate in Yom Ha'atzmaut festivities in every way, including attending live musical performances and dancing, many decline the opportunity to cut their hair or to even shave in honor of the day. Lately, I have been contemplating whether or not there is any halachic foundation for this approach.

At first glance, this trend seems to be somewhat hypocritical – the restrictions of sefirat ha'omer either apply in their entirety or they are lifted in their entirety - you can't have it both ways.[1] There does not seem to be any precedent for picking and choosing which mourning customs to observe on specific days of the omer.[2] If you feel that Yom Ha'atzmaut overrides the sefirat ha'omer custom of not listening to live music and dancing then why shouldn’t it override the restriction of shaving?

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook was a major force and proponent for shaving in honor of the day and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner calls it a great mitzva worthy of ignoring the instructions and preferences of one's parents.[3] Even Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank was said to have permitted shaving on Yom Ha'atzmaut.[4] There are also a number of precedents for individuals and even entire communities to take a haircut and shave on the anniversary on which a great miracle had occurred, even if it is during the omer period.[5]

It is reported that Rav Kook was once asked what the halacha is with regards to shaving on Yom Ha'atzmaut and his response was that he would examine their faces on Yom Ha'atzmaut for the answer. When he saw that many of his students did not shave in honor of the day he labeled them with the verse: "Their faces show their character",[6] as if to say that the disheveled look on their faces from not shaving shows that they did not understand or appreciate the great spiritual significance of Yom Ha'atzmaut. As he put it: "When there is faith, there is joy and when there is joy there are no halachic doubts".[7]

Nevertheless, there may indeed be some basis for participating in live music and dancing on Yom Ha'atzmaut while at the same time opting not to make use of the "heter" to shave. Rabbi Josh Flug tells me that Rabbi Hershel Schachter is of the opinion that Yom Ha'atzmaut does not, in fact, suspend the mourning customs of sefirat ha'omer. Rather, one is permitted to engage in those activities which are clearly identified with celebrating the creation of the State of Israel, and shaving is not one of these activities. According to this approach, the creation of the modern day State of Israel is spiritually and religiously comparable to Purim and Chanuka – and on neither of these days is shaving and haircutting a part of their observance. Only on the shalosh regalim (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) do we find shaving and haircutting a part of the holiday preparations. Yom Ha'atzmaut is certainly not halachically comparable to the shalosh regalim.

Another consideration for not shaving might be the fact that the institution of not listening to live music and dancing during the sefirat ha'omer is actually only of recent vintage having been instituted in the 17th century. The prohibition on cutting one's hair and shaving, however, is a much older one, dating back to the 14th century and maybe because of this, it is better entrenched in our sefira observance. Indeed, Rabbi Ovadia Hadaya ruled that although celebrations are permitted on Yom Ha'atzmaut it is not a day which justifies shaving nor should weddings be held.[8]

I've never taken a haircut or shaved in honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut --- but I'm not completely sure why!


[1] Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim in Hilchot Yom Ha'atzmaut V'yom Yerushalayim p.334-340
[2] Rabbi Jeffry Sacks points out that when Rosh Chodesh Iyar coincides with Shabbat the Mishna Berura permits one to shave before Shabbat in honor of the double simcha but he does not lift any of the other Sefira restrictions, so perhaps there is a precedent "for picking and choosing" sefira restrictions. Nevertheless, this situation may not be completely admissible to our discussion because it is ultimately very few authorities which permit one to shave in honor of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh (perhaps for the very reason that "you cant have it both ways") and furthermore the shaving is in advance/in honor of the double simcha -- a preparation which must be done in advance. Perhaps if live music was permitted on Shabbat, the Mishna Berura might have allowed it as well in honor of Shabbat/Rosh Chodesh.
[3] She'eilat Shlomo 2:144, Iturei Cohanim #186, cited at: http://www.ravaviner.com/
[4] Shana Beshana 5752, p. 145
[5] Moed Lekol Chai 6
[6] Yeshayahu 3:9
[7] Iturei Cohanim #52, Sichot Harav Tzvi Yehudah: Medinat Yisrael #34 p. 4, Sefer Rabbenu p. 204, cited at: http://www.ravaviner.com/
[8] Yaskil Avdi 6:10

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