Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hallel On Yom Yerushalayim: To Say Or Not To Say?

My article in last week's Yom Yerushalayim supplement in The Jewish Press:

Sometimes, it's brief and simple statements that best capture man’s deepest aspirations. What Neil Armstrong’s memorable words after landing on the moon said about human progress, Col. Motta Gur’s three words on army communications on 28 Iyar 5727, “Har HaBayit b'yadeinu – The Temple Mount is ours,” said about spiritual achievement. They declared the fulfillment of nearly 2,000 years of prayer and the vindication of an even older biblical worldview.

How does a religion filled with ritual react to such a stunning event as the Six-Day War? How do we Jews respond to a lightning-fast reversal from near defeat to victory, from fearing the end of our presence in the land of Israel to rejoicing over the newly enlarged country, including the Old City of Jerusalem?

This sounds like an old question. Surely our nation has previously experienced military victories of the few over the many in recovery of our holy places from those who defiled them. Is the Six-Day War, then, not simply a modern-day Chanukah? Pure Jewish instinct tells us we should celebrate the day with songs of praise to God; we should recite Hallel.

Of course, anti-Zionists view the conquest of Jerusalem by predominantly irreligious Jews in an unredeemed world, not as a victory, but as a tragedy worth mourning. Chief among them is the Satmar Rav (1887-1979), who in the wake of the euphoria following the Six-Day War penned a harsh anti-Zionist treatise titled Al HaGeulah VeAl HaTemurah.

Yet, those of us who see the victory as a Divine gift , not a tragedy, face the halachic question of how to respond to it.

The first issue to address is whether Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War even qualifies as a miracle that would merit the recitation of Hallel. Judaism generally distinguishes between an evident, or supernatural, miracle (nes nigleh) and a hidden, or “natural,” miracle (nes nistar). The Maharatz Chayes writes that we only recite Hallel in response to a supernatural miracle. As proof, he notes that when explaining why we recite Hallel on Chanukah, the Gemara (Shabbos 22b) mentions only the evident miracle of the oil burning eight days, not the hidden miracle of the Jews defeating the Greeks in battle.

Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah, however, rejects Maharatz Chayes’s position because we recite the blessing “She’asah nissim – Who performed miracles” on Purim even though the miracle we celebrate on that holiday was hidden. Clearly, such a stunning hidden miracle as the one celebrated on Purim is also considered worthy of ongoing commemoration.

Furthermore, the Gemara (Pesachim 117a) tells us that the prophets instituted the recitation of Hallel whenever we are redeemed from misfortune. Nowhere, Rav Neriah points out, does the Gemara require a miracle for Hallel to be recited.

Similarly, the Gemara (Megillah 14a) states that the only obligation the prophets added to the laws of the Torah was the reading of Megillah on Purim. The Gemara objects that this law is not an addition because it can be logically derived from the Torah itself: If, after being redeemed from slavery in Egypt, the Jews praised God, surely they should do so after being delivered from certain death! These statements in the Gemara presumably create a biblical obligation to recite Hallel to commemorate the salvation we experienced during of the Six-Day War.

Some suggest, however, that this obligation only applies to the time a miracle occurs. Hence, saying Hallel was appropriate in 1967 – just like he Jews said Hallel immediately after they left Egypt – but not today. Rav Shaul Yisraeli, though, disputes this view, suggesting that the Hallel we recite on Pesach every year commemorates the Exodus. Hence, we too must praise God every year for the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War.

Another possible reason for not saying Hallel on Yom Yerushalayim revolves around the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, who rules that we only recite Hallel for miracles that saved the entire Jewish people. Since most Jews lived outside of Israel in 1967, Rabbeinu Tam’s position argues against saying Hallel.

But Rav Shlomo Goren demurs, stating that even Rabbeinu Tam would support the recitation of Hallel. He draws attention to the obligation of ripping one’s garments in mourning if a majority of Jews are defeated in battle. The Meiri contends that this obligation refers to the majority of Jews in the country engaged in battle. If the defeat of such a group leads to an obligation to mourn, argues Rav Goren, then the victory of a similar group is surely enough to engender an obligation to celebrate. Additionally, there is a rule that only Jews who live in the land of Israel are considered part of the “congregation of Jews.” (Both the Minchas Yitzchak and Rav Ovadiah Yosef dispute this latter point, arguing that this rule only applies to a specific area of halacha.)

Yet, something should still bother us: the reality on the ground. Even if we believe we are currently witnessing the beginning of the great redemption promised by the prophets – as many great rabbis do – the unfortunate fact is that the salvation is still far from complete. The military security of the State of Israel has not yet reached the level prophesied by Yishayahu and the spiritual state of the Jewish people seems even farther from its Messianic ideal. Indeed, for this reason Rav Yosef contends that one need not recite Hallel on Yom Yerushalayim (although he still advocates some form of praise for the salvation we experienced). Rav Yisraeli, however, disagrees, and maintains that one must recite Hallel despite the Jewish people’s less than ideal physical and spiritual state.

While we have overturned only some of the stones in this boundless discussion of Torah, space limitations require that we end here and simply note that some recite Hallel with a blessing on Yom Yerushalayim, some recite it without a blessing, and some do not recite it at all. All practices are advocated by different great authorities, and each river should follow its own proverbial course.

More discussion on the overlapping subjects of reciting Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim can be found in R. Shlomo Goren, “Yom Ha’atzamaut Be’or Ha’halachah” in Toras Ha’moadim; R. Moshe Tzvi Neriah, “Eimasai Korin Es Ha’hallel” in Hilkhos Yom Ha’atzmaut Ve’yom Yerushalayim; R. Ralph Pelcovitz and R. Solomon Rybak, “Reciting the Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut” in The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Spring 1984; R. Meshulam Rothe, Kol Mevaser 1:21; R. Hershel Schachter, Nefesh HaRav pp. 94-96; R. Ahron Soloveichik, Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, part 2 ch. 8; R. Moshe Tzuriel, “Yom Yerushalayim Va’amiras Hallel” on Yeshiva.org.il; R. Yitzchak Weiss, Minchas Yitzchak 10:10; R. Shaul Yisraeli, Eretz Chemdah (2nd edition), addenda to sec. 1 ch. 4; and R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer 6:OC:41.
Contained here: link (PDF)

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