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The great Independence Day debate: Letter 1

by Shmuel Rosner

May 29, 2012 | 11:07 am

Israelis celebrating Independence Day in Jerusalem. (Photo: Reuters)

Two weeks ago, a ministerial committee in Israel approved a legislative proposal that ‎would anchor Israel’s Independence Day to a certain day of the week (Thursday), instead of it ‎being celebrated on the anniversary of the country’s independence - the fifth day of ‎the Hebrew month of Iyyar. Israel’s Independence was declared on Friday, May 14, ‎‎1948, which coincided with the fifth day of Iyyar in the Hebrew calendar, and is ‎supposed to be celebrated on this date. However, technical complications make this ‎date difficult to follow for two reasons:‎

‎1.‎ Israel’s Independence Day follows Israel’s Memorial Day – so it is really a ‎two-day event, not one.

‎2. Neither of the two days can be celebrated on Shabbat, on a Friday (one would ‎not want Independence Day to be a half-day celebration), on a Sunday (it is ‎complicated to begin Memorial Day on Saturday night, immediately after Shabbat). 

According to the Jewish calendar, the fifth of Iyyar can only fall on a Monday, ‎Wednesday, Friday or Shabbat. Monday is problematic (see reason 2); Wednesday could work, but means a holiday that falls mid-week; Friday and Shabbat wouldn’t work (again, see reason ‎‎2).

The result of all the above-mentioned complications is a de facto celebration of ‎Independence Day that is rarely on the actual date of independence. What the ‎ministers were trying to do is make this situation official and permanent, and move ‎Independence Day to the most convenient day of the week, thereby creating an annual long ‎Independence Day weekend (from Wednesday, Memorial Day, until after Shabbat). ‎

Good idea? Not all Israelis believe it is. Following the ministerial decision, a prominent ‎Israeli Zionist-Orthodox rabbi wrote an opinion strongly opposing this decision. He ‎emailed this to a long list of friends and acquaintances – many of them ‎fellow rabbis – and an exchange of opinions ensued. We asked the participants of this ‎exchange to translate and post their emails on Rosner’s Domain in the coming days – ‎giving you a taste of a debate that is much more than a technical discussion about the date ‎of celebration. ‎


The opening email came from Rabbi Avraham Gisser of Ofra, a leading religious Zionist rabbi. Gisser wrote:

On Jerusalem Day, several of our ministers thought they had a wonderful idea to anchor the ‎annual date of Independence Day on the Thursday of the week in which the holiday falls, ‎with no connection to the Hebrew date. ‎

In my opinion, we must mobilize and fiercely oppose this proposal for several reasons: ‎
‏ ‏
‎1. This is the permanent transfer of the great day of Iyyar 5th. It is essentially the first ‎time that a date has been moved from the Hebrew calendar to a date determined by ‎a foreign calendar.‎

‎2. Every prior move from the Hebrew date [when Independence Day fell on days ‎upon which it cannot be celebrated (see intro for details), it was moved on an ad hoc basis for ‎that year – S.R.] has been determined by the need to honor Shabbat. As such we ‎have been able to justify such a change. The permanent transfer from Iyyar 5th to a Thursday will will eliminate the sanctity of Shabbat as the cause for the move.

‎3.  This is in essence the unworthy adoption of an American “custom” of anchoring ‎every holiday to a weekend, for the sake of having a long weekend. In my humble ‎opinion, it is [unworthy] because of “neither shall ye walk in their statutes”. [Leviticus 18:3 - ‎S.R.]‎

‎4. This situation will even lead to the permanent cancellation of school on a Friday ‎‎[because of the long weekend, school children would not attend school for a half-day ‎after two days of holiday and just before Shabbat – S.R.].‎

‎5. Regarding prayers and holy days: We will stand against a new debate that will ‎weaken the position of the halakha regarding Independence Day. There will be here ‎an act to uproot the tradition of prayer on Iyyar 5th from its place [Orthodox-Zionists ‎give Independence Day the status of a holy day and add prayers - the Hallel; non-‎Zionist Orthodox Jews object to such addition. If the day is not celebrated in Jewish ‎tradition - that is, on a date set according to the Jewish calendar - it could weaken the ‎Orthodox-Zionist position – S.R.].‎

‎6. This is part of the process – knowingly or unknowingly – to replace Jewish dates ‎with civil dates. This goes against the nature of the State of Israel as a Jewish state!!! ‎

More of this correspondence will be published in the coming days.

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