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 a celebration.
Read the opening email by Rabbi Avraham Gisser of Ofra here. The translations have been somewhat shortened and simplified where we felt it was necessary. Comments presented [between parentheses] are mine.
Letter number 2 is from Rabbi Benayahu Bruner, the president and founder of the Yeshivat Hesder in Safed (Tzfat), who writes in reply to Rabbi Gisser:
I agree with everything you said. In my humble opinion, we must act to return Independence Day to Monday, Iyyar fifth, a date on which at least 50% of Independence Days falls. It is possible to ensure that the ceremonies for Memorial Day are organized on Friday and begin after Shabbat ends, at 9pm, thereby allowing Independence Day to fall some years in its correct place. The recent request by the rabbinate to postpone Independence Day to a Tuesday [to avoid the need for preparation on Shabbat] has led to the current proposed legislation.
Letter number 3 is from Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, Rabbi of Beit Knesset Ohel Ari in Ra’anana, the head of the overseas programs of the Yeshivat Hesder in Petah Tikva, and the director of the overseas department of Tzohar Rabbinical organization.
I very much agree with the comments by Rabbi Bruner. We have enough great power from the rabbis and the public to put pressure on the rabbinate and restore the former glorious state.
Regarding the danger of the law, I would like to refer to the respected commentary by Sforno on Leviticus 23:2. “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: The appointed seasons of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons”. Sforno explains: My appointed seasons - are the same appointed dates that I want. If you do not make them holy than they will not be my seasons but rather “a burden to me” (Isaiah, 1:14).
Moving Independence Day to a Thursday will result in the separation between the civil holiday and the religious holiday, and will turn Independence Day into another day which will disappear from the map of Jewish history over the years. Only anchoring the holiday to the holy date will preserve it eternally, as we managed to do with Hanukkah and Purim, which we cemented as religious days of glory.
I will conclude with the writings of the Sfas Emes who “predicted” the coming of Independence Day, and determined this holiday to be equivalent in spiritual stature to Hanukkah and Purim. The Sfas Emes explained that Hanukkah and Purim are the equivalents of Sukkoth and Shavuoth - the latter are from the written Torah, and former are from the oral Torah.