Jewish Journal


The great Independence Day debate: Letters 2 and 3‎

by Shmuel Rosner

May 31, 2012 | 7:47 am

Independence Day celebrations in Tel Aviv. (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 a celebration. ‎

Have something to say about this? Join the debate at Rosner’s Domain on Facebook

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.‎

Hello all, ‎

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. ‎

Click here for the initial letter by Rabbi Avraham Gisser

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