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.