Oz Torah: Yom Ha’atzmaut features


ISRAEL AT 70.

The 70th anniversary of the State of Israel is celebrated this week.

Israel is one of the great achievements of modern history.

Two posters were issued for Independence Day 1978: one with a drawing by a Korean child, the other (right) featuring the simple word “shalom.

But of course the backers of BDS don’t agree. They can’t be too proud of themselves because they haven’t achieved a thing apart from slogans and stereotypes.

And they have to accept (and enjoy!) Israeli inventions and initiatives. How they must grit their teeth!

Do they use cell phones and computer technology? – mostly Israeli developments.

Do they rely on medical and scientific advances including desalinisation techniques? – mostly worked out in Israel.

Do they live in and enjoy the modern world? So much that they take for granted comes from Israel.

Can their nations compete with Israel in numbers of university graduates, in start-ups, literacy, books, museums, and self-reliance? Israel is small in size but a giant in achievement.

Do they pay even lip service to the Bible and Biblical ethics? Both are products of Israel…

They blame Israel for the world’s problems when they should be praising it for enriching humanity.

They think they’re clever in cooking up such a clever set of initials as BDS, when the three letters really stand for “Back to the Jungle”, “Destroy Civilisation”, and “Smother your Brains”!

TURNING YOM HA’ATZMAUT INTO A FESTIVAL.

70 years since Israel’s founding there is still a debate about the status of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

In Israel itself some circles mark the day in a religious way with special services, with Hallel (with or without a b’rachah), home observances, and the feeling that a modern-day miracle is being celebrated.

Most, including the national religious groups, go on outings, have picnics and barbecues, and do other less religious things.

Others think the occasion does not require celebration, certainly not in a religious way, and object to celebrating during the S’firah period or creating a new festival.

There is a halachic problem with adding a new festival to the calendar, which is tantamount to adding to the mitzvot of the Torah. The paradox is that there is also an obligation to rejoice when Divine intervention brings salvation to the people of Israel, especially when Israel is delivered from outside powers. According to Nachmanides, we may not postpone such rejoicing until the messianic age, and even if it seems that the deliverance has come through human effort it is God who made it possible.

It is interesting to see that when Moses and the Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, the Torah says,

“And God delivered… and Israel saw… they believed in the Lord… then Moses and the Children of Israel sang…” (Ex. 14:30-31; 15:1).

Rejoicing when something exceptional happens is natural and permissible, indeed inescapable and essential.

Yet how can we add a festival to the calendar?

We actually did so with Chanukah and Purim. Though neither occasion is listed in the written Torah, we still say a b’rachah praising God for commanding us to read the Megillah on Purim and kindle the lights on Chanukah. On both occasions there was a deliverance, even though it was not total or permanent. Yet these festivals came about over time and it took generations for them to win universal acceptance.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is also an occasion in process. It will find its permanent form in time: according to the last will and testament of a former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Benzion Uzziel, who died in 1953 and experienced the rebirth of the State, there will come a time when the Jewish people and the world will

“know and believe that the hand of the Lord has done this in order to fulfil the message of the prophets for the eternal wellbeing of His people and the whole world, which depends on Israel’s observance of the words of the Torah. Thus all the peoples will learn to know the uniqueness of God and His faith, which will bring true peace in the world, where no-one will harm his neighbour and the land will be full of knowledge as the waters cover the sea.”

In relation to interrupting the semi-mourning of the S’firah period, another former Sephardi chief rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, ruled that people could have haircuts and hold weddings on Yom Ha’atzmaut (see “Alei Asor”, issued by Mossad HaRav Kook).

His view was that Yom Ha’atzmaut is at least equivalent to Lag Ba’Omer when such things are permitted, and he pointed out that the semi-mourning of the S’firah evolved from custom and was not ordained by rabbinic regulation. Since no rabbinic decree proclaimed the period of mourning, no rabbinic decree is necessary to establish Yom Ha’atzmaut.

What will or will not give Yom Ha’atzmaut the status of a festival is the will of the people. How long it will take cannot be predicted. Much will depend on whether, like the Israelites who crossed the Red Sea, ordinary people will perceive something spiritual in the establishment and survival of Israel. The sages said,

“A handmaid saw more at the Red Sea than did Ezekiel in his prophecy”.

There are signs of a resurgence of Torah in Israel. Until it becomes widespread, those who regard the State as a Divine miracle will continue to celebrate and pray that the day will come when, in Rashi’s words,

“Everyone who lives in the Land of Israel will say, ‘This is my God and I will exalt Him!’”

THE ISRAELI FLAG.

The Israeli flag still gives the Jews of the world a thrill when they see it at an international forum.

Only for Jews do the two stripes really resonate because of their origin in the tallit (the idea was that of David Wolffsohn, an early Zionist pioneer). Only to Jews does the Magen David really speak of historical experiences, hopes and tragedies.

Yet though it is said to have been David’s shield, made up of two dalets when drawn in the ancient triangular form, the Magen David was not an automatic choice.

Theodor Herzl wanted a gold flag with seven gold stars; the white background would stand for “our new and pure life”; the seven stars were “the seven working hours” that would symbolise the dignity of work. Later he modified his plan by placing the six stars on the six angles of the Magen David with the seventh above it.

It was all academic until the State actually came into being, but then too the Magen David was not adopted immediately. Amongst the suggestions made at that point were a menorah surrounded by seven stars or seven shofarot or even a combination of shofarot and etrogim.

National pride produced an alternative option – a menorah in the shape famous from the Arch of Titus in Rome, with some suggesting the addition of olive leaves on each side. This did become the basis of Israel’s coat of arms, but the search for a flag design continued.

Eventually the decision was made to go back to a flag used by the Chibbat Tziyyon movement – a white rectangle with a Magen David and a horizontal stripe top and bottom.

The result was a flag that proudly bears characteristic Jewish symbols, even though the scholars are still debating the question of how Jewish the Magen David really is and whether it was a recognisable Jewish symbol before the 17th century when the Prague and Vienna communities adopted it.

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Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

 

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