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Are women obligated to say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut?

Iyar 5780 | April 2020
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To understand if a woman is obligated to say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) we must explore two issues:

  1. The nature of Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut
  2. Women’s general requirement to recite Hallel

When is Hallel recited upon a miracle?

The idea that Hallel should be recited on Yom Ha’atzmaut is based on the Gemara in Pesachim 117a:

“The Sages said: The prophets among them established that Israel should recite Hallel on every occasion and on every trouble, may it not come upon them.  And when they are redeemed, they recite it on their redemption.”

Hallel was originally recited both as a prayer for deliverance and in praise of the ensuing salvation. Indeed, the psalms of Hallel reflect this duality, beginning with desperate pleas and culminating with songs of praise and thanksgiving. And while Hallel is no longer recited in times of trouble, many halakhic authorities rule that we have a rabbinic obligation to recite Hallel on occasions of miraculous salvation.

There can be little doubt that the creation and continued existence of the modern State of Israel is miraculous. The question most people ask is whether such miraculous events compel or even justify the recitation of Hallel.

Based on Talmudic passages and the precedent of Chanukah, halakhic authorities rule that Hallel can only be instituted to commemorate events that meet certain criteria. Notably, there must be a “revealed,” supernatural miracle that affects the entirety of the Jewish people and saves them from an existential threat, bringing them from “death to life.” (Rabbeinu Yona Brachot 7b “v’Rabbeinu, Responsa Chayim She’al II 11, Kol Mevaser 21:1) Other authorities allow for an individual or community to recite Hallel on the occasion of a miraculous salvation, but limit it to Hallel without a blessing, or to the year the event took place. (Meiri Beit Habechira Pesachim 117a, Netziv Ha’amek She’aila Vayishlach Sheilta 26)

Does Yom Ha’atzmaut qualify?

The question of whether one should recite Hallel with or without a blessing on Yom Ha’atzmaut is not just a halakhic one, it also depends on how one views history. The political and military events involved in the creation and continued existence of the State of Israel are improbable to say the least, and many consider them to be supernatural examples of revealed miracles. As David Ben Gurion famously said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”

Similarly, the state has impacted the entirety of the Jewish people, saving many from existential threats. Rav Soloveitchik famously spoke about the far-reaching impact of the creation of the State of Israel in Kol Dodi Dofek, highlighting the role that Israeli military and intervention has in protecting Jewish lives worldwide, as “For the first time in the annals of ‎our ‎exile, Divine Providence has amazed our enemies with the astounding discovery that Jewish ‎blood ‎is not cheap!”

If we compare the circumstances of Yom Ha’atzmaut to those of Chanukah they seem remarkably similar – the initial celebration was by no means the final battle, the military victory was a mixture of physical and spiritual salvation, and while the redemption was incomplete and most of the Jewish people did not live within the boundaries of Israel, it became the center of world Jewry and Torah study.

The Chief Rabbinate originally ruled that Hallel be recited without a blessing on Yom Ha’atzmaut. After the events of the Six Day War and the added impact of those miracles and the security they provided the fledgling state, it realized that it was now appropriate to institute Hallel with a blessing.

What about women?

The paradigm of Hallel on Chanukah can also be used to understand the nature of a woman’s obligation on Yom Ha’atzmaut. As we established on Chanukah several authorities rule that women are included in the obligation to recite Hallel based on the principle of  “even they were part of the miracle.” Additionally, authorities have extended this principle to include miracles and mitzvot that were not mentioned in the Gemara. (Mordechai Shabbat 397, Maharil Laws of Erev Pesach) The same reasoning applies here – as this is a Rabbinic obligation commemorating and publicizing a miracle that saved women as well as men. Additionally, women played pivotal roles in the miracle, the establishment of the State, on every level – political, industrial, agricultural, and military.

Therefore, women should have the same obligation as men regarding the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. In communities and families where Hallel is recited with a blessing, women should also recite the blessing.

The importance of reciting Hallel

While our State and redemption are sadly imperfect, this is a time to reflect upon and give thanks for how far we have come. The Gemara in Sanhedrin relates that the Holy One blessed be He wanted to make Chizkiyahu Mashiach and Saherib Gog u’Magog, but the attribute of justice pointed out that Chizkiyahu did not say shira, the praise of Hallel, for the miraculous salvation in his time, and so he was unworthy. If we want to continue to receive miraculous Divine intervention and merit a full redemption the Jewish people must acknowledge and give thanks for the extraordinary bounty we have received, men and women alike.

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.