The Religious Status of Yom Ha'atzmaut

Within Israel and in the greater Jewish world there are differing views as to whether there is a religious nature to Israel's Independence Day.

Print this page Print this page

Although most "non-Zionists" are not as radical as this, there is a certain tension between those who believe that we must wait for the Messiah to bring an end to the Diaspora, and those who believe that the Jewish people must take action on their own. This argument has been going on among rabbis since the early 19th century, with the roots of the argument to be found in the Bible and Talmud. This tension is the basis of the hesitancy on the part of most ultra-Orthodox Jews to observe or acknowledge Yom Ha'atzmaut.

A New Perspective in the Land of Miracles

There seems to be a new spirit in Israel that may one day bring Yom Ha'atzmaut even to those who have never celebrated the holiday.

Yom Ha'atzmaut of 5763 (2003) was a turning point. Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yehudah Meshi-Zahav, the one-time spokesman of the fiercely anti-Zionist Neturei Karta group noted above, lit a celebratory torch on national television with the words "I light this torch in the name of the people of Israel, to the glory of the State of Israel" (Standing proudly in his Hasidic garb in front of the grave of the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl). He was invited to do this because of his leadership of the ZAKA organization whose members clean up after terrorist attacks, making sure that all human remains are properly cared for with love and respect.

When asked why he agreed to light the torch he said, "After spending years picking up body parts at terrorist attack scenes, I have come to the conclusion that the time has come to live together…I state with absolute certainty, that for me, lighting an Independence Day torch is a sanctification of God's Name…unity is of paramount importance, above the issues that divide us."

Judaism is an organic tradition, changing and adapting as the Jewish people meet new realities and challenges. The creation of an independent Jewish State is the greatest of all challenges, and recognizing its significance for the future of the Judaism and the Jewish people is an ongoing process. The issues surrounding the observance of Yom Ha'atzmaut are part of this ongoing process.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Ed Snitkoff

Rabbi Ed Snitkoff is the Director of the Ramah Israel Seminar and lives in Jerusalem.