For religious Zionists, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, is a day of
profound religious significance.
The day is observed as a festival,
instituted by the Chief Rabbinate, with special prayers offered thanking God for
the miraculous birth of the State of Israel.
But in the haredi community,
things are different. While a small group of extremists use the day to foment
opposition against the “Zionist entity,” the day is virtually ignored in the
haredi world. Yes, haredim get a day off from work and school, just like the
rest of Israel, but they approach Israel’s independence with
Times used to be simpler. In the early years that followed
the state’s founding, Independence Day was celebrated by all sectors: secular,
religious, haredi. Hallel was sung in Bnei Brak’s Great Synagogue and hassidim
dressed in festive frocks and fur hats danced in the streets. Israeli flags flew
in haredi neighborhoods – Agudat Israel even encouraging placing them in the
window. The day was marked in haredi yeshivot, like Hevron and
To this day, the flag is flown over the Ponevezh Yeshiva out of
deference to its founder, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, who began the practice. Rabbi
Kahaneman’s feelings toward Yom Ha’atzmaut also led him to omit the reflective
Tahanun prayer, traditionally omitted on festive occasions.
years, attempts have been made to whitewash or revise history. But the truth
remains that in the early years of statehood, haredim too found religious
meaning in the day. They saw the day as an opportune time for national unity and
joined together with the rest of the country.
An editorial which appeared
in the haredi newspaper Hamodia celebrated Israel’s third birthday and
encouraged its readers to do the same. The piece, published on the Iyar 4, 1951,
began with the following: “All over the country and throughout the Diaspora, we
will celebrate the State of Israel’s third Independence Day with military
demonstrations, stately ceremonies and gatherings across the country and the
Diaspora, together with tens and hundreds of displays and expressions of joy,
where the masses will express their excitement for this major historical
This holiday is for all citizens of the State of Israel, and any
Jew wherever he is, who sees himself as part of the Jewish Nation. On this day,
we forget our differences of views and stances. Conflicts and disputes that
divide us are closed and buried, and the people will celebrate, united and
For together as one we went through the War of Independence,
with all it entailed.
We have all paid a heavy price, with our young
sons. And together we share the burden, until today, of the realization of the
ingathering of the scattered of Israel, for whose sake of the state was
The State of Israel was birthed by religious and
non-religious alike, as Jews of every stripe and political or religious
affiliation fought for Israel’s Independence.
They didn’t have the luxury
of sitting back and being sectarian.
At a time when tensions are high in
the State of Israel, the truths of history remind us that we have more in common
than what sets us apart. Were we only able to get back to that simpler place in
time and, for one day, set aside our differences to celebrate again, “united and
The author lives and teaches in Jerusalem. His
forthcoming book is titled Return Again: The Argument for Aliyah.