Reform Movement adds religious content to Israel Independence Day celebrations

Movement is adding a havdala service and a cantorial recitation of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

1967 Independence Day parade, Jerusalem370  (photo credit: Stuart Geller)
1967 Independence Day parade, Jerusalem370
(photo credit: Stuart Geller)
The Reform Movement in Israel has decided this year to inject greater religious content into the Independence Day celebrations, by adding a havdala service and a cantorial recitation of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
The Reform Movement said that Independence Day celebrations have not taken on any real semblance of a religious festival, and so it has sought this year to add content advancing Israeli identity of a Jewish nature, alongside the general festivities, most of which, it says, revolve simply around fireworks and grilling meat.
The first major innovation is a havdalah ceremony, traditionally performed at the conclusion of Shabbat and Jewish holidays as a ritual way of separating between the holiness of those days and the regular working week.
The director of the Reform Movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said that the new havdala service was modeled on the occasions in the Jewish calendar when the havdala service is performed between Shabbat and a Jewish holiday, which then separates between different types of sanctity.
The ceremony for Independence Day will be performed by Reform communities around the country on Monday night as a way of separating between the sombre nature of Remembrance Day and the festive nature of Independence Day, which will be just beginning.
The havdala service will include the traditional prayers over a cup of wine, with fragrant spices, and a candle, as well as blessings over sweet halla, candle lighting and a prayer service, including the Hallel prayer said on Jewish holidays.
The festive services will also include a reading of the Declaration of Independence, which has been set to the traditional musical notes used to read from the Bible and the biblical books of the prophets on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
The Reform Movement has also launched a website, in Hebrew, with downloads for its new Independence Day ceremonies and services and recordings of the Declaration of Independence – sung with the traditional festive tunes.
Kariv said that the text of the declaration has largely disappeared from the public consciousness on Independence Day, and that the idea of reading it aloud in a manner reminiscent of traditional Jewish holidays was designed to restore the document and the values inherent within it to a more prominent place in the nation’s psyche.
Kariv said that the purpose of the customs the Reform Movement is introducing was to create a greater relevance to the public for the day and form a greater connection to Jewish values and beliefs.
“Independence Day has great religious significance, and it is important to emphasize that, so that Judaism can be relevant to our generation,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“Judaism cannot ignore the major events of the Jewish people in the last century, such as the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel.
“Independence Day is therefore no different from the holidays of Purim and Hannuka, where we remember the historical events and threats to the Jewish people and the miracles that happened, in whichever way people chose to see them,” he said.
Kariv also underlined the importance of reading aloud, in a communal prayer service, a central text for Independence Day, which characterizes many Jewish holidays and sets them aside as major events in the Jewish calendar.
“Just as Esther and Mordechai wrote their megilla [scroll], and the Hasmoneans wrote the Book of Maccabees recording the events of Hanukka, so we wanted to use the Declaration of Independence as a central aspect of the prayer services on Independence Day,” he said.
He said that the text of the Declaration of Independence was inclusive because it is not written in an overtly secular or religious manner, and everyone who reads it can interpret it as they wish.
The fact that the declaration does not mention God explicitly, he said, is comparable to the Scroll of Esther read on Purim, where the lack of an explicit reference to God’s name is interpreted by the rabbinic sages as an indicator that God was present in the events but acted through more discreet means.
The inclusion of the phrase “Rock of Israel” in the Israeli Declaration of Independence can therefore be freely interpreted, including the suggestion that it refers to God and his historic bond with the Jewish people, Kariv said.