Independence Day, Israel
INDEPENDENCE DAY, ISRAEL
INDEPENDENCE DAY, ISRAEL (Heb. יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת, Yomha-Aẓma'ut), Israel's national day. It is celebrated each year on the 5th of Iyyar, the anniversary – according to the Hebrew calendar – of the day in 5708 (May 14, 1948) when the *Declaration of Independence was promulgated and the State of Israel established. It was declared a public holiday by law in 1949. When the anniversary falls on a Sabbath or a Friday it is celebrated on the preceding Thursday. It is marked by dancing in the streets, firework displays, picnic trips to the countryside, etc., as well as official ceremonies and organized open-air entertainments. The day is recognized in moderate religious circles as a Jewish festival and festive prayers are held in synagogues all over the country, with cabinet members attending in Jerusalem and other main centers. Independence Day proper is preceded by *Remembrance Day (Yom ha-Zikkaron) for all those who have fallen in defense of Israel's independence and security. This is marked by special prayer services, visits to cemeteries, memorial assemblies, and a two-minute silence throughout the country.
The Independence Day festivities are inaugurated on the eve of the holiday by a ceremony on Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem, at the grave of the prophet of Jewish statehood. Here the speaker of the Knesset ushers in the festival by lighting a torch, then in turn, 12 torches are kindled, symbolizing the tribes of Israel. The torchbearers are chosen year by year to represent outstanding phases in the nation's modern history and its struggle for statehood and survival.
For 20 years, the main official event was a parade by the armed forces, alternating between the major cities. After the march in reunited Jerusalem on the 20th anniversary (5728/1968), the parade was discontinued. In the following year it was replaced in Jerusalem by a march of the *Gadna Youth Corps, while Haifa continued with its traditional dance parade. Most of the municipalities organize entertainment stages where big-name singers and bands perform. At a reception held by the president of the State, the heads of diplomatic missions extend official congratulations. Another reception honors soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who have distinguished themselves in the performance of their duties and, from time to time, citizens who have earned public recognition or representatives from all parts of Israel and all walks of life.
Cultural Events, Sport, and Entertainments
Israel Prizes for distinction in various fields of literary, artistic, and scientific endeavor are presented by the minister of education and culture at a ceremony held at a hall in Jerusalem. The International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth (organized by the Jewish Agency, the Israel Society for Biblical Research, and Gadna) attracts wide interest and is broadcast. Contestants are the winners of national competitions held in Israel and in Jewish communities abroad. Sports events include football matches and long-distance races. Theatrical performances, dance pageants, and art exhibitions are held. Thousands take advantage of public transportation to go out to the country, especially to the nature reserves and national parks. The Hebrew Song Festival used to introduce new songs that competed for popular approval (Naomi Shemer's Jerusalemthe Golden was first heard there in 1967, shortly before the Six-Day War), but it no longer exists.
Some of the events marking Independence Day have taken on the aura of tradition. In general, however, the pattern is fluid and the search for the most suitable forms is still going on, with a growing tendency to more widespread local and family celebrations.
Prayers for Independence Day
These were first formulated by the Israel Chief Rabbinate in 1949. The festive evening service is introduced by thanksgiving Psalms (107, 97, 98) and concludes with the sounding of the shofar, to the accompaniment of the petition: "May it be Thy will, that as we have been deemed worthy to witness the beginning of redemption, so also may we be deemed worthy to hear the shofar announcing the Messiah, speedily in our days." The morning service includes the Sabbath festival introductory Psalms, Nishmat, the *Hallel, and the haftarah (Isa. 10:32–11:12) that is read on the last day of Passover in the Diaspora, but without the accompanying benedictions. Tahanun is also omitted as on all festive days.
From the moment of publication many religious elements in Israel felt that the Chief Rabbinate's order of service represented an inadequate and halfhearted expression of the historic nature of the occasion. Criticism was directed against the omission of the benedictions before the Hallel and haftarah, of the She-HeḤeyanu, and of the reading of a special portion of the Torah. These omissions have been demonstratively remedied in some orthodox congregations in Israel, chiefly those of Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati and the Army rabbinate. The former has printed its own maḥzor under the imprimatur of the Army chief chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, and Rabbi Elimelech Bar-Shaul of Rehovot, prescribing the recital of She-Heḥeyanu over Kiddush and Al ha-Nissim in the Amidah. Three persons are called to the Torah, the portion read being Deuteronomy 7:1–8:18. Some synagogues read Deuteronomy 30:1–10. These deviations from the official order of service in respect of the Hallel and She-Heḥeyanu benedictions were also authorized by Rabbi Meshullam Rath of the Chief Rabbinate Council in a responsum in 1952 to an inquiry of Rabbi Judah Maimon, the minister of religious affairs. His ruling reflected the actual opinion of most members of the Chief Rabbinate Council including Chief Rabbi Isaac ha-Levi Herzog. The order of service finally adopted by the council represented an attempt to placate the objections of the more orthodox circles to any changes in the liturgy. The religious establishment continued to maintain this "no-change" attitude even after the Six-Day War when the demand grew to give appropriate expression to the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple site in the daily prayers and even to the abolition of the Fast Days commemorating its original wresting from Jewish rule.
The Chief Rabbinate's order of service has been incorporated into two standard editions of Israel prayer books and in one issued in Hebrew and English in London, 1964, under the imprimatur of Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie. In the latter, however, the Hallel has been cut down to half as on Rosh Ḥodesh, following the precedent set by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neriah of Kefar ha-Ro'eh, Israel. In 1962 he compiled a Tikkun le-Yom ha-Aẓma'ut, an anthology of readings, prayers, and customs for Independence Day, with the approval of the Israel chief rabbis.
The secular authorities in Israel, too, formulated readings and prayers for the celebration of Independence Day, stressing home festivities after the manner of the Passover *seder. The Israel writer, Aharon *Megged, produced an Independence Night *Haggadah for the Israel Defense Forces while the Ministry of Education and Culture published an anthology of readings and prayers, and prescribed the drinking of three cups of wine: for the state, the armed forces, and the Jewish people, respectively. Special Independence Day services in the synagogue are a feature of almost all Jewish communities today, though practices are far from uniform. Among the differing customs may be mentioned that of proclaiming the number of years since the establishment of the State, before the sounding of the shofar in the evening service. The wording is adapted from the proclamation of the years since the destruction of the Temple which is read out in Sephardi and Yemenite synagogues on Tishah be-Av. It reads: "Hear ye, our brethren … today … years have elapsed since the beginning of our redemption marked by the establishment of the State."
M. Rath, Kol Mevasser, 1 (1955), 68, no. 21; J.T. Lewinski, Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 8 (1957), 223–509; A. Newman (ed.), Acknowledge the Miracle, Independence Day Anthology with Selected Prayers (1957); idem, Selected Articles on the Teaching of Yom ha'Atzmaut (1967), includes bibliography; Ha-Kibbuẓ ha-Dati, Maḥzor le-Yom ha-Aẓma'ut (1968); M. Friedlander (ed.), Orders of Service and Customs for Israel Independence Day (n.d.).