על הניסים ליום העצמאות | Al Hanissim for Yom ha’Atsmaut: Theological and Liturgical Reflections, by Yehonatan Chipman (2003)

Theological and Liturgical Reflections on the Day

Every year on Yom ha-Atzmaut I feel a certain sense of frustration about its liturgy, and the failure of Religious Zionism to shape the holiday into one that would make a clear and definite religious statement. The “festive” prayer for Yom ha-Atzmaut is a hotchpotch of Yom Kippur, Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat Mevarkhim, and Pesaḥ. One gets a sense that there is an avoidance of hard issues. Even such a simple thing as saying Hallel with a blessing is not yet self-evident, but a subject of constant debate. Every year, there seem to be more leading rabbis, who adopt crypto-Ḥaredi stances, issuing pronunciamentos as to why one must not enter into the doubt of saying a brakha levatala, an unnecessary blessing, in this case. (As I was typing these words, I was interrupted by a phone call from a friend with this very question!) Bimhila mikvodam (no affront to the honor due them intended), but what on earth do they think the Talmud is talking about when it says that “On every occasion that Israel are in distress and then delivered, they are to recite the Hallel” (Pesaḥim 116a), if not the likes of Yom ha-Atzmaut?

This sense of — I don’t whether to rightly call it spiritual cowardice or simply hide-bound conservatism — is doubly surprising when one considers the spiritual radicalism in the very Zionist enterprise as such, including that of religious Zionism. Shmuel Hayyim Landau (Shahal), one of the early leaders of Mizraḥi, used to speak of Mered ha-Kadosh, the “Holy Rebellion” of that movement against the Rabbinic establishment in Eastern Europe.

Another liturgical desideratum is the proper institutionalizing of the blessing Sheheḥiyanu in the evening, at the onset of the holiday. I have made it my own custom, based on what I saw on Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi may years ago, to recite Sheheḥiyanu over a cup of wine, after Borei Peri Hagafen, at the beginning of my festive evening meal. This is preceded by biblical verses celebrating the Land of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:7-10), and “This is the day the LORD has made, let us be happy and rejoice therein” (Psalms 118:24).

It seems clear to me that Yom ha-Atzmaut as a religious holiday should be modeled after Ḥanukkah and Purim — i.e., weekdays, when it is permitted to work, but which are set aside as commemorative of major redemptive events that befell the Jewish people. The main liturgical feature of both of the other occasions is “Al ha-Nissim,” the paragraph describing the nature of the day inserted in the Amidah and in Birkat haMazon. I have heard on good authority that there is no real halakhic difficulty in adding an Al ha-Nissim on an occasion like this.

The problem, of course, is that we have no “Shmuel Hakatan” in our generation to formulate such a prayer; no liturgical poets or paytanim of inspiration. (Indeed, there is an interesting historical dispute as to whether the “Prayer for the Welfare of the State,” was composed by the two chief rabbis of those days, or if it was “ghost-written” for them by S. Y. Agnon. The beauty and elegance of that prayer would suggest the latter.) Attempts have been made by some of the non-Orthodox groups, and by the Religious Kibbutz movement of thirty years ago, to write such a prayer, but I have not been personally over-impressed by the results, and in any event they have not caught on. It is disappointing that no figure from the heart of Religious Zionism has seen fit to take on this task.

What should such a prayer include? Three comments. First, while the Holocaust should be mentioned, I am wary of drawing too close a connection between the Holocaust and the Creation of the State, along such lines as “God compensated us for the tragic losses of the Holocaust by giving us our own homeland.” I have seen such things in some of the above-mentioned texts, and I dislike it for two reasons: 1) it’s bad theology. The “Holocaust leads to Statehood” mythology or “narrative” (which my kids were fed in the Israeli school system, under such titles as Galut le-Ge’ula, “From Exile to Redemption”) makes God out to be even more of a monster than if we leave things at saying that the Holocaust cannot be understood, period. 2) It’s bad history. There was a lot of important history that preceded the Holocaust: the emergence of a new Jewish mentality, the various aliyot, the settling of the first moshavot and kvutzot and kibbutzim in the Sharon and in Emek Yizra’el and Emek Hayarden, the draining of the swamps, the whole creation of a Hebrew culture and shadow-state institutions in the pre-State Yishuv are equally important, if not more so.

Second, a non-messianic interpretation of the meaning of our present national rebirth. There seems to be an inability within Religious Zionism to see Yom ha-Atzmaut in an historical, non-redemptive perspective. (For that reason, one often encounters Ḥaredim and semi-Ḥaredim who say that it’s less problematic for them to say Hallel on Yom Yerushalayim than on Yom ha-Atzmaut, because in the former case there were “visible, evident” miracles).

And yet, Reshit zemihat ge’ulatenu (“the first budding of our redemption”) is not the only option for a religious Zionist understanding of the State of Israel. Yeshayahu Leibovitz used to say that Zionism was a concrete historical movement which had to do with the Jews being “fed up with living under goyim.” He was of course opposed to any theologization of the State, but even within his general approach there can be room for celebrating the Creation of the State as a deliverance but not as The Redemption (yeshu’a as against ge’ula) — again, exactly like Hanukkah and Purim, which were redemptive events within the course of ongoing, unredeemed history. David Hartman speaks of the State of Israel as giving us an opportunity to realize Jewish values and “covenantal existence” on the social plane, within the context of a Jewish society and a Jewish “street.” (By the same measure, it also provides us innumerable opportunities to flub it, as we seem to be doing rather well.)

Gershom Scholem, I believe, once remarked that the focus of the mysticism of the Zohar and of Spanish Kabbalah was on returning to Creation, rather than in the eschatological movement toward Redemption. In a strange way, this may perhaps also provide a theological model for what we would like to see happen to Zionism: a turn towards Creation, as a model for this-worldly life lived under a sign of holiness without any of the hysteria of messianism, which we have so sadly witnessed during the past third-century.

Third — and this is the crux — we need to find a way to acknowledge and express human initiative as a way in which the Divine spirit working within human beings, and as a form of spirituality. Zionism was first and foremost a human movement — and at that, on the whole a secular movement — rather than a set of obvious miracles or acts of divine intervention. It involved a rejection of the passivity and the posture of “waiting for redemption” that had come to characterize Jewish religion. And yet, within that movement there was clearly a holy spark—and not only in the hidden or inadvertent sense celebrated by Rav Kook. Ehud Luz, in a fascinating study of ”Spiritualization and Anti-Spiritualization in Zionism” notes how, paradoxically, the very emphasis on the return to earthliness and the concrete was seen by many of the early Zionist thinkers as having a spiritual dimension. Thus, certainly, in A. D. Gordon, in Buber, in Berl Katzenelson, even in Ben-Gurion’s celebrated love of the Tanakh — but also, in a sense, even in such rebellious and “anti-spiritual” figures as Brenner and Berdyczewski. Hagshama, the active effort to realize the spirit within life, and the project of creating a “New Jew,” of forging a healthy, “normal,” natural culture on our own soil, were ultimately expressions of the Divine spark. To my mind, any authentic liturgical celebration of Yom ha-Atzmaut must come to grips with these phenomena.

Today, all this seems very distant. There is a massive return to bifurcation of the spiritual and the secular. The triumphalist mood of contemporary Orthodoxy, and the hostility and ressentiment of a movement like Shas, on the one hand, and the emphasis on money, high-tech success, escapist “trance” culture, and secular reaction to Orthodox militancy, on the other, make the prospects for such a synthesis more remote than ever. Certainly, there is a movement for a deeper, more genuine sort of dialogue, one that will bridge these yawning gaps in Israeli society—but this is, for the moment, a still, small voice in the tumult of the mainstream.

Al Hanissim for Yom ha-Atzmaut

In the above reflections, I noted a certain sense of frustration about the liturgy for Israel’s Independence Day, and the failure of Religious Zionism to shape the holiday into one that would make a clear and definite religious statement. The “festive” prayer for Yom ha-Atzmaut printed in most Siddurim is more or less a hotchpotch; even the recitation of full Hallel with a blessing seems to remain a subject of constant debate and controversy. What do the distinguished Rabbis think the Talmud is talking about when it states (Bavli Pesaḥim 116a) that “On every occasion that Israel are in distress and then delivered, they are to recite the Hallel,” if not the likes of Yom ha-Atzmaut? There is also need to make more widely known the permissibility and obligation, long since affirmed by the late Rav Goren z”l and others, to recite the blessing Sheheḥiyanu at the onset of the holiday. I have made it my own practice, based on what I saw on Kibbutz Tirat Zvi may years ago, to recite this blessing over a cup of wine, following Borei Peri Hagafen, at the beginning of my festive evening meal. This is preceded by biblical verses celebrating the Land of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:7-10), and ”This is the day the Lord has made, let us be happy and rejoice therein” (Psalms 118:24)

But the most important liturgical expression, whose absence I feel keenly each year, would be an “Al ha-Nissim” paragraph, to be inserted in the Amidah and Birkat Hamazon, thereby signalling that we consider Yom ha-Atzmaut to be a religious holiday of standing similar to Hanukkah and Purim — i.e., weekdays, when it is permitted to work, but set aside as commemorative of major redemptive events that befell the Jewish people. I have heard on good Rabbinic authority that there is no real halakhic difficulty in adding an Al ha-Nissim on an occasion like this. The problem, of course, is that we have no “Shmuel Hakatan” in our generation to formulate such a prayer; no liturgical poets or paytanim of inspiration. (Indeed, there is an interesting historical dispute as to whether the “Prayer for the Welfare of the State,” was composed by the two chief rabbis of those days, or if it was “ghost-written” for them by S. Y. Agnon. The beauty and elegance of that prayer would suggest the latter.) Attempts have been made by all of the non-Orthodox groups, and by the Religious Kibbutz movement in the early years of the State, to compose such a prayer, but these have not caught on, and in the case of Kibbutz Ha-Dati even dropped from later editions of their Prayer Book for Yom ha-Atzmaut. I find it disappointing that no figure from the heart of Religious Zionism has seen fit to take on this task.

As a spur to further discussion, I have gathered here several nusḥa’ot for Al ha-Nissim, in English translation and in Hebrew, that have been written and disseminated by several groups within Judaism. I make no claim for comprehensiveness; I have simply copied and translated into English what I was able to find (my apologies for overlooking the Reconstructionist version; I will try to do so at a later date). I have included a brief discussion of each of the various versions.


נוסחאות “על הנסים” ליום העצמאות
Versions of Al Hanissim for Yom Ha-Atzmaut
Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

א) הקיבוץ הדתי: סדר תפילות ליום העצמאות, מהדורה שניה. תל-אביב: הוצאת הקיבוץ הדתי תשכ”ט, ע’ 101
1) The Religious Kibbutz Movement — Seder Tefillot le-Yom ha-Atzmaut, second edition. (Tel Aviv: Hotza’at Ha-kibbutz ha-Dati [1969]), p. 101.

על הנסים ועל הפרקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו ולנו בימים ההם בזמן הזה:‏
For the miracles and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and for the deliverance and for the wars that You did for our fathers and for us in those days at this season.

אתה האל עוררת את לב אבותינו לשוב להר נחלתך לשבת בה ולקומם את הריסותיה [ו]את אדמתה. ובעמוד עלינו שלטון רשע ויסגור את שערי ארצנו בפני אחינו הנמלטים מחרב אויב אכזרי, וישבם באניות לאיי הים ולחוף נדחים, אתה בעזך מגרת את כסאו ותשחרר את הארץ מידו. ובקום עלינו אויבים ויתנכלו לנו להשמידנו, אתה בגבורתך הפלת עליהם אימתה ופחד ויעזבו את כל אשר בהם, וינוסו בבהלה ובחפזון אל מחוץ לגבולות ארצנו. ובבוא עלינו שבעה גויים לכבש את ארצנו ולשומנו למס עובד, אתה ברחמיך עמדת לימין צבא ההגנה לישראל ומסרת גבורים ביד חלשים ורבים ביד מעטים ורשעים ביד צדיקים. ובזרועך הנטויה עזרת לבחורי ישראל להרחיב את גבולות מושבותינו, ולעלות את אחינו ממחנות ההסגר. ‏
You, O God, awakened the heart of our fathers to return to the mountain of Your inheritance, to settle there and to rebuild it from the ruins, and its land. And when an evil regime stood over us and shut the gates of our land to our brethren who were fleeing from the sword of a cruel enemy, and they sent them back in ships to the islands of the sea and to distant shores, You in Your might toppled his throne and freed the land from his hand. And when enemies rose against us and plotted to destroy us, You in your might sent upon them fear and panic, and they abandoned all their goods, and fled in confusion and haste beyond the borders of our land. And when seven nations rose up against us to conquer our land and to make us as bonded servants, You in Your mercies stood by the right hand of the Israel Defense Army and delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, and evildoers into the hands of the righteous. And with Your outstretched arm you helped the young men of Israel to expand the boundaries of our settlement, and to bring our brethren up from the concentration camps.

על הכל אנחנו מודים לך ה’ אלקינו בכפיפת ראש; וביום זה, יום חגינו ושמחתנו, אנחנו פורשים את כפינו לפניך ומתחננים על אחינו הפזורים ואומרים: אנא אבינו רוענו, קבצם במהרה לנוה קדשך והשכן אותם בו בשלום ושלוה ובהשקט ובטח. הרחב נא את גבולות ארצנו כאשר הבטחת לאבותינו, לתת לזרעם מנהר פרת ועד נחל מצרים. בנה נא את עיר קדשך ירושלים בירת ישראל, ובה תכונן את בית מקדשך כימי שלמה. וכאשר זכיתנו לראות את ראשית גאולתנו ופדות נפשנו, כן תחינו ותחזנה עינינו בגאולת ישראל השלמה וחדש ימינו כקדם, אמן! ‏
For all this we thank You, O Lord our God, with bowed head; and on this, our day of festivity and joy, we stretch our hands before You and beseech pray on behalf of our dispersed brethren and say: Please, our Father, our Shepherd, gather them quickly to Your holy habitation, and may they dwell there in peace and calm and tranquility and security. Expand the borders of our land as You promised our forefathers, to give to their seed from the River Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt. Build your holy city Jerusalem, capital of Israel, and reestablish there your Temple as in the days of Solomon. And as we have merited to see the beginning of our redemption and the liberation of our souls, so may we live and may our eyes see the complete redemption of Israel and renew our days as of old. Amen!
The opening makes a very important theological point, as I mentioned above in the introduction: acknowledgement of the Divine source of the emergence of the spirit of Zionism in Eastern Europe in the 19th century. The central problem in any religious interpretation of Yom ha-Atzmaut is that all these founding events, which many people still alive have experienced personally, and which in any event have a sense of immediacy even to those born after ’48, is that on the surface they are the result of a purely natural, human event, the result of human initiative and historical circumstance. Moreover, most of the founding fathers consciously rebelled against traditional Jewish religiosity and the shteitl, which they identified with a passive approach to the problems of Jewish life. (Interestingly, Religious Zionism defined itself somewhere in the middle, as a “Holy Rebellion,” in the apt phrase of Shmuel Hayyim Landau, known as “Shahal”). Yet to ignore these origins of the movement, and to praise God for the victories of ’48 alone, which can perhaps more easily be seen as “miraculous” — i.e., the improbable victory of the rather ragged, poorly equipped army against seven Arab armies, “the many into the hands of the few”— is to ignore a very important, perhaps the most important element in the story: the psychic transformation of the Jewish people into a people that took its own destiny into its own hands, that made a conscious decision to “reenter” history. Such a significant and influential modern Jewish thinker as Franz Rosenzweig’s davka celebrated the marginal existence of the Jewish people, as a nation somehow living eternity within history, whose existence is essentially spiritual and extra-historical; and similar voices are heard today, among some of those who call themselves “post-Zionist,” including some darlings of the New Age. Those of us who have chosen the Zionist path, and who support it in one way or another, ultimately see the Zionist transformation of mentality in a positive light, as an expression of health and vitality. If God is truly a living God, and the God who heals the ill, than the emergence of the Zionist movement must be seen as a stirring of the Divine within history.

Other parts of this nusaḥ are more problematic. The reference to the expulsion of the British seems a bit dated, and with our historical distance as perhaps of insufficient importance to deserve mention in a prayer. The reference to the Arabs wanting to make us into “bonded servants” (mas oved) is peculiar, and simply incorrect. The prayer for the restoration “from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt” (even if the latter refers to Wadi el-Arish and not the Nile) is a bit jingoistic to my taste, particularly in light of the trouble the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, with its millions of disgruntled and hostile Palestinians, has caused us. There is also, if one wishes to be strict in understanding the halakhic parameters, a certain difficulty in inserting a petitionary prayer, such as the whole second paragraph here, in the first or last three blessings of the Amidah; the tradition draws rather clear lines of demarcations between Shevah, Bakashat Tzerakhim, and Hodayah, and does not approve of overlapping between them.

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

ב) תנועת הקונסרבטיבית בארה”ב: סדור לימות החול
2. American Conservative Movement — Siddur Liymot Ḥol (New York: Rabbinic Assembly, 1966), pp. 64-65. [translation/paraphrase from that Siddur]

על הנסים ועל הפרקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה:‏
We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our fathers in other days at this season.

בימי הרג ואבדן של מלחמת העולם, כשקמו משנאיך על עמך להכחידו מגוי, נהרגו ונאבדו שש מאות רבוא מאחינו מנער ועד זקן על קדוש שמך. המיטו כליה על קהילות בישראל וטמאו בתי תפלתם והשמידו בתי מדרשם ושרפו באש כתבי קדשם. אז עלתה שארית הפליטה מגיא ההריגה לבקש מפלט עם אחיהם בארץ אבותינו.‏
In the days of world-wide war and destruction, six million of our people were brutally slain because they bore Your name. Age-old communities were devastated, their sanctuaries desecrated, their houses of learning razed, and their sacred treasures burned. It was then that the scattered remnants of the helpless and the homeless sought refuge with their brothers in the Land of our Fathers.

עת נסגרו שערי ארץ אבות בפני פליטים, ואויבים בארץ ושבעה עממים בעלי בריתם קמו להכרית עמך ישראל, אתה ברחמיך הרבים עמדת להם בעת צרתם, רבת את ריבם, דנת את דינם, חיזקת את לבם לעמוד בשער ולפתח שערים לנרדפים ולגרש את צבאות האויב מן הארץ. מסרת רבים ביד מעטים, ורשעים ביד צדיקים, ולך עשית שם גדול וקדוש בעולמך ולעמך ישראל עשית תשועה גדולה ופרקו כהיום הזה.‏
When the gates to our ancestral home were closed to them, and enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, O Lord, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble. You defended them and vindicated them. You gave them the courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge, and to free the land of its armed invaders. You delivered the many into the hands of the few, the guilty into the hands of the innocent. Because You wrought great victories and miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel to this day, You revealed Your glory and Your holiness to all the world.
The main problem here is the “Shoah & Tekumah” narrative, so powerfully symbolized by the proximity of Holocaust Memorial Day to Soldier’s Memorial Day and Yom ha-Atzmaut. I have already mentioned my objections to this approach, a subject which deserves deeper discussion on some other occasion. Let me just reiterate that the kernel for the future State was laid by the Hebrew Yishuv that developed here from 1880 on, with its creation of social institutions, settlements both collective and private, economic enterprises, the revival of the Hebrew language, the precursors of the IDF in various defense groups such as Hashomer, and later the Hagana, Palmaḥ, and other groups, etc. More than that, one strongly feels that this nusah is an expression of the attitudes and mythologies of American Jews, with all that implies, rather than an Israeli cultural expression.

The formula “You gave them the courage to meet their foes” (hizakta et libam la’amod basha’ar) is an important statement, uttered in th e same spirit as the opening words of Version #1 above. It is interesting that, in my first exposure to any public celebration of Yom ha-Atzmaut, at religious Kibbutz Tirat Zvi in 1964, the dining hall was festooned with an enormous banner bearing the verse, which seemed to serve as a ind motto for the holiday: “and you shall remember the Lord your God, for He is the one who gives you power to do valiantly” (Deut 8:18).

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

ג) תנועת המסורתית בישראל: סדור ואני תפלתי. ירושלים: כנסת הרבנים בישראל והתנועה המסורתית, תשנ”ח, ע’ 78-79.‏
3. Israeli Masorati Movement — Siddur Va-ani Tefillah [“And I Am Prayer”] (Jerusalem: Rabbinical Assembly of Israel and the Masorati Movement, 1998), pp. 78-79.

על הנסים ועל הפרקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה:‏
For the miracles and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and for the deliverance and for the wars that You did for our fathers and for us in those days at this time.

בימי שיבת ציון כשהיה עמך ישראל מפזר ומפרד בין העמים, קמו חלוצים לבנות מחדש את ארץ ישראל, כדי לקבץ בתוכה את גלויותינו. וכשצעקו שרידי [ה]שואה לגאולה, ונסגרו שערי ארץ אבות בפניהם, אז קמו עמים להכחידנו מגוי, שלא יזכר שם ישראל עוד. ואתה ברחמיך הרבים עמדת להם בעת צרתם, רבת את ריבם, דנת את דינם, חיזקת את לבם. נפתחו שערים לפלטה גדולה וגורשו צבאות האויב מן הארץ. מסרת רבים ביד מעטים, וזדים ביד בני בריתך, ולך עשית שם גדול וקדוש בעולמך, ולעמך ישראל עשית תשועה גדולה כהיום הזה. ואחר כך באו בניך לבנות ולהבנות בארצנו, והכריזו עצמאות במדינתנו, וקבעו את יום העצמאות הזה, לשמוח בו ולהודות בו לשמך הגדול, על נסיך ועל ישועתך ועל נפלאותיך.‏
In the days of the return to Zion, when your people Israel was scattered and spread among the nations, the pioneers arose to rebuild the Land of Israel, to gather therein our exiles. And when the remnants from the Holocaust cried out for redemption, and the gates of the land of the fathers was closed to them. And nations rose up to destroy us from being a nation, that the name of Israel might no longer be remembered. Then You in Your great mercies stood by them in their time of trouble, you fought their quarrel, judged their judgment, and strengthened their hearts. The gates were opened wide to a great refuge, and the armies of the enemy were expelled from the land. You delivered the many into the hands of the few, the evildoers into the hands of those of your covenant, and You made a great and holy name in Your world, and for Your people Israel you made a great deliverance as this day. Then your children came to build and to be built upon our land, and independence in our own state was declared, and this Day of Independence was fixed to rejoice therein and to thank Your great name for Your miracles and salvation and miracles.
This version strikes a good balance among the various elements mentioned thus far. It begins with the origins of the State in a movement of “Return to Zion,” of pioneering and settlement, while avoiding several of the drawbacks of the Kibbutz Hadati version. Yet that version has several poetic sparks that are somehow lacking here.
Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

ד) תנועה הרפורמית בישראל: סדור העבודה שבלב. ירושלים: יהדות מתקדמת בישראל, תשנ”ח. ע’ 64.‏
4. Israel Reform Movement — Siddur ha-Avodah shebelev [Service of the Heart]. (Jerusalem: Progressive Judaism in Israel, 1998), p. 64.

על הנסים ועל הפרקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה:‏
For the miracles and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and for the deliverance and for the wars that You did for our fathers and for us in those days at this time.

בימי שיבת ציון השניה, כשבאה שארית הפליטה מגיא ההריגה ובני עמך מכל תפוצותיהם, שלטו זרים בארץ קדשנו ונעלו שערים בפני נרדפים. אז קמו שבעה גויים להכרית עמך ישאל. ואתה ברחמיך הרבים עמדת להם בעת צרתם להקהל ולעמוד על נפשם, ללמד ידיהם לקרב ואצבעותיהם למלחמה. מסרת רבים ביד מעטים, וזדים ביד בני בריתך, ולך עשית שם גדול וקדוש בעולמך, ולעמך ישראל עשית תשועה גדולה כהיום הזה. ‏
In the days of the Second Return to Zion, when the saved remnant came from the valley of destruction, and the children of our people from all their exiles dispersions. Strangers ruled our holy land, and the gates were shut to the pursued, and seven nations rose up to destroy Your people Israel. And You in Your great mercies stood by them in their time of trouble, that they might gather together and stand up for their lives, to teach their hands battle and their fingers war. You delivered many into the hands of the few, and evildoers into the hands of the children of your covenant, and You made a great and holy name in your world, and to your people Israel you made a great deliverance as this day.

ואחר כך נקבצו בניך לבנות ולהבנות בארצך, וקבעו את יום העצמאות הזה, יום חג ושמחה ולהודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול. וכשם שעשית נסים לראשונים, כך תעשה לאחרונים, ותושיענו בימים האלו כבימים ההם. ‏
Then your children came to build and to be built in our land, and fixed this Day of Independence as a day of rejoicing, to thank and to praise Your great name. And as You have performed miracles for the former ones, so may you do for the latter, and save them in these days as in those days.
This text is very similar to that of the Israel Masorati movement, almost as if one were a conscious revision or partial reworking of the other. There are nevertheless several interesting differences of nuance: this version takes care to refer to Zionism as “the Second Return to Zion” (the Hebrew term Shivat Zion ordinarily being used to refer to the Return led by Ezra and Nehemiah at the beginning of the Second Temple). The use of Psalm 144:1 is appropriate, and adds a very nice poetic touch. Again, the main difference from the Masorati and Kibbutz Hadati versions is the neglect of the pre-history of the Yishuv and the over-emphasis on the Holocaust. But this version also alludes to the mass aliyah of Oriental Jewry, together with the she’erit hapleitah from Europe, which was a central formative experience for Israeli society.

Final Thoughts

The above is no more than a very quick, sketchy, impressionistic review of these texts. Much more could be said about the ideas and concepts, and what an ideal version should contain. There is also need for closer analysis of the halakhic sources, to see just how a new Al ha-Nissim might be introduced.

Finally, the events of the past eighteen months [i.e., as of May 2002] prompt long and serious thoughts about the meaning of Zionism. Any nusaḥ to be accepted must be appropriate for grave times as these, as well as for happier and more optimistic times. My main feeling as I sit writing these words, while listening to the melancholy songs for Yom Hazikaron on the radio, is that the deep-felt desire for normal national existence is as distant as ever. In telegraphic form: over these long months I have reached the painful conclusion that our conflict with the Arab world (not only the Palestinians) goes far beyond socio-economic factors that can be solved merely by “ending the occupation,” as my friends on the Left insist, and have deep existential, cultural and religious roots and that, if in transformed form, the age-old anomalies of Jewish existence have followed us to our homeland for the foreseeable future.


We are grateful to Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman for sharing his reflections on the liturgy for Yom HaAtzmaut, first written in late 2003 and published on his website in 2006. The liturgical excerpts from the referenced siddurim and their translations are copyright to their respective publishers and are included in this piece under the terms of “fair use” (in U.S. Copyright Law) and “fair dealing” (in Israeli Copyright Law). Otherwise, the content of this work is shared with a CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported license. The Open Siddur Project urges all ḥavurot and kehillot, sects and denominations sponsoring liturgists to craft prayers and liturgical praxis, to please share their work, tachlis, with free-culture attribution licenses so that their work can become part of the shared, collective mesorah, that is Judaism’s spiritual practice and living tradition. It is especially important to share these new works with free-culture licenses in the age of Copyright because special days like Yom HaAtzmaut inspire new prayers that are composed for the Jewish people but due to Copyright Law are immediately restricted from adoption, adaptation, and redistribution. [– Aharon Varady].

7 comments to על הניסים ליום העצמאות | Al Hanissim for Yom ha’Atsmaut: Theological and Liturgical Reflections, by Yehonatan Chipman (2003)

  • Avatar The Hierophant

    Please contribute your Yom Haatzmaut prayer or practice here with a CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported license.


  • עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לָנוּ בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.‏

    כְּשֶׁעָמְדוּ צִבְאוֹת עֲרָב עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבִקְשוּ לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד אֶת יוֹשְׁבֵי אַרְצֶך, מִנַּעַר וְעַד זָקֵן טַף וְנָשִׁים, וּבָהֶם עַם שְׂרִידֵי חָרֶב אֲשֶׁר נִצְּלוּ מִתּׁפֶת הָאֵש שֶׁל שׂוֹנְאֶךָ, אֶחָד מֵעִיר וּשְׁנַיִם מִמִּשְׁפָּחָה, וְשִׂבְּרוּ לִמְצֹא מָנוֹחַ לְכַף רַגְלָם בְּאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר הִבְטַחְתָּ לָהֶם. וְאַתָּה בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים עָמַדְתָּ לָנוּ בְּעֵת צָרָתֵנוּ, הֵפַרְתָּ אֶת עֲצָתָם וְקִלְקַלְתָּ אֶת מַחֲשַׁבְתָּם, זָקַפְתָּ קוֹמָתֵנוּ וְקוֹמַמְתָּ אֶת חֵרוּתֵנוּ, רַבְתָּ אֶת רִיבֵנוּ, דַּנְתָּ אֶת דִּינֵנוּ, נָקַמְתָּ אֶת נִקְמָתֵנוּ, מָסַרְתָּ רַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים, טְמֵאִים בְּיַד קְדוֹשִׁים, וְעָשִׂיתָ לְךָ שֵׁם גָּדוֹל וְקָדוֹש בְּעוֹלָמֶךָ, וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשוּעָה גְּדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, הִדְבַּרְתָּ עַמִּים תַּחְתֵּנוּ וּלְאֻמִּים תַּחַת רַגְלֵנוּ, וְנָתַתָּ לָנוּ אֶת נַחֲלָתֵנוּ, אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן לִגְבוּלוֹתֶיהָ, וְהֶחֱזַרְתָּנוּ אֶת מְקוֹם מִקְדַּש הֵיכָלֶךָ.‏

    כֵּן עֲשֵׂה עִמָּנוּ נֵס וָפֶלֶא לְטוֹבָה, הָפֵר עֲצַת אוֹיְבֵינוּ, וְדַשְׁנֵנוּ בִּנְאוֹת אַרְצֶךָ, וּנְפוּצוֹתֵינוּ מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת הָאָרֶץ תְּקַבֵּץ, וְנִשְׂמַח בְּבִניַן עִירֶךָ וּבְתִקּוּן הֵיכָלֶךָ וּבִצְמִיחַת קֶרֶן לְדָוִד עַבְדֶּךָ בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ, וְנוֹדֶה לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל.‏

    From the Kibbutz Hadati movement. This text appears in גואל ישראל, פרקי אורות ליום העצמאות ויום ירושלים מבית מדרשו של מרן הראי”ה קוק עם סידור תפילה, p.169, published by רעות Yeshivat Ramat Gan’s publishing house. Thank you to Rav Ahia Shlomo Amitai for providing a scan of this prayer to proofread a transcription available at Hebrew Wikisource. Can someone please help to translate this?

  • Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

    עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻרְקָן, וְעַל הַגְבוּרוֺת, וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֺת, וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֺת שֶׁעָשִֽׂיתָ לַאֲבוֺתֵֽינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וּבַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.‏
    For the miracles, for the deliverance, for the heroism, for the victories and for the triumphs which You ensured for our ancestors in other days and in our time:

    בִּימֵי שִׁיבַת בָּנִים לִגְבוּלָם, בְּעֵת תְּקוּמַת עַם כְּאַרְצוֺ כִּימֵי קֶֽדֶם, נִסְגְרוּ שַׁעֲרֵי אֶֽרֶץ אָבוֺת בִּפְנֵי אַחֵֽינוּ פְּלִיטִי חָֽרֶב, וְאוֺיְבִים בָּאָֽרֶץ וְשִׁבְעָה עֲמָמִים בַּעֲלֵי בְרִיתָם קָֽמוּ לְהַכְרִית עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל,‏
    וְאַתָּה בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים, עָמַֽדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם,‏
    רַֽבְתָּ אֶת־רִיבָם,‏
    דַּֽנְתָּ אֶת־דִּינָם,‏
    חִזַֽקְתָּ אֶת־לִבָּם לַעֲמוֺד בַּשַּֽׁעַר,‏
    וְלִפְתֹּֽחַ שְׁעָרִים לַנִּרְדָפִים וּלְגָרֵשׁ אֶת־צִבְאוֺת הָאוֺיֵב מִן הָאָֽרֶץ.‏
    מָסַֽרְתָּ רַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים, וּרְשָעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים, וּלְךָ עָשִֽׂיתָ שֵׁם גָּדוֺל וְקָדוֺשׁ בְּעולָמֶךָ, וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִֽׂיתָ תּשׁוּעָה גְדוֺלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֺם הַזֶּה.‏
    In the days when Your children were returning to their borders, at the time when our people revived in its land as in ancient days — the gates to the land of our ancestors were shut before those feeling the sword. When neighboring nations sought to defeat Your people Israel,
    You in Your Great Mercy stood by them in their time of trouble,
    You defended them in their battles,
    You vindicated them in their cause,
    You gave them courage to meet their foes,
    enabling them to open the gates to those seeking refuge,
    and to free the land of armies from without.
    You delivered the hands of the many into the hands of the few, the destroyers into the hands of the builders,
    and You brought great victories and miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel, revealing Your Glory and Holiness to all the world.

    Rabbi Jules Harlow for the Rabbinical Assembly. Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals (Rabbinical Assembly 1974) by the, p. 149.

  • Avatar Jeremy Schwartz

    I find the reference in several of these to the “seven nations” who attacked the nascent Israel to be problematic and even dangerous. “Seven nations” is a halachic category – the nations the Torah commands to be killed off, men, women and children. Chazal (our Sages of Blessed Memory) wisely declared already in Talmudic times that the “seven nations” no longer exist. I think we should stick with their wisdom and not revive a term with genocidal associations.
    I’ve also wondered how to honor the secular Zionists who were at the core of the “miracle” of Israel’s founding. Here’s language I composed. To be honest, I’m not satisfied with it, but offer it here hoping to contribute to further development:
    For the miracles and for the redemption and for the mighty acts and for the saving deeds and for the consolation that you accomplished for our ancestors in those days at this season.
    In the days of the pioneers of your people, Ben Gurion and his comrades, whom you once again caused to hear the words, “you shall choose life,” who heard and acted according to Your words, “you shall come into the land and plant.” In those days, a great multitude strayed into the worship of the idols of other nations, and also made of Your holy name a heavenly idol, that could never see and never live, heaven forbid. Then your children, the pioneers of your people, though they turned from Your name, yet heard Your voice, and tore down the idols, and brought Your living Presence back to the land which You gave to our ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. And on the fifth day of Iyyar, they proclaimed and established the State of Israel, the first fruit of the flourishing of our redemption. and this day is the Day of Independence for your people who have returned to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

    עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִֽׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ וּלְאִמּוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
    בִּימֵי חֲלוּצֵי עַמְּךָ בֶּן-גּוּרְיוֹן וְחֲבֵרָיו לָהֶם הִשְׁמַעְתָּ ֹשֵנִית וּבָחַרְתָּ בָּחַיִּים: שָׁמְעוּ וְעָשׂוּ כִדְבָרֶיךָ כָּאָמוּר תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ וּנְטַעְתֶּם: בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם סָרו עַם רַב לַעֲבוֹדַת אֱלִילֵי עַמִּים וְגַם עָשֹוּ מִשִׁמְךָ הַקָּדוֹשׁ אֱלִיל בַּשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶר לֹא יִרְאֶה וְלֹא יִחְיֶה חַס וְשָׁלוֹם: וּבָנֶיךָ חֲלוּצֵי עַמְּךָ פָּנוּ מִשִׁמְךָ וְאוּלָם שָׁמְעוּ אֶת קוֹלֶךָ וְנִתְּצוּ אֶת הָאֱלִילִים וְהֶחֱזִירוּ אֶת שְׁכִינָתְךָ בְּחַיִים אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לְשָֹרָה לְרִבְקָה לְרָחֵל וּלְלֵאָה: וּבַחֲמִשָּׁה יָמִים לְחֹדֶשׁ אִיָּיר הִכְרִיזוּ וְהֵקִימוּ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְֹרָאֵל רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאוּלָתֵנוּ: וְהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה הוּא יוֹם עַצְמָאוּת עַמְּךָ אֲשֶר חָזְרוּ לִהְיוֹת עַם חֹפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָּׁלַיִם:

  • The Hebrew texts above plus some others I’ve found can also be accessed at the following link in the easiest available form for editing and further use:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/b50bk1yy7rv9n98/al-hanisim-atzmaut-osef.doc

  • Zeev Kainan Zeev Kainan

    Note that in he first Conservative and Reform Al haNissim versions, the historical order of events is wrong: The declaration of independence *preceded* the invasion of the (seven) Arab armies, and it was not FOLLOWING the invasion. This was corrected in the new version of סידור ואני תפילתי – סידור ישראלי (fourth printing, 2017).
    * It will be respectful, in my humble opinion, not to distort the Conservative and Reform prayerbooks names with so many typos,
    e.g.: תנועת* הקונסרבטיבית בארה”ב: סרור* לימות החול
    *תנועת* המסורתית בישראל: סדור ואני תפלתי. *יאושלים*: כנסת *הרבמנין* *בישאראל
    תנועה* הרפורמית בישראל:

Comments, Corrections, and Queries


בסיעתא דארעא