Every special day on the Jewish calendar is commemorated by verses and prayers and Israel’s Independence Day is no exception. Jews throughout Israel and the world will conduct a special reading from the book of Isaiah which describes the revival of the Jewish People. The reading begins:
This day they will halt at Nob;
they will wave their hand
towards the mount of Daughter Zion,
at the hill of Jerusalem.…A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a branch will bear fruit….
This is the reading designated for the eighth day of Passover. The bible doesn’t mandate an eighth day, it only designates seven days to the Passover holiday. Yet the Rabbis decreed several thousand years ago, that the Jews living in the exiles should keep an extra day of Passover since they lived far from the land of Israel, and had no way of knowing which day had been sanctified by the Talmudic court to be the first day of the month and thus weren’t sure exactly when Passover began and ended. This custom is continued to this day.
In the land of Israel, however, Passover is only 7 days and this particular reading from Isaiah was never read. Not until the establishment of the State of Israel.
In a debate in the Knesset on the 14th of March 1949, the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar was declared a national holiday which would be called Israel’s “Day of Independence”. Yet the Knesset Members felt strongly that this day should also be declared a Jewish religious holiday. “Is this day any different than other Jewish holidays of salvation?” they asked.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate was consulted and the two chief rabbis, Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Uziel, after long deliberation concerning the implications of such a religious holiday in Jewish law, made the following initial and historic statement:
“This elemental turning point which has come about through God’s mercy, His great salvation of us, requires us to proclaim the fifth day of Iyar, the day of the declaration of our independence in our country of Israel as a day of joy, and as the beginning of the Jewish redemption. As such, we must commemorate this day of miracles, and nullify the laws of national mourning in the days following the Passover holiday, by thanking God with special prayers and sermons in all of the synagogues.”
This was not an easy statement to make. Thousands of years had passed since the establishment the last of the religious holidays, Hannukah. The Jewish people, as they suffered through centuries of persecution in the exiles had become quite conservative in their practices and weren’t approving of new statements and practices. Yet the Chief Rabbis understood the need to commemorate this monumental development, in essence a miracle, in Jewish history. The prophecy of Isaiah continues:
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.
He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.
And that is what happened. The scattered people of Judah after undergoing the horrors of their long and arduous exile, began to stream to the Land of Israel. The process of redemption had begun. The Jewish People felt the great need to thank God for the privilege of returning to their land and becoming an independent nation. As Isaiah says so eloquently:
On that day you will say:
“I will praise you, Lord.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense ;
he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say:
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”