The writer is Director Of Community Education and Summer Program at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and Lecturer in Tanakh and Jewish Thought at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi.
If you have been following me on FB, you will know my obsession with Koolulam, especially their 70th Yom Haatzmaut event. Prior to the event I was asked by 7 or 8 people, friends or talmidot/im, whether they could attend during the Omer. (If you watched the video, about half the participants were religious-looking.)
I am generally halakhically conservative (small “c”!) and I try to keep halakha even if it disrupts my lifestyle. I am committed to halakhic practice and I don’t knowingly contravene the law. So was it forbidden?
On the one hand this was a live event. So is it a problem? The Shulchan Arukh restricts weddings and haircuts as modes of marking the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim. Magen Avraham adds dancing and revelry to the list and I grew up not even going to movies in the Omer. Koolulam isn’t a wedding and did not include dancing, but was very much a public celebratory event. Could I go and allow others to go? I went to consult. One authoritative Posek said to me “It’s not really assur (not dancing); it’s not really muttar (public mass event). Go if it is important to you.” … But is that satisfactory?
The fundamental issue is deeper than the technical definition of “music”, dancing” etc. In truth, I was going as part of my Yom Haatzmaut experience, as a celebration of life in Israel, of a people revived. This was not simple entertainment. Having participated in Koolulam, it was incredibly uplifting. My wife has described the evening as “tefilla betzibur,” as the song’s words are essentially a prayer! – Just watch the “kavanna” in the video of the event! This was not merely a fun night out, although it was great fun. It was for us a Zionist expression, it touched a far deeper chord; it reflected faith, national unity, pride, hope, and so much more.
On the one hand, I see Halakha as embodying values which we aspire to imbibe. As such, I fully identify with the mourning of the Omer. It recalls Rabbi Akiva’s students who did not regard or interact with one another respectfully. In Israel today, we desperately need to be reminded annually about the need for a sensitive and respectful social environment and public discourse. The Omer contains a critical message. We wouldn’t want to be without it. The mourning of the Omer, especially for Askenazi kehillot, also marks massacres and Crusades throughout the ages; another important feature, (although they may have tragically been eclipsed by the Shoah.)
But here is the problem. These practices totally fail to absorb the huge historic shift that is Medinat Yisrael. There is a gaping dissonance between the traditional Omer rhythm and our Israel lives. The traditional Omer rubric doesn’t match the modern days of commemoration. For example, one does not recite Tachanun on Yom Hashoah because it falls in Nissan. If there is one day to say Tachanun, it is Yom Hashoah (I wrote about my struggle with this here http://thinkingtorah.blogspot.co.il/…/davening-on-yom-hasho…). And is Yom Haatzmaut merely a hiatus in a wider period of mourning?
Moreover, in general, on a daily basis, as I read the Siddur, I wonder how we can ignore the huge chessed of HKBH in our generation of Jewish independence and the restoration of land and nationhood. How can my Siddur be the same (excluding the prayer for the State) as my great-grandfather?
In this period of the year, we should be thanking God, celebrating our good fortune, revelling in the gifts that we feel as we move from Yom Haatzmaut to Yom Yerushalayim. Fundamentally, the Omer is a happy time; Ramban perceives it as a “chol hamoed” of sorts between Pesach and Shavuot where we mark “the love of our youth, our marriage with God, how we followed God through the wilderness” (Jeremiah 2) as we followed God from Egypt to Matan Torah at Mount Sinai. Where is the joy?
So, I felt that this was a sort of Yom Haatzmaut event which yes, contravened the traditional Omer, but in some way lived up to our new reality. I keep the Omer – not shaving; watching how I speak to others and how I interact in a positive and respectful way – but we are not in the terrible era of Bar Kochba when the Romans massacred Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim, and we are not in the period of the Crusades. We are in Medinat Yisrael, our thriving sovereign State, and I want to praise Hashem and celebrate my people for the ניסים ונפלאות שבכל יום עמנו, על גאולתינו ופדות נפשינו ועמינו – and so I went to Kululam.
I don’t know how to square the two systems.
Later I saw a post by an amazing Rav, Rabbi David Menachem, whose post reflected similar sentiments, going even further than my thoughts. See his post here: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=963243270498844&id=276752372481274 (h/t Yael Unterman)
I’m sharing these thoughts without the ability to articulate a solution. Maybe time will change things. Maybe we need to push these questions to halakhic authorities and thinkers greater than myself.