Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Erev Shabbat Israeli Declaration of Independence

Israeli independence is celebrated on the Hebrew date of the 5th of Iyar, rather than on the corresponding secular date of May 14th. In order to avoid any potential desecration of the Sabbath, the official date celebrating Israel’s independence fluctuates. Today, two consecutive days memorialize Israel’s national re-emergence as a modern state; the first, Yom Hazikaron, a sober day to remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and then Yom Ha’atzmaut, a joyous second day, one of national and religious celebration. If any of those two-days would abut Shabbat – either Friday night or Shabbat evening – the two days are moved earlier. This happens quite often.

Interestingly, the date determined for declaring independence has a similar history. When the British became the ruling power over the Holy Land in the aftermath of the Turkish defeat in World War I, the new hegemony was known as the “British Mandate.” After the Holocaust and the desire for mass immigration into what was then known as “Palestine,” the British, with Arab pushback, referred further decisions about independent Jewish and Arab states to the newly-formed United Nations. On November 29th, 1947, in a temporary headquarters in Queens, New York, the United Nations voted to partition the land into Jewish and Arab states. In response, the Arabs immediately commenced attacks against the Jews in Palestine.

The British set their departure date from “Palestine” on May 15, 1948, which fell on a Saturday, to mark the official end of the British mandate. The Zionist leaders who planned to declare an independent Jewish state knew that they could not inaugurates a Jewish state on Shabbat. Therefore, they declared independence prior to the onset of Shabbat, on Friday afternoon, May 14th. This accommodation to Shabbat is even enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, where it is stated (in English translation): “We declare that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th of Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People's Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People's Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called "Israel."

While Israel constantly struggles with finding a balance between being a democratic and a Jewish state, the State of Israel, when declaring its independence, began, and continues to honor Shabbat.

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