Before we begin let me take a moment to note that the following essay is not meant to be taken as a Halachic ruling one way or the other, nor to criticize anyone who observes these holidays, but to raise some issues that some may not have formerly been aware of. Conclusions are for each reader to draw for himself. It is beyond the scope of this essay to go too much in depth.
Beyond that, I hope to simply raise a couple of interesting points for each respective day that some readers may not be aware of. There is more than a little controversy over these days, and it is known that many celebrate them quite intensely, while others do not celebrate them at all. We, again, make no conclusions in this essay, but hope to shed some light on areas many are unfamiliar with.
The full name of this day is actually Yom HaShoah V’HaGevurah. It got this name due to the fact that the very idea of commemorating the Holocaust was at first objected to by many on the secular left who instead preferred to “celebrate” the Jewish uprisings and revolts against the Germans.
The Rabbanut, for their part, wanted to simply incorporate this commemoration into the already existing fast of Asara B’Teves. In the end, the Rabbanut capitulated to a distinct date. The date chosen was supposedly the date of the start of the Warsaw Uprising, though many contend the correct date was actually Erev Pesach. Many see an issue in accepting this day as the day to commemorate the Holocaust if for no other reason than it was not the Rabbanut’s original plan and was instead a concession to the secular left. Regardless of how one feels, this point should be noted.
In Jewish tradition, one usually commemorates the dead on the day of their passing, the yahrzeit. National days of mourning are rare within Jewish history.
We do, however, find two other such days of national mourning established within Jewish tradition. The first is Tisha B’Av on which one reads Kinnos and mourns — in addition to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash — many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. The second such day is the 20th of Sivan, originally instituted in the times of the Rishonim to commemorate and mourn the Crusades, and was further enacted after Tach V’Tat.
So, the concept of a national day of mourning does actually find some precedent in Jewish law and tradition. The debate today, beyond that, is over whether we, in modern times, have the ability or power to create such a day, with many falling down on either side of the issue.
No one can deny there is great merit in celebrating this day. One who feels that HaShem has bestowed upon us great kindness and wants to thank Him for that is well understood. A seudas hoda’ah for giving us the ability to live in Eretz Yisrael according to the Torah is a great way to do this.
Many Chareidim, though, will point out that this is not actually fully true. The current Israeli state is of secular nature, and it has continuously, from inception, veered away from Jewish religious ideals in countless major instances. Be that as it may, however, one simply cannot deny that Torah has flourished to unprecedented levels and numbers, with the financial support of the government. If one wants to thank HaShem over just this fact, it is understandable.
Saying Hallel on this day, though, is another issue entirely. The Gemara (Pesachim 117a) states that we say Hallel when a danger has passed — like after the story of Chanukah. When it comes to the state of Israel, though, the danger for the Jewish people within the state began with the declaration, not ended. Indeed R. Hershel Schachter writes that the Rav was against saying Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Nefesh HaRav). This is an age-old debate, and not one that we will resolve now, but it should be noted that, at the very least, the matter is far from simple.
This celebratory day is actually set on the day of the liberation of the Old City, not the final day of the war (like our celebration of Chanukah, for instance). Indeed, if one is to look into the protocols of the discussion of the Rabbanut over which day to celebrate this victory, one will see that many desired it to be on the 1st of Sivan, the actual day that the war ended. Additionally, it has the added benefit of being Rosh Chodesh and thus removing any question at all as to whether or not to say Hallel! (To be sure, R. Schachter writes as well that the Rav thought that there was even less reason to recite Hallel on Yom Yerushalayim than on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Divray HaRav).)
Any discussion of the month of Iyar cannot be complete with mention of Lag B’Omer. As has been discussed elsewhere on this website, there are some serious issues here. To start, something which Rema called a “minor day of joy” is now being celebrated more intensely than seemingly any Yom Tov actually mentioned in the Torah. R. Shimon Bar Yochai, who is probably best known for his learning Torah and insistence to learn to the exclusion of working for a living, is now "honored" by days of bittul Torah. (And we do not even know for sure that he died on this day!)
And this is all not even to mention the Tosefta (Shabbos 7:1) which states that dancing to fire is a pagan ritual and that the Sdai Chemed calls out other "minhagim" of dubious Halachic validity associated with this day. The Chasam Sofer similarly takes issue with making a pilgrimage to anywhere but Jerusalem. In summary, once again, there is more than meets the eye, and any celebration of this day should, in this author’s opinion be at the very least tempered with the aforementioned.
May HaShem grant us all the ultimate Geulah, happiness for all of Klal Yisrael, and the clarity of thought to fulfill our obligations to Him.