(I wrote this post on 4th July, 2016, under the name “a Jewish approach to 4th July”)
To begin with, I should make it clear that I am not American, and that I have lived in the UK my whole life. However, I didn’t see any harm in writing a short insight on a Jewish approach to 4th July; I’m sure that my point can be applied to other secular holidays, as well!
People often ask; can Jews celebrate 4th July? Is it Halachically forbidden? The answer is that yes, Jews can and do celebrate, and no, it’s not forbidden. That said, you won’t see all too many Charedim (ultra Orthodox Jews) celebrating. A quick search revealed that Chabad Lubavitch doesn’t seem to have scheduled any 4th July themed events in recent history, although one Chabad website yielded an interesting article about the true meaning of independence. I’m no rabbi (obviously), however I can’t see anything Halachically objectionable about 4th July. Instead I’d call it an issue of minhag hamakom- if the Jews where you are celebrate it, then by all means celebrate. If not, it’s best to stick to community guidelines and mark the day in private.
With this in mind, there are a few things that Jews should remember on 4th July. Just as a groom breaks a glass on his wedding day to remember the destruction of the Temple, we should mark 4th July with retrospection and thought, as well as joy and revelry. Yes, independence is a great thing, and, yes, freedom of religion is something to be very thankful for. But what about assimilation and intermarriage? Are these things not brought on, in part, by modern American culture? There’s no denying that after centuries in America, moral standards have slipped. Jews are abandoning their roots; going off the derech; marrying non-Jews. It hurts to see, but it’s a price that we’ve paid for liberty and freedom in America.
Am I saying liberty is a bad thing? Not at all. By all means, go ahead and celebrate it. After all, gratitude is very important, and it would be questionable not to feel gratitude towards the American way of life for allowing freedom to be Jewish and freedom from persecution. We should probably value these things more. But I am saying that we need to accept that bad comes with the good, and that modern-day America isn’t always the best influence on young Jews. When celebrating independence, let’s take some time to think about what we’ve gained, and what we’ve lost.