The problem is with the Knesset's choice of 27 Nisan (26 Nisan this year to avoid Friday) as the date for the national holiday. [BTW, even though the main Knesset website is in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, the Yom Hashoah page is in only Hebrew and English. Something about that doesn't sit well.] I believe that this date (which isn't the anniversary of any particular event) fails to show proper respect to the memory of the victims and to the appropriate role of the Shoah in the evolving Jewish tradition.
This is an exceedingly rare occasion, when I see eye-to-eye with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. (Generally I cannot abide their antidisestablishmentarianism.)
Why 27 Nisan is a bad idea:
1) [This was the Chief Rabbinate's original objection in the 1950s:] The month of Nisan, containing Passover, is the month of redemption when public mourning is traditionally forbidden. Nisan is associated with past redemption as well as the ultimate future redemption, at least according to Rabbi Yehoshua (RH 11a). I don't know or care whether the Exodus from Egpyt factually happened (ok, the Chief Rabbinate would not concur in this part), because it is more than a mere historical event. Yes, we have long incorporated into Pesach itself the idea that the joy of redemption is lessened due to suffering: we pour out ten drops of wine at the seder for the ten plagues, and we abbreviate hallel on the last six days of Pesach. However, it is one thing to say that archetypal redemption is diminished by archetypal suffering, and quite another to say that archetypal redemption is diminished by a particular instance of suffering, even a particular instance as unfathomably massive as this one. "The Holocaust changed everything" is undeniably true in regard to the historical journey of the Jewish people, but we cannot allow it to be true in regard to our mission of redeeming the world. It is myopic to think that the Holocaust is unique in history, when there have been attempts to wipe out the Jewish people for thousands of years, and genocide continues around the world to this day.
2) The full name of the day is Yom Hashoah v'Hagevurah: Day of the Holocaust and of Heroism. The Nisan date was chosen in order to place the memorial day close to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, whose final battle began during Pesach. Rabbi Michael Strassfeld addresses this in The Jewish Holidays:
Its connection with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising seems to me to make us agree with those who would desecrate the memory of all the 6 million by emphasizing only those who engaged in armed resistance against the Nazis. It reflects a defensiveness about--and thus an acknowledgement of some truth in--the statements made by those who accuse the Jews of being led to slaughter as sheep. To emphasize the Warsaw Ghetto revolt is to accept those critics' field of discourse by trying to prove that some Jews did fight back. The Warsaw Ghetto should be remembered, but I am not willing to imply that its defenders were more heroic than any other of the 6 million, or, what is even worse, to imply even a subliminal embarrassment for those Jews who did not fight back.3) Yom Hashoah is always followed one week later by Yom Ha'atzma'ut (Israel Independence Day) , and the two days are firmly connected in the standard Zionist myth. [I am not using the word "myth" pejoratively, but simply to mean a narrative, true or false, that holds strong symbolic value. "Judaism is the myth around which I organize my life."--ER] As Yom Hashoah leads into Yom Ha'atzma'ut, the implied teleology is that the 6 million died as martyrs so that the State of Israel could be established. This is obscene. Just as the victims of September 11 did not give their lives to protect freedom, the victims of the Shoah did not give their lives for the State of Israel or any higher purpose. It is an insult to their memory to suggest that a net positive effect resulted from their deaths. They were murdered senselessly, and their deaths must be remembered in senselessness.
Possible alternative dates: (none of them original)
1) Commemorate the Shoah on Tisha B'Av or on one of its satellite fasts (the Chief Rabbinate originally proposed 10 Tevet). This would place Yom Hashoah in harmony with the existing liturgical calendar in just the way that putting it in Nisan doesn't. (Some may say that it is already in such harmony by being juxtaposed to Yom Ha'atzma'ut as discussed above, but perhaps the Jewish religious narrative has to diverge from the Israeli narrative.) Tisha B'Av et al. are already devoted to mourning and tragedy. Remembering the Holocaust would give 10 Tevet (or whichever day) fresh meaning, when thinking about Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem just doesn't do it for us anymore.
I acknowledge the counterargument that this would be inappropriate, because a theme of Tisha B'Av (etc.) is that the destruction was caused by our sins, and placing the Holocaust into this paradigm would be blaming the victims. However, I am not convinced, because (a) Tisha B'Av is about more than the destruction of the Temples; it has been connected to many tragedies throughout history and represents archetypal national mourning just as Pesach represents archetypal redemption, (b) though the victims were not responsible for the Shoah happening, we are responsible for ensuring that it doesn't happen again.
1a) The Fast of Esther??? Ok, it only works on paper. The story of Purim, beneath the masks, is indeed a chilling reminder of how close we can come to total annihilation. But I think in practice, a full-on Holocaust commemoration (with name readings and the siren) would be too much for the day before Purim.
2) R. Strassfeld goes on to propose 16 Cheshvan, the anniversary of Kristallnacht. (Indeed, my parents' synagogue was founded by German refugees in the 1940s, and has been commemorating the Holocaust on the closest Shabbat to November 9 since before Yom Hashoah existed.) This date has particular resonance with me since my grandmother was still in Berlin on Kristallnacht. Though the situation had been getting gradually worse for years (enough for my other grandmother and her family to leave for the US in 1936), Kristallnacht was the moment when it was clear that it would not get better. Unlike the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which represents the minority who engaged in armed resistance, Kristallnacht represents the full scope of the Shoah. And instead of the inappropriate pessimism of diminishing the joy of Nisan and the inappropriate optimism of leading into Yom Ha'atzma'ut, bitter Cheshvan (as the world (ok, the northern hemisphere) moves toward darkness and cold) is the month about nothing, the one month containing no feast or fast days. The destruction of 6 million lives served no greater purpose; it leaves behind only bitterness.
May we be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and may all of humanity learn from the lessons of the Shoah.
Next in this series: Why I don't observe Lag Ba'omer.