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.
BZ, nice analysis. I like the idea of krystal nacht. Of course, as it goes with cultural production, once there is consensus on something it is very hard to change it (not that we shouldn't try). I'm excited to read the rest of the series. : ) Hopefully you will go though all the holidays, thus freeing me from the cycle of Jewish eating, guilt, and victory that constitutes the Jewish calendar.ReplyDelete
Don't get your hopes up too much - most of the holidays will be upheld.$ReplyDelete
Masechet Ta'anit 31a (the very last words of the most intense masechet I've ever learned):ReplyDelete
Amar R' Elazar: atid Hakadosh Baruch Hu la'asot machol la'tzadikim v'hu yoshev beineihem b'gan eden v'kol echad v'echad mareh b'etzba'o, sh'ne'emar:
"va'amar bayom hahu: hinei eloheinu zeh. Kivinu lo v'yoshianu. Zeh adonai kivinu lo, nagilah v'nismecha bishuato." /
Rabbi Elazar said: in a time to come, the Holy Blessed One will create a dance for the righteous and sit in their midst in the Garden of Eden. Each person will point their finger [at God in the middle of the dance], as it says "On that day they shall say: 'This is our God. We trusted in God and God delivered us. This is Adonai in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice and exalt in God's deliverance!'" (Isaiah 25:9)
Keyn yihiyeh ratzon.
(And more to follow once I arrive in NYC.)
Jeez. You take these things too much to heart. Chill out, man...ReplyDelete
Here is why I *do* celebrate Yom Ha-Shoah: Because the Jewish people needs a day to mourn the 6 million, and if I chose to mourn on any day other than the 27th of Nissan, I would not be able to do so as part of a larger community. To a large extent, this communal aspect of Jewish observance is why I practice the way I do to begin with -- not because separating dairy and meat, avoiding electricity on Shabbat, etc. make much sense on their own, but because through these practices I create a place for myself in the Jewish community.
As for your specific objections:
1) I thoroughly agree. Nonetheless, Jews have been observing a period of mourning beginning in Nissan (on the second day of Passover, no less!) for centuries. Isn't it a bit silly to raise this objection now?
2) Again, I see your point. I think that the association of Yom Ha-Shoah with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is more a reflection of the general Jewish mentality of the time that the date was chosen than anything else.
3) I don't think that this teleology is the only way to construe the link between Yom Ha-Shoah and Yom Ha-Atsmaut. Historically, the sense of urgency that led to the creation of the Jewish state did draw energy from the Holocaust. To acknowledge this is not necessarily to imply that the Holocaust had to happen in order for the State of Israel to be born; it simply did happen that way. More importantly, on the symbolic level: Yom Ha-Atsmaut represents Jewish survival. It is a time to remind ourselves that, in spite of the enormous tragedy of the Holocaust, Hitler did not ultimately win.
Watch out, Ben! Someone at Cross-Currents agrees with you...ReplyDelete
MUST TOTALLY RESENT AND DISAGREE. AND, IN ADDITION, AT THE END, POINT OUT ONE RIDICULOUS ASSUMPTION YOU HAVE.ReplyDelete
I can condradict many of your claims, but a major disagreement should be on your most ridiculous suggestion, in my humble opinion, that the six million victims of the holocaust have nothing to do with the establishment of the State of Israel. Sure they have. Ever since the establishment of World Zionist Organization by Dr. Herzl in 1897, the Zionist leaders felt that the ground is burning under the European Jewry legs and that time is off for the lives of millions, considering the huge changes in nations history and political thought - to the good (modern and open society) and the bad (modern armies and gigantic power acquired by modern states and regimes). Old-time Charedi world leaders who fiercely opposed Zionism and misled their cattle to think that nothing is urgent, in Yiddish "WOS BRENT", are to be utterly blamed of distracting millions of Jews from establishing a stronger Jewish national movement who might - I'm not saying surely would - have pushed the British authorities to give this persecuted and tortured nation a homeland, to where so many could fled away when the disaster has come finally.
All of Zionist movement leaders' fears - even, nightmares - coming from what Dr. Herzl had seen at the Dreyfuss Trial, and Ben-Gurion and et al saw during post- WW I pogroms in Russia, i.e. the consequences of anti-Semitism, resulting directly from thousands of years of blind hatred and awful gentile and (later) Christian propaganda against the Jews, have finally gathered and formed the modern horrible assaults on free mind and liberty, in the shape of Italian Fascist regime (1922) and German Nazi takeover (1933). Nothing came as surprise to those whose eyes were open to foresee. Unfortunately, and to our horror, it was already too late at that time to prevent the catastrophe from happening. Only when all was finished after the Nazi monster was defeated, when the hundreds of thousands of survivors have found just what Zionist leadership tried for years to warn them unsuccessfully from - that Europe will vomit its Jewry and slaughter everyone who doesn't listen, those feeble people turned to the only hope remaining - establishing a national state which should be their last shelter on Earth.
Do all these historical facts above still not convince you, that Israel as a national state must hold a national memorial day for the events which took place between 1918 and 1945?!
I must use quite rude language and say, go learn history before making such ridiculous analysis. Every fair and sincere historian would vehemently disagree with you about that. Those Jews weren't massacred just because some "unknown" people from Germany just out of the blue went and found Jews they specifically hated. There's a long-time background for the atrocities performed and that was of Jews prone to be vulnerable and helpless, stimulating Nazis and cooperating forces to harm these innocent people, because that's how the wild nature of mankind works. The best you can do about that is to protect the potential victims and provide them with some self-defense capabilities, i.e. in case of a whole nation, a homeland.
Now to your totally mistaken assumption, about that you need to "observe" a memorial day for holocaust, or that someone expects you to do that particularly on State of Israel memorial day. That's insane. First of all, you're *WRONG* about that Nissan 27th is no date of special meaning. It is the day that revolt chief headquarters in the famuos Mila 18th Street in Warsaw ghetto bunker was destroyed and that the fight was actually brutally ended by the enormous force used by German SS and Gestapo, including artillery fire and suffocating underground hiding in the days before with gas. Commemorating such an event, which in contrast to your claim represent not only some glory of Jewish defense but still, also, the startling and stunning hate, evil and cruelty practiced by Nazi Germany (read an English translation of SS-General Jurgen Strup's report on the extermination of the fighting ghetto, claiming his forces killed 57,000 "bandits", actually meaning all remaining Jews including their babies if any). I would really strongly recommend again that you learn before speaking. It's a truly very sad mistake. Israel memorial day is as far as I can judge being held on the right time. And the connection to what happened in the years to come later, 1946-1948 - commemorated in Israel on Independence Day eve, as the Memorial day for Israel IDF soldiers and wars casualties, is just natural from this point of view. So all in all, the State holocaust memorial day is just paying what the state owns those 6 million victims. You personally are never asked to do anything about that, and it's too arrogant, sorry to tell you that, come out and try to convince people that the reasonable and thinkful decisions of State of Israel Comission for Emblems and Ceremonies, which has been comprised during the years of professors, rabbis, scholars, philosophers and thinkers, authors, poets and other devoted persons, is just nothing, Because you say so. And for *WRONG* information and assumptions.
It is evident from your comment that English is not your first language, so your total lack of reading comprehension is somewhat understandable, but as it stands, you are arguing with a straw man. I offer $50 to anyone who can find the part in my post where I said that Israel shouldn't have a Holocaust memorial day, or that Israel shouldn't exist as a Jewish homeland.
In fact, I affirmed the idea of a Holocaust memorial day (in Israel and elsewhere) and quibbled only with the date.
And I'll accept the premise that the State of Israel, had it existed at the time, might have prevented some of the 6 million deaths. But that's no consolation to the 6 million victims who did in fact die.
There's a long-time background for the atrocities performed and that was of Jews prone to be vulnerable and helpless, stimulating Nazis and cooperating forces to harm these innocent people,
Are you blaming the victims here? They were "asking for it"?
First of all, you're *WRONG* about that Nissan 27th is no date of special meaning. It is the day that revolt chief headquarters in the famuos Mila 18th Street in Warsaw ghetto bunker was destroyed and that the fight was actually brutally ended by the enormous force used by German SS and Gestapo, including artillery fire and suffocating underground hiding in the days before with gas.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on Erev Pesach, which for obvious reasons was not chosen as the date of Yom Hashoah, though it wasn't without its proponents at the time. According to several online sources, Mila 18 was destroyed on May 8, 1943, corresponding to 3 Iyar, the date on which Yom Ha'atzma'ut will be celebrated this year. (In a year when Yom Ha'atzma'ut isn't moved, 3 Iyar would be the day before Yom Hazikaron. So if that date were to be chosen as Yom Hashoah, it would solve the Nisan problem, but intensify the Yom Ha'atzma'ut problem.) Depending on definitions, the uprising continued through 11 Iyar or 2 Sivan.
There is nothing notable about the 27th of Nisan as distinct from the 26th or the 28th. It was chosen because it was during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and close to Pesach but not too close.
Commemorating such an event, which in contrast to your claim represent not only some glory of Jewish defense but still, also, the startling and stunning hate, evil and cruelty practiced by Nazi Germany
Tragically, the hate, evil, and cruelty practiced by Nazi Germany was so extensive in scope that massive atrocities occurred every day of the year for several years, so if this is the standard, then arguments could be made in support of any date for Yom Hashoah.
You personally are never asked to do anything about that, and it's too arrogant, sorry to tell you that, come out and try to convince people that the reasonable and thinkful decisions of State of Israel Comission for Emblems and Ceremonies, which has been comprised during the years of professors, rabbis, scholars, philosophers and thinkers, authors, poets and other devoted persons, is just nothing, Because you say so.
Appeal to authority.
I didn't call these people stupid or ignorant; I said that I disagree with their decision. Their decisions may be reasonable and thinkful [sic], but also represent a secular Zionist ideology that I do not share, so I'm proposing alternative solutions that reflect my religious Jewish ideology.
There may be little hope of changing an entrenched national observance in Israel, but perhaps Diaspora Jewish communities will start to reconsider whether it makes sense to follow the Israeli government on this issue, and as a member of Diaspora Jewish communities, it is my place to have a say in what those communities do.
My blog is a place where I post my opinions. If you don't think my opinions are of value, I don't understand why you're wasting your time reading and responding to it.
Another thing I like about commemorating haShoa on Tisha b'Av - it implies by association that (like the destruction of the Temple) we will be mourning and telling the story of this terrible loss of life and culture for thousands of years, and (like the creation of rabbinic Judaism) we will rebuild out of the ashes a culture that is vibrant and holy.ReplyDelete
I first read this six years ago and it's become almost a ritual that I come back and read it every year (I hope that doesn't mean I am "observing" Yom HaShoah after all!).ReplyDelete
I like the 16 Cheshvan idea. But I am also satisfied with the Martyrology section of Yizkor as a remembrance. It is powerful, in the presence of a large communal gathering. And it has the advantage of happening four times a year, thus driving home the point that Nazi cruelty was not bound by the seasons and was not somehow either more cruel or more heroic on one day relative any other.