Yom Hashoah: Proper Idea, Improper Timing?

Thursday will be marked as Yom Hashoah in Israel. The commemoration of the Holocaust was the subject of much debate in the years that followed it. The Rebbe had a unique opinion on what should and should not be done.

By Hershel Rosenbluh for Anash.org

Every year, one week before Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day, the State of Israel marks Yom Hashoah VeHagevurah (“Day of Disaster and Strength”). In English it’s known as “Holocaust Remembrance Day.” The law was established by the Israeli Knesset in 5719/1959 to recall the atrocities that the Nazis and their collaborators did to our people, and to remember the acts of heroism and uprising, most notably the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

The national remembrance ceremony includes survivors or their descendants lighting torches at the Yad Vashem museum. During the day, a siren sounds throughout the country and people stand still for two minutes to honor the six million. Wreaths are laid at all kinds of places to honor the victims. Nothing very religious.

Frum Jews in Eretz Yisroel have always taken issue with these secular ceremonies which aren’t in the spirit of Torah. Besides, the highlighting of secular uprisings takes the place of remembering the spiritual heroism for Yiddishkeit and mesiras nefesh for Torah and mitzvos. Yet, over the years, certain frum media have started identifying with the date by highlighting frum Jews and their heroes, be it acts of rescue or mesiras nefesh for Torah and mitzvos.

The Rebbe’s approach, however, was different.

In the farbrengen of Yud-Alef Nissan 5737/1977, the Rebbe addressed both the establishment of a Remembrance Day, as well as composing additional liturgy at the seder in honor of the kedoshim.

The Rebbe chose to use that pre-Pesach opportunity to address the more immediate issue: No matter how noble the intention or how appropriate it might be, the seder was the wrong time for it.

Regarding a Remembrance Day, the Rebbe said that it was out of the question to establish it during the month of Nissan when Shulchan Aruch prohibits anything that entails sadness, be it fasting, hespedim, or the like. PM Menachem Begin is said to have suggested at the time, that Tisha B’Av be that day, and the Rebbe was supposedly agreeable to that. But it never materialized.

There were those Gedolei Yisroel, like Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the Bobover Rebbe – both of whom suffered the horrors of the Holocaust – and others, that added kinus to recite on Tisha B’Av. The Rebbe was unhappy with that approach as well, saying that we are not of the caliber to change the nusach of any of the tefilos, and the kedoshim could be remembered through telling stories of their heroism and the like.

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The sicha of 11 Nissan 5737/1977 in Sichos Kodesh

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