Is there validity to the debate within small pockets of the Jewish world to fold Yom Hashoah into another remembrance day such as Tisha B'Av or the 10th of Tevet?
While Yom HaShoa has become an emotionally powerful day recalling the horrible events of the Holocaust, whether or not this is the ideal manner in which to annually commemorate these events is a bone of contention among some groups. The reasons are ritualistic as well as historiographical.
On the one hand, Yom HaShoa takes place during the month of Nissan. Traditionally, because of the occurrence of the festival of Passover during the month of Nissan, acts of mourning are curtailed (see Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 429:2). Consequently, among the indications of Nissan’s association with rejoicing rather than sadness, the Tachanun prayer is omitted, optional fasts are prohibited and eulogies at funerals are held to a minimum. Instituting a day during which the atrocities that were perpetrated against the Jewish people are recalled would appear to not be in the spirit of the month according to traditional Jewish sources..
Furthermore, the choice of the 27th of Nissan by the Israeli Kenesset for Holocaust Remembrance Day was the result of a political compromise. There was strong sentiment among secular Israelis that the Shoa should be commemorated on April 19th which marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. However, from the perspective of the Jewish calendar the beginning of the insurrection also coincided with the 15th of Nissan, the first day of the Passover festival. So by delaying the event to the 27th of Nissan, Pesach is over by then and the date is only a week before Yom HaAtzmaut, creating a linkage between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, a connection that some believe constitutes a true cause-and-effect relationship. Such premises, i.e., the aspect of the Shoa that we should remember is the armed heroic resistance to oppression and persecution, and that the Holocaust takes on meaning only in light of the establishment of the Jewish State, are controversial, to say the least.
The position that either Tisha B’Av or the Tenth of Tevet should serve as Yom HaShoa, is based upon not only objecting to disrupting the pristine happiness of Nissan, and taking issue with the ideological considerations listed above, but also whether the Holocaust should be seen as a unique, stand-alone event, or is it yet another instance, albeit profoundly greater in scope, of the persecutions and destructions that have affected the Jewish people from the time of the razing of the two Temples?
Whereas some Jews do not observe days like the 9th of Av or Asara B’Tevet, and therefore Yom HaShoa takes on a significance of its own, those who do acknowledge these other commemorations, are more likely to favor combining disasters, rather than establishing additional days of remembrance. The Tisha B’Av liturgy has been expanded to include elegies describing the Crusades as well as the Holocaust, in effect incorporated additional reminders of subsequent Jewish suffering beyond what took place during the Babylonian and Roman persecutions.
Individual Jews who do not know which day was the day of death of a relative for whom they were obligated to mourn would arbitrarily pick a date and observe it annually henceforth.But at one point in Jewish history the Tenth of Tevet became the popular one to serve that purpose.After the Sho’ah, the number of deaths whose dates were unknown were, as can be imagined, were great.The initial attempt to designate a date for the memorialization of all the dead during the Sho’ah – including those whose dates were unknown – was the Fourteenth of Nisan – the date of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.But traditionally, the month of Nisan could not include sad events so other dates were proposed.And, besides, the Fourteenth of Nisan was day before Passover!Both a leading Orthodox scholar as well a Conservative one argued for Tish’a B’Av.And indeed, many observances of that date will refer to the Sho’ah.In 1953 the Israeli Kenesset designated 27 Nisan as Yom HaSho’ah, despite the same misgivings expressed by those who objected to 14 Nisan.But this date has now become standard as the official commemorative date in the Federation world.Still, the final words has not been spoken on the matter.
From a liberal Jewish perspective, the themes of these holidays (remembrance and mourning) fit squarely with each other. As I see it, the issue revolves around the ancient Jewish tradition of merging secular, historical commemorations into spiritual or ancient agricultural festivals. For example, the night of remembering the Pesach offering was merged with the week of celebrating the springtime harvest of barley (Matzot) giving us a week long Passover celebration. It may be that the merger of holidays, to combine themes and to widen the breadth of the meaning of the holidays, is a way of continuing to make relevant holidays whose original focus is no longer held sacred or meaningful by current or future generations.
By merging these two commemorations, we link the spiritual nature of the older tradition with the practical memorial of one in our generation. As time moves forward, and the Holocaust becomes a distant memory, they merger would create an everlasting link grounded in a religious tradition of tying ancient rites with later experience. It does, however, make sense to wait a few generations before making this change. While holocaust survivors and their children inhabit the earth, it makes sense to honor them and the memory of their families by not reminding them that someday their experience will be part of history; albeit a sacred story handed down generation to generation. For now, allowing for separate commemoration honors those who lived the horror.
Finaly, combining these holidays would raise the Holocaust to the memorial level of the destruction of the Temple in the active memory of the community. And, for members of the Jewish world who value human life above civic and religious structures, making this link also elevates the destruction of the Temple to that of a great loss of life. Either way, one elevates the other, and the holiday has greater meaning for more members of the community than either did before.
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