Tomorrow is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. At 8pm today a ceremony will be held at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, and at 10am tomorrow the country will come to a standstill for two minutes. Restaurants and movie theatres will be shut down and public institutions will lower the national flag to half-mast. Schools throughout the country will assemble the students for various activities and ceremonies to remember the six million.
And in the synagogues? Nothing.
When the date for this remembrance day – the 27th of Nissan – was set in 1951, the Chief Israel Rabbinate had a hard time accepting it, because some halachic views say mourning is prohibited during the month of Nissan. In fact, the Rabbinate back in 1949 that the Holocaust would be remembered as the “Kadish Day” on the 10th of Tevet, in parallel to the religious fast on that day commemorating the siege on Jerusalem (588 AD) which led to the destruction of the First Temple. The Holocaust did not get a fast of its own or even a special prayer; just a “kadish” on an existing fast day.
As I write this blog post I am unshaven, as is the custom during the days of Sefirat HaOmer, when Jews are in semi-mourning because of a plague that killed Rabbi Akiva’s students. And yet tomorrow there will be nothing special in the prayers I will say, and nothing out of the ordinary in how I behave. (I happen to be out of the country this week, so I won’t even hear the two-minute siren in the morning). From a religious perspective, I do much more to commemorate 24,000 deaths that occurred two millennia ago than to commemorate 6,000,000 murders that took place in the decade my parents were born in.
This state of affairs is testimony to the weakened state of Jewish religious leadership in general, and that of Israel in particular. The rabbis have lost the power to decree anything meaningful in religious terms, to affect our lives as Jews. The enormity of the Holocaust and the unresolvable theological dilemmas it has created in its wake, have highlighted the paralytic state of the rabbis. How else can one explain that a religious person fasts four times a year to remember events surrounding the destruction of the Temple, but does absolutely nothing of religious significance to remember the Holocaust?