Peninei Halakha

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14 – Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Knesset legislated that the twenty-seventh of Nisan is “A day of remembrance for the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust, devoted to the remembrance of the disaster that the Nazis and their collaborators brought upon the Jewish people, and the acts of heroism and revolt performed in those days.” “It will be marked throughout the State by a two-minute silence, during which all work and travel will cease. Memorial services, public gatherings, and commemorative ceremonies will be held on army bases and in educational institutions. Flags will be lowered to half-mast on public buildings, and radio broadcasts will express the special character of the day.” The two minutes of silence take place at 11:00 a.m., after which the official ceremonies begin.

However, unlike Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers of Tzahal, to which the Chief Rabbinate consented, the Torah sages objected to the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th of Nisan. After all, the month of Nisan is a time of joy, as the halacha determines: one does not say Tachanun or establish a public fast day during the entire month of Nisan (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 429:2). In addition, we refrain from delivering eulogies and saying memorial prayers (hazkarat neshamot) throughout the month (Mishna Berura 429:8). Many even have a custom not to visit cemeteries in Nisan, and one who has a relative’s yahrtzeit in Nisan visits the grave the day before the month begins. Therefore, it is clearly inappropriate to institute, in the month of Nisan, a memorial day for the holy souls who were murdered in the Holocaust. Rather, the proper time to remember them is on the fast days that the Rabbis already established in commemoration of the destruction of the Holy Temple, especially Tish’a B’Av (the Ninth of Av). Indeed, the Chief Rabbinate established the fast of Asarah B’Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet) as a day of general mourning (Yom HaKaddish HaKlalli) over the souls of the holy ones who were killed in the Holocaust, whose date of death is unknown.

It seems to me that the way to, nonetheless, endow the 27th of Nisan with some sort of appropriate character is to establish it as a day for cultivating the “Jewish family.” Undoubtedly, the last request of the six million who were tortured and killed in cruel and unusual ways was that the Jewish people should continue to live, multiply, and grow. They surely hoped that the terrible suffering that our nation underwent for thousands of years, especially during the Holocaust, should not be for naught, that every surviving Jew should do everything in his or her power to marry, bear children, and continue the legacy, in order to fulfill the verse “The more they afflicted them, the more they increased and spread out”(Shemot 1:12). Therefore, it is fitting that public figures get together on this day and come up with ways to encourage marriage and procreation, while the teachers speak about the great responsibility that we – the remnants of the sword – have in ensuring the continued existence and growth of the Jewish nation.

Additonally, when the siren wails, we should think how to further the development of the Jewish nation, in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Then, our participation in this practice will not be an expression of mourning or hazkarat neshamot, but an expression of rebirth and revival, which is appropriate for the month of Nisan. Furthermore, such thoughts would not constitute bitul Torah (wasting time when Torah could be studied). In any event, even one who does not have these things in mind should not separate himself from the community.

With God’s help, our judges will soon be restored as at first, and we will pose this question to them, and they will instruct us how and when it is fitting to memorialize our holy martyrs.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman