Setting a Date for Yom Hashoah

After much debate, a compromise date--satisfactory to none--is chosen.

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In this article Rabbi Greenberg explores the meaningfulness of Yom Hashoah. A related piece in this section, “Early Proposals for Holocaust Commemoration,” provides background for the article below, which is excerpted with permission of the author from The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays.

Earnest Bargaining

For two years [from 1948-50] in the Knesset [the Israeli parliament], the two main antagonists over the commemoration bill blocked each other. The turning point came in late 1950, when earnest bargaining began. 

The ghetto fighters and their allies wanted a special day, as close to 14-15 Nissan as possible [to mark the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto uprising]. Their terminus ad quem [latest acceptable date] was May 16, the date on which Jurgen Stroop, the German general, declared that the ghetto was totally destroyed.calendar

The Orthodox wanted to push the date as far back as possible from Passover--at the least, into the next month of Iyar (the second Hebrew month) so as not to infringe on the prohibitions of mourning and eulogies in the month of Nissan. If the date could be deferred to the month of Iyar, it would fall within the  Sefirat Ha'Omer mourning period [the period between Passover and Shavuot], which would make it less troublingly "innovative" to the current mindset of the halachic authorities.

A Leading Rabbi Holds Fast to Tradition

As the parties jockeyed back and forth, the Orthodox representatives, hoping for some leeway, privately sought out the leading posek (halakhic decisor) of the Orthodox right, a man of towering stature, the Chazon Ish. But the Chazon Ish was unyielding; it was prohibited to disrupt the joy of Nissan with any such public mourning. In effect, the Chazon Ish ruled that not the slightest hair on the head of tradition could be touched for the sake of remembering the Holocaust. The inherited practice was unaffected by historical experience; the halakhah and Judaism remained outside of history, untouched by the flux of time or the sledgehammer blows of the Holocaust.

The Labor Zionist establishment provided the "swing" vote that decided the outcome. They agreed with the Orthodox that Passover should be spared, and they felt that Holocaust Commemoration Day should precede Israel Independence Day, which occurred on the fifth of Iyar.

Reaching A Compromise

Finally, after much negotiating and sparring, the deal was struck (there were even rumors of job trading and other "payoffs" to obtain the necessary agreement, although a number of the key negotiators deny that story to this day). As close to Passover as possible turned out to be 27 Nissan.

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Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg was the president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and founding president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He also is the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (2004, Jewish Publication Society).