THE ‘MEGILAT HASHOAH’ by Prof. Avigdor Shinan has become a fixture of the Conservative Movement’s commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Israel prepares to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day this Wednesday night and Thursday, the Conservative Movement is seeking to imbue the day with greater religious symbolism by reading from the Megilat Hashoah for the 10th year in a row.
The text has become a widely accepted feature of the way the country’s Conservative congregations mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The megila, or scroll, modeled on the five megilot in the Hebrew Bible, is divided into six chapters recalling the horrors of the Holocaust.
The style of the first, fifth and sixth chapters emulates that of the Book of Lamentations, recalling and mourning the destruction of European Jewry during World War II. The three chapters in between are based on testimony from people who experienced the Holocaust themselves, including a non-Jewish journalist who witnessed life in one of the ghettos, and two people who were sent to concentration camps.
Prof. Avigdor Shinan, a lecturer in Jewish studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote the work after the Conservative Movement in Israel asked him to compose it 10 years ago.
“There was no liturgy directly addressing the Holocaust before the megila was written, and for me this was a severe lack in the Jewish religious cycle,” Shinan told The Jerusalem Post
He said that in his opinion, the commemoration of the Holocaust in two elegies on the fast of Tisha Be’av was not sufficient “We must never allow this historical trauma to the Jewish people to be forgotten, and it is important, therefore, that it is marked in synagogues as well as in non-religious ceremonies as a distinct tragedy and historical event,” he stated.
Shinan, who is Orthodox, asserted that the Holocaust bore religious significance, but said he rejected any attempt to explain the genocide on a religious level.
“We will never be able to understand it, but we need to live with this great question, to remember it without having a satisfactory answer for why it happened,” he said. “Explanations have been offered that the Holocaust was a punishment for misdeeds of the Jewish people, but I cannot accept that the Holocaust was somehow the agency of God. But I also reject the other explanation, that God is dead or hid his face. It is beyond human understanding.”
Shinan also insisted that the megila was appropriate for all Jewish communities, including Orthodox ones.
Rabbi Avi Novis Deutsch, the leader of the Conservative congregation in Kfar Vradim, said that an essential part of Jewish life and Jewish holidays was memory of the major historical events, good and bad, that have happened to the Jewish people, and that the Holocaust should be appropriately marked as one of the most significant events in Jewish history.
“Like most Jewish holidays, Holocaust Remembrance Day is about memory and relating to the past and our concept of peoplehood and of the Jewish nation,” he said, adding that it was also important to derive lessons from it.
“One clear message is that man is capable of great evil, on a level that is barely imaginable, and it is our obligation to resist and hold back that human tendency to evil from being actualized, especially in terms of preventing future genocides,” he said.