The Tenth of Tevet and the Holocaust

 Today is the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, a minor fast day in the Hebrew calendar. This fast commemorates the beginning of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem that eventually led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple on the Ninth of Av. But this minor and neglected fast day—unknown among most Jews—was invested with meaning by religious Jews as a day of commemoration of the Nazi mass murder of the Jews of Europe in World War II. We must face this question: Is it proper to remember the six million Jews murdered in the Shoah on the Tenth of Tevet?

The connection of the Holocaust to the Tenth of Tevet seems arbitrary. We already have a Holocaust Remembrance Day later in the year. Although mandated by the Knesset, a political and not a religious authority, the attempt to attach the Shoah to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples is wrong. Yom Hashoah should be a religious day of memorial that addresses the Holocaust theologically and ritually: a special Torah reading, fasting, and special prayers. I have argued in these pages for an original Holocaust Remembrance liturgy. Why choose a minor fast day in the Hebrew calendar to remember the worst persecution of Jews by their enemies in history? No—Yom Hashoah should be both a political and religious day of Holocaust remembrance.

Why we should not memorialize the Holocaust dead on traditional Jewish fast days is clear. The traditional theology of these fast days is that fasting is an act of repentance for the sins that brought on the destruction of Jerusalem. Can we really apply this prophetic theology to the Holocaust? Are we really going to agree with Yoel Teitelbaum, the most prominent Satmar Rebbe, that the Shoah was God’s punishment for the emergence of the Zionist movement and its failure to wait for God to choose a Messiah to build a state in Israel? That theology is consistent with traditional theology but it outrageous and an insult to the dead. Did God punish the Jews of Europe for a sin? Hitler was not a tool of God but a modern Haman out to destroy the Jewish people. The idea of suffering as a punishment for sin is condemned in the biblical Book of Job. We simply cannot understand God’s eclipse during the Shoah and perhaps we should remain silent rather than positing post-Shoah theology that is simply offensive. Attaching the Holocaust as an afterthought to a minor fast day demeans the dead. Yes, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples was a tragedy that must be remembered. Other persecutions as well should never be forgotten: the slaughter and martyrdom of the First Crusade in 1096, the exile of Jews from Christian Spain in 1492, the Chmielnicki massacres in 1648, the destruction of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe during the First World War. But the Holocaust stands out as a unique destruction that deserves its own day of remembrance and a unique theological and ritual response.

The time has come to ensure that the Hebrew calendar reflects the events of our own time, whether triumph or tragedy. The hesitation to address the Shoah ritually and theologically, simply throwing it together with traditional fast days, is timid and inappropriate. No more business as usual. There is a day to remember the dead of the Holocaust: That is Yom Hashoah. Let Holocaust Remembrance Day serve as a political, historical, theological and ritual response to an unprecedented destruction of Jews in history.