From Holocaust Remembrance to Love of Israel

Contrary to popular belief, the setting of the day of general mourning (Yom HaKaddish HaClalli) in the month of Tevet by the Chief Rabbinate was not in controversy with the national Holocaust Memorial Day in Nissan, as it was determined before it * The deep significance from the words of our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook: before rushing to keep the “mitzvah” to hate the wicked, first  one should embellish all the other mitzvot, including the one called Ahavat Yisrael * The Reform Movement never “hunted” Orthodox Jews to “convert” them to Reform Judaism, rather, saved Jews who were already in the midst of secularization and assimilation

It is worth mentioning the Chief Rabbinate’s directive from the twelfth of Kislev 5709 (1949), according to which the fast of the tenth of Tevet was established as the memorial day to commemorate the holy souls who were killed in the Holocaust whose date of death is unknown, and the saying of kaddish (Yom HaKaddish HaClalli) for the murdered who did not merit having family members say kaddish on their behalf. The initiative for this was raised immediately after the Holocaust, in the year 5705 (1945), but for various reasons the Chief Rabbinate delayed determining it.

Therefore, it is appropriate to pay attention in all minyanim (prayer quorums) to say kaddish for the elevation of the souls of Holocaust martyrs whose day of death is unknown. Namely, in a minyan if there is an avel (mourner) in the minyan who says kaddish every day, he should have kavana (intention) that the kaddish also be for the martyrs of the Holocaust. If there is no avel, one of the worshipers should say kaddish for the elevation of their souls.

This is the opportunity to correct a common misconception that the Chief Rabbinate set this day contrary to the Knesset decision that determined Holocaust Day on the 27th of Nissan, because the month of Nissan is not suitable for days of fasting and mourning. The truth is that the Knesset decision was made on the sixth of Nissan 5711 (1951), two years after the Chief Rabbinate’s decision.

In the Holocaust, Jewish destiny united all of Israel, and from this we continue to ahavat Yisrael (love of all Jews), which leads to a common destiny of building the nation and creativeness.

From the Words of Our Teacher and Rabbi, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook

My dear friend, Rabbi Meir Katz shlita, Rosh Yeshivat ‘Eretz HaTzvi‘ and Mechinat ‘Hosen‘ in the community of Peduel, asked me for a letter of endorsement for his book ‘Me’ir la’Lev‘ composed of teachings, guidance, and halakhic responses. I willingly agreed, and in the book, I found accounts in the name of our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Kook, which I like very much.

Rabbi Meir was asked by a young student about the Gay Pride Parade and LGBT people, whether one should feel disgust and remoteness towards them, or love, as Rabbi Kook said that one should love all creation. He replied that one should love the person but hate the bad deed, like a father who loves his son but does not love his bad deeds. In addition, he added: “I will mention a story from Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda ztz”l, which I was privileged to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears, having sat next to him. It was on a Shabbat Kodesh at the meal during the day. A young, first year student came and asked: “Rabbi, is there a mitzvah to hate the wicked?” I saw how Rav Kook clenched his fists tightly on the table, trembling, and said to him emphatically: ‘Have you already fulfilled all the mitzvot, that now you are looking for this mitzvah?'”

In his book, Rabbi Meir added that there is tremendous depth in this: only after truly loving Hashem and His creatures, can one also truly hate the bad deeds that harm them.


A letter from Reb Aharon Granot, which warmed my heart: “I am the head of the ‘Oseh Chayil’ organization, which manages sixteen apartments where nearly 60 soldiers from Haredi backgrounds who were banished from their homes because they chose to enlist in the IDF, live. We are their family, and we provide them with everything: a warm atmosphere, housing, furniture, clothing, food. We come to visit them at their army bases, and are in touch with their commanders. We are parents in every respect.

Some of them are religious and meticulously observe mitzvot, while others are completely secular. They cannot be judged. I try to do everything I can to strengthen the spirit of anyone who desires it.

I once offered a soldier to learn as a chavruta (learning partners) ten minutes a day. I did not know what to study with him. The teachings of Rav Kook ztz”l are too complex for them. All of a sudden, it occurred to me – “Peninei Halakha”. There are several advantages to it: first, it is Torah written in Eretz Yisrael. On the one hand, study of halakha they are accustomed to from home – but in a new way; Torah emanating from a redemptive Beit Midrash in which it is studied extensively – accompanied by deep, conceptual explanations that I call ‘opening the hood of the engine of halakha’. Each halakha is explained in a reasonable and in-depth manner, expanding the horizons of one’s knowledge. At once, the Torah is revealed in all its glory. In the sense of ‘ohr chadash al Tziyon ta’ir’ (shine a new light on Zion) and enlightens their souls, that so yearns for spirituality. If one goes through “Peninei Halakha”, it is as if he has gone through the entire Torah.

Another big advantage to the series is that it also comes in an app that anyone can download, so that our learning does not depend on a specific place. A soldier returns from guard duty and has some free time – he gives me a call, I immediately drop what I am doing, and we plunge into a deep and sweet study.

This was so successful that within two weeks, four more soldiers joined, and then two more. Thus, in the end I have seven chevrutot with seven soldiers every day. I saw it was catching on, so I prepared additional volunteers to study with other soldiers “Peninei Halakha”. Consequently, thanks to the monumental enterprise that you, Rabbi Melamed, have created, soldiers from Haredi families who were thrown out of their homes now set fixed times for Torah study, and this surely is just one of the uses or stories you have received about the benefit that came out of this wonderful and tremendous series of books.

One of our graduates with whom I studied halakhot brachot (the laws of blessings) spent some time abroad. On one occasion, he told me that he had experienced difficult challenges on Shabbat, and did not understand why he should continue keeping Shabbat. We immediately switched over to study the introduction of Hilkhot Shabbat. He attested that since then his Shabbat observance has been considerably strengthened, and feels the learning has given him power to resist the temptation to desecrate Shabbat. Thank you very much, Rabbi.”

Professor Stampfer on Reform Jews

In the wake of the debate over how to relate to the Reform and Conservative movements, I received a supportive opinion from my friend Prof. Shaul Stampfer. Although he has not directly investigated the matter, nevertheless, as a historian of modern Judaism and a researcher of the demographics of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, his opinion is important. This is in addition to his being a native American, for whom the observance of Torah and mitzvot is very dear to his heart, and personally rejects the Reform movement’s approach to halakha.

A summary of his opinion: “One who studies the history of the Jews of Europe and scours the sources will find that wherever the Reform movement appeared, it was preceded by extensive processes of forsaking the mitzvot between man and God. Secularization began on the fringes of Jewish society among the rich and educated who were exposed to their surrounding society, and continued to the growing middle class. The encounter with surrounding society evoked in the Jews a critical view of the society in which they grew up. The rabbis of the generation found it difficult to halt this process – not because there was, God forbid, a failing in their Torah study or in their moral level, but mainly because they did not feel or recognize the intensity of the temptation and challenge faced by those who were inclined to assimilate.

The first assimilators in Europe did not have an orderly, ideological treatise on which they relied to justify their actions. Their desire to integrate was greater than their desire to keep the mitzvot. It was only after such a public had been created that individuals arose who proposed various ideas on how to “correct” Judaism and draw the assimilated public back to the synagogue. One can certainly criticize many of the proposals and goals of those modifiers, but it is also important to remember that the Reform leaders and their advocates could have easily spent their time in other pursuits, but they chose to invest their time and energy in the difficult task of preventing assimilation, and advancing what they believed as Judaism. There are no simple tools to check their success or failure in preventing complete assimilation. It is a fact, however, that the movement continued to exist.

If someone thinks that a personal appeal of a Torah giant to people who had abandoned the observance of mitzvot, learned secular studies, and merged with the surrounding society would have been more effective – he is deceiving himself. Torah scholars who looked radically different in their dress, language, and studies from general society, and were not sufficiently versed in its culture and thought, were too far away from having a useful dialogue with the assimilated public.

The Reform activists did not prey on Jews who were careful to keep mitzvot, and did not try to persuade such Jews to violate Shabbat or eat treifot (non-kosher animals). Nor did they welcome them warmly to their synagogues. They wanted people who seemed to them as enlightened, not the old Jews who they viewed as idlers. It is true that they rejected the traditional way of life, mocked it, and publicly claimed that many of the mitzvot between man and God were not binding. I doubt, however, if there were people who changed their lifestyles because they were convinced by their claims. And if they were, they were few. The fact is that even in places where there were no Reformers, many Jews abandoned Shabbat observance and kashrut at similar rates. For example, among the Jews of Eastern Europe in the past there was a massive process of abandoning religion, even though there, the Reform movement did not exist. They did so under the influence of the surrounding environment, and out of frustration from Jewish society (and their claims against the rabbis were no less severe than those of the Reformers in Western Europe).

It should be clear: a Jew who does not belong to a religious community, who has decided to marry a non-Jewish spouse, will not avoid doing so because a rabbi is not willing to marry him – he will simply turn to civil marriage. Refusing to perform a ceremony will not change reality. Someone who does not want to keep Shabbat does not need a hechsher (kosher certificate) from Reform rabbis to do so.

The Reform movement is not involved in distancing people from the observance of mitzvot, nor does it have the capacity to do so. It does not create reality, rather, reflects reality. Only religious and Haredi Jews who are far from the reality in which the Reform and Conservative movements operate, attribute to them tremendous forces of persuasion that they never possessed.

The fact that there are religious people who stop keeping mitzvot bothers many, and rightly so, and is liable to provoke people to look for the guilty party. However, misidentification of the enemy will lead to failure. Reformers are not the enemy. The future of Judaism is very important to them, and the debate with them is on the foundations and ways to strengthen Judaism.” End of Professor Stampfer’s words.

Indeed, my participation in the meeting with Diaspora Jews at the “Our Common Destiny” conference and its continuation at the ‘Makor Rishon’ Diaspora Conference was devoted to strengthening Jewish identity and brotherhood among all Jews in all communities even though all were aware of the deep differences of opinion, and to the fact that in spite of these differences, our common identity prevails over all disputes.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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