Tuesday, April 25, 2006

תקע בצפירה גדולה לחירותנו

Yom haShoah 5766.

I just finished talking to my neighbor who came over very distraught. He told me that he was driving into Jerusalem this morning when he saw a a Haredi man at Gilo junction, who was looking for a ride into town. My friend agreed and he got into the back seat. At 10AM the air was pierced by the siren. The driver stopped the car, got out and stood at attention, as is the custom. The trampist, however, demonstratively stayed seated in the car. My friend described to me how he grew increasingly angry as the two minutes passed. When the siren stopped he opened the backdoor and asked the hitchhiker to please leave his car. "I will not give a ride to someone who desecrates God's Name and the Memory of those murdered in the Shoah." "But our rabbis...." he started to protest. 'Don't know what they're talking about," he replied. The man got out and my friend went on his way.

Now, it seems, his conscience bothered him. Did he do the right thing? Was his indignation misplaced? He wanted to know if there was anything to the Haredi objection to the siren. (I always get asked this kind of question.)

As it happens, I wrote about this issue (Indirectly) in my doctorate and published it as an article. The bottom line is that there is absolutely no formal halakhic reason to object to standing for the siren. The prohibition against imitating non-Jews is confined to cases where a) the action has no clear, rational meaning b) it betokens arrogance and lack of modesty. If, however, it has clear redeeming purpose, it is allowed (Cf. Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 178, 1). More to that, according to the source of Rema's ruling, (Resp. Mahari Colon no. 88) the operative concern is a desire to assimilate (להידמות להם). This clearly cannot apply to the siren because no other nation on earth has this specific practice. [For the purists, this satisfies the objection of the GRA (ibid.) based on Tosafos, Avodah Zara 11a.] QED

So why are the Haredim so vociferous about this? Why do they pound on the table so? I think its a delicate mixture of things. Among others, one might highlight: 1) It's an objection to setting up a separate day for Shoah commemoration, outside of Tisha B'Av, that contains ceremonies that are unprecedented in Jewish tradition. 2) It's an expression of rejection of Zionism and Israeli culture. 3) It's an gut reaction to the existentially grave questions of theodicy that the Holocaust raises specifically in the Haredi community, which bore the brunt of Hitler's (ימשו"ז) war against the Jews. (See Menachem Friedman's important study here.) 4) The prohibition against following בחוקות הגויים is a standard argument in pashkvillim against things that the community wishes to stop.

Did my distraught friend do the right thing? That's for him to decide (and God to judge). However, I did point out to him that Rabbi Lau (who is very careful not to offend the Yeshiva World) recently came out four-square in support of the moment of silence at the time of the צפירה. Even more to the point, there is a growing trend for Haredim to say Tehillim when the siren sounds. Some are quick to dismiss this. I, however, think it's a very significant development. It testifies to the 'judaization' of this ritual, even by Haredi standards (and to the further Israelization of the Haredi community.) This is a very powerful, unifying move, which I hope will continue- at the side of other Haredi responses to the Nazis: Talmud Torah, Tefillah, Tzedaka, Hesed and large numbers of Jewish children (which everyone should imitate more).

The צפירה may well be a harbinger of the שופר גדול. In the meantime as I contemplate the חרבן, following the observation of R. Shmuel Sperber זצ"ל, the צפירה says to me that the only response I have is וידם אהרן.

כל בית ישראל יבכו את השריפה אשר שרף ד'.
ארץ אל תכסי דמם
וניקיתי דמם לא ניקתי וד' שוכן בציון,


Anonymous said...

How about the objection to deliberatly standing, doing nothing, 'standing like a golem'?
Saying tehillim etc. is one thing, but being 'omed u-batel is entirely different. (This is not akin to Aharon for a number of reasons.)
I mention this in addition to the objections you raise.

Where can we find your article on the matter?

Did RJBS weigh in on the matter?

Jeffrey said...

If a person knows ANYTHING about the Shoah, there is no way he can think about it and stand like a Golem. (See Rav Lau's remarks.)

My article was published in AJS Review 25,1 (2000-2001) 45-69.

I am not aware the Rov zt'l 'weighed in' on this. I suspect that he would have been uncomfortable with it because he objected to any and all innovations in the area of ritual. Nevertheless, I do as he told me. I do what I think is right, once convinced it's muttar.

cyberdov said...

Don't you think that the practice encourages introspection? That is much different than omed u-batel!

Mike Miller said...

Is it possible that the Haredi standard is not whether something is mutar, but whether it's a good idea? The fact that it may not be an issur does not mean it should be done. It only means that those who are motivated to do so may. The question, of course, is where that motivation comes from, cf. women's minyanim, etc.

This is a fundamental difference between (most of) Haredi society and (most of) Modern Orthodoxy. Both sides are clearly l'shitatam.

Jeffrey said...

If it's muttar but not a good idea, but by not doing so one deeply offends others and causes a Hillul haShem ba-Rabbim, then one should either avoid being in non-Haredi areas during the suren (as many do) or take out a Tehillim.

BTW, next week is more loaded. Imagine, as I have seen, a bereaved father whose child was killed protecting the Jews of Israel witnessing a Haredi man who did not serve, blatantly walking around during the siren on Yom ha-Zikkaron so that God Forbid one might not think he submits to Huqqot haGoyyim.

Anonymous said...

How is this a "specific practice?"

Jeffrey said...

No other culture stops for a minute or two of silence signalled by an air raid siren.

Ben said...

I can't agree with you on this one. Public moments of silence to commemorate the dead is and old European custom. Certainly, there is a reasonable argument that the GRA would not permit it.
That having been said, somebody who wishes to be machmir in this matter should obviously have the simple decency to stay out of public places during the siren.
(An aside I'm probably better off skipping but here goes anyway: you and your neighbor both have a right to complain about this fellow's boorishness. What drives me bananas is that the chief whiners tend to be the same faux-liberals who demand the right to sit in cafes on Tisha B'Av.)

Jeffrey said...

1) I was referring to associating moments of silence with the siren. Also, even according to Tosafos, if it's written in the Torah (ie if we would have come up with it ourselves, then even if the non-Jews have uch a practice, it's muttar.)

2) I suggested exactly that patent for Haredim.

3) No argument about the whiners from me. They're the same menuvalim who check to see if the Dattim are praying for someone or if they've done a Pulsa de-Nura lately.

Ben Bayit said...

One could make a convincing argument for the Charedim that in a culture which is constantly seeking out more ways to sell beer on both Pesach and Tisha B'av but will be makpid kala k'chamura to close down the cafes and pubs on Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron, then the admonition of the Rama would play a role here.

Let's not forget that the big advocates of Austritt were Modern Orthodox, often much to the consternation of their Eastern European "Charedi" brethren. Having grown up in the Charedi world and becoming very familiar with your world, I would say that the desire to avoid assimilating into the larger "Israeli" culture is playing a bigger role here. Perhaps us MO need to pause for thought as to how far and how deep we want to "assimilate".

I grew up in a family of survivors and am still not comfortable with the siren.

Chana Luntz said...

You write: "No other culture stops for a minute or two of silence signalled by an air raid siren."

I don't think that is right (despite my agreeing with your general position). Here in England (and in Australia where I grew up), we stop for a minute's silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of November (ie the 111th month) in memory of the WW1 dead. While neither place has air raid sirens in use any more, so technically using an air raid siren is impossible, the start and end of the silent period is signalled in schools and work-places (and has for as long as I have been alive) by either the brief ringing the fire alarm bells before and after, or by a siren type sound on the tanoy system (if there is a tanoy system). The noise on the radio sure sounds like what you hear in Israel.

These yearly commemorations have been supplemented in recent years by once off two or three minute silences in memory of: - what the Americans call 9/11; the Spanish bombings; and the London bombings of 7/7/05 - again using the same signalling. The only real difference I can think of in practice between what is done here and in Australia and in Israel is that, at least as practiced in modern London offices, people don't stand, they tend to remain seated at their desks but stop what they are doing and the place goes silent.

Chana Luntz

visitor said...

I just chanced upon your article, and decided to comment. I arrived in Israel the evening before Yom Hashoa, as its known. It happened to be that I was with a friend in a car at 10AM while the siren sounded. He told me that normally he stays at home at this time, however being on the road, one must take chilul hashem into account. We got out and stood like the rest of the highway. I dont see any rational reason not to do so.

Nathan said...

I see a leap of logic in your post. The fact any particular practice does not contravent the letter of a law may perhaps excuse its' practice (or non-protest) on an individual level. In no way, however, does this justify its' adoption as a national practice.

The idea of a moment of silence to honor the dead, moreover with a siren, has no known Jewish origin. The fact that the government/state that purports to represent the Jewish people would choose to commemorate this awesome, most uniquely Jewish churban, by recoursing to goyishe practices, is an indication of something rotten in the state of Denmark. And it is this general trend of rejection of the Jewish way of doing anything and everything in favor of the non-Jewish way, so starkly evident in the practice of Yom HaShoah, that justifiably infuriates that segment of the Jewish population, in Israel and abroad, that would have the Jewish state live a Jewish life.

Jeffrey said...

I am grateful to Chana Luntz for the information she provided about British practices. It raises the question of whether the siren ws inspired by the regnant Commonwealth custom. I still think it would be allowed based upon the Maharik and Rema. It does, however, give one pause.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Maybe the guy wanted to stay in the car to say tehillim...or learn in someone's memory?

Both are definitely worthwhile (and Jewish) ways of remembering the dead.

Uri Cohen said...

Hi, Dr. Woolf. In case you missed this, from today's (4/27/06)Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/objects/pages/PrintArticleEn.jhtml?itemNo=709958) --

Officially, Holocaust Remembrance Day is not a holiday for the ultra-Orthodox. In the past the ultra-Orthodox media even referred to Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen as "yemei eidam" (days of misfortune), a phrase usually reserved for describing gentile holidays.

In reality, the ultra-Orthodox's gradual move toward the state is also evident on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Just as the independent ultra-Orthodox newspapers interview senior ministers on holiday eves, they also devoted numerous articles to Holocaust Remembrance Day in last weekend's editions.

The ultra-Orthodox Bakehila interviewed the number one ultra-Orthodox Holocaust researcher and the head of the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Michlala Jerusalem College for Women, Rabbanit Esther Farbstein, who spoke about the changes in the ultra-Orthodox attitude toward the Holocaust.

Mishpaha, another ultra-Orthodox paper, devoted most of its issue to the Holocaust. It interviewed the elder statesman of the ultra-Orthodox journalists, Yosef Friedenson, who went through six concentration camps and stood in line for hours waiting to use the only pair of tefillin (phylacteries) in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Mishpaha's Rosenthal reports that most of today's issue is also devoted to the Holocaust. In the past, he says, there were objections in principle to Holocaust Remembrance Day. But over the years, "I don't know why, it somehow spread that after Passover we focus on the Holocaust," he comments.

Afterward, he offers an explanation: "Because we live here."