Shuls Crop the Holocaust out of our history

Note: I spoke to Jules Harlow at Jack Neusner's 75th birthday party today and so I am rerunning this post.

Despite the magnitude of suffering of the Jews of Europe, and how recently the events occurred, synagogue prayers and rituals for the most part ignore the Holocaust, or treat it superficially.

True, it is fitting that we commemorate Yom HaShoah in many communities in a public school auditorium or other secular gathering place with speeches and ceremonies to make the event more accessible and universal to our neighbors.

Thinking about the new museum just dedicated at Yad VaShem and about the celebration of Yom HaShoah, I raise an issue near to all our hearts: isn't it time to institutionalize properly our memorial of the Shoah in the synagogue service?

How can we go day after day to pray and not officially recognize directly and explicitly the epochal tragedy that epitomizes modern Jewish and all of contemporary human suffering?

How can we talk of the servitude in Egypt at our seders and contemplate Passover in our shuls and virtually ignore the slavery of the Holocaust?

Notably we must recall that American Conservative Judaism developed a Kaddish for death camps over 30 years ago. Based in part on the last passages of Andre Schwarz-Bart's 1960 novel, The Last of the Just, the rite was originally incorporated into the Martyrology of the Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, of the Rabbinical Assembly (1972). Rabbi Jules Harlow, editor of the Mahzor described the new kaddish to me as follows:
We interrupt these words [of the traditional Kaddish], this statement of faith, with the names of places where Jews were slaughtered, places which therefore cause us to raise questions, to have doubts. The tension is resolved, liturgically, by the last four lines, whose words are uninterrupted by the names which give rise to questioning, thus concluding in a framework of faith.
The original Aramaic text alternates with a register of the sites of extermination in this moving prayer as follows (cited from the Siddur Sim Shalom, ed. Jules Harlow, 1985):
  • Yitgadal
    Sh'mei raba
    b'alma di v'ra khir'utei,
    Babi Yar
    v'yamlikh malkhutei
    b'hayeikhon u-v'yomeikhon
    u-v'hayei d'khol beit yisrael,
    ba-agala u-vi-z'man kariv,
    v'imru amen.
    Y'hei sh'mei raba m'vorakh l'alam u-l'almei almaya.
    Yitbarakh v'yishtabah
    v'yitpa'ar v'yitromam
    v'yitnasei v'yit-hadar
    v'yit'aleh v'yit-halal
    sh'mei d'kudsha,
    brikh hu l'ela
    min kol birkhata v'shirata,
    tushb'hata v'nehemata
    da-amiran b'alma,
    v'imru amen. Y'hei sh'lama raba min sh'maya v'hayim aleinu v'al kol
    yisrael, v'imru amen. Oseh shalom b-m'romav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol
    yisrael, v'imru amen.
Harlow explained to me in 1989 that there are intentionally seventeen places named, signifying that life, represented by the Hebrew Chai, numerically eighteen, "can never be complete, can never be the same, after such slaughter."

In another version, the more extensive Kaddish of the Martyrology of the Day of Atonement, this new Kaddish includes Kishinev, Hebron, Mayence, Usha and Jerusalem, places where Jews were slaughtered during other tragic historical eras.

Why have Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues not developed some equivalent prayer or ritual? Why are we so eloquent in prayer and piyyut and davening and sermonizing and yet so ritually mute and liturgically speechless about the Shoah?

It is long overdue that the meaningful new Kaddish of the Conservative Machzor be institutionalized in all of our weekly synagogue liturgies, long overdue that it become a widespread potent ritual.

Every congregation - Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Hasidic - ought to rise and recite this Kaddish every week. It would be fitting on Shabbat Morning to recall the darkness of the Holocaust right before the chazzan intones the Prayer for the State of Israel, the liturgy that notes the beginning of the glimmer of our redemption.
[repr. from 2005, 2006]


Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

>"Why have Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues not developed some equivalent prayer or ritual? Why are we so eloquent in prayer and piyyut and davening and sermonizing and yet so ritually mute and liturgically speechless about the Shoah?"

Read Rav Soloveitchik's answer to thatexact question in an exerpt from ajhistory's blog:
The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways: Reflections on the Tish'ah be-Av Kinot.

The following selection is from pages 298-299.

"On Tish'ah be-Av, our eulogy is not limited to the Ten Martyrs. They were the first victims. We also deliver a eulogy for the victims of the Crusades, and for the deaths of millions of Jews down through Jewish history, including those killed by Hitler. I would rather use a piyut by one of the Ba'alei ha-Tosafot or any other of the Hakhmei Ashkenaz than a liturgical piece by a present-day writer.

In fact, an imitation of a kinah was written for those killed by Hitler in the 1940s, and not badly written. Some rabbis in Eretz Yisrael accepted it, but I do not like it. I do not like new "prayers." I cannot use it because, in my opinion, there is no one, no contemporary, who has all the qualities indispensable for writing prayers. I am always reluctant to accept new compositions; in general, I do not trust anyone who tells me he intends to compose a prayer. I do not believe in so-called liturgical creativity or creative liturgy. The Gemara (Megillah 17b) says that "One hundred and twenty elders, among whom were many prophets," wrote our Shemoneh Esreh. Only they could write it.

Prayer is not just a hymn, but a copy of a conversation between Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu and a human being. Who can write such a conversation? Only the Men of the Great Assembly and the prophets were able to do it. That is why we are so careful about every word in the nusah ha-tefillah, the text of the liturgy.

Of course, later piyutim (not tefillot) were written by Hakhmei Ashkenaz and Hakhmei Tzarfat. There is no doubt that the authors of the piyutim mourning the destruction during the Crusades were of the Ba'alei ha-Tosafot. But the Hakhmei Ashkenaz and Hakhmei Tzarfat were the Hakhmei ha-Masorah! They were responsible not only for piyutim, but for the shalshelet ha-kabbalah, the transmission of the tradition as a whole! Tosafot quotes Rabbi El'azar ha-Kalir many times when he has a halakhic problem. Rabbi El'azar ha-Kalir was not simply a paytan; he was one of the Hakhmei ha-Masorah. So, of course, if he wrote a piyut of a kinah, it has relevance. But I cannot trust others to do it. Not that I am suspicious. Not that I, God forbid, have anything against the author of a contemporary kinah. I just do not believe that a contemporary has the inner ability, the faith, the depth, the sweep of experience, the ecstacy, and the taharat ha-nefesh, the purity of soul, that would authorize him or give him permission to write a piyut. I just do not believe that there is anyone today who is qualified to do this."

DafKesher said...

Inclusion of the Shoah in the liturgy and collective memory is important, as I have written elsewhere. However, harlow's kaddish - and its inclusion instead of Seder haAvoda in his Machzor, is pathetic and a bit rediculous. A yearly fast would be better.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

I obviously disagree. I think Harlow composed a brilliant and moving variation on a liturgy.

The Rav subscribes to a traditional model of religious culture, namely that the generations are declining. Hence we today have no authority to challenge those of the past. While I accept that point of view as valid in any religious system, it is suffocating if applied too rigorously.

I don't think we should change the liturgy every day. However the Holocaust is of such significance that it overrides the traditional strictures. I also sharply disagree with the Rav on the character and talent of today's writers. In essence he's just saying in flowery terms that he imposes the "declining generations" model on prayer writing. The evidence of creativity regarding the Holocaust points to the conclusion that there are new and breathtaking ways to express oneself.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

Those who see their religion and worship through prayer as a means of finding "new and breathtaking ways to express oneself," have provided the best argument for their own exclusion in Jewish liturgy. Their contributions, more than anyone's, should be avoided like the plague.

The Rav emphasized that it is NOT an issue of talent or creativity that disqualifies this generation.
He is talking about Taharat Hanefesh; unfortunatly a very elusive concept to most modern Jews.

I'm glad you acknowledge:
>"The Rav subscribes to a traditional model of religious culture, namely that the generations are declining. Hence we today have no authority to challenge those of the past."

It is sentiments like these that justify the so- called "revisionism" of the Rav by R' Moshe Meiselman and others who understood that The Rav was a maximalist in his private religious life and outlook.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

I wonder how the Rav or anyone else could verify that all authors of all of our prayers were pure souls?

It's a nice poetic, romantic idea. I suppose. But what does it mean? They never had an impure thought?

We know they were saints because they wrote the prayers and only saints wrote our prayers. I am not convinced by this logic.

Did I miss something?

Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

>"I wonder how the Rav or anyone else could verify that all authors of all of our prayers were pure souls?"

He knew his father, grandfather, uncles and all the rabbinic elite of pre-war Europe. And they in turn reflected only a glimmer of the generations preceding them. That's how he knew. The same way he knew he wasn't adopted.

>"Did I miss something?"

You missed a Weltanschauung of Judaism based on a living mesorah.

Being a Jewish scholar according to the Rav should mean much more than scholarship and text, logic and argumentation.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should first institute a daily prayer in recognition of the Jews who died in the first Churban, the second Churban, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Chelminiski massacres.

Of course, I think services would be so depressing, we'd have no minyan by the second week.