Since World War Two, Jews have long struggled with how to best commemorate the Holocaust. The state of Israel would eventually establish Yom Ha-Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but many religious Jews did not initially embrace it. Ultra-orthodox rabbis like R. Yitshak Ze’ev ha-Levi Soloveichik, the uncle of R. Joseph Soloveitchik, were utterly opposed to any day besides Tisha B’Av being used to acknowledge the Holocaust. When asked by R. Yitzchak Herzog about the possibility of establishing such a day, he responded by quoting from the kina Mi Yiten Roshi Mayim recited on Tisha B’Av and composed initially to commemorate the Crusades: “Since one may not add a time [to commemorate] destruction and conflagration . . . therefore today [Tisha b’Av] I will raise my cries of woe.”
For R. Yitshak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, this kina was clear proof that the Jewish people could not establish new days of commemoration on the calendar. However, R. Soloveitchik’s approach also reflects a sensibility commonly found among ultra-orthodox rabbis and made famous by the Chatam Sofer: chadash assur min ha-torah, “all that is new is forbidden by the Torah.” In truth, Jews historically have created new days of commemoration for tragedies that have taken place. Perhaps the most famous being the 20th of Sivan, designated as a day of fasting and prayer for the Chelmnitzky massacres of 1648, which killed tens of thousands of Jews.
In an interesting teshuvah, R. Moshe Feinstein offers his own analysis to this question, and unlike R. Yitshak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, he notes that the idea of establishing a day to commemorate the Holocaust should not be dismissed out of hand. However, he ultimately concludes that Tisha B’Av is the day when this should occur. Why is this? He explains that tragedies like the Chelmnitzky massacres are unique in that they affected only a part of the Jewish people. For this reason, it is appropriate for those who experienced them and their descendants to designate a day to commemorate them. However, tragedies that occur to the entirety of the Jewish people should be acknowledged on Tisha B’Av, a day dedicated to remembering the national tragedies of the Jewish people. For this reason, he explains, kinot were added to Tisha B’Av in memory of the Crusades, because those events affected most of the Jewish people, and the Holocaust should be seen in a similar light. Though the Jews of Europe were the primary victims of Hitler’s murderous plans, it was clear that he intended to destroy Jews wherever he could, and every time the Nazi’s conquered new territories, they sought to wipe out the Jews living there. Because of this, the Holocuast is a national tragedy and deserves an importance place on Tisha B’Av. It should also be noted that, like R. Yitshak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, he also cites the words of the kinah Mi Yiten Roshi Mayim, but he understands them differently. Rather than limiting the ability of the Jewish people to create any new day of mourning, they must be understood as referring only to national tragedies which can and must be commemorated on Tisha B’Av.
Though he did not take as strong a stand as his uncle, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik would also go on to express his own discomfort in reciting Holocaust kinnot on Tisha B’Av because, “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 Lord is Righteous in All His Ways” p. 298). R. Moshe’s words, however, make clear that such kinnot are not only appropriate but perhaps even obligatory.
שו”ת אגרות משה יורה דעה חלק ד סימן נז
יא. בטעם שלא תיקנו יום קבוע לתענית ותפילה לזכר הרוגי השואה
ובדבר הגזירות שבעוה”ר נהרגו ערך עשרה פעמים ששים ריבוא ע”י הרשעים היטלער וחבריו ימ”ש, שמהראוי הרי היה צורך איזה יום קבוע לתענית ולתפילה שתמה מע”כ על שעדיין לא נעשה כלום. הנה בקינות שכל ישראל אומרים בתשעה באב, מפורש שמה שלא תיקנו יום מיוחד לתענית ולבכיה על גזירות מסעות הצלב, שהיו הגזירות בכל מדינות יוראפ שגרו שם רוב היהודים, ונחרבו כמה עיירות וכרכים, ונקרא על שם שנת תתנ”ו, וגם בא”י הרגו שם הרבה יהודים, משום דאין לקבוע עוד יום לתענית ולבכי, שלכן צריך להזכירם בקינות דאומרים בתשעה באב על חורבן המקדש. ומאותו טעם עצמו אין לקבוע יום אחד מיוחד גם לגזירות שהיו בזמננו, והוא בכלל כל הגזירות שהיו במשך כל הגלות הארוך הזה.
ולא דמי לגזירות דשנת ה’ אלפים ת”ח ות”ט ע”י חמעלניצקי ראש הקאזאקן, שנהרגו באוקריינא וחלק מפולין, שקבעו שם יום תענית ואמירת סליחות לעשרים בסיון. משום שלא היתה זו גזרה כללית כגזירת הגלות והחורבן, אלא היו רק בחלק מדינה אחת, שהיתה גזירה נוספת על אותן המקומות. וגם גזירה זו דשנת ת”ח ות”ט לא היתה ע”י המלכויות וממילא לא נמשכה מעצם הגלות והחורבן, אלא היתה ע”י המורדים בהמלכות, שלא שייך זה כל כך למה שהיה זה בגלות, מאחר שגם המלכות דאוה”ע הא הגינה על ישראל במה שהיה אפשר בידן. והשייכות להגלות היה רק משום דמאותן החטאים שנתחייבנו גלות נענשנו גם בזה. שלכן היה שייך לתקן תענית ואמירת סליחות – ולאותן המקומות לבד. אבל גזירות דהיטלער דהיו על כלל ישראל, דהא היה הולך וכובש מקומות דעיקר ישוב ישראל, ובכל מקום שבא הרג את כל ישראל שהיו שם, והיה בדעתו לכבוש את כל העולם, ולא יכלו לעמוד נגדו עד שריחם השי”ת, הוא גזירת כל ישראל ושייך להחורבן שנמצאנו בגלות, שאין קובעין עוד יום תענית ובכיה כדאיתא בקינות.
Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:57:11
The reason why no fixed day has been established to fast and pray in memory of those killed in the Shoah.
Regarding the wicked decrees, that in our many sins, caused the deaths of around six million Jews by the wicked Hitler and those who assisted him, may their names be blotted out, it would seem appropriate that there is a need to establish a fixed day for fasting and prayer, yet the questioner wonders why this has not yet been done. In the kinot that all of Israel says on Tisha B’Av, it is explained why no special day has been established for fasting and for crying in remembrance of the wicked decrees of the Crusades, which occurred throughout many countries of Europe where a majority of the Jews lived, and during which a number of cities and towns were destroyed. This event is known as [the year of] 1096, and even in the Land of Israel many Jews were killed. An additional day of fasting and crying out was not established for it [the Crusades] needs to be mentioned in the kinot that are recited on Tisha B’Av for the destruction of the Temple. And for the same reason, a [different] day should not be established for the wicked decrees that took place in our time. Rather, they are to be considered part of the wicked decrees that have existed [and impacted the Jewish nation] during the long exile.
It [the Shoah] is not similar to the wicked decrees [pogroms] of 5408 and 5409 (1648 and 1649 CE) by Chelmnitzky, the head of the Cossacks, who massacred [many Jews] in the Ukraine and part of Poland. For this, a day of fasting the recitation of selichot was established for the 20th of Sivan. The reason [a new day was established] was because the wicked decree was not intended for all Jews like the wicked decree of exile and the destruction of the Temple. Rather, it was limited in scope. Also, the wicked decrees of the Chelmnitzky pogrom were not done by the authorities who ruled over the Jews and therefore not part of the exile and destruction of the Temple. Rather, they were done by those rebelling against the ruling authorities, and therefore not directly connected to the exile. It was only because of those sins that caused the [original] exile were the Jewish people also punished in this manner [by the Chelmnitzky pogrom]. Therefore, it was appropriate to establish a fast day and the reciting of selichot for those places [that suffered under the pogrom]. But Hitler’s wicked decrees were directed at the entirety of the Jewish people, for he desired to go and conquer places that were the primary residence of the Jewish people. And every place he came, he killed all the Jews that were there, and it was his intention to conquer the entire world. They were not able to stand against him until God [finally] had mercy. It [the Shoah] was a wicked decree directed at all of Israel and therefore is connected to the destruction of the Temple that caused us to be in exile. One does not establish a new day of fasting and crying out as it says in the kinot.