Friday, April 25, 2008


Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance for those who have fallen in defense of their people is about to be observed in the State of Israel. And as seems to be the case in almost everything else the State does, it is fraught with controversy. In this case it is the moment of silence. Rabbi Rabbi Hanania Tsfar has called that worthless.

I don’t know who this gentleman is or what his standing in the Torah world. But his standing with me is poor, if judged by this one statement.

I understand his point. He says that a moment of silence is not a Jewish mode of observing memorials to the dead. That’s true. A more fitting Jewish way of doing it would be reciting Tehilim- Psalms. I can’t really fault him for feeling that way. But I can fault him for his characterization of the current mode - practiced by almost the entire population of the country - as worthless.

We aren’t talking about a meaningless event here - or one that happened to our ancestors millennia ago. Nor are we talking about a mode of observance that is a new innovation. We are talking about a custom that has been in practice since the founding of the state six decades ago. We are talking about a custom honoring the memories of people who died in all the wars and battles - memories that are fixed forever in the hearts and minds of living people about their sons, brothers, and husbands - all who gave up their lives so that others could live and prosper in a free and protected democracy wherein Torah flourishes like no other.

How someone can have the insensitivity to publicly call that moment worthless is beyond me, even if he believes it.

It does however give light to an unfortunate phenomenon that occurs on that day every year. Most of the country observes that moment of silence – religious and secular alike. Some of the religious who don’t necessarily approve have enough common decency and respect for those who do - to join them in the moment, stop what ever they are doing and sit or stand in silence – so as not to insult them.

But there are some who openly and purposely ignore it. When the sirens go off in Israel and everything stops - they keep on going. These individuals go about their way flagrantly ignoring the moment – as though it were a Mitzvah to insult the memories of those who died and step on the feelings of their families.

They too feel that the moment is worthless. And they are going to let everyone know it! When a Rav comes out and says it publicly, it re-enforces their arrogance and disdain.

I therefore take very strong issue with this Rav. That moment is not worthless at all. There may be no source in Halacha for it. But neither is their any Halacha against it. Nor does Rabbi Tsfar even claim that there is. He just says it's worthless.

It is not Chukas HaGoy to stand in silence and reflect on the meaning of the moment. To the best of my knowledge there is no religious source to this custom. It is just the common way that civilized man has come to pay respect to the memory of a loved one in a public way.

This is how it is now observed in Israel. Had it never started, there might be room to debate whether it should be. But now that is an established custom we ought to respect the feelings of the secular Jews who know no better and see this moment as solemn.

It must tear out the heart of a mother who lost a son in battle to see a religious Jew going about his way indifferent to the pain she must be feeling in that moment. And following the pain she surely must feel comes anger at the Torah world for producing the likes of these people.

I would not change this custom at this point. Sure, saying Tehilim has always been the way we commonly express our connection to God. Many say that by reciting Pslams for the dead we elevate their souls in heaven. For many religious Jews this is the only fitting memorial.

But for many secular Jews, saying Psalms and connecting to God is not what they seek in that moment. They just want to remember and grieve for one moment along with the rest of the country. I can easily understand why that has meaning to them. They do not want to focus on Tehilim. Why take that moment away? Why denigrate it? What purpose is served?

If the Torah world wants to have a mass Tehilim at a given time every year for this purpose let them do so. If that is the most meaningful thing for them, let them establish it: One hour set aside every year at a given time where all who are so inclined can say the same Psalm or set of Psalms. No one will stop them. It would in fact be laudable. The secular world would appreciate and perhaps even admire that. But it should not at this point replace that moment of silence. That would be cruel.