The Sounds of Silence

A reader brought to my attention an article on Ynet penned by one Tzipora Gutman entitled “We Haredim Should Stand For Israel’s Fallen Soldiers.” Ms. Gutman, described in the tag line as “the director of the Adi Center in Bnei Brak and an activist in the haredi community,” describes a minor epiphany at which she understood the pain of those who see others failing to observe the moment of silence for the korbanos of Tzahal. She understands full well that many in the haredi world object to the importing of what they see as a distinctly non-Jewish form of observance, since the “moment of silence” idea does not appear to be sourced in anything Jewish. The law – at least Jewish law – therefore does not have anything positive to say about this new ritual. Still, she argues, haredim ought to go along with the practice (as most reportedly do!), because we are encouraged not to make the legal bottom line our standard, but to go lifnim mi-shuras ha-din / beyond the letter of the law.

I respectfully disagree. I don’t see why such participation should be considered beyond the letter of the law. To me (in my present sleep-deprived state, having just returned from a road trip) it seems likely that it is exactly what the law demands – even for those who find the borrowing of a non-Jewish ceremony objectionable.

R. Yosi (Shabbos 118B) prided himself on being agreeable to the requests of other people, even when ill-founded. “I know that I am not a kohen. Yet, if my friends would ask me to ascend the duchan, I would do so.” R. Yosi urges that we try to be as agreeable as possible to the requests of others. A non-kohen standing silently among the kohanim makes less intrinsic sense than observing the moment of silence that is so meaningful to so many in Israel, and requested by them. (The non-kohen’s presence is somewhere on the order of “fighting a war without the French is like going deerhunting without an accordion.”) Why should that not be reason enough?

What am I missing – besides sleep?

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27 comments to The Sounds of Silence

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein, your clarity is refreshing.

    I would just add that I’m not so sure that what we do is all that “non-Jewish”. While a moment of silence is a widespread custom around the world, a moment of silence combined with a siren, or horn, is much less common. However, the combination of the two is something that we do every year on Rosh Hashannah.

  • Chardal

    Aharon HaKohen seemed to respond to the death of his own sons with a moment of silence:

    ויקרא י:ג

    וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ, וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד; וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן

  • ChanaRachel

    First of all, thank you and Yasher Koach.

    However, this year’s entire discussion on CC regarding Yom-Hashoa-Yom-Hazikaron-Yom-Haatzmaut (so far) has been regarding whether or not Hareidim should stand for the sirens, and whether Hareidim should be criticised if some members of that community are “caught” not standing silently.

    Whatever the nuance of your relationship vis-a-vis the State of Israel,I think that there are many ways you could have chosen to relate to these days that could inspire your readers. If the entire treatment of these memorial days relates to stand/don’t stand/ they hate the Hareidim/they don’t hate the Hareidim, I think there has been one giant wasted opportunity.

    Your loss..

    [YA – You are correct, of course – but I try to not consciously repeat myself. I’ve written in the past about being flabbergasted that some people haven’t caught up to the reality that the old struggle with the old Zionism is a thing of the past, and that all of us should get behind the largest Jewish community and makom Torah in the world. Yom Haatzmaut for me is a day when I mentally review – with wonder and awe – the events of the establishment of the State and all she has accomplished, and take the time to thank HKBH for her survival and her flourishing.]

  • Yoni Ross

    The objection may not be to standing per se (as you point out, most Chareidim do stand respectfully during the moment of silence), but to the very establishment of the custom in its current form. Jewish customs for commemorating and/or mourning the departed abound – one of them could easily have been used as a template for the single public commemoration intended for everyone to participate in together.

    In this light, R. Yosi’s agreeableness is not relevant. Sure, he went along with what others suggested. But you said it yourself – some requests are ill-founded, and people have a right to be uncomfortable with them, even while going along.

    Michael’s comparison of the moment of silence coupled with a siren to shofar is interesting, and indeed there are many obvious parallels (and I imagine that more thought would yield some non-obvious ones as well). However, it does not make a moment of silence a Jewish practice.

  • Ben Waxman

    There were many articles in the Chareiei press about the need to stand silently (or learn mishnayot or say tehillim) if one is in the street and even the need to stay home if one feels that one “can’t” stand in place during the siren. Various rabbanim were quoted about the need, even the obligation, to prevent chillul hashem.

    I hope that someday soon we can get beyond the need to talk about preventing chillul hashem and start really figuring out our brit gorral and what that means.

  • Nachum

    To echo Menachem Lipkin, the only place in the world where the whole country comes to a stop and stands in silence for a minute or two three times a year is the only Jewish country in the world. That makes it about as Jewish as, say, men wearing a large fancy fur hat and long black coat. The latter isn’t “sourced in anything Jewish” either, but it’s obviously a Jewish custom.

  • Rafael Guber

    Once again your Hakaras HaTov and Derech Eretz shine through. I wonder if there are those who believe that even acknowledging the sacrifice and tzar of others weakens their overall hasgafah or lack of acknowledgement and Hakaras HaTov. It is not all about the service abd sacrifice in the military. Calling Israel Eretz Yisrael is at least problematic. It is not “a land” as n geographic location. It is a nation which provides services (mail delivery, road repair, hospitals, fire departments, police, social welfare etc. The lack of acknowledgment is at least a part of the total equation. I know that the use of the tern Eretz Yisrael is ancient, but I believe it is specifically used to undermine the notion that that is a need for HaKaras HaTov to the people who make up a nation state. It is sad that the only time the words “Medinat Yisrael” are welcome are when they appear on a government stipend check.

  • cohen y

    Nachum,
    A custom is only as jewish as those who inaugurated it.

    As for Ms Gutman,
    If the moment of silence gave her her epiphany,she should continue presumably.

    For everyone else….

  • Dovid Rosenfeld

    I completely agree that our main intention in such matters should be Kiddush Hashem and acting b’darchei noam. It’s not as if anyone is going to mistake our compliance for “*chas v’shalom* a tacit agreement to their chiloni ways.” They’ll just see us acting like menschen.

    Even so, I’ll be a nitpick by saying that the proof from the Gemara is not that relevant, since (relying on how Rav Adlerstein quoted it) R. Yossi was clearly acting lifnim mishuras hadin. It didn’t buttress the Rav’s point that such behavior is obligatory.

    Just to be contrary :-), I’ll mention that a few years ago in our shul in RBS – on mincha of Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, a older DL Jew happened to be in attendance. He quite conspicuously remained standing straight as a board saying nothing while we sat down to Tachanun. I had half a mind to politely mention to him afterwards that if his behavior was not outright assur – visibly disregarding the minhagim of a shul – it was certainly a serious indiscretion. But I was wise enough (and anyway too bashful) not to walk over to rebuke a stranger, especially on such a controversial issue. But I am pointing out that mutual respect goes both ways.

  • DF

    Actually R. Yosi’s point is more significant. Ascending the duchan is a halachic yarstick used to establish a kohein’s lineage, see 2nd chapter of Kesubos. And while one can distinguish between ascending and blessing the congregation, vs. ascending alone, this distinction would not be perceived by the congregation, who are not looking. So R. Yosi was saying he would even violate halacha – or better, shall we say, engage in a practice halacha might frown upon – for the sake of shalom.

    The point, I think, is obvious.

  • Bruce

    I guess I would ask whether the practice is inherently benign or inherently problematic. If benign, it would seem to me to be an issue of not separating oneself from one’s community.

    In the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving by (among other things) eating turkey on the 4th Thursday in November. There is nothing objectionable about this practice, and so someone who deliberately refuses to do this (unless one dislikes turkey) is simply separating oneself from one’s American community. The same goes for watching fireworks on the 4th of July. Halloween is more problematic, and many Jews avoid participating in various ways.

    I can’t see anything objectionable about observing a moment of silence to think about the dead, even if traditional Judaism has other mechanisms or practices for the same thing. It seems closer to turkey and fireworks than to cute children in cute costumes extorting candy.

    [YA – While we know that some Torah authorities like R Eliezer Silver and R. YD Soloveitchik marked Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner, there certainly are those who DO object to Thanksgiving as the incorporation of a non-Jewish form into Jewish life. (Halachically, any practice adjudged to be “arbitrary” rather than reasonably compelling may be forbidden under the chukos hagoyim statute. Although the marking of a day to thank G-d for the blessing that is America is certainly compelling, some feel that the ritualized inclusion of a big, dumb bird may cross the line and would be forbidden. We could therefore understand the uneasiness of some in Israel to celebrate with a moment of silence for the same reason – although some readers have contended that this was invented anew in Israel, and not borrowed from some other society.]

  • Steve Brizel

    Articles such as the article linked to by R Adlerstein are indicative that hakaras hatov and being noseh bol chavero-regardless of the haskafa involved-are midos tovos that are alive and well.

  • c-l,c

    Rafael Guber,

    Sorry,the Mandate provided those services as well,with less gratitude .

    (iirc,in the early ’50’s there was nostalgia for the good ol’ days of the Mandate)

  • Eli Julian

    Yoni Ross – a typical halacha of mourning is the state of of the omen, who is not allowed to perform any mitzvos in order that he be fully focused on taking care of the meis. A mourner may not studay torah so that he is not mesiach daas from his mourning. Is the two minutes of contemplation on the loss of life of our brothers and sisters who died to protect us that dissimilar to these halachos of morning?

  • Eli Julian

    According to Wikipedia the idea behind having a moment of silence is specifically to leave the content/significance of the moment neutral, so that each individual participant can invest it with whatever content would be most meaningful to them. Being that that is what it is all about, the moment of silence is only “non-jewish” if that is the way one decides to signify it, but it is specifically left open for us to invest with whatever Jewish content we want to fill it with, be it Tehilim, mishnayos etc.

  • Reb Yid

    YA wrote:

    “We could therefore understand the uneasiness of some in Israel to celebrate with a moment of silence for the same reason – although some readers have contended that this was invented anew in Israel, and not borrowed from some other society.”

    Actually, the Pilgrims knew their Tanach and modeled this at least in part on Succot.

  • Nachum

    “A custom is only as jewish as those who inaugurated it.”

    I wasn’t aware that the founders of the State of Israel weren’t Jewish. Remarkable, the things you learn.

    “Actually, the Pilgrims knew their Tanach and modeled this at least in part on Succot.”

    Indeed, they did it in October. November is a shopping thing. :-)

  • sarah shapiro

    How good to see this article being supported by most readers.

    Common-sense kindness, and respect for the pain of others, are Jewish values.

  • Dr. E

    Chardal’s reference to Aharon is the obvious one. Another is that on Tisha B’av, the very first Kinah is “Shavas” which alludes to an abrupt halt.

    I would venture to say that many of those who have a problem with the observance of such a moment as a “foreign” concept may have forgotten about their “schlissel challah” from last week, which likely stems from chukas hagoyim and superstition.

  • Steve Brizel

    I have always thought that an easy method of avoidng the halachic/hashkafic objections to Yom HaShoah would be a Yom or Leil Iyun dedicated to the Torah of the Talmidei Chachamim who perished in the Holocaust. As far as Yom HaZikaron is concerned, I highly reccomend R R Eisenman’s short vort from yesterday on the subject.

  • lacosta

    i think these issues will plague us until mashiach comes; and maybe more likely , the internecine strife indicated probably helps explain his delay — more than the behaviour of the ‘ochlei chazir v’arnevet’….. but an ‘am kshei oref’ would rather be 100% right than give in on anything that might impact on bein adam lechaveiro…. after all the Satmar Rov commented that Choshen Mishpat begins with the idea of pshara [compromise] as that’s the derech to live with others—- but in Orach Chayim , there is no room for pshara…. and these issues are seen as only Orech Chayim…..

  • Dovid Shaleesh

    What are you missing? With due respect, you are missing a healthy religious self esteem.

    It is an absolute slap in the face to Judaism for us to spurn our own beautiful rites and rituals for memorializing the dead, and replace them with secular imagery. When you see everyone stopping and getting out of their cars for the siren, you should choke up with tears, but they should be tears that our people are so far removed from Hashem that even on Yom Hazikaron they won’t use a Jewish ritual.

  • Raymond

    Sorry, but I just do not see a need for standing for a moment of silence on Holocaust Memorial Day, perhaps because I do not see a need for such a holiday in the first place, since we already have Tisha B’av to cover the whole history of our people’s sorrows. Having one such day is depressing enough, without expanding it to another day.

  • David Z

    @ c-l,c: We can’t bring the Mandate back, whatever its benefits, just like we can';t force Jordan to take back the West Bank. So now we have a black and white world, whether you like it or not.

    Many have said it better, but I’ll add my voice. I can’t see how spending a moment in silence thinking about the fallen is a goyische custom. Seriously? We’re not allowed to take at least a moment think about the debt we owe to others or introspect on our own deeds? This is something that is nowhere encouraged in musar or khasidut? It always has to be a large noisy chaotic t’hilim recitation with no thought given to the meaning of the words? Have we fallen that far? How will hakadosh barukh hu reach down far enough to pick us up? I imagine that in Egypt they could manage to do that and they didn’t even have the tora yet…

    @ Menachem Lipkin, I love the shofar analogy! (Which was, ironically, something the British banned.)

  • Nachum

    Raymond: Like Shiva Asar B’Tammuz?

  • DF

    Its naïve to think a non-religious Jew should use Tisha B’av as a day of commemorating the Holocaust. What, to such a person, does the destruction of the first Temple have anything to do with what happened to his grandparents only 70 years ago? Even many among the most orthodox of families have trouble relating to it. And while it is true the kinnos books now include – towards the end – a few kinnos about the Holocaust, the day is still completely dominated by Eicha and then dirges about the Temple. And while afternoon video programs – itself an innovation no one seems to be complaining about – are fine, the hours in the morning sitting on the floor are nor something Jews will be attracted to.

    In short, the only way the day would be more meaningful towards the non-religious would be if it would be completely reoriented, which orthodox Jews would (rightly) oppose also. So, while I agree there is no permanence to modern-day rituals likes Yom Hashoah, it is still something to be encouraged while it lasts. For the non-religious, it is either that, or nothing.

  • Dovid Shaleesh

    @DF

    Really? People have a hard time connecting Tisha B’av to the Holocaust? They shouldn’t.

    The Holocaust very clearly only happened because of the Churban; because the Jewish state was destroyed and sacked, and we were exiled to live as a hated minority among the nations.

    Furthermore, isn’t that part of the entire Zionism ideology?

    It is in fact quite shocking that secular Jews do not commemorate Tisha B’av, and the only explanation is that they davka don’t because it is part of our religious tradition. Consider that.