As we approach Tishah B’Av, many of us in the United States will daven in shuls that include a special Kinah commemorating our loss in the European Churban. For many years after the Churban there were very few shuls who recited such a Kinah. Our community actually struggled with how to properly memorialize the events of 1939-1945.
The secular Jewish community treated the Holocaust as an unprecedented occurrence independent of the rest of Jewish history. They coined a new term, Shoah, which represented a new usage of the word — because, to their mindset, the event had no precedent. They established memorials of inanimate stone and they chose the day of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as a day of memorial.
Gedolei Yisrael, on the other hand, felt that the zikaron of the Kedoshim had to be something that was both a zechus to the neshamos that had perished and, at the same time, had to reflect the lessons that we must take from the events. It had to adequately express and give voice to the magnitude of the loss of the destruction of Yiddishkeit on an entire continent and tie in with the mission of the Jewish nation in this world. The timing had to be correct as well.
My first memory of this issue arising was in March of 1975. Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Yitzchok Hutner, Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, the Bluzhever Rebbe and the Novominsker Rebbe, zecher tzaddikim livrachah, entered the Agudah offices for a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.
Still ringing in my ears is the heart-rending plea from Reb Dovid Klein, a representative of the she’eiris hapleitah, for the Rabbanim to set aside a day that we could use as a communal yahrtzeit for all those who perished. He spoke about the longing of those who died al Kiddush Hashem to be remembered, as well as the need for future generations to remember what had happened. Also making presentations were Rabbi Leibel Cywiak, David Turkel and, l’havdil bein chaim l’chaim, Rabbi Yoseph Frankel.
It was out of the question for the Gedolim to establish a new day to commemorate the Churban of Europe because of the position of the Chazon Ish: Our generation does not have the power or ability to make new “Days” or takanos for all of Klal Yisrael.
The Moetzes noted, though, that the sixth Siyum Hashas of the Daf Yomi was coming up in a few months (14 Tammuz 5735). The Daf Yomi was actually a creation of European Jewry. What better zechus would there be for the neshamos of the Kedoshim than if the Daf Yomi would be reinvigorated and dedicated l’zecher nishmasam? That Siyum Hashas and each subsequent Siyum was dedicated to the memory of the Kedoshim and a section of the program and Kaddish is recited lezichram.
Furthermore, the Moetzes felt that, in addition to the Siyum Hashas, there also should be educational programs designed to teach our children about the lessons of those years.
Even after that decision and their urging that an educational program be established, there was still a feeling by many that we had not done enough to memorialize the Kedoshim.
In response to that feeling, in the 1980s Reb Pinchos Herzka, z”l, a member of the she’eiris hapleitah, suggested a very simple solution. The “Day” that we were all looking for should remain the very same day that, from time immemorial, we had poured out our communal heart for all the major tzaros that had befallen us. The Kinos that we recite in fact do contain Kinos from many periods in our history.Why not just institute the saying of a Kinah for Churban Europe?
There had been precedents. Reb Michoel Ber Weismandl, Rabbi Shimon Schwab and the Bobover Rebbe had all written Kinos to be said in their communities. Pinchos Herzka began to advocate for the recitation of a universal Kinah on Tisha B’Av.
Despite the logic, it did not go easily. We are a stubborn people — an am k’shei oref — and were able to maintain our traditions throughout the ages because we resist change. For close to 10 years, Reb Pinchos went around to Rabbanim and tried to galvanize support. Although some Rabbanim encouraged him, and some communities actually agreed to say a Kinah, nobody was willing to go to bat to advocate making this addition to the Kinos.
That was until he met with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, zt”l, several years later. Rabbi Sherer agreed with Reb Pinchos that this was an idea whose time had come. He was convinced that Gedolei Yisrael would agree that 40 long years after the end of the Churban, the time was ripe to implement this suggestion.
Rabbi Sherer called another meeting of the Moetzes. At that time it had five members: Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, the Bluzhever Rebbe, Harav Yaakov Ruderman and Harav Mordechai Gifter. There was general consensus to support the saying of a Kinah but they felt that a specific Kinah should not be suggested — rather each community should choose from the many that had been written.
A statement was signed by the members of the Moetzes stating “that 40 years had already passed since six million of our brethren were murdered by the Nazis, ym”s. It was a tragedy greater than any since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Although Hashem does not forget, we and our children have a nature that, as time passes and the flow of life continues, we may tend to cool off to the awesome pain and loss that we had experienced. It is therefore our feeling that we should agree with those who have suggested that we utilize Tishah B’Av to channel our pain. Tishah B’Av is the day that has been designated as a time of weeping for all generations, to gather together in public and pour out our hearts. We must do this for the loss of the six million on this day as well. We therefore urge each kehillah under the direction of their Rabbinic leader, to take a Kinah of their choosing and to insert it into the Kinos before ‘Eli Zion.’”
We hope and pray that this Tishah B’Av should become a Yom Tov and we will say Hallel instead of Kinos.
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