Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik
by R. Aharon Ziegler
It has become an established tradition for Jews throughout the world, that on the 28th day of Nissan, to memorialize the six million of our brethren who died during the Holocaust period. That day is marked on our calendars as Yom HaSho’ah/ Holocaust Memorial Day. In Eretz Yisrael there is a siren the goes on at 10:00 am for one minute, as the entire country comes to a standstill. Everything stops, people stop walking, talking and traffic stops moving. What should be done and what should be contemplated during that one minute of silence?
Rav Soloveitchik suggested that Jews from western countries and particularly Jews from the United States should bow their heads in shame and feel the guilt of their silence during those horrible years. During the Holocaust period, many American Jews were not sufficiently concerned with our brethren, with our fellow Jews, and let millions of Jews go down the drain.
The Rav further made a startling suggestion-that American Jews should add an “Al Chet” in the Yom Kippur davening (prayers) to acknowledge the community’s failure to respond adequately to news of the mass killing of European Jews during the Holocaust. The list of Al Chets of the chata’im (sins) we enumerate on Yom Kippur may be long and numerous but we should add this one other Al Chet. Perhaps it would be the worst, the most horrible one- Al Chet shechatanu le’faneicha be’ra’inu Beit Yisrael she’hit’chananu eileinu ve’lo shamanu (For the sin that we have sinned before You by seeing the suffering of our brethren who called to us and we did not listen.
This proposal of the Rav was never implemented on a communal level, but it is certainly feasible and appropriate for each of us as individuals to do so.