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Israel Studies 8.3 (2003) 141-167

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Remembered Through Rejection:
Yom HaShoah in the Ashkenazi Haredi Daily Press, 1950-2000

Ruth Ebenstein

In an historical account of the last sixty years, the question that should be asked as incisively as possible is who made the greater contribution to the rehabilitation of the Jewish people, one third of whom were destroyed—were they those who legislated a "memorial day" and arranged ceremonies, built museums and monuments; or those who simply restocked the ranks and, through amazing personal sacrifice, with no selfish considerations [. . .], did everything to improve the state of Israel's demographic situation, in order to reinstate as far as possible, that which was lost. 1
—Yisrael Spiegel, Yated Ne'eman, 2000

In the weekend supplement of the Haredi 2 daily, Yated Ne'eman, shortly before Yom Hazikaron LaShoah uLagvura, Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, Yisrael Spiegel, the veteran Israeli Haredi journalist, rejects and even ridicules the trappings of Israel's secular society's memorializing as superficial and inferior. In doing so, he captures the central paradox in this essay. Ironically, his repeated denigration—which continued to appear on and around Yom HaShoah 3 year after year in Israel's daily Haredi press—reaffirms the state-mandated memorial. Over four decades of rejection he remains in a dialogue that (religiously) commemorates the day—albeit through inversion, disdain, and competition.

This remembrance through rejection is typical not just of Spiegel's editorials but of the Haredi daily press in general. The so-called foreign mechanism for Yom HaShoah commemoration actually afforded a psychological and ritual context in which Haredim discussed their reactions to the Shoah and its implications for their community, allowing them a means [End Page 141] to commemorate the event in ways that are perhaps not available within the Orthodox framework.

This essay explores the Haredi ambivalence to secular commemoration of the Shoah—and illuminates a stance that is commonly mediated by the often-troubled relations of this community with the secular state that contains it. I examine this relationship through an analysis of reactions to Yom HaShoah in the Israeli Haredi daily press from 1950 to 2000. These five decades span the transformation of the Shoah from a recently lived (or repressed) experience into a memory, a metaphor, and a more abstract kind of challenge to Haredi worldviews.

This specific study must be placed within its larger context of the Haredi relationship to the Shoah. Over the last five decades, the Haredi leadership has expended much energy trying to meet the existential challenges posed by the Shoah to all God-fearing Jews and to their constituency in particular. Indeed, a review of the range of Haredi publications and popular writing in Israel on the Shoah reveals what sociologist Menachem Friedman has described as "an almost obsessive concern with the Holocaust." 4 Upon inspection, much of that literature can be seen as desperate or valiant attempts to explain the disturbing deaths in and escapes from the Shoah within the context of the traditional Haredi belief system.

To some extent, the Haredi press coverage of Yom HaShoah evokes some of this soul-searching inherent to the Haredi community that permeates other Haredi written sources. Thus, my survey finds the community grappling—in varying degrees of explicitness—with the Shoah as a challenge to their faith in God and in rabbinic leadership. It also uncovers emotional expressions of loss and reflections on their appropriateness within an Orthodox framework. 5 Yet, in the press coverage I examine, the large majority of Haredi responses to the memorial day is mediated by, takes place within, and is responsive to its emerging relation to the Israeli society in which it was embedded.

Yom HaShoah provides an effective prism for studying Haredi responses to the Shoah because this annual countrywide event practically compels Haredim (and hence, Haredi journalists) to address the nature and appropriateness of various Shoah commemoration rituals. 6 As a result, it often invokes reflection on the Shoah itself.

Holocaust Remembrance Day also tends to elicit discussion of the Haredi community...


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