Gush Katif Fasting and Kinnot by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


The Churban (destruction) of Gush Katif and a number of Jewish communities in the Northern Shomron in August 2005 was a most traumatic event. Although the intention was to improve the security and stability of Medinat Yisrael, the destruction of highly productive Jewish communities and the dislocation of more than eight thousand residents is a tragedy even if one believes that it was essential to secure Israel’s future. A highly significant article appears in Techumin volume 30 in which Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Rav Yonah Metzger discusses whether a new fast day replete with Kinnot composed for the occasion, should be instituted as a yearly mourning of this tragic event. Although Rav Metzger offers three reasons to reject this proposal, there are appropriate vehicles to mourn Churban Gush Katif within the existing traditional liturgy of our people.

The Fasts Listed in Shulchan Aruch

Rav Metzger notes that Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim chapter 580) lists no less than twenty one days “that are appropriate days to fast” due to various calamities that occurred on those days. For example, Nadav and Avihu died on the first of Nissan, on the first of Av Aharon HaKohein died, and the twenty third of Shevat began the terrible civil war against the tribe of Binyamin that is recorded in the end of Sefer Shofetim. The Magein Avraham (ad. loc. number nine) adds that the twentieth of Sivan is a day set aside to mourn the Khmelnitsky pogroms of 1641-1642 (Tach VeTat; see Rav Soloveitchik’s comments regarding this commemoration, recorded in “The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways” pp.300-301). Thus, it would seem appropriate to add the day of Churban Gush Katif to the list of days of mourning.

However, Rav Metzger cites the Aruch HaShulchan (ad. loc.) who writes “However, now in our times and in our communities, we have not heard of anyone who fasts on these days.” The Aruch HaShulchan justifies this practice noting that “The edict was not an obligation to fast on these days but rather a recommendation that it is proper to fast on these days. In addition, there exists no authority in post-Talmudic times to issue a decree upon all Jews {to fast on these days].” This last point emerges from a celebrated statement of the Rosh (Shabbat 2:15 and Niddah 10:13) that in the post-Talmudic era we are not authorized to add new edicts and decrees.

Accordingly, if these twenty one days are observed in the breach, it makes little sense to add a day to mourn Churban Gush Katif. We may add that it is appropriate to mourn for Gush Katif within the framework of Tish’ah BeAv. A possible reason that the fasts listed in Shulchan Aruch are not observed is that it is too much of a burden on the community for us to mourn every tragic event in our long and sometimes tumultuous history. Instead we set aside four days in the year to mourn the tragedies of our people and one especially intense day of mourning on Tish’ah BeAv. As Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik stressed on many occasions (based on the commentary ascribed to Rashi to Divrei HaYamim II 35:25), Tish’ah BeAv is a day for mourning all the tragedies of our People. Thus, a reasonable and proportionate commemoration of Gush Katif may be included in that day’s mourning.

Rav Moshe Feinstein on Mourning the Holocaust

Rav Metzger cites Rav Moshe Feinstein’s response (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Yoreh Dei’ah 4:57:11) to the proposal of establishing a new day of fasting for the Holocaust. Rav Moshe rejected the suggestion citing the precedent of the absence of a new day of fasting for the enormous suffering we endured during the Crusades. He notes that Ashkenazic Jews incorporate Kinnot for the Crusades within the liturgy of Tish’ah BeAv (noted in the aforementioned comment of the commentary ascribed to Rashi). We may add that Sephardic Jews have similarly not added a special day of fasting for the Spanish Inquisition and the subsequent expulsion from Spain but rather add a Kinnah for this awful event. Rav Moshe writes that the Holocaust should be seen “as part of the many tragedies we have endured during this long Galut (Exile).” Indeed, the perceived need for the withdrawal from Gush Katif was entirely due to the relentless intolerance of many Arabs for Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael, which is yet another expression of the anti-Semitism so unfortunately characteristic of this long Exile.

Rav Soloveitchik cited (in addition to the aforementioned commentary ascribed to Rashi) a Kinnah for Tish’ah BeAv (“Mi Yittein Roshi Mayim,” mourning the Crusades) states that we are not authorized to add more days of mourning to Tish’ah BeAv, “Vechi Ein Lehosif Moed Shever VeTaveirah.” On this basis, Rav Soloveitchik objected to instituting Yom HaShoah as a special day of mourning for the Holocaust (see the essay archived at where we present a full discussion of this issue). Although many communities do observe Yom Hashoah following the opinion of Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg and those Rabbanim who felt it appropriate to do so, one cannot compare Gush Katif to the Holocaust. Without dismissing or minimizing the suffering endured in the dislocations of August 2005, it is nonetheless not even remotely comparable to the suffering endured during the massacres of the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and Holocaust.

Lo Titgodedu

Rav Metzger notes Chazal’s (Sifrei to Devarim 14:1 and Yevamot 14a) interpretation of the Torah’s prohibition of Lo Titgodedu as a call “not to break into different groups but rather to act as one unit, Agudah Achat.” Rambam (Teshuvot number 151) explains “The entire House of Israel should act as one unit and there should not be any Machloket (dissent) in any matter. You wise individuals are aware of the punishment for Machloket and the many problems it causes.” Rav Metzger observes “Regrettably, the topic of the dismantling of the Katif Strip was the subject of a bitter and painful communal Machloket within our nation. An enactment to eternalize this dismantling as a day of fasting and remembrance of the destruction is liable to add and magnify dissent within the nation. This too is a reason not to issue such a decree.”

Composing New Kinnot for Gush Katif

Rav Metzger cites the opposition of Rav Soloveitchik to composing new Kinnot to mourn the Holocaust even on Tish’ah BeAv. Rav Soloveitchik argued (as presented in “The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways” pp. 298-299).

I do not like new ‘prayers.’ I cannot use it (a new Kinnah composed to mourn the Holocaust) because, in my opinion, there is no one, no contemporary, who has all the qualities indispensable for writing prayers. I am always reluctant to accept new compositions; in general, I do not trust anyone who tells me he intends to compose a prayer. I do not believe in so-called liturgical creativity or creative liturgy. The Gemara (Megillah 17b) says that "One hundred and twenty elders, among whom were many prophets," wrote our Shemoneh Esreh. Only they could write it.

Prayer is not just a hymn, but a copy of a conversation between Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu and a human being. Who can write such a conversation? Only the Men of the Great Assembly and the prophets were able to do it. That is why we are so careful about every word in the nusah ha-tefillah, the text of the liturgy.

Of course, later piyutim (not tefillot) were written by Hakhmei Ashkenaz and Hakhmei Tzarfat. There is no doubt that the authors of the piyutim mourning the destruction during the Crusades were of the Ba'alei ha-Tosafot. But the Hakhmei Ashkenaz and Hakhmei Tzarfat were the Hakhmei ha-Masorah! They were responsible not only for piyutim, but for the shalshelet ha-kabbalah, the transmission of the tradition as a whole! Tosafot quotes Rabbi El'azar ha-Kalir many times when he has a halakhic problem. Rabbi El'azar ha-Kalir was not simply a paytan; he was one of the Hakhmei ha-Masorah. So, of course, if he wrote a piyut of a kinah, it has relevance. But I cannot trust others to do it. Not that I am suspicious. Not that I, God forbid, have anything against the author of a contemporary kinah. I just do not believe that a contemporary has the inner ability, the faith, the depth, the sweep of experience, the ecstacy, and the taharat ha-nefesh, the purity of soul, that would authorize him or give him permission to write a piyut. I just do not believe that there is anyone today who is qualified to do this.

Although many communities do recite a Kinnah for the Holocaust on Tish’ah BeAv such as the one written by Rav Shimon Schwab, this is due to the overwhelming horror of the Holocaust. Many feel that we cannot let Tish’ah BeAv pass without acknowledgement of this horror in the form of a Kinnah. However, Rav Soloveitchik’s words of caution are heeded for tragedies of any lesser magnitude. For example, Rav Ben Zion Uzziel, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael from 1939-1953, composed a compelling Kinnah commemorating the tragedy of the fall of the Jewish Quarter of Yerushalayim in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence (printed in Rav Uziel’s “Michmanei Uzziel”). This Kinnah, to the best of my knowledge, is not incorporated in the Tish’ah BeAv Kinnot by any community nor was it recited even prior to the recapture of the old city of Yerushalayim in June 1967. The fall of the old city of Jerusalem in 1948 was a terrible tragedy that included hundreds of deaths of its Jewish residents and defenders. If we do not recite Rav Uzziel’s Kinnah for this terrible event, how can we recite a Kinnah for Gush Katif?

Conclusion: A Proposed Manner to Mourn the Loss of Gush Katif

Rav Metzger concludes his article by noting, “Due to our many sins, a portion of our homeland was torn away and the grief and sorrow is great. Despite the great pain and anguish a new fat day should not be instituted” nor should new Kinnot be recited. He does recommend reciting “Baruch Dayan Emet” (without saying Hashem’s name; see Mishnah Berurah 224:14) in light of Berachot 58b which states “One who sees Jewish homes in ruins should recite Baruch Dayan Emet.”

We may add based on Rav Soloveitchik’s aforementioned remarks regarding new Kinnot for the Holocaust: Rav Soloveitchik notes that there is ample room within the already existing traditional liturgy to express our mourning for the Holocaust.

On Tish'ah be-Av, our eulogy is not limited to the Ten Martyrs. They were the first victims. We also deliver a eulogy for the victims of the Crusades, and for the deaths of millions of Jews down through Jewish history, including those killed by Hitler. I would rather use a piyut by one of the Ba'alei ha-Tosafot or any other of the Hakhmei Ashkenaz than a liturgical piece by a present-day writer.

In light of this point, I propose that we bear in mind the tragedy of Gush Katif when we recite in Selichot “Yefi Admateinu L’Nochrim,” the beauty of our land is in the hands of Nochrim. This phrase perfectly matches and captures the tragic loss of Gush Katif. In addition, in the Sephardic liturgy for Tish’ah BeAv there is mentioned immediately prior to the removal of the Sefer Torah for Keriat HaTorah, that Eretz Yisrael is Kevushah, conquered. Not only may we bear in mind that this refers to Gush Katif but it may also remind us that even today we are not free to act as we wish in Eretz Yisrael but are subject to pressures from outside of Israel that brought about the loss of Gush Katif.

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