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Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim| 5764

Ask the Rabbi

Question: I am disturbed by the refusal of some religious Jews to stand for the siren on Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day). Someone told me it is forbidden to do so. If this is so, why doesn’t the rabbinate come out against it? If not, shouldn’t all religious Jews stand?
Answer: Those who say it is forbidden to stand for the minute of silence on Yom Hazikaron claim it is a problem of chukot hagoyim (following practices of gentile nations). Indeed, the practice was learned from non-Jews, and there is such a prohibition, which is learned from Vayikra 18:2. However, we have not found a published p’sak that rules that it is forbidden and explains why (it is possible that one exists). Furthermore, based on the classical sources on the subject, it is difficult to forbid the practice on halachic grounds.
 There is an apparent contradiction between two gemarot on the parameters of chukot hagoyim. There was a practice of both Jews and non-Jew to burn objects after their king’s death. The gemarot agree the practice is permitted, but give different reasons. Avoda Zara 11a says that the activity does not fall under the category of chuka, but is an act of chashivuta (showing importance). Sanhedrin 52b says that it is a chuka but is permitted only because there is a pasuk (Yirmiya 34:5) that makes it a Jewish practice before a non-Jewish one.
 Tosafot (Avoda Zara 11a) explains that these gemarot arecomplementary. The chuka of Avoda Zara refers to a practice connected to idol worship proper. In such a case, a preceding Jewish source for the custom is insufficient. But, says the gemara, the burning was not an idolatrous act. Sanhedrin refers to a general, gentile process, which is permitted only if there is a Jewish precedent. We need to define what counts as a chuka, because if we go to an extreme, we would have to forbid all sorts of things, such as wearing a suit and tie (see Igrot Moshe YD I, 81 who explains why this is not so). The Maharik (88) explains that practices that are initiated by non-Jews for logical reasons and are not negative in nature are not considered chukot at all. The Rama (YD 178:1) paskens likethe Maharik, as do a predominant majority of poskim (see Maharam Shick YD 165, Yabia Omer III, YD 24, and many others), despite the Gra’s (YD 178:7) protestations. (See Rav Y. Henkin’s article in Techumin IV, where he tries to prove that the Gra would agree in our case.)
 It is not always simple to apply the rules to contemporary situations. For example, in three teshuvot, Rav Moshe Feinstein z.t.l. wrestles from different perspectives with the issue of whether elements of the American, Thanksgiving holiday are chukot hagoyim (Igrot Moshe YD IV, 12 deals with the contradiction). But in our case, the Maharik’s requirements are clearly met. Anyone who has experienced standing at the siren as the whole country stops everything together, silently contemplating the sacrifice and contribution of the fallen kedoshim,knows how effective a remembrance it is. It is, thus, fully logical and permitted.
 So why can’t we all agree? Some within the religious community frown upon almost anything that symbolizes the Israeli government or general society. Although we share many of their complaints, our approach is to be thankful to Hashem and to the people who have sacrificed to enable all the good that comes with our Jewish State. While it is a chillul Hashem not to stand (all the more so, in public), publicizing the phenomenon, which applies to a minority of the religious community, makes more chillul Hashem. We feel that one most effectively deals with conflicts among our people with love, not, for example, by yelling, “Shabbos!” For the sake of consistency and a desire to make things better, not worse, we urge that this disagreement be handled with love and understanding, not mud-slinging.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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