Friday, May 24, 2024

Six Million Kedoshim

The three-week period leading to the fast of Tisha B’Av is a time of mourning over the great calamities that have befallen our people since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, the subsequent exile of the Jewish people to the four corners of the world, and the terrible scourge of anti-Semitism which has visited hatred and oppression upon us.

In recent times, no event has seared the consciousness of the Jewish people more than the systematic murder of six million Jews in the cataclysm of Churban Europa, otherwise known as the Holocaust.

  1. The Controversy Whether the Holocaust Dead Are Kedoshim as a Result of Being Murdered Al Kiddush Hashem

Both of my parents were Holocaust survivors. I was brought up with the strong belief that it is forbidden to speak derogatorily about anyone who was killed during the Holocaust. Despite reports of improper behavior and spiritual decline during the period leading to and during the Holocaust, my parents insisted that each murdered Holocaust Jew is a “kadosh.” This applies even if the Jew was not actually given a choice to die rather than violate a transgression, and applies as well even to one who did not keep the Torah and its mitzvos.

The principle has been the source of considerable controversy among the poskim. See Teshuvos Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah 333), who maintained that even one who is killed by idolaters because of a transgression is considered a kadosh. See also Mishneh Halachos (33:186), which states that anyone who is killed specifically because he is a Jew, even if he is a sinner, is considered as if he died al kiddush Hashem. Some opinions cite the words of the Rambam in the Iggeres (Maamar Kiddush Hashem, s.v. “the third category”) that the Ten Martyrs are considered as having been killed al kiddush Hashem, and that even one who has sins like Yerovom ben Nevot and his colleagues is a ben Olam Haba. Other opinions refer to the writings of the Rama (Yoreh Deah 376:64) that “there are those who say that the sons of a mumar who was killed by idolaters say Kaddish for him.” See the lengthy discussion of Rabbi Meir Adler in Kovetz Yeshurun, Year 18, p. 748.

There is also anecdotal support (see “Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto,” p. 224, and others) about one of the gaonim of that generation, Rav Menachem Ziemba, who was quoted as having said that “the Rambam writes that when a Jew is killed (specifically) because he is a Jew, this alone is a kiddush Hashem, and this (opinion) is the halachic ruling.”

In sefer Bechol Nafshecha (chapter 72, p. 378), the author canvasses the opinion of gedolim on both sides of the question. He writes:

“(If) one is killed specifically because he is a Jew, a descendant of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, without having been forced to transgress a sin, such as those murdered by the Germans, may their memory be obliterated, in such a case does one recite the brocha of kiddush Hashem? It would seem that in such a case, one would not recite the blessing, because the main concept of kiddush Hashem is that one is forced to transgress a sin and he chose to be killed rather than to commit the sin, but in a case in which one was not offered the choice and is simply being taken to be killed and has no way to save himself, in what way was Hashem’s name sanctified? Why would that be considered a kiddush Hashem? Indeed, Rav Ezriel Auerbach has told me in the name of his father, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, that those killed in Germany during the Holocaust are not considered as having died al kiddush Hashem, and therefore the blessing of kiddush Hashem is not applicable in their case. Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler writes this as well in Michtav M’Eliyahu (Part Three, p. 346).”

However, in his responsa, Mima’amakim (Part Two), Rav Efraim Oshry testified that when Rav Elchonon Wasserman and his son were taken to be killed, Rav Elchonon taught his son the wording of the blessing of kiddush Hashem. See also comments made in the name of the Chofetz Chaim. It would seem that they were of the opinion that anyone who is killed specifically because he is a Jew is considered as if he died al kiddush Hashem.

I presented this question to Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Is one who is killed specifically because he is a Jew considered as having been mekadeish Hashem and is he permitted to recite the blessing of kiddush Hashem? He answered, “There are those who say yes, and we have heard of gedolim who have acted accordingly.”

  1. The Source of the View that Any Jew Murdered Solely Because He is a Jew is a Kadosh

As we have seen, there is considerable disagreement as to whether every Jew murdered in the Holocaust because he was a Jew is a kadosh. It is not my place “to place my head between the great mountains” to take sides in this debate. Yet, a great difficulty remains to be answered.

What, indeed, is the source of the proposition that any Jew murdered solely because he is a Jew is a kadosh? The Iggeres HaRambam, most quoted in support, deals with Jews given a choice to die as Jews rather than to agree to apostasy and is not at all relevant.

  1. Rashi’s View – Kiddush Hashem Exists in Every Jew As Long As He Has Not Taken Affirmative Acts to Obliterate His Recognition as a Member of the Chosen People

The commandment of kiddush Hashem, to sanctify G-d’s name, is found in a passage in Parshas Emor which states, “Do not desecrate my Holy Name, and I will be sanctified in the midst of the Bnei Yisroel, I am Hashem who sanctifies you” (Vayikra, Emor 22:32).

Rashi explains: “Do not desecrate – do not violate My words intentionally.” Since we understand from the words “do not desecrate” (that if indeed no desecration took place, the result would be “and I will be sanctified.”), why does it say explicitly “and I will be sanctified?” Isn’t it obvious that one who does not desecrate is thus by default sanctifying Hashem’s name and fulfilling “and I will be sanctified”?

Rashi answers that the words of the posuk, “and I will be sanctified,” come to add a higher level of kiddush Hashem, the level of “surrender yourself and sanctify My Name,” and this level requires that the volitional act to die al kiddush Hashem not be at all conditioned in believing that G-d will perform a miracle to save him.

Nevertheless, according to Rashi, the basic principle of kiddush Hashem is not contingent on any positive action that one does, but is fulfilled by a lack of the negative, namely, that one who does not intentionally (bezadon) transgress (oiver) Hashem’s words (dibbur).

It is quite instructive that Rashi does not define the concept of chillul Hashem as one who doesn’t keep the taryag (613) mitzvos. To understand the significance of Rashi’s commentary, we must carefully define the three Hebrew words used by Rashi, “bezadon,” “oiver,and “dibbur,” to define the affirmative conduct that a Jew must take to exclude himself from being kadosh.

“La’avor” (to violate or transgress) means to go over to the other side. Rashi explains in Iyov (1:19) that “mei’eiver hamidbar” means from the other side of the desert, and the house was on this side.

Rashi’s use of the word “oiver” denotes that all of the Bnei Yisroel are on the side of Hashem and not on the side of the nations of the world who choose not to follow Hashem’s principles. For this reason, Avrohom was called ha’Ivri (Bereishis 14:13). Chazal taught (Bereishis Rabbah 42:8), “And he recounted to Avrohom the Ivri. …Rav Yehudah says the entire world was on one side and he was on the other side.” For this reason, the Bnei Yisroel are called “Ivrim” (ibid. 43:32) and the women of Klal Yisroel are called “Ivri’os” (Shemos 1:16). Similarly, when Yonah Hanovi was asked (Yonah 1:8) “to which nation do you belong?” he replied, “I am an Ivri.” Eretz Yisroel is referred to as “the Land of the Ivrim” (Bereishis 40:15), the Holy Tongue is called “Ivri,” and Hakadosh Boruch Hu is called the “G-d of the Ivrim” (Shemos 3:18).

One who desecrates Hashem, however, is one who “goes over” to the side of the nations of the world who defy Hashem’s principles and is thus no longer an “Ivri.” This is the primal meaning of the word “aveirah,” which describes one who crosses over from Hashem’s side by not fulfilling the taryag (613) mitzvos.

Second, the Jew must violate Hashem’s “dibbur.” Rashi defines the term “dibbur” as an expression of control and leadership[1]. The purpose of the creation of the world is for man to lead and govern himself in the ways of Hashem through the taryag mitzvos, as it is written (Medrash, Shemos Rabbah 17:1), “Everything Hashem made (He made) for His sake (Mishlei 16:4)…and (for no other purpose) other than to give Him glory and do His will.” In his commentary on Mishlei (ibid.), the Gaon says that through the Torah and mitzvos, the purpose of creation is fulfilled.

One who chooses not to govern himself in the ways of Hashem in the world, in accordance with the thirteen attributes and the taryag mitzvos, is thus crossing over to the side of the nations of the world who desecrate Hashem’s name and defy His principles.

Third, the Jew must intentionally defy Hashem and scoff at his Torah and mitzvos. The concept of “zadon” (intention), as explained by the Malbim (Mishlei 13:10), does not refer to one who simply pursues personal desires, but is used to describe one who publicly and intentionally defies and scoffs at the laws of wisdom and truth.” Thus, the Malbim (ibid. 21:24) explains the posuk

“The arrogant willful man (zeid), is called a scoffer, the willful man (zeid) as one who intentionally disagrees with the laws of wisdom and argues against the laws of wisdom and faith, denying Divine Providence, reward and punishment and arrogantly committing sins. As long as he isn’t arrogant, he is not considered a scoffer, because he is debating with proofs and logic and not simply making mockery and, if disproven, he will remain silent. If he is arrogant, however, he is completely uninterested in reason and logic and is simply making mockery of the sages and the believers and that is considered as acting with malicious intent.”

Accordingly, unless one intentionally defies the principles of the Torah and taryag mitzvos as a result of wickedness that scoffs at all logic and reason, one remains a kadosh and a part of the nation of Ivri’im.

This principle of kiddush Hashem as being dependent on existence as a am kadosh, a holy nation, is actually embedded in the word kedusha. Kedusha means separate[2] and distanced[3] from everything else to be designated[4] for a unique purpose[5].

Thus, “Am Yisroel is called a holy nation to Hashem, your G-d” means that Am Yisroel is kadosh because they have been separated and distinguished from all the nations of the world to be dedicated for the unique purpose of fulfilling Hashem’s kingdom in the world.

The “holy nation” is therefore also called “nation of Ivri,” as both are expressions of this same concept, the concept of separation and distinction, as Rashi says in Shemos (13:12) that the word “veha’avarta” can only mean separation. Similarly “lashon Ivri” is “lashon kodesh,” and “the land of the Ivri’im” is the “Eretz Hakodesh” (the Holy Land). In all these cases, the nation, the land and the language are separate, designated for the unique purpose of fulfilling Hashem’s will and governing of the world.

We express this idea in Havdalah: “He who separates between holy and mundane, etc. between Yisroel and the nations,” as it says (Vayikra 20:26), “And I have separated you from the nations to be Mine.” Rashi explains there: “If you are separated from them, then you are Mine, and if not, then you belong to Nevuchadnetzar and his colleagues. Rav Elazar Ben Azaria says: From where do we learn that one should not say, “I am disgusted by pork” or “I do not desire to wear shatnez”? Rather, one should say I want to, but what can I do? My Father Who is in Heaven decreed upon me, as it says, “And I have separated you from the nations to be Mine,” that your separation from them should be for My sake. He distances himself from sin and accepts upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. See also Rabbeinu Bachya.[6]

Indeed, Rashi is not alone in viewing the status of Am Yisroel as kadosh primarily in existential terms and not dependent on fulfillment of mitzvos.

The Ramban states (Shemos 25:1), “When Hashem spoke to Yisroel face to face (and gave them) the Aseres Hadibros etc. and Yisroel accepted upon themselves to do all that He will command them through Moshe, and He sealed a covenant with them about all this, from this point on, they are a nation unto Him and He is their G-d, as He had stipulated with them previously, ‘And now if you will hearken to My voice and you will keep My covenant, you will be to Me a beloved treasure’ (ibid. 19:5), and He said, ‘And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (ibid. 6).”

The Maharal elaborates on this idea (Tiferes Yisroel, chapter 5) to the effect that the unique quality of Yisroel is not due to their active fulfillment of the mitzvos, but due to their being dedicated and designated to fulfill Hashem’s will:

“The concept of kedusha, the concept of being separate and distanced, must be based on one’s understanding and the perception of his mind, as we have found in the Yerushalmi (Brachos 5:2) that the reason Chazal instituted the practice of saying Havdalah in the brocha of Chonein Hadaas is based on the concept of ‘If one doesn’t have de’ah (true knowledge), how can he differentiate?’ The differentiating between holy and mundane, between light and darkness, and between Yisroel and the nations is based primarily on clarity of perception.

“Obviously, it is crucial to separate ourselves from the nations in our actions as well, and all of the taryag mitzvos are ways to distance ourselves from the nations of the world, as Chazal say in the Medrash that through fulfilling the mitzvos, the behavior of Jews are separate from the nations of the world.[7] Still, however, the source and foundation of this separation is our perception, and our behavior as well emanates from this clarity of perception. This is what Rashi said (above): ‘One should not say, ‘I am disgusted by pork, etc., as it says, ‘And I have separated you from the nations to be Mine,’ that your separation from them should be for My sake./ He distances himself from sin and accepts on himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Consequently, in Hashem’s eyes, every Jew, even one who sins, is considered an Ivri, as Chazal have expounded (Sanhedrin 44:1) on the posuk (Yehoshua 7:11), “Yisroel sinned.” Rav Abba the son of Zavda said that although he sinned, he is (still considered) Yisroel. This is because in the depths of one’s heart, every Jew, even a sinner, truly yearns to fulfill Hashem’s will.[8]

  1. Kiddush Hashem Related to the Sinas Yisroel of Anti-Semitism

The kiddush Hashem of any Jew who is killed by the nations of the world because he is a Jew must be understood against the backdrop of the sinas Yisroel of the nations of the world towards the Jews precisely because we are Ivri’im, a chosen people separated and dedicated to be on Hashem’s side and fulfill His will.

This is stated clearly in the Gemara (Shabbos 89:1) with regard to Har Sinai: “Rav Papa and Rav Huna son of Rav Yehoshua, who study the aggadita of Rav Chisda and Rabbah son of Rav Huna, both said: What is [signified by the name] Har Sinai? The mountain upon which there descended a hatred (sinah) [of Am Yisroel] upon the idolaters.” Rashi comments: “A hatred upon the idolaters, who did not accept the Torah there.”

Rabbeinu Bachya explains (Vayikra 20:26) that the hatred of the nations of the world towards Klal Yisroel is due to the fact that Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah and thus became the Chosen Nation, separate from the rest of the nations. He writes: “‘I have separated you from the nations. That you be Mine.’ The Torah’s wisdom obligates us to be distinguished in our way of food, drink and dress. Our eminence through performance of mitzvos arouses their jealousy, and ultimately their hatred. As Chazal expounded, its true name is Mount Chorev, and why is it referred to as Mount Sinai? Because of the hatred (sinah) that emerged from there upon the nations.”

This hatred of the nations towards Klal Yisroel actually stems from their hatred towards Hashem Himself.

In Bamidbar, the Torah states (10:35), “Arise Hashem and Your enemies shall be dispersed and those who hate You shall flee from before You.” Rashi explains: “Those who hate You (is referring to) those who hate Yisroel, for whoever hates Yisroel hates the One Who spoke and brought the world into being, as it states (Tehillim 83), ‘And those who hate You have raised their head.’ Who are ‘those’ (referring to)? ‘Against Your nation they conspire.’”

Similarly, we find in Shemos (15:7), “In the abundance of Your grandeur You destroy those who rise up against You.” Rashi explains: “Those who rise up against You. Who are those who rise up against Him? Those who rise up against Yisroel, as it says (Tehillim 83), ‘For behold Your enemies are in uproar.’ And what is this uproar? ‘Against Your nation they plot a conspiracy.’ Because of this, (the posuk) calls them enemies of Hashem.” Indeed, Dovid dedicated an entire psalm to this idea (Tehillim 83).

This is the same existential hatred of anti-Semitism that has existed throughout the generations. In the time of Esther and Mordechai, Haman, the archenemy of the Jews, wanted to annihilate all Jews because of the accusation (Esther 3:8) that “their laws are different from every other nation.” The Gemara explains (Megillah 13:2): “Their laws are different from every other nation; we don’t eat with them or intermarry.” The Maharsha explains that according to the simple understanding, it should have stated, “And their laws are different than all other laws.” The point of “and their laws are different” is that the Jewish nation is separate from every other nation, which is one reason for extermination, and that their laws are different is a second reason. See also the Malbim (ibid.), who explains that “not only is the Jewish religion different from the religions of the nations, but the Jewish nation is different from all nations, for their religion distinguishes them from the nations by way of their food, dress and behavior. Thus, due to their religion, their entire human existence is distinguished from all the nations.”

Similarly, the Ksav Sofer writes (ibid.) that “their religion is different from every other nation, meaning that their religion is that they should be different from every other nation, not to eat with them and not to intermarry.”

Even in a case in which this particular Jew does not keep the Torah and mitzvos, still, the reason he is being killed is because he belongs to the Jewish nation, because he is an Ivri, and this very hatred towards Hashem is what brings them to hate and kill all those so identified.

This, too, was the root of the anti-Semitism that the Jewish people have endured through the ages. As the Meshech Chochmah writes (Esther 9:24), there was a great hatred in Miztrayim (even) when they did not keep religion, and when Haman said “their religion is different,” he was bothered by the religion, (but) essentially his hatred was towards the nation even when they forsake their religion. Hence it is written, “Haman, enemy of all the Jews,” even those who forsake their religion.

Thus, every Jew continues to be kadosh as long as one hasn’t desecrated Hashem’s name to the extent that he has “violated My words willfully” – i.e., he doesn’t have a conscious and malicious intent to go against Hashem, to nullify Hashem’s governing of the world through the thirteen attributes and taryag mitzvos, stemming from wickedness and mockery, fighting the laws of reason and faith, to the extent that he has crossed over from being on the side of Hashem to be on the side of the nations of the world and thus nullify from himself the name Ivri.

As we have learnt in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 90:1), “Every Israelite has a portion in the World to Come, as it states, ‘And Your nation are all righteous, forever they will inherit the land,’ except for a heretic, etc.” Even if one has done wicked deeds to the extent that he is adjudged to deserve the death penalty, still he retains his portion in the World to Come and is included in the posuk “and Your nation.”

This is the great principle taught by Rashi. We understand from the words “do not desecrate” that any member of the chosen people who does not desecrate Hashem’s name and intentionally exclude himself “bezadon” from being classified as Ivri is kadosh as a result of the acceptance on Har Sinai to fulfill the will of Hashem. That is the acceptance that has generated the great hatred of Klal Yisroel by the nations who chose to defy Hashem and persecute the chosen people because of what we represent.

The Jews who were killed by the Germans during the Holocaust were killed solely because of the German hatred to the continued existence of the Jewish people. Even those Jews who were not faithful to the Torah and mitzvos still considered themselves to be Jews, as did the Germans who executed the Final Solution to destroy every identifiable Jew from the face of the Earth.

For reasons only known to Hashem, it was decreed in a previous generation that six million of our brethren should die al kiddush Hashem to expose the depravity of those who hate Klal Yisroel and the principles that Klal Yisroel stands for. That was lesson enough for our parents. No more need be said.

The author is a partner in the New York law firm of Hahn & Hessen LLP and has written two seforim titled “Makon Hinichu” and “Tapuchei Zohov” on Rashi’s peirush on Chumash, applying an approach developed by Rav Avrohom Yehuda Pessin zt”l.


[1] See Rashi on Yeshayah (5:17), Tehillim (18:48, 51:6), Esther (1:13), Brachos (45:1), Eruvin (14:2), Pesachim (54:1), Shabbos (63:1), Megillah (22:1), Yevamos (114:1), and Sanhedrin (8:1).

[2] See Rashi, Shemos (22:30), Vayikra (19:2).

[3] See Mishnah Nedorim (2:1) and Malbim (Hakarmel, “Kadosh”).

[4] See Rashi, Bereishis (38:21), Shemos (19:10), Bamidbar (11:18), Devorim (23:18).

[5] See Malbim, Shmuel I (7:1), Yeshayah (13:3).

[6] See Rabbeinu Bachya (Devorim 14:1).

[7] See Bamidbar Rabbah (10:1).

[8] Rambam (Hilchos Geirushin 2:20)



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