[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]
Note: I first published most of this article in a different venue, before Tisha b'Av of 5767. I still find it relevant, so I'm posting it here. [I did not end up airing the video in question.]
I think I need a reality check, so please help me out here.
A major Kiruv organization is advertising a video for Tisha b'Av. I watched their preview, and I'm not sure I can use the video.
The opening segment of the preview includes the following declaration: “…but there’s something quite harsh and that is that HaShem has demands. HaShem made demands on Klal Yisrael, Europe was destroyed because of the spiritual state of Klal Yisrael there, and if that happened then, it's very scary as to where we are holding today. If we understand that what the Holocaust did was, destroyed what Gedolei Yisrael called a business that was running bankrupt, because Klal Yisrael was really falling part, the minority, just the minority was still Torah-true, if that happened there, well, what's going to happen to Jewry today? And that's scary.”
The same theme runs throughout the preview.
I am a fan of this kiruv organization, which has done an incredible amount of good with a high degree of professionalism. I know and respect quite a few of their personnel, and I like a great many of the programs they put out. But is this a kiruv message, or a richuk [distancing] message?
As a relevant aside, the accuracy of the message is debatable. Suffering is, sometimes, Divine punishment; that's clear in Tanach and Gemara. But it's equally clear in Tanach and Gemara that suffering, sometimes, comes about for reasons other than Divine punishment, as we have discussed elsewhere.
Certainly, one could argue that the Holocaust, at least in some part, may have involved punishment for sin. Nonetheless, the words of Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, from a public shiur recorded in 1989, come back to me:
Because if one tries to explain the Holocaust, he will be nichshal [stumble] in one of two things. If he will try to explain the Holocaust under the secular perspective he will be nichshal in blasphemy. And if he will try to explain from a religious perspective, and point a finger at certain people, why the Holocaust took place, then he will speak stupidity and gasus haruach [arrogance].
But beyond the debatable accuracy, to return to our main point: Is this something to disseminate? Is the Jewish public ready to use the Holocaust as a kiruv tool? “Gd punished you sixty years ago, so you had better shape up now before you get whacked again?”
Perhaps the makers of the video weren't hearing the screams of tortured Jews when they taped those words. Perhaps they weren't thinking about the raped women of the liquidated ghettoes, the rabbis whose beards were torn off and who were otherwise disgraced before they were killed. Perhaps the staff that reviewed the film didn't, during their work, call to mind the thousands of babies who were brutally massacred.
Or the opposite - perhaps they did call all of those things to mind, and that's exactly what motivated them to call Jewry to Wake Up, in a Kahanaesque attempt to wake the masses with harsh truths... but I'm not sure that Kahanaism works as good kiruv. My experience is that it does not.
The key questions, to me:
Is the message going to make a single Jew commit herself to greater observance?
Or is the message going to turn off a single Jew who feels that the memory of her parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts is being sullied?
My gut feeling is that this does not qualify as proper תוכחה (instruction). The Holocaust is still אבילות חדשה (mourning for recent loss), an open and fresh wound; I think that calling it Divine punishment would be a turnoff. Rabbonim far greater than me have balked at that approach.
What do you think?