Remembrance Day siren

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 12, 2011

On Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and a week later on the memorial day for fallen soldiers, a siren sounds for two minutes and the country stops. Cars pull over and their drivers stand silently by the side of the road, pedestrians stop in mid-stride, and everywhere people interrupt what they are doing to stand and remember the victims of the Shoah and the fallen soldiers.

Well, almost everywhere. For a lively argument persists about whether the siren is a Jewish way of remembrance. Many in the Charedi communities protest that standing in silence is chukkat hagoy, imitation of gentile practices and therefore halachically problematic. Some recite psalms quietly during the siren to avoid causing offence. Others simply ignore the siren and go about their business.

The halachic sources indicate that imitation of non-Jewish ways is problematic only when the practice concerned is bound up with pagan, idolatrous or immoral actions (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 178:1). This does not appear to be the case with the remembrance siren. The argument of chukkat hagoy masks much deeper Charedi objections to the state and its symbols.

Last updated: 10:29am, May 12 2011