Israel – Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has ruled that a fast day should not be instituted over the expulsion from Gush Katif (Katif Bloc) and northern Samaria (Shomron), nor should kinot (traditional dirges) be composed.
The ruling appears in the latest volume of Tchumin (Zomet Institute, Vol. 30), an annual compendium of scholarly articles on matters of modern society and state in Torah law. Rabbi Metzger addresses the question of how to commemorate the tragedy of the Disengagement – the expulsion of 9,000 Jews from Gush Katif and northern Shomron, the destruction of their homes and communities by Israeli forces, the burning of their synagogues by Arabs, and the consequent takeover of the area by Iranian-supported Hamas and its Kassam rockets.
He notes that days of fasting in the Jewish calendar are not a method by which to remember historic dates, but rather a way of encouraging repentance and self-accounting for our sins.
While not minimizing the tragic proportions of the expulsion, Rabbi Metzger gives several reasons why it should not be commemorated by an official day of fasting. For one thing, the rabbis are empowered to make new rulings such as national fast days only in cases where the public, or most of it, can be expected to observe them – which is not the case here.
In addition, he writes, “The subject of the uprooting from Gush Katif was a matter of sharp and painful public debate within the nation, such that a ruling of this sort as a day of mourning is liable to deepen and increase the split in the nation.”
Thirdly, Rabbi Metzger does not believe that there is a body today that has the authority to institute rulings over the entire Jewish nation. At one point, the Sanhedrin – the Supreme Court of the original Jewish state, especially during the Second Temple period – was the ultimate authority. It has never been renewed, though an attempt to do so has been made in this generation; most leading rabbis do not support it, though some actively do.
Rabbi Metzger adds that even kinot – dirges of the type recited on Tisha B’Av – should not be composed. The only official way to commemorate the tragedy, he writes, is by reciting an abridged form of the blessing, “Blessed art Thou… the True Judge” when one sees (for the first time in a month) the site that has been destroyed.
Despite the above, there continue to be calls to fast on the 8th day of the month of Elul, the date in 2005 that the IDF officially left Gaza. Such a call would not be in opposition to Rabbi Metzger’s ruling, which bans only a nationwide ordinance.
In 2008, the Knesset passed the “Gush Katif and Northern Shomron Legacy Center Law,” calling for the establishment of various means, such as a library, research institute and website by which to teach about and memorialize the destroyed areas. In this framework, the Education Ministry conducts a “Gush Katif” week in schools that request it. Only a few schools participated in 2009, but in February of 2010, some 400 schools – mostly of the public-religious stream – took part.