The 31-branch menorah: Tenth of Tevet observances


The Tenth of Tevet, a minor fast day in the Jewish tradition, marks the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II that ultimately led to the destruction of the First Temple. Like other fast days, Jewish institutions have related concerns of the day to this historic tragedy in the Jewish calendar. The Holocaust and the struggle for Soviet Jewry are two significant events whose victims have been remembered on this day. In 1955, for example, the chief rabbi of Israel, Isaac Herzog, crafted a unique commemoration for the 6,000,000 Jews who perished in the Holocaust:

Chanting the hymns composed in the ghettoes of Europe, the participants — led by Rabbi Herzog — entered a "Cellar of Anguish," a cave on the mountainside, where they lit a specially-constructed 31-branch Menorah, symbolizing the 31 Nazi concentration camps in which Jews were put to death. Altogether, about 70 memorial services were held throughout the country.

Below, a timeline of Tenth of Tevet observances reported by JTA:

  • 1928 – Holy Scrolls desecrated during anti-Jewish riots in Roumania buried in private ceremonies humming carols.
  • 1939 – Palestine Jews observe day of prayer for oppressed German Jews, appeal to Britain to permit increased immigration of refugees.
  • 1949 – Universal day of mourning for Jewish martyrs of Holocaust observed in Europe, U.S., and Israel.
  • 1950 – 70 memorial services for Nazi-killed Jews held in Israel.
  • 1953 – Orthodox groups in Mea shearim declare day of protest against implementation of national service law that enlists girls. 
  • 1955 – Israel formally sets Tenth of Tevet as memorial day for Holocaust victims whose date of death is unknown.
  • 1968 – Member of Nazi hunting vengeance squad buries ashes taken from Treblinka death camp in Yad Vashem ceremony.
  • 1970 – Cross-denominational association of Massachusetts rabbis declare day of dedication to Soviet Jewry; Gov. Francis W. Sargent and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy send messages of support.
  • 1971 – 2,500 British Jewish women participate in silent march to the Soviet Embassy to deliver petition.
  • 1990 – Lubavitcher rebbe rejects assertion that Holocaust was Divine punishment.

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