Elegy on the Holocaust

Rabbi Simon SchwabRabbi Simon Schwab (1908-95), sion of Hirsch’s “Torah and Derekh Eretz” Community in Frankfurt, and leader of Khal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights, USA, composed a moving Elegy on the tragedy of the Holocaust, for inclusion among the others traditionally chanted on the Fast of Av, the saddest day of the Jewish Year.

R. Schwab’s elegy is structured like the well-known kinah “Betseiti Mimitzrayim” (also known by its opening words “Esh Tukad”), and intended to be chanted to the same chant. The S&P chant for “Esh Tukad” also fits the R. Schwab’s kinah well.

Here are the opening two strophes.


For a two page PDF of the entire elegy in both Hebrew and English, click here.

R. Schwab described himself as having written the elegy “with trembling hands”. His teacher, R. Joseph Breuer, had asked him to undertake the task, taking account of both his great scholarship and his poetical abilities, and he considered it a duty that had to be fulfilled, but was nonetheless fearful of adding anything to the time-honoured liturgy. His elegy has now become an integral part of the Fast of Av service in the renowned Washington Heights community.

Rabbinical authorities who sanctioned the addition of an elegy to commemorate the Holocaust, include R. Moshe Feinstein, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, and R. Shlomo Zalman Aurbach. R. Shach and R. Joseph B. Soloveichik both opposed any change of this kind (the latter [sic] opposing the introduction of a prayer for the State of Israel for the same reason).

To hear the kinah sung to the traditional chant of the Frankfurt community (complete), click here.

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The Spanish and Portuguese Communities have a rich repertoire of chants for the Fast of Ab, and in my opinion it would be entirely appropriate to add this one, using their own traditional chant for “Esh Tukad”.

The picture above shows Bevis Marks Synagogue on Tisha beAv. Click on the picture to learn more aboutthe distinctive S&P customs for this sad day.

To hear R Schwab’s elegy sung to the chant of the London S&P (first two and last two strophes), click here.

Acknowledgement: My thanks to Abraham Aumann for the text and original recording. The S&P version is by me.


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