Did halakha kill rabbis and yeshiva students during the Holocaust?
The answer may surprise you. It certainly surprised me…
First, shmuel writes:
As far as the Lithuanian yeshivas, according to Dr. Efraim Zuroff, in a public speech delivered at Edah in New York City a couple of years ago, the story went down as follows: dozens of yeshivas, and their 3000 students, fled Poland to Vilna ahead of the Nazis. Only the Mir decided to take up the advice of a Jewish Joint Distribution leader, who would later sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence, to send down bachrim to sit in the embassy and get Danish/Curasoan, and later Japanese, transit papers. I read the accounts in Chaim Shapiro's "Go My Child" (correct title?) which provides fuller details and a different slant, and a second source, but the end is the same: Zuroff asks this question: if all the Mir did was get Danish and Japanese passports, where was the miracle? And why didn't the other yeshivas do the same exact thing? Why did the others wait for American passports--which never materialized---instead of getting what was available and moving out?
Reading this, a friend called to fill me in on a bit of information that explains this. According to what he heard in a lecture given in his Orthodox synagogue some time ago, the reason more rabbis and yeshivas did not flee to Shanghai was a halakhic one.
Rabbis were unsure of the implications of crossing the International Dateline. Because of the question of which day is properly observed as Shabbat, the rabbis chose to flee to Vilna rather than head for Shanghai. By the time the rabbis realized that Lithuania would fall, the Shanghai option was gone.
If this is correct, Jewish law – or, rather the obsessive-compulsive version of it common in haredi culture – killed those rabbis, their families and their students.