Sunday marks the national remembrance day for IDF soldiers without an official burial site. It’s no accident that the seventh day of the Hebrew month of Adar was chosen as the date to mark such a day — according to Jewish tradition, it is the day Moses passed away.
Choosing the traditional anniversary of Moses’s death as the national remembrance day was done because the Bible (Deuteronomy 34:5-6) stresses that the burial site of one of the most important figures in Jewish history is unknown.
Shortly after the end of Israel’s war of independence, the Military Rabbinate decided the day on which Moses died would be the day Israel remembered its fallen soldiers, interconnecting ancient Jewish traditions with modern-day Israel.
Today, that connection is all but obsolete. While the Zionist-Orthodox schools mention Moses’s yahrzeit, almost no one in the country — Orthodox or other — mentions or remembers those soldiers meant to be remembered. Of course, the soldiers aren’t forgotten, but the special day given to mourning families who have no grave to visit seems to have been lost.
As of May 2012, almost 23,000 soldier had lost their lives while serving in the Israeli security services. A total of 181 soldiers were declared dead even though there is no known burial-place for them, 108 of them were killed during the war of independence in 1948.
Over the years the army successfully found the location of some of the bodies, giving some closure to their families. One example was the discovery of the Dakar Submarine in 1999, more than 30 years after its 68 crew members were announced dead.
At the Mount Herzel military cemetery there is a special memorial for the 181 soldiers who were never given a proper burial, chronologically arranged with a plot for each of the country’s wars and with symbolic headstones marking their final resting place.
“Here lie the stone markers in memory of our beloved, who fell in Israel’s battles and their burial-place is unknown.”
Like a number of other events (including the dual meaning given to the 10th of Tevet), what was meant to be a day unifying modern and old, Jewish and Israel, soldier and scholar — has lost its national meaning.
It is important to remember those who were killed fighting for Israel, and the nation must support the families who don’t have a grave to visit. It is also important for modern-day Israel to remember older Jewish traditions which provide a mourning day for Moses.
The most crucial thing is to connect the old and the new, to make sure the Jewish state and Jewish culture interact and influence each other in a positive way.
Today, the seventh of Adar, we have a chance to do so.