10th Tevet & The Theological Significance of the Shoah

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  • Theologically, religiously, it seems to be absurd to hold that the extirpation of Judea, Rhineland, or Southeastern European Jewry was a more acceptable experience than what transpired between 1939-45. Is the vision of an infinite God who is Guardian of Israel less shaken by the annihilation of only a million Jews at the hands of the Romans, or only several hundred thousand each by crusaders, Cossacks, haidamuks, than by the 6 million dead in German Europe? And Judaism has survived until 1939, as it shall now, without denying its God and the covenant with Him. The question to God – Why? – is the same for the first child struck down in human history and for the last to perish in Auschwitz. That is the eternal confrontation of all men with God (David Weiss Halvini: After the Holocaust, Another Covenant?)
  • Nor do we for a single moment entertain the thought that what happened to European Jewry in our generation was divine punishment for sins committed by them. It was injustice absolute; injustice countenanced by God....[however] the experience of God’s 'absence' is not new; each generation had its Auschwitz problem…The shock of those who perished or lived through the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth of antiquity, or the Crusades or the Chmelnikci period was not much different from the experience of our generation (Eliezer Berkovits, Faith after the Holocaust)
  • The Holocaust is a novum [epoch making event] in human history which ‘ruptures’ Christian, Jewish and philosophical thought. (To Mend the World: Foundations of Post Holocaust Thought)
  • Our hermeneutic situation is radically altered by the Holocaust. An abyss separates our ‘here and now’ from the ‘then and there’ of both the Bible and its rabbinic interpreters. (Fackenheim: The Jewish Bible after the Holocaust: A Re-reading)
  • It is surely correct that the Holocaust be understood as a seismic event in Jewish history, structurally unique, a meta-historical absurdum in the midst of a Jewish experience that had been willing, generously, to over credit the enlightenment and reasonableness of the emancipated nations among whom Jews had lived. This cannot be stressed enough…The Holocaust should become for all of us the critical event of modern Jewish history – a caesura, a Red Sea of evil which parted time and space, separating the past of the Jewish people from its future. But, unlike the Red Sea of Exodus, it was not the enemies of Israel, but the Jews themselves, who drowned when the sea closed (Arthur Cohen, Review Essay of Emil Fackenheim)
  • Understanding the Shoah within tradition
  • Punishment for Sin
  • “because of our sinfulness we have suffered greatly, worse than Israel has known since it became a people. In former times, whenever troubles befell Jacob, the matter was pondered and the reasons sought – which sin had brought the troubles about…
  • but in our generation one need not look far for the sin responsible for our calamity…the heretics have made all kinds of efforts to violate these oaths, to go up by force and to seize sovereignty and freedom by themselves, before the appointed time…they have lured the majority of the Jewish people into awful heresy…and so it is no wonder that the Lord has lashed out in anger.
  • (Joel Teitelbaum, from Aviezer Ravitsky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish religious Radicalism)
  • Free Will / Hester Panim
  • He who demands justice of God must give up man; he who asks for God's love and mercy beyond justice must accept suffering....if at Auschwitz we witnessed 'The Hiding of God's Face' in the rebirth of the State of Israel and its success we have seen a smile on the face of God; it is enough."
  • "Freedom and responsibility are the very essence of man. Without them man is not human. If there is to be man, he must be allowed to make his choices for freedom. If he had such freedom, he will use it. Using it he will often use it wrongly. He will decide for the wrong alternative. As he does so, there will be suffering for the innocent."
  • (Eliezer Berkovits, Faith after the Holocaust)
  • Suffering God
  • Now the Jew tormented by his afflictions thinks that he alone suffers, as if all his personal afflictions and those of all Israel do not affect above, God forbid. Scripture states, however, “in all their troubles he was troubled” (Isaiah 63:9) and the Talmud states: “When a person suffers, what does the Shekhina say? ‘my head is too heavy for me, my arm is too heavy for me’”. Our sacred literature tells us that when a Jew is afflicted, God, blessed be He, suffers as it were much more than the person does.
  • (Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto the Holy Fire)
  • Is Rejecting God a Jewish Idea?
  • “if I believed in God as the omnipotent author of the historical drama and Israel as his chosen people I had to accept Dean Gruber’s conclusion that it was God’s will that Hitler committed six million Jews to slaughter. I could not possibly believe in such a God not could I believe in Israel as the chosen people after Auschwitz”
  • The theological account of the Shoah as retribution (because of our sins) is blasphemous against both man and God.
  • If indeed such a God holds the destiny of mankind in His power, His resort to the death camps to bring about his ends is so obscene that I would rather spend my life in perpetual revolt rather than render Him even the slightest homage.....what sin could be so great as to justify such retribution, the only worthy reaction is a rejection of the Jewish theological framework...
  • we stand in a cold, silent unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful power beyond our own resources. After Auschwitz what else can a Jew say about God?"
  • (Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz)
  • They formed a Bet Din, and conducted the trial completely in accordance with Halakha. They gathered evidence against God, building a strong case against the “Holy One Blessed Be He.” The trial lasted several days, with the judges giving all those who wished a chance to speak their minds. Witnesses were heard, and painful personal testimonies were given [Wiesel remarked in amazement how none of the witnesses even remotely defended God.]
  • It was time to issue a ruling, and the rabbinic court pronounced a unanimous verdict: “The Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth – guilty of crimes against creation, against humanity and against His own Chosen People of Israel.”
  • Soon after this painful judgment was pronounced, followed by a reaction from the people that Wiesel describes as an “infinity of silence,” the rabbi presiding over the rabbinic court looked up to the sky, saw that the sun had set, and that the darkness of night was upon the world. This rabbi, who had just indicted God and pronounced Him guilty of crimes, looked towards the silenced crowd and said “Come, my friends, we have a minyan – it is time to pray Maariv.” The other members of the rabbinic court, together with the witnesses and the onlookers, all gathered around the rabbi to join in their evening prayers to God.
  • (Elie Wiesel, Night)
  • Primo Levi – Shema
  • You who live secure
  • In your warm houses
  • Who return at evening to find
  • Hot food and friendly faces:
  • Consider whether this is a man,
  • Who labors in the mud
  • Who knows no peace
  • Who fights for a crust of bread
  • Who dies at a yes or a no.
  • Consider whether this is a woman,
  • Without hair or name
  • With no more strength to remember
  • Eyes empty and womb cold
  • As a frog in winter.
  • Consider that this has been:
  • I commend these words to you.
  • Engrave them on your hearts
  • When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
  • When you go to bed, when you rise.
  • Repeat them to your children.
  • Or may your house crumble,
  • Disease render you powerless,
  • Your offspring avert their faces from you.
  • The Search for New Language
  • Emil Fackenheim 614th Commandment
  • “Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories. Jewish existence itself is a holy act. To submit to cynicism is to abdicate responsibility for the world and to deliver the world into the hands of the Luciferian forces of Nazism…They are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz lest their memory perish. They are forbidden to despair of man and his world, and to escape into either cynicism or otherworldliness, lest they cooperate in delivering the world over to the forces of Auschwitz. Finally, they are forbidden to despair of the God of Israel, lest Judaism perish.
  • Irving Greenberg: Broken (but Voluntary) Covenant
  • No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children...
  • The cruelty and the killing raise the question whether even those that believe after such an event dare talk about a God who loves and cares without making a mockery of those who suffered....the Holocaust offers us only dialectical mores and understandings...our relationship to God can't not be affected... the Shoah marks the era where the Siniaic covenant was shattered...Israel is now the senior partner in the covenant (God is the silent one)...and the covenant is now voluntary.......If Treblinka makes human hope an illusion, then the Western Wall asserts that human dreams are more real than force and facts.

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