SOME THOUGHTS ON THE HOLOCAUSTby Shlomoh
February 19, 2008
The Holocaust is a Revelation of the Absence of the Divine
Israel Prize winner Rabbi David Weiss-Halivni, the former Illui of Sighet, discusses the Holocaust after the jump in the extended post:
Halivni retired about three years ago and decided to immigrate to Israel, which is what made it possible for him to be awarded the Israel Prize (which is contingent on Israeli citizenship). Last fall, he published a new book, "Breaking the Tablets" (Rowman, Littlefield), which deals with post-Holocaust Jewish theology. Halivni sharply attacks those who pose the question of why the Holocaust happened, and especially those who try to "explain" it by various sins, calling them collaborators with the Nazis. In his opinion, Auschwitz is tantamount to a divine revelation, such as the revelation on Mount Sinai, but is opposite to it in nature: "This is a revelation of the absence of the divine, a revelation of the possibility of God's absence from the world."
Halivni lost his entire family in the Holocaust. Halivni himself was a prisoner in a Nazi work camp and in Auschwitz.
This blog provokes in me several thoughts touching on the Holocaust.
1. This is a story I heard from my rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue. Towards the end of the war, as the allies were closing in on one of the concentration camps, the guards decided to kill the remaining several hundred Jews by herding them into a room and machine gunning them. One of the Jews, a Chassid, was not hit by any of the bullets but he played dead and was eventually liberated by the allies. Subsequent to his release, he wrote a letter to his rebbe, asking him if he were allowed to BENTSH GOMEL [the prayer said after one is rescued from danger by Divine Intervention, - in other words, saved by a miracle from Heaven]. The rebbe angrily responded to his letter, forbidding him to say that prayer. The rebbe told him that he was not saved by divine intervention but by an accident of circumstance - the bullets simply did not hit him. The rebbe further told the Chasid that for him to consider his good luck as a miracle from God would imply that the other Jews in the room were not worthy of salvation. It would be, in effect, spitting on their graves. What is interesting about this story is that the rebbe went against Jewish tradition which says that every act is determined by God and is His will. Here the rebbe had to choose between allegiance to religious dogma, and sensitivity and respect for the dead. What is this the logical precedent to? Namely that other things may be mere accident and not HASHGACHAH PRITAH.
2. One evening, about 5 years ago, I was out for dinner with a couple who were friends. The husband angrily told me that he had been accosted by a Chasid who said to him, "You Reform Jews caused the Holocaust." I asked him why he was angry. He told me that the Chasid had no right to implicate the Reform in general and him in particular for the murder of six million Jews. There was a time before there was such a thing as Reform Judaism and then the Orthodox would blame themselves. At any rate, Orthodox people don't want to blame God so they blame people. For this, there is sufficient precedent in the Bible. "Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years." Judges 6:1 for example. The Lord delivers Israel into the hands of their enemies when Israel does wrong. And the good suffer along with the wicked. Here the Orthodox fill the role of the good and the Reform the other role.
3. Many Jews see the Holocaust as something unique, something new. But the truth is that the Holocaust is just a continuation of 2000 year old anti-Semitism. The only thing that distinguishes it from earlier outbreaks of Jew-hatred is that the Nazis used 20th century technology to accomplish what earlier Christian preachers had taught - that Jews are evil - as the Gospel according to St John says - "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father." - John 8:44. But even when a positive statement about Jews arises out of Christian tradition, it is usually a left-handed compliment. "From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers." - Romans 11:28 The Jews are only beloved because God remembers their Superhero ancestors, the noble Hebrews; Jews are not beloved for their own intrinsic worth. In fact, they are enemies of the gospel. There are those who say that the Nazis were not Christians but their ideology arose in the heartland of Christendom. Even if we speculate that some Nazis were not Christians, in general, the Nazis were the children and grandchildren of Christians - from whom they learned their ethical values - Deutschland uber alles and follow the leader no matter what he says. In actuality, the Nazis had no need to persecute anyone, especially Jews. Had the Nazis merely elevated the German nation above others and not persecuted minorities, then Jews would have been good German soldiers just as they had been in World War One. And Einstein might have given them the bomb. But Nazism feared the Jew as supernatural and superhuman, and therefore made them subhuman. Whether devil or angel, the Jew can never be just another human being in the depths of the Christian psyche.
4. With the Nazis defeated and Europe saved from their aggression, one would think that the nations of Europe would have learned a lesson, namely, that no one is safe from aggressors who seek power and domination, and that the victims of aggression should be afforded compassion. Instead, one sees today a continuation of persecution in the Christian heartland, even to the extent in that 21st century Lithuanian anti-Semitism is a parody of a comic movie. That some sort of Passion Play is still being performed in this modern age means that the Holocaust, in some sense, is still going on.
5. My significant other points out something that I had never before thought of. Jews like to blame themselves for their misfortunes. See above for the Biblical warrant. Either the orthodox blamed themselves or blamed another denomination. Where else do you find this? Christian Blacks do not blame their sad experience in the New World either on their sins or on the sins of their pagan forefathers. Native Americans do not blame their ethnic murder on the sins of their tribes. Nowhere else except in the case of Jews do you see this self blame. Again, I think that Jews have a history of not wanting to blame God for anything, certainly not that He was silent while six million burned.
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