Theology of the Holocaust Sources
Responses to suffering in the Shoah
Rubenstein, R. "The State of Jewish Belief" in Commentary 42, August 1966, p.134
"No man can really say that God is dead. How can we know that? Nevertheless, I am compelled to say that we live in the time of the "death of God"... When I say we live in a time of the death of God, I mean that the thread uniting God and man, heaven and earth has been broken. 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?
I believe the greatest single challenge to modern Judaism arises out of the question of God and the death camps. I am amazed at the silence of contemporary Jewish theologians on this most crucial and agonizing of all Jewish issues. How can Jews believe in an omnipotent, beneficent God after Auschwitz? Traditional Jewish theology maintains that God is the ultimate, omnipotent actor in the historical drama. It has interpreted every major catastrophe in Jewish history as God's punishment of a sinful Israel. I fail to see how this position can be maintained without regarding Hitler and the SS as instruments of God's will. The agony of European Jewry cannot be likened to the testing of Job. To see any purpose in the death camps, the traditional believer is forced to regard the most demonic, anti-human explosion in all history as a meaningful expression of God's purposes. The idea is simply too obscene for me to accept."
Lamm, N. "The Face of God: Thoughts on the Holocaust" in Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust, p. 126
"The conceptual framework I offer is that of Hester Panim, the "hiding of the face", as the term is used both in Scripture and the Talmud.
All of the Bible is the record of the dialogue between God and Israel... Now, the fortunes of this dialogue are described by two terms: Hester Panim, the "hiding of the face", and Nesiat Panim, the "lifting of the face". When two people love each other, they face each other, they look adoringly at each other. This mutuality in love is the essence of the dialogue; whatever "words" flow from it, whether narrative or normative, are significant but secondary. But when one party is disloyal to the other, when he sins against the other, then that other turns his face away, he refuses to gaze at the one who wrongfully injured him. As a consequence, the party who first sinned turns his face away. Their relationship thus sustains a blow. Should they feel a need or desire to re-establish relations as of old, then one of them will slowly lift up and turn his face to the other and await the reciprocal turning of the other's face as a gesture of reconciliation.
Now, the beginning of the rupture of the dialogue is Hester Panim, the initial turning away of the face by the one sinned against... In terms of the God-Israel dialogue, Hester Panim, denotes God's self-removal from the context of Israel's company into His transcendence and remoteness, and Nesiat Panim denotes the reverse... What causes Hester Panim and Nesiat Panim to take place? Sin brings in its wake punishment, the acme of which is Hester Panim; the turning aside of God's face is worse than any punishment He metes out to us directly... other than the sheer physical survival of the people, in however pitiable a condition, this state of Hester Panim is one of a total eclipse of the divine in our national life; its terrors are awesome. God remains inaccessible through prophecy. Our prosperity or adversity are the products of chance and effort- but not ordained by divine destiny. During an extended period of historical national Hester Panim, we are given over to the uncertainties of nature and history, where we can be raised by the tides of time and circumstance to the crest of the world's waves- or hurled pitilessly into the fierce troughs of life. Neither our success nor our failure means anything during this stage of Hester Panim... Such was the period of the Holocaust. It was the ultimate expression of meaninglessness, and that was, perhaps the ultimate blow to its victims... This is, I confess, a bold assertion: that other than God's role in preserving us, there is no clear "sense or meaning" in Jewish history since the destruction of the Second Temple. I agree that this is a worrisome proposition. But our sacred sources not only support it, they point to it. We are in a state of ken, of hapless aimlessness. We are, as the sages put it in the Talmud, excommunicated by Heaven."
Berkovits, E. (1973). Faith After the Holocaust p. 89
"Not for a single moment shall we entertain the idea that what happened to European Jewry was divine punishment for any sins committed by them. It was injustice absolute. It was injustice countenanced by God. But if we hold onto our faith in a personal God, such absolute injustice cannot be a mere mishap in the divine scheme of things. Somehow there must be room for it in the scheme, in which case the ultimate responsibility for this ultimate evil must be God's... We have discussed earlier the two different forms of Hester Panim, of the "Hiding of the Face": one as judgment, the other as apparent divine indifference toward the plight of man. We may glean a hint of the theological significance of such apparent divine indifference from a passage in Isaiah. The prophet says of God: Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, 0 God of Israel, the Saviour (Isaiah 45;15). In this passage God's self-hiding is not a reaction to human behavior, when the Hiding of the Face represents God's turning away from man as a punishment. For Isaiah, God's self-hiding is an attribute of divine nature. Such is God. He is a God who hides himself. Man may seek him and he will not be found; man may call to him and he may not answer. God's hiding his face in this case is not a response to man, but a quality of being assumed by God on his own initiative... God does not determine in advance that one person be a Tzadik (a righteous person), and another a Rasha (a wicked person). But unless the possibility existed for a man to be a Rasha, if he so desires, one could not only not be a Rasha, one could not be a Tzadik either. For one can only be a Tzadik as a result of responsible choices made in the freedom of available alternatives. Where the choice is nonexistent, where the possibility of becoming a Rasha is not open to man, the possibility of becoming a Tzadik too has been excluded... God cannot as a rule intervene whenever man's use of freedom displeases him. It is true, if he did so the perpetration of evil would be rendered impossible, but so would the possibility for good disappear. Man can be frightened; but he cannot be bludgeoned into goodness. If God did not respect man's freedom to choose his course in personal responsibility, not only would the moral good and evil be abolished from the earth, but man himself would go with them. For 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 in freedom. If he has 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.
The question therefore is not: Why is there undeserved suffering? But, why is there man? He who asks the question about injustice in history really asks: Why a world? Why creation?... We have great understanding for the fact that God is merciful and forgiving, that he does not judge man harshly and is willing to have patience with him. God is waiting for the sinner to find his way to him. This is how we like to see God. This is how we are only too glad to acknowledge him. But we never seem to realize that while God is long-suffering, the wicked are going about their dark business on earth and the result is ample suffering for the innocent. While God waits for the sinner to turn to him, there is oppression and persecution and violence among men. Yet, there seems to be no alternative. If man is to be, God must be long-suffering with him; he must suffer man. This is the inescapable paradox of divine providence. While God tolerates the sinner, he must abandon the victim; while he shows forbearance with the wicked, he must turn a deaf ear to the anguished cries of the violated. This is the ultimate tragedy of existence: God's very mercy and forbearance, his very love for man, necessitates the abandonment of some men to a fate that they may well experience as divine indifference to justice and human suffering. It is the tragic paradox of faith that God's direct concern for the wrongdoer should be directly responsible for so much pain and sorrow on earth.
We conclude then: 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 man is to be, God himself must respect his freedom of decision. If man is to act on his own responsibility, without being continually overawed by divine supremacy, God must absent himself from history. But man left to his freedom is capable of greatness in both - in creative goodness and destructive evil. Though man cannot be man without freedom, his performance in history gives little reassurance that he can survive in freedom. God took a risk with man and he cannot divest himself of the responsibility for man. If man is not to perish at the hand of man, if the ultimate destiny of man is not to be left to the chance that man will never make the fatal decision, God must not withdraw his presence from his creation. He must be present in history. That man may be, God must absent himself; that man may not perish in the tragic absurdity of his own making, God must remain present. The God of history must be absent and present concurrently. He hides his presence. He is present without being indubitably manifest; he is absent without being hopelessly inaccessible. Thus, many find him even in his "absence"; many miss him even in his presence. Because of the necessity of his absence, there is the "Hiding of the Face" and suffering of the innocent; because of the necessity of his presence, evil will not ultimately triumph; because of it, there is hope for man.
Greenberg, I. (1981). The Third Great Cycle in Jewish History
"During the Biblical era, the covenantal relationship, itself, was marked by a high degree of divine intervention. God's manifest presence in the Temple was the cultic counterpart of prophecy. Even as God spoke directly to Israel through prophets, so at Jerusalem the divine could be contacted... The same overt divine intervention expressed itself in the events of Biblical history. When Israel obeyed the Lord, it was victorious. When it strayed, it was defeated. Defeat, itself, was the best proof that disobedience had taken place... The covenant may be a partnership but it is very clear that God is the initiator, the senior partner, who punishes, rewards and enforces the partnership if the Jews slacken... In the Biblical period God's presence was manifest by splitting the Red Sea and drowning the Egyptians. In the Second Temple siege, God did not show up, like the cavalry in the last scene of a Western movie, to save the day. God had, as it were, withdrawn, become more hidden, so as to give humans more freedom and to call the Jews to more responsible partnership in the covenant. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said that God's might, shown in Biblical times by destroying the wicked, is now manifest in divine self-control. The Ethics of the Fathers say: "Who is mighty? He who exercises self-restraint (4,1)". God allows the wicked to act without being cut off immediately... The Rabbis recognized that God's withdrawal and their own new authority meant that an event such as the Exodus in which God directly intervened would not occur again... God's intervention was perceived in more limited forms and without manifest participation in major historical events... The key Rabbinic insight that led to the transformation of the covenant after the destruction was the understanding that God had become more hidden. God's withdrawal respected human freedom and was a call to Jews to assume a more responsible partnership in the covenant. If God was more hidden after the destruction of the Temple, how much more hidden must God be in the world after the Holocaust?... Here we come to the paradox of the Rabbi's insight. After the destruction, God was more hidden but the divine presence could be found in more places. If the divine presence resided on Jerusalem's holy mount, then the hidden God could be found everywhere. So synagogues could be located anywhere. By this logic, the God who, after the Holocaust, is even more profoundly hidden must be found everywhere. The divine is experienced neither as the intervening, commanding One of the Bible, nor the law-giving partner of the Rabbinic experience but as the ever-present Presence of our era... The answer to the question "Where was God at Auschwitz?" is: God was there starving, beaten, humiliated, gassed and burned alive, sharing the infinite pain as only an infinite capacity for pain can share it.
A presence need not formally command. Indeed, it does not command if a command means an order in words from the outside. The fact that I relate to the presence of God means that I sense more clearly the expectations, I feel more obligation and motivation and I am more deeply moved than any words or formalized commands can express. If God did not stop the murder and the torture, then what was the statement made by the infinitely suffering Divine Presence in Auschwitz? It was a cry for action, a call to humans to stop the Holocaust, a call to the people of Israel to rise to a new, unprecedented level of covenantal responsibility. It was as if God said: "Enough, stop it, never again, bring redemption!"... Thus, we are at the opening of a major new transformation of the covenant in which Jewish loyalty and commitment manifests itself by Jews taking action and responsibility for the achievement of its goals... To see the divine everywhere, the Jewish people must grow up in the covenant. The people's religious receptors must be developed. The divine is more present than ever, in street and factory, media and stage, but the catch is that one must look and be open to the encounter. One is reminded of the story of Mendel of Kotzk who asked: "Where is God?" And he answered: "Wherever you let God in."
Greenberg, I. Voluntary Covenant p.17
"What then happened to the covenant? I submit that its authority was broken but the Jewish people, released from its obligations, chose voluntarily to take it on again. We are living in an age of the renewal of the covenant. God was no longer in a position to command, but the Jewish people was so in love with the dream of redemption that it volunteered to carry on its mission... The full dignity of the human partner can only emerge when that partner takes full responsibility. Any state less than that is encouragement to dependence out of weakness. Residual punishment is coercive and erodes the moral insight of the human partner. In a voluntary covenant, there is deeper dependence - that of relationship, love, self-expectations based on the model of the other - but it is a dependence out of strength. The ultimate logic of parenting is to raise children to meet life's challenges, but to sustain them with a continuing presence and model, not with continual interference or rescue from problems. Further analysis suggests that in every covenantal relationship, the partners must ultimately choose between equality and force. True love can only exist when the imbalance of power has been overcome by redistribution of power or, in God's case, by a binding renunciation of using the imbalance."
Hartum, M. "Reflections on the Holocaust", De'ot 18, 1961
"The Torah and the Prophets taught us that the exile is the greatest evil that will befall us, that the lives we face will always be precarious, never having security while the enemies make names for themselves through us. We lived for hundreds of years in the exile, and we usually felt then that we were in fact in exile, we didn't intermingle with the Gentiles and we waited with yearning for the time when God would fulfill the rest of his prophecies regarding the future of our nation, meaning that he would return us to a state of rest and security in which we could fulfill the words of His Torah in our land... until we were blinded by the ideas of freedom and liberty that started to appear in Europe two hundred years ago; and, there, these ideas became a reality, and once the Jews were given civil and political rights equal to those of the local population, we forgot that we were in exile, we denied the exile, we saw our existence in exile as the proper condition of the Jew, we declared that we have no part in the ideas of a return to our homeland, we invented the interpretation that the words of the Torah and the Prophets regarding the return of the Jews are a nice metaphor or that it is a reference to "the Jerusalem of the heavens", to something ideal which will occur at the end of days. When we denied that the idea of the exile is a great evil, when we gave up on the idea of the return to Zion, which is one of the indispensable conditions for restoring the kingdom of God throughout the world, we effectively denied one of the fundamentals of Judaism. When we declared ourselves as Germans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Italians or Americans who are Jewish, we, thereby, divested it of all its substance, and the difference between one, who declared himself as a member of a foreign nation who maintained his connection to the "religion" of Israel and one, who completed the deed and made himself equal to his countrymen by accepting their religion as well, was not significant."
This denial of the fundamentals of Judaism was worthy, according to the Jewish world view, of a grave punishment, measure for measure...
Teitelbaum, Y. "Ma'amar Shalosh Sh'vuot" in Va-Yoel Moshe, section 110
"No one seems to be aware that, because of these sects who appealed to the hearts of the nation and violated the oath prohibiting hastening the end by assuming power and freedom before the designated time, six million Jews were unfortunately killed... anyone who observes the Zionist idea, their actions and their devious behavior, from beginning to end, will have no doubt that all of the misfortunes and sufferings which were inflicted on us were because of them."
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