Finding Meaning After the Holocaust

Responding to the challenge of faith in a post-Holocaust world.

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Excerpted from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook. Reprinted with permission from Jason Aronson Inc.

[Some] ultra-Orthodox [leaders] asserted that rather than destroying it, the Holocaust actually reaffirmed the covenant. For them, the devastation in Europe clearly fit the covenant's projected pattern of Jewish history and was a typical case of God punishing Israel for its sins--in this case, assimilation and Zionism.

meaning after the holocaustSuggesting that more than one million innocent children were brutally sacrificed either because German Jews wanted to be acceptable to their non-Jewish neighbors, or because European Jews realized that modernity's superficial tolerance of differences between supposedly equal human beings ultimately provided no protection for them, is an abhorrent explanation [which is] widely rejected […]

God’s Presence and Human Responsibility

Despite the discomfort the notion of Divine punishment for sins generates, our [biblical legacy] does [seem to] place responsibility for our situations in the world on our shoulders. At the end of his life, when the children of Israel were finally about to cross into the Promised Land, Moses prophetically warned them of what they would bring on themselves if they did not keep the conditions of the covenant: loss of their homeland, degradation, incredible suffering, dispersal to other nations, captivity, disease, idolatry, insecurity, despair, suspense, and terror (Deuteronomy 28:15-68; 32:5). In their distress, they would finally seek God and return to Him, and then they would receive the blessings the covenant promises (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).

As a people, we have experienced other traumatic turning points in our history. They required evaluation and reaffirmation of the Jewish agenda and revolutionary thinking and constructs to allow Judaism and the Jewish people to go forward. After the shocking destruction of the Temple and an entire way of life, the rabbis created new forms of worship, ritual, and structure for the Jewish community. After the Spanish Inquisition, the kabbalists (Jewish mystics) invested existing Jewish practice and new ritual with spiritual and mystical significance and taught that every act could contribute to healing the world.

God in Hiding

As Rabbi Irving Greenberg, the popular Orthodox theologian (who has contributed greatly to the examination of Judaism in the shadow of the Holocaust) notes, we were prepared to make and accept such changes because at each stage of our development as a people, we had moved further away from the manifest God--from direct revelation at Sinai to prophetic voice to rabbinic authority--and become more reliant on our own initiation of action. At each stage, God's presence became less obvious, but it was always believed that He was with His people, wherever they were.

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.