The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust

By Melissa Raphael | Go to book overview
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This is a book about presence and absence, both human and divine, in an Auschwitz remembered by others. Born in 1960, into an Anglo-Jewish family that settled in Britain between the seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries, my perspective is that of a generation and a community that flsees upon its flesh the scar without the wound, the memory without the direct experience’. 1 While I remain uncomfortable with its presumption, if I have any personal rather than academic justification for writing this book, it is that, as Michael Berenbaum says of all reflection on the Holocaust: ‘only a generation more distant from the immediate catastrophe could dare approach it. Like Lot’s wife, survivors could not afford to look back while fleeing.’ 2 My generation’s increasing historical and critical distance from the Holocaust allows us to know the extent of the destruction and what can be retrieved from the debris. It is making a different sort of approach both possible and necessary if Auschwitz is neither to engulf liberal Jewish consciousness and become its (Americanized) civil religion, 3 nor be relegated by parts of Orthodoxy to a list of historical catastrophes that are largely irrelevant to faith and its observances. More immediately, many Jews feel unable to make an absolute distinction between the Jewish past and their own present. This is not to make a merely self-dramatizing incursion into times more tragically interesting than their own. Jewish spiritual collectivism - while not permission for boundless anachronism - is such that the temporal and ontological distinctions of personal identity are not drawn in the customary way. The Exodus, over three thousand years ago, is forever an annual experience and it happens to us, not a historical ‘them’. 4 So too, as Cohen insists, for the Jew, all Israel is a ‘real presence’ in the death camps, just as it was at Sinai: ‘the death camps account my presence really, even if not literally: hence my obligation to hear the witnesses as though I were a witness, to be with the witnesses as though I were a witness.’ 5

But the way in which theology witnesses with the witnesses will change over time. Auschwitz is both obscured and formed by its belonging to the history of another millennium. It may be that we will be healed of Auschwitz as much by the passage of time (as we have been of the Expulsion of Jewry from the Iberian peninsula of 1492 and the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648) as by theological persuasion. Suffering can be washed by time. (Gillian Rose found that the graves


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