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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Feminist intimations of the holy in Auschwitz

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.

(Ex. 25:8)

The covenantal sanctification of Auschwitz

There are those who would regard the conjunction of the words holy and Auschwitz as blaspheming against both Auschwitz’s victims and their God, especially when conjoined on behalf of, rather than by, the victims. Yet it is surely possible to suggest, as will this chapter, that Jews could establish sacred space and time within Auschwitz without claiming that Auschwitz - a palpably demonic institution - was itself holy, a place appointed by God for the exercise of God’s will and purpose.

Even were that qualification to be granted, I open this chapter conscious that its framing is not unproblematic. Religious feminists have been sharply critical of the binary dualisms that have established a hierarchy of values and experience, producing contempt of things natural (read female) as profane, and reverence for things transcendental to or abstracted from nature (read male) as sacred or holy. Religious feminism is distrustful of the grading or distinction of the holy and the profane, claiming that it has sanctioned injustice against women and the God whose image they bear and a religious choreography which is inimical to female social environments and the relational spirituality characteristic of these. 1 Although the Jewish concept of holiness is not notably ascetic in character, there is little doubt that the will to holiness has often entailed a struggle against the natural inclinations and passions that has not favoured Jewish women. 2 Drorah Setel, advocating a feminist Judaism centred in relational connection, intimacy and diversity within a communal unity, has identified the ‘obsolete’ separative, hierarchical dualism of the Jewish concept of holiness as a principal locus of contention between Jewish feminism and the patriarchal tradition. 3

Bearing these points in mind, this chapter finds that the Levitical command that Israel ‘must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the clean and the unclean’ (Lev. 10:10) entails separation from profane historicopolitical forces that are destructive of the identity and integrity that are a precondition of relationship. It is precisely the separation of the holy and the


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