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The Impact of the Holocaust on Jewish Theology

By Ellis, Marc H. | Shofar, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Impact of the Holocaust on Jewish Theology


Ellis, Marc H., Shofar


The Impact of the Holocaust on Jewish Theology, edited by Steven T. Katz. New York: New York University Press, 2005. 310 pp. $45.00.

All interpretation of history comes from the presenr. When not critically engaged, though, present interpretation faces the danger of becoming stuck in a recent past, a past that is easier to pay homage to without being challenged in the present. Thus even events of tremendous sufferings can be become safe harbors for theological thought.

So, too, interpretations of the Holocaust - political, cultural, and theological - segue into this conundrum; what is cutting edge for one era is behind the curve in another. As editor, Stephen Katz alludes to this problematic in his introduction to the latest volume, judging the last twenty-five years as having being devoid of new ways of considering the basic theological questions related to the Holocaust. Unfortunately, there is little in this volume that would contradict his essential judgment.

The Impact of the Holocaust on Jewish Theology comes from a series of conferences held in Israel in 1999 and 2001, and thus it is even more surprising that the engine that is moving Holocaust theology forward today - the engagement of post-Holocaust Jews, especially Jews of conscience, with Palestinians who seek a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - is almost completely absent from this volume. Thus the complement to Emil Fackenheim's 614th commandment that demands Jewish survival after the Holocaust - the 615th commandment, that Jewish survival without some kind of ethical compass relating to the Palestinians is akin to moral suicide is never mentioned directly and is engaged only peripherally in these pages.

Instead - and with some important additions for a volume such as this we are presented with reflections on the Holocaust that were already available when I first started studying the Holocaust with Richard Rubenstein in 1970. Steven Katz's long essay, for example, covers the major Holocaust theologians - along with Rubenstein and Fackenheim, Elie Wiesel, and Irving Greenberg - but the theses of all four are already well analyzed.

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