Rethinking Jewish Faith: The Child of a Survivor Responds

By Steven L. Jacobs | Go to book overview

4 1
Halakhah and Mitzvot: Law and Commandments -- The Heart of the Matter

For me, in light of everything thus far written, as should be patently obvious, the understanding of God as "Commander" is no longer applicable, and therefore, the understanding of "commandment" emanating from that God equally no longer applicable. Except for the exigencies of history that continue to deny us Jews any opportunity to escape our Jewish identity, the only "commandments" that exist -- if, indeed, it is even right and proper to use such a term-are those we would willingly and positively take upon ourselves out of our desire to be positively affirming Jews. (Might the same, therefore, not also be said of our Christian brothers and sisters?)

At the very heart of both the historically traditional and contemporary Jewish religious movements is the notion of mitzvah or "commandment" as the Jewishly obligated act in response to the "call" of the Mitzaveh or "Commander." Having tentatively and painfully rethought such notions of God, covenant, and prayer in response to the Shoah, to continue to maintain such an historically traditional notion of mitzvah, it seems to me, not only beggars the question, but negates the historical realities of the Shoah itself. The classical understanding of mitzvah is, itself, an affirmation of a relationship no longer extent, if ever, and likewise, a casualty of the Shoah. That God calls, we respond through mitzvot, and God, in turn, responds to us is no longer credible. Emil Fackenheim's highly touted "commanding voice at Auschwitz," heard only by those who are already listening, will not be heard by those already sensitized or not so sensitized to their Jewish and Christian responsibilities and obligations because of events of the Shoah. In addition, even Fackenheim himself would not have the temerity to maintain that

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