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

By Melissa Raphael | Go to book overview

1

Reading post-Holocaust theology from a feminist perspective

Before we can repledge our troth to the ancient God or present him with our complaint … we must make certain that it is still the ancient God whom we seek. 1

From the post-war period to the present, Jewish women have not offered a sustained theological response to the Holocaust, feminist or otherwise. Jewish women’s private theological reflections on their own holocaustal times and experience are not, of course, unknown and the two best known sources of such reflection are the writings of Etty Hillesum and Anne Frank, both of whom perished in the camps. Yet Frank’s writing was that of one who was barely more than a girl; both were Jewish more by birth rather than religious identity. They knew little of their religious heritage and were each in their own way attracted to Christianity. These two women, who may well represent other Jewish women of the same class and temper, were the products of the liberal, humanistic, universalistic spirit of emancipated, often assimilated, Western Jewry, not of the Jewish scriptures or rabbinic tradition. As Rachel Feldhay Brenner notes in her recent study, although each sought consolation and support from God, it was not that of the Jewish God or the Jewish tradition. 2

These women’s apparent obliviousness to the possibilities of Jewish theological insight into their predicament is not surprising. Despite the distinguished history of Jewish philosophical theology, it has long been the popular view that theology is an un-Jewish and unnecessary apologetic enterprise, sufficient practical knowledge of God being generated by law and its communal observance. A complacent opinion prevalent among Jews (rightly condemned as ‘misinformed and naive’ and as a form of religious behaviourism) 3 is that they do not have to struggle with faith, but simply to behave as if they have faith: ‘if you observe the law whose very existence is predicated upon the existence of God as giver of that law, whether you actually believe in God is irrelevant.’ 4 And if observant men of the Holocaust period rarely theologized, still less did women whose legal exemption from study amounted to a prohibition. Even were the liberal Judaisms of the time to have developed women’s religious intellects (which they largely did not) Jewish women of Hillesum and Frank’s spiritual temper were in any case far more attracted to

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Editors’ Preface vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Reading Post-Holocaust Theology from a Feminist Perspective 19
  • 2 - The Hiding of God’s Face in Auschwitz 43
  • 3 - Feminist Intimations of the Holy in Auschwitz 59
  • 4 - Face to Face (With God) in Auschwitz 86
  • 5 - A Mother/God in Auschwitz 107
  • 6 - The Redemption of God in Auschwitz 128
  • The Princess and the City of Death 161
  • Notes 166
  • Select Glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish Terms 205
  • Bibliography 207
  • Index 221
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