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(God) After Auschwitz

(God) After Auschwitz: Tradition and Change in Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought

Zachary Braiterman
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 204
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rg1x
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  • Book Info
    (God) After Auschwitz
    Book Description:

    The impact of technology-enhanced mass death in the twentieth century, argues Zachary Braiterman, has profoundly affected the future shape of religious thought. In his provocative book, the author shows how key Jewish theologians faced the memory of Auschwitz by rejecting traditional theodicy, abandoning any attempt to justify and vindicate the relationship between God and catastrophic suffering. The author terms this rejection "Antitheodicy," the refusal to accept that relationship. It finds voice in the writings of three particular theologians: Richard Rubenstein, Eliezer Berkovits, and Emil Fackenheim.

    This book is the first to bring postmodern philosophical and literary approaches into conversation with post-Holocaust Jewish thought. Drawing on the work of Mieke Bal, Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Michel Foucault, and others, Braiterman assesses how Jewish intellectuals reinterpret Bible and Midrash to re-create religious thought for the age after Auschwitz.

    In this process, he provides a model for reconstructing Jewish life and philosophy in the wake of the Holocaust. His work contributes to the postmodern turn in contemporary Jewish studies and today's creative theology.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2276-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION MODERNITY SURPASSED: JEWISH RELIGIOUS THOUGHT AFTER AUSCHWITZ
    (pp. 3-16)

    ZYGMUNT BAUMAN was certainly not the first to note that “the Holocaust was born and executed in our modern rational society, at the high stage of our civilization and at the peak of cultural achievement, and for this reason it is a problem of that society, civilization and culture.”¹ Indeed, catastrophic suffering belongs to the entire twentieth century—a century in which mass murder and mass death marked the convergence of modern organization, modern technology, and human propensities for violence and apathy. The Holocaust, two world wars, the Armenian genocide, the Stalinist gulag, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Maoist purges, killing fields...

  5. PART I

    • ONE THEODICY AND ITS OTHERS: FORMS OF RELIGIOUS RESPONSE TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
      (pp. 19-34)

      A TECHNICAL TERM,theodicymeans the “justification of God.” It will be recalled that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who coined the termtheodicy, wrote his defense of God after an earthquake devastated Lisbon in 1755. With this same event in mind, Voltaire savagely ridiculed Leibniz in his satirical novelCandide. Voltaire drew the comic but ill-fated figure of Dr. Pangloss in order to lampoon Leibniz’s insistence that this world represents “the best of all possible worlds.” I expand Leibniz’s term to include any utterance whose source attempts to “justify,” “explain,” or “accept” as ultimately meaningful the relationship between God and evil. While...

    • TWO ANTI/THEODICY: IN BIBLE AND MIDRASH
      (pp. 35-59)

      FROM THE PERSPECTIVE of biblical and rabbinic Judaism,” so writes Richard Rubenstein, “neither the justice nor the power of God can ever be denied.” Rubenstein insists that in classical Jewish texts, a just and merciful God is “the ultimate Author” responsible for every catastrophe in Jewish history. “Before such a God,” he complains, “humanity must forever be in the wrong.”¹ In contrast, Eliezer Berkovits approaches tradition in an entirely different spirit. His treatment of Elisha ben Abuyeh, the arch heretic of rabbinic times, represents a case in point. The sight of suffering compels Elisha to conclude that “there is neither...

    • THREE THEODICIES: IN MODERN JEWISH THOUGHT
      (pp. 60-84)

      EVERY ACTUAL theoretical engagement with the question of theodicy,” Eliezer Schweid has recently written, “is a perspective engagement with the problem via its history.”¹ Sometimes, however, circumstances compel theologians to abandon immediate historical moorings. Richard Rubenstein barely mentions Abraham Joshua Heschel, though he must have had him in mind when he argues that “regrettably most attempts at formulating a Jewish theology since World War II seem to have been written as if the two most decisive events of our time for Jews, the death camps and the birth of the State of Israel, had not taken place.”² In another essay,...

  6. PART II

    • FOUR “HITLER’S ACCOMPLICE”?! REVISIONING RICHARD RUBENSTEIN
      (pp. 87-111)

      RICHARD RUBENSTEIN’S seminalAfter Auschwitzmarks a milestone distinguishing modern Jewish theology from contemporary Jewish thought. Published in 1966, it offered the first theological reflections in which the Holocaust was a driving preoccupation. The very wordAuschwitzin its title immediately riveted readers’ attention to the Holocaust. The wordaftersuggested that Jewish life and thought can never be the same. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Buber, Joseph Soloveitchik, and Mordecai Kaplan—among the great interpreters of Judaism in the twentieth century—had touched on the Holocaust only briefly. None confronted the problem of evil as relentlessly or as radically as...

    • FIVE DO I BELONG TO THE RACE OF WORDS? ANTI/THEODIC FAITH AND TEXTUAL REVISION IN THE THOUGHT OF ELIEZER BERKOVITS
      (pp. 112-133)

      IN THE SECOND CHAPTER of this study, we saw how classical Jewish thought swings between theodic and antitheodic response to the phenomena of suffering and evil. For its part, post-Holocaust Jewish thought is caught between the ruminations of Richard Rubenstein and those of Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews who describe the Holocaust in terms of the punishment of sin, the testing of the righteous, and the redemption of Israel.¹ However, the arguments sparked by Rubenstein’s critique of tradition and theodicy were not confined to liberal Jews. Rejecting the “death of God” and ultra-orthodox renditions of Deuteronomy, Eliezer Berkovits was the...

    • SIX WHY IS THE WORLD TODAY NOT WATER? REVELATION, FRAGMENTATION, AND SOLIDARITY IN THE THOUGHT OF EMIL FACKENHEIM
      (pp. 134-160)

      EMIL FACKENHEIM stands at the midpoint of post-Holocaust Jewish theology having combined Richard Rubenstein’s rhetoric of radicalism with Eliezer Berkovits’a rhetoric of tradition. Like Rubenstein, Fackenheim has described the Holocaust as a fissure in Jewish history that scuttles traditional categories and recasts classical literary figures in a harsh new light. Like Berkovits, Fackenheim never quits belief in a supernatural God or abandons traditional Jewish sources. However, in marked contrast to both Rubenstein and Berkovits, Fackenheim’s writings contain only a handful of cryptic, theological comments. In fact, Fackenheim has said little about God or God’s presence in catastrophic history. Instead, as...

  7. CONCLUSION DISCOURSE, SIGN, DIPTYCH: REMARKS ON JEWISH THOUGHT AFTER AUSCHWITZ
    (pp. 161-178)

    INTHE ARCHAEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE, Michel Foucault faulted attempts by intellectual historians to establish continuities between rapidly shifting historical periods. Foucault proposed instead an “archaeological” method to explore ruptures, discontinuities, and interruptions. Following this plan, historians probe the thresholds that “suspend the continuous accumulation of knowledge, interrupt its slow development, and force it to enter a new time.”¹ Foucault sought new lines of continuitywithinhistorical periods, not between them. He wanted to show how diverse but contemporaneous statements coalesce into “discursive formations.” By discourse, Foucault meant a limited number of statements governed by a definable group of rules, regularities,...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 179-192)
  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 193-200)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 201-208)