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Holocaust theology

Judaism, Christianity and Islam traditionally have taught that God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnibenevolent (all good). Yet, these claims are in jarring contrast with the fact that there is much evil in the world. Perhaps the most difficult question that monotheists have confronted is how can we reconcile the existence of this view of God with the existence of evil? This is the problem of evil.

Within all the monotheistic faiths many answers (theodicies) have been proposed. However, in light of the magnitude of evil seen in the Holocaust, many people have re-examined classical views on this subject. How can people still have any kind of faith after the Holocaust?

Table of contents
1 Jewish theological responses
2 Works of important Jewish theologians
3 Works of important Christian theologians

Jewish theological responses

Here are the major responses that Jews have had in response to the Holocaust.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish responses

Many within Ultra-Orthodox Judaism blames the Holocaust on Reform Jews, on Conservative Jews, or on Jews who are Zionists. (A very small number of people, statistically insignificant, reverse the issue, and suggest that God sent the Nazis to kill the Jews because the European Jews did not support Zionism enough.) In this Ultra-Orthodox theodicy, the Jews of Europe were sinners who deserved to die, and the actions of God which allowed this were righteous and just.

Modern Orthodox Jewish views

Most Modern Orthodox Jews reject the idea that the Holocaust was God's fault. Modern Orthodox rabbis such as Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Norman Lamm, Abraham Besdin, Emanuel Rackman, Eliezer Berkovits and others have done writing on this issue; many of their works have been collected in a volume published by the Rabbinical Council of America: "Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust" edited by Bernhard H. Rosenberg and Fred Heuman, Ktav/RCA, 1992.

Works of important Jewish theologians

Michael Berenbaum

(to be written.)

Richard Rubinstein

Prof. Rubenstein's original piece on this issue, "After Auschwitz", held that the only intellectually honest response to the Holocaust is the rejection of God, and the recognition that all existence is ultimately meaninglessness. There is no divine plan or purpose, no God that reveals His will to mankind, and God does not care about the world. Man must assert and create his own value in life. This view has been rejected by Jews of all religious denominations, but his works were widely read in the Jewish community in the 1970s.

Since that time Rubinstein has begun to move away from this view; his later works affirm of form of deism in which one may believe that God may exist as the basis for reality. His later works include Kabbalistic notions of then nature of God.

Emil Fackenheim

Fackenheim is known for his understanding that people must look carefully at the Holocaust, and to find within it a new revelation from God. For Fackenheim, the Holocaust was an "epoch-making event". In contrast to Richard Rubenstein's most well-known views, Fackenheim holds that people must still affirm their belief in God and God's continued role in the world. Fackenheim holds that the Holocaust reveals unto us a new Biblical commandment, "We are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories".

Ignaz Maybaum

In a rare view that has not been adopted by any element of the Jewish or Christian community (that I know of), Ignaz Maybaum has proposed that the Holocaust is the ultimate form of vicarious atonement. The Jewish people become in fact the "suffering servant" of Isaiah. The Jewish people suffer for the sins of the world. In his view "In Auschwitz Jews suffered vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind."

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits

Rabbi Berkovits holds that man's free will depends on God's decision to remain hidden. If God were to reveal himself in history and hold back the hand of tyrants, man's free will would be rendered non-existent.

Rabbis Harold Kushner, Williams Kaufman and Milton Steiberg

Harold Kushner is the author of many books, including the best-selling work on liberal theology, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People"). Rabbi William E. Kaufman is the author of "A Question of Faith" and "The Case for God"; Rabbi Milton Steinberg is the author of "Basic Judaism").

These theologians believe that God is not omnipotent, and thus is not to blame for mankind's abuse of free will. Thus, there is no contradiction between the existence of a good God and the existence of massive evil by part of mankind. This is also the view expressed by some classical Jewish authorities, such as Abraham ibn Daud, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Gersonides in his "The Wars of the Lord,".

Rabbi David Weiss Halivni

(to be written)

Rabbi Irving Greenberg

(to be written)

Works of important Christian theologians

(to be written.)

External links

Ultra-Orthodoxy and the Holocaust

See also: Judaism, Theology, Theodicy