In This Article Philosophical and Theological Responses to the Holocaust

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Memoirs and Other Reflections by Survivors
  • The Holocaust as a Problem of Modernity
  • The Problem of Heidegger
  • History, Memory, and the Problem of Representation
  • Theological Responses from Non-Orthodox Jewish Thinkers
  • Theological Responses from Christian Theologians
  • Recent Reflections

Jewish Studies Philosophical and Theological Responses to the Holocaust
by
Zachary Braiterman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0021

Introduction

Raising pressing theoretical, philosophical, and theological questions, the Holocaust has become a major watershed in Western thought, prompting reflection regarding the historical uniqueness of the event itself and the operation and transmission of collective memory. A heavy moral responsibility devolves upon artists, cultural critics, historians, novelists, poets, politicians, philosophers, and theologians. What are the right words, images, and concepts; what kind of affect and what kind of ethical or political charge should these carry before the sheer magnitude of catastrophic suffering? How and under what conditions have these changed, and will they continue to change over time? The term “post-Holocaust,” which appears in the vast archive that has formed around the Holocaust, is not a simple chronological indicator. By it, one means specifically bodies of thought in which the Holocaust is the central, conscious, and even self-conscious motivator for a work or a body of work. Historically, post-Holocaust thought in theology and philosophy emerged primarily in the 1960s and 1970s, once the event had been named, and once attention had been drawn to emblematic narratives and images specific to that event. One of the key arguments common to much of this discourse speaks to the perceived uniqueness of the Holocaust, the claim that the Holocaust marks a new thing in Jewish, European, modern, or world history, with which all cultural forms—art, architecture, law, literature, philosophy, politics, and religion—must come to terms in ways that are themselves unique and even radical. This bibliography focuses primarily on theological and philosophical responses, but includes memoirs and other works by survivors as well as reflections by sociologists and historians on the nature of memory and the problem of representation.

General Overviews

The most comprehensive overview of theological and philosophical responses to the Holocaust is Katz, et al. 2007, an anthology framed around perspectives from Judaism and Jewish history. Rosenberg 1992 has the same focus but is less comprehensive. Rubenstein and Roth 1987 includes varieties of religious response to the Holocaust in Orthodox and liberal Jewish and Christian religious thought. Katz 1985, Schweid 1994, and Braiterman 1998 are all scholarly monographs that investigate a variety of Jewish thinkers, from liberal to Orthodox. Morgan 2001 takes up both theologians and philosophers, but is limited specifically to America. Mintz 1984 and Roskies 1984 both situate the responses to the Holocaust in the long tradition of Jewish responses to catastrophe, Mintz focusing more on Hebrew literature and Roskies on Yiddish literature.

  • Braiterman, Zachary. (God) After Auschwitz: Tradition and Change in Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

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    Explores theological and textual revision in post-Holocaust Judaism concerning the relationship between God and catastrophic suffering. Draws on postmodern literary theory and the interpretation of classical Jewish sources to make sense of how once-central ideas and texts are displaced in favor of more anti-theodic expression drawn from the margins of the textual tradition.

  • Katz, Steven. Post-Holocaust Dialogues: Critical Studies in Modern Jewish Thought. New York: New York University Press, 1985.

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    One of the first major published works on post-Holocaust thought, this study includes an argument for understanding what the author calls the uniqueness of the Holocaust. The critical, analytic assessments of Rubenstein, Berkovits, and Fackenheim set the philosophical terms of discussion for all future analysis of these thinkers.

  • Katz, Steven, Shlomo Biderman, and Gershon Greenberg, eds. Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses during and after the Holocaust. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    A massive, indispensable anthology of theological responses to the Holocaust. Includes ultra-Orthodox writings from shortly after the war, post-Holocaust thought, and contemporary theology and critical studies. Many of the citations and selections from almost all of the authors cited below can be found in this anthology. Also includes an indispensable bibliography.

  • Mintz, Alan. Hurban: Responses to Catastrophe in Hebrew Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

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    While its explicit focus is modernist Hebrew literature, this signature study, published in the 1980s, was formed by and helped set the post-Holocaust mood in Jewish studies. Central to this literature and its discussion is the figure of angry protest.

  • Morgan, Michael. Beyond Auschwitz: Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    An exhaustive, evenhanded survey that philosophically and culturally situates thought about the Holocaust, from Hannah Arendt and the post-Holocaust theologians to the reception of post-Holocaust thought. A central focus is the recovery of a sense of history.

  • Rosenberg, Bernhard, ed. Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1992.

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    A comprehensive overview from the 1950s to the late 1980s of primary sources reflecting modern Orthodox responses to the Holocaust. Includes essays by Berkovits, Lamm, Lookstein, Rackham, Soloveitchik, and others.

  • Roskies, David. Against the Apocalypse: Response to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

    E-mail Citation »

    While focusing explicitly on modernist Yiddish literature, this signature study, published in the 1980s, was formed by and helped set the post-Holocaust mood in Jewish studies. Central to this literature and its discussion is the figure of angry protest.

  • Rubenstein, Richard L., and John K. Roth. Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and Its Legacy. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987.

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    Ecumenical in approach, this volume provides the historical and theological background to the origins of ancient and medieval anti-Judaism, modern anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the variety of Jewish and Christian responses to the Holocaust.

  • Schweid, Eliezer. Wrestling until Day-Break: Searching for Meaning in the Thinking on the Holocaust. Lanham, MD: University Press Of America, 1994.

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    A critical survey of Jewish religious response to the Holocaust, from Leo Baeck to post-Holocaust writers. Charts out how the Holocaust disrupts religious faith in God and secular faith in mankind. Assumes the need to struggle with and search for revolutionary forms of new theology. Originally published in Hebrew in 1990.

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