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.

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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        • 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.

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          • 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.

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            • 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.

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

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                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.

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                • 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.

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                  • 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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                    Bibliographies

                    The most comprehensive bibliography for this subject is found at the end of Katz, et al. 2007. Greenberg 1994 is a bibliography only of Orthodox responses at the end of the war and immediately after.

                    • Greenberg, Gershon. She’rit Ha-pelitah ve-ha-shoah. Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar-Ilan University, 1994.

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                      Limited to the years 1944–1949, a period generally thought to be devoid of religious reflection on the Holocaust as a result of the event’s immediate trauma. Demonstrates that the response of Orthodox thinkers was rich and varied. In English, the title means “Listing of books and articles reflecting the Jewish religious response to the Holocaust in its immediate aftermath.”

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                      • 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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                        Pages 685–689 provide a comprehensive bibliography of theological responses.

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                        Memoirs and Other Reflections by Survivors

                        While most citations presented here are not philosophical or theological per se, they had a profound impact on the discourse in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Bettleheim 1943, Wiesel 1960, Améry 1980, and Levi 1961 are memoirs that have achieved near canonical status and contain significant theological and/or philosophical reflections. Frankl 1962 is a work by a survivor who went on to found a school of psychotherapy based on his experiences. Similarly, Bettelheim 1943 reflects the experience of a psychologist in concentration camps and what he learned in terms of human behavior. Although not the work of a psychologist, Levi 1988 is also a profound meditation on human nature in extremity.

                        • Améry, Jean. At the Mind’s Limit: Contemplations by a Survivor of Auschwitz and Its Realities. Translated by Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P. Rosenfeld. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

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                          Reflects on the impact of physical torture on the body, the collapse of culture as a value, and in particular the failure of bourgeois poetry. Améry advances his own bleakly negative theory of Jewish identity, while also commenting upon the power of religious and ideological belief as an orienting force in the camps. Originally published in 1964.

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                          • Bettleheim, Bruno. “Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 38 (1943): 417–452.

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                            Based on his early and brief incarceration at Dachau and Buchenwald, Bettleheim explored what he claimed to be the psychological anatomy of prisoners reduced to childlike states, dependent in relation to their guards, at war with each other, and complicit in their own mistreatment. Available online for purchase.

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                            • Frankl, Victor. Man’s Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Translated by Ilse Lasch. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962.

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                              Frankl’s study is predicated on faith in the human capacity to make meaning in the most inhumane circumstances. Central to this account are cooperation, love, and the power of mental images of goodness, by which inmates in the camps sustained themselves and each other. It is hard to square this irenic account with testimonies by Améry, Levi, and Wiesel. Originally published in 1946.

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                              • Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity. Translated by Stuart Woolf. New York: Collier, 1961.

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                                Humanist in orientation, at issue in this account are the destruction of personhood under duress and the power of shame. Scattered throughout are a few caustic and disparaging references to religious belief in the camps. The “Canto of Ulysses,” recognized as a testament to the fleeting power of culture in extremis, was challenged by Jean Améry. Originally published in Italian in 1947.

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                                • Levi, Primo. The Drowned and the Saved. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal. New York: Vintage Books, 1988.

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                                  A collection of essays dealing with topics such as shame and the “gray zone” of collaborating with the Nazis. About the collaborators, the author refused to judge, insisting on the absolute difference between oppressor and victim. Also included are remarks about the orienting power of religious (Jewish and Christian) and political-ideological (socialist and communist) belief systems at Auschwitz. Originally published in Italian in 1986.

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                                  • Wiesel, Elie. Night. Translated from the French by Stella Rodway. New York: Bantam, 1960.

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                                    Among the most important and famous works of Holocaust witnesses, this novel tells the story of a young boy sent to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald. Central to this novel is the gradual destruction of childlike, pious faith in God and the disfigurement of the human image in the face of extreme suffering. Originally published in a Yiddish version in 1956.

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                                    The Holocaust as a Problem of Modernity

                                    The Holocaust first entered philosophical discourse in large part through the writings of Hannah Arendt (Arendt 1951, Arendt 1964) and Theodor Adorno (Adorno 1973, Adorno 1981). Hans Jonas (Jonas 1996) was another important thinker belonging to this group. All were German Jewish thinkers with Jewish backgrounds. Their chief contributions were to general (German) philosophy, not to Jewish philosophy or religious thought per se. All were in some way influenced by or responded to Martin Heidegger (see The Problem of Heidegger), and all saw the Holocaust as a problem of modernity. The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben reflected on what the concentration camps meant in terms of modern political theory in Agamben 1998. Similarly, the Polish Jewish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman investigated how the Holocaust grew out of the modern state (see Bauman 1991). Des Pres 1976 is a sociobiological attempt to extrapolate, out of the memoirs of survivors, some insights into human nature when stripped of the constraints of culture. Finally, Levinas 1987, by the French Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas, is an argument that the radical suffering of the Holocaust may not contain any philosophical message.

                                    • Adorno, Theodor. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: Seabury Press, 1973.

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                                      Devoted to a meditation on metaphysics, the last chapter is dominated by the problem of Auschwitz. The Holocaust drove the author’s resistance to any sanctimonious claim to the positivity of existence. He sees such attributions of sense and meaning based on a simple, radiant transcendence as constituting an affront to the victims. Originally published in 1966.

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                                      • Adorno, Theodor. “Cultural Criticism and Society.” In Prisms 34. By Theodor Adorno. Translated by Samuel Weber and Shierry Weber, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981.

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                                        The most mature formulation of the author’s claim that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” this is not a blanket prohibition against art after the Holocaust. High modernist in tone, the essay seeks to check the particular art form of bourgeois aesthetics and aestheticization (“[vulgar] materialistic transparency of culture,” “the hucksters of mass culture,” “absolute reification,” the idea of progress, “self-satisfied contemplation”). Originally published in 1976.

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                                        • Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

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                                          A profound examination of what happens when the state strips human beings of their very right to live. The concentration camp becomes the expression of this “state of exception,” and the prisoner a symbol of modern man.

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                                          • Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951.

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                                            A critical reflection on modern bureaucratic and technological culture, it looks, among other things, at the submerging of individual identity and responsibility in the Nazi ghettos and camps and in the Stalinist gulag. Rather than historical aberrations, Nazism and Stalinism are looked at as distinctively modern political forms.

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                                            • Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin Books, 1964.

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                                              This work elicited a firestorm of controversy. The author’s contention regarding bureaucracy and the “banality of evil” was misunderstood by her critics. For Arendt, the ordinariness of Eichmann made his crimes more, not less, extreme. But what most bothered her critics was the imperious moral judgment she cast upon Jewish collaborators with the Nazis.

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                                              • Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

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                                                An updated contribution to the sociological literature placing the Holocaust as part and parcel of bureaucratic and technocratic modernity. Does so from perspectives drawn from postmodernism.

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                                                • Des Pres, Terrence. The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

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                                                  One of the first studies to look past the image of the survivor as simply a passive victim. What emerges are solidarity, small deeds of kindness, and acts of resistance that the author, basing himself on sociobiology, holds to be expressions of authentic human nature “beyond the compulsions of culture.”

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                                                  • Jonas, Hans. Mortality and Morality: A Search for the Good after Auschwitz. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996.

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                                                    Written by a scholar of ancient Gnosticism and a philosopher of science, the second part of these collected essays relates directly to the Holocaust. Faced by the problem of evil in light of Auschwitz, the author abandons belief in God’s omnipotence in order to salvage the idea of God’s goodness.

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                                                    • Levinas, Emmanuel. “Useless Suffering.” In Collected Philosophical Papers. By Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Nijhoff, 1987.

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                                                      Anti-theodic in tone, this essay by the famous philosopher of ethics and alterity makes the point that radical human suffering resists meaning and thus remains useless.

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                                                      The Problem of Heidegger

                                                      Martin Heidegger was arguably the most important German philosopher of the 20th century. His involvement with the Nazis and his role as a representative of conservative, mandarin German thought and culture raised the question of whether his philosophy could be separated from his politics. Arendt and Jonas (see The Holocaust as a Problem of Modernity) were students of Heidegger, and their philosophies were in part attempts to grapple with this question. The study by Wolin 2003 is a good place to start. Lyotard 1990 is a French, postmodern attempt to understand the relationship between Heidegger and the image of the Jew. Wyschogrod 1985 attacks the whole German philosophical tradition, culminating in Heidegger as culpable in the Holocaust.

                                                      • Lyotard, Jean-François. Heidegger and “the jews.” Translated by Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.

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                                                        Assesses the philosophical implications of Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazis. In this work by one of the founding figures in postmodern philosophy, the “jew” and the Holocaust are sympathetic figures for any sublime points that stand outside a system of representation; both remain impossible to assimilate into philosophical system building and representation. Originally published in French in 1988.

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                                                        • Wolin, Richard. Heidegger’s Children: Hannah Arendt, Karl Lowith, Hans Jonas, and Herbert Marcuse. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

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                                                          Heidegger, the Holocaust, Hitler, and Nazism are central focuses in this scathing critique of the philosopher. This critical study of Heidegger’s Jewish students—Arendt, Jonas, Karl Lowith, and Hebert Marcuse—provides an indispensible overview of the philosophical thinking represented in this section.

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                                                          • Wyschogrod, Edith. Spirit in Ashes: Hegel, Heidegger, and Man-Made Mass Death. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

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                                                            Excoriates Hegel’s attempt to overcome time by means of a fully absolutized immanence, and the loveless, poetic being toward world and thing in Heidegger. Against the grain of modern western philosophical tradition, the author advances the priority of the ethical, the social, and a transactional notion of human subjectivity permanently exposed to the radicalized form of the modern death-event.

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                                                            History, Memory, and the Problem of Representation

                                                            Under the influence of postmodernism, the question of representation and its limits, the construction of memory, and the plotting of history come to the fore in critical scholarship about the Holocaust. Friedlander 1992 is a collection of trenchant essays on this question. LaCapra 1998 takes up the relationship between history and memory and argues for the possibility of meaning in the Holocaust. Similarly, Wyschogrod 1998 takes up the question of how one writes the history of catastrophe. Lang 1990 is a profound meditation on the problem of representation, while Langer 1993 privileges firsthand testimonies over literary or psychological fashionings.

                                                            • Friedlander, Saul, ed. Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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                                                              Essays exploring the limits of representation. Perhaps the best collection on the subject by prominent historians, literary scholars, and philosophers of culture under the influence of postmodernism. The presence of the poet Paul Celan, the novelist Aharon Appelfeld, and philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Jürgen Habermas, pronounced throughout, provides the connective tissue for what would otherwise be a body of disparate reflections.

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                                                              • LaCapra, Dominick. History and Memory after Auschwitz. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

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                                                                Among the first voices to push back against the claim that the Holocaust defies or transcends human understanding. Against the absolutization of trauma, self-dramatization, the melancholy of repetition, and other forms of sensationalist stylizing of Holocaust memory culled from Lacanian psychoanalysis and French postmodernism, the author stresses the task of critical judgment, while recognizing the limits of all sense-making.

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                                                                • Lang, Berel. Act and Idea in Nazi Genocide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1990.

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                                                                  A prolific writer on philosophy and on the Holocaust, the author understands genocide in terms of “intention” (the idea of an act). Intention is not prior to an act, but rather is immanent to and fully realized only in the act itself. Also discussed are arguments about limits to art and representation relating to the Holocaust, and about modes of historiographical writing as moral action.

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                                                                  • Langer, Lawrence. Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.

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                                                                    Based on the analysis of videotaped oral testimonies of survivors, the author argues that catastrophic trauma is never subject to psychological closure. Rejects literary or theological narratives that overlay traumatic suffering with comforting images of redemption or faith in the human spirit to overcome it.

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                                                                    • Wyschogrod, Edith. An Ethics of Remembering: History, Heterology, and the Nameless Others. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

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                                                                      Reflects on overwhelming catastrophic suffering alongside a discussion of historical writing, the visual image, and mediated forms of memory. The author addresses the ethical urgency brought to memory when events like the Holocaust enter the field of simulacral culture as theorized by the philosopher and media theorist Jean Baudrillard.

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                                                                      Theological Responses from Orthodox Jewish Thinkers

                                                                      Orthodox thinkers, both during and after the Holocaust, had to reconcile traditional theodicies (explanations of evil) with the unprecedented nature of the event. God’s hand had to be present in the Holocaust for these theologians, either as punishment for sin (assimilation, modern culture, or Jewish nationalism) or as the “birth pangs” of the Messiah, the suffering that was traditionally expected before messianic times.

                                                                      Primary Texts

                                                                      Teitelbaum 1959 is a particularly extreme example, since he blamed Zionism for the Holocaust. Others revised the traditional theodicies during the war itself. The most notable examples are Shapira 1999 and Taykhtahl 1999, both of whose authors perished in the Holocaust. After the Holocaust, a number of books written by American Orthodox theologians, notably Berkovits 1973, Berkovits 1979, Soloveitchik 2006, and Greenberg 2007, articulated new theodicies in direct response to the Holocaust. Another type of Orthodox response is Kirschner 1985, which demonstrates how rabbis during the Holocaust formulated legal responses, based on the long tradition of Jewish law, to the unprecedented dilemmas posed by the Holocaust.

                                                                      • Berkovits, Eliezer. Faith after the Holocaust. New York: Ktav, 1973.

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                                                                        A modern Orthodox claim that the Holocaust does not disrupt “authentic” Jewish faith. Oscillating between faith and anger, authentic faith moves beyond the free-will argument. It settles on a note of messianic redress, prefigured in the 1967 Israeli military victory, which is looked at in relation to God’s debt to the Jewish people.

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                                                                        • Berkovits, Eliezer. With God in Hell: Judaism in the Ghettos and Death Camps. New York and London: Sanhedrin, 1979.

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                                                                          Recounts acts of extraordinary religious devotion performed by pious Jews in the ghettos and camps. A complex type of faith, covenantal relationship is said to include bold declarations of anger directed against God. The oscillation between theodicy and anti-theodicy that settled at the end of Faith after the Holocaust has been reopened in this later text.

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                                                                          • Greenberg, Irving. “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust.” In Wrestling With God: Jewish Theological Responses during and after the Holocaust. Edited by Steven Katz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                            Central to this modern Orthodox theological response is an expansive, post-denominational commitment to the Jewish people as a whole (klal Yisrael). Its focus: the value of human life in light of murdered children. For the author, having children constitutes the ultimate faith in “unreasoning life” in the face of the absurdity of death. Originally published in Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era, edited by Eva Fleischner (New York: Ktav, 1977), pp. 7–55.

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                                                                            • Kirschner, Robert, ed. Rabbinic Responsa of the Holocaust Era. New York: Schocken Books, 1985.

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                                                                              Confronting the unprecedented challenges posed by the Nazi onslaught, Orthodox rabbis in occupied Europe struggled to apply the Jewish legal tradition to dilemmas of life and death. An excellent selection of these responsa (legal opinions), with a useful introduction.

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                                                                              • Shapira, Kalonymus Kalman. Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury, 1939–1942. Translated by J. Hershy Worch. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1999.

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                                                                                A Hasidic response to the Holocaust written during the war. Sets the current catastrophe in continuity with the history of Jewish suffering. Rejecting any questioning of divine providence, the author underscores wholehearted faith in God and the submerging of finite human pain into the infinite suffering of God, who suffers at the suffering of Israel. Originally published in 1960.

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                                                                                • Soloveitchik, Joseph. Kol Dodi Dofek (Listen—my beloved knocks). Translated by David Z. Gordon. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 2006.

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                                                                                  The author eschews any attempt to provide a theoretical–theological answer to the Holocaust or to the problem of evil. Advances instead a normative halakhic approach to the problem of suffering, by which a covenant of brute, physical fate is converted into a covenant of meaning and destiny. Read through the Song of Songs, the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel are perceived as the voice of God calling to His beloved Israel. Originally published in 1956.

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                                                                                  • Taykhtahl, Yissakhar. Em Habanim Semeha: Restoration of Zion as a Response During the Holocaust. Translated by Pesach Schindler. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1999.

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                                                                                    The author describes how events force him to go beyond the limit of classical Talmud study to frame a halakhic legal response. Looks at the catastrophe as unprecedented in Jewish history. Interprets the Holocaust as God’s way to end the exile in Europe and finally restore the Jews to the Land of Israel. Originally published in 1943.

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                                                                                    • Teitelbaum, Joel. va-Yo’el Mosheh. Brooklyn, NY: Yerushalayim, 1959.

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                                                                                      Still not translated, this classic statement of Satmar Hasidic thought is primarily an anti-Zionist polemic, in which the Holocaust is understood as God’s punishment of the Jewish people for the sin of assimilation by German Jewry and for the sin of Zionism in eastern Europe. It is more consistently held up as the epitome of ultra-Orthodox obscurantism than actually read or critically studied.

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                                                                                      Interpretive Works

                                                                                      Schweid 1994 provides the most comprehensive survey of Orthodox theologies and the Holocaust. Schindler 1990 looks specifically at Hasidic responses. Greenberg 1992 discusses the position of the sixth rebbe of Lubavitch/Chabad. Greenberg 2005 shows how, immediately after the war, some Orthodox thinkers tried to understand the Holocaust in terms of the Jewish messianic tradition. Finally, Polen 1987 was one of the first to point out the originality of Kalonymus Kalman Shapira’s theology.

                                                                                      • Greenberg, Gershon. “Redemption after the Holocaust According to Mahane Israel—Lubavitch 1940–1945.” Modern Judaism 12.1 (February 1992): 61–84.

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                                                                                        Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, the sixth rabbi of Lubavitch, escaped to New York in 1940. His response to the devastation in Europe was to develop a powerful messianic ideology that was taken over by his son-in-law, the seventh (and last) rebbe of Lubavitch. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                                                        • Greenberg, Gershon. “Historia ve-Geula: Bitu’im le-meshikhiyut yehudit ortodoxit be-tom milkhemet olam sheniya” (History and redemption: Expressions of Orthodox Jewish messianism at the end of the Second World War). In Hashoah ba-historiya ha-yehudit (The Holocaust in Jewish history). Edited by Dan Michman, 537–578. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2005.

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                                                                                          Focusing on the immediate aftermath of the war (see his bibliography on this period under Bibliographies), the author shows how ultra-Orthodox thinkers responded to the trauma of the Holocaust by deploying traditional messianic motifs.

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                                                                                          • Polen, Nehemia. “Divine Weeping: Rabbi Kalonymos Shapiro’s Theology of Catastrophe in the Warsaw Ghetto.” Modern Judaism 7.3 (October 1987): 253–269.

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                                                                                            An analysis of Shapiro’s posthumously published sermons, Esh Kodesh (see Sacred Fire above under primary texts), which demonstrates how Shapiro extended the rabbinic idea that God is in exile with His people to include divine suffering in the Holocaust. Available online by subscription.

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                                                                                            • Schindler, Pesach. Hasidic Responses to the Holocaust in Light of Hasidic Thought. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1990.

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                                                                                              A secondary study exploring Hasidic responses to the Holocaust. Rather than focusing on individual texts and thinkers, the work is organized around concepts and themes related to evil and suffering; exile and redemption; martyrdom; the relation between the Hasidic holy person, the Tzadik, and the individual follower, or Hasid; and physical and spiritual resistance.

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                                                                                              • Schweid, Eliezer. Ben Hurban le-Yeshu’ah: Teguvot shel hagut haridit la-shoah bi-zemanah (Between destruction and redemption: Ultra-Orthodox responses to the Holocaust while it was happening). Tel Aviv: Ha-kibbutz ha-Meuchad, 1994.

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                                                                                                An in-depth study of the leaders of the Lubavitch and Belz Hasidic groups as well as Yissakhar Taykhtal, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, and several other ultra-Orthodox thinkers. The focus is on contemporaneous responses to the Holocaust by those who either experienced it or escaped.

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                                                                                                Theological Responses from Non-Orthodox Jewish Thinkers

                                                                                                Non-Orthodox thinkers were less constrained by the traditional theodicy that searched for God’s hand in the Holocaust as punishment or messianic preparation. Many of these thinkers explicitly rebelled against such explanations. Martin Buber, one of the leading German Jewish philosophers, fled Germany after Kristallnacht in 1938. Although he never addressed the Holocaust directly, in Buber 1952, he mobilized the traditional image of “the eclipse of God” as the theological explanation for modern forms of evil. Emil Fackenheim, also a German Jewish philosopher, was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp in the late 1930s and was able to flee to Canada. In Fackenheim 1970 and Fackenheim 1982, he developed a new theology based on the idea that God’s voice can be heard in Auschwitz commanding Jewish survival. Wyschogrod 1971 is a critique of Fackenheim from a more traditional perspective. Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in Poland and educated in Germany, from which he fled to the United States. Like Buber, he never wrote about the Holocaust per se, but in Heschel 1973, his struggles with God are clearly a reflection of the challenge of the Holocaust. Kolitz 1995 is a fictionalized speech by a Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto that captures many of the theological conundrums facing a post-Holocaust world. Rubenstein 1966 is a radical statement by a thinker influenced by Mordecai Kaplan’s Reconstructionism. The work rejects a God who acts in history and opts for a pagan and existentialist God associated with nature. Cohen 1981 is a work by an American Jewish thinker who did not experience the Holocaust and who tries to develop a message in which the memory of the Holocaust is an ever-present reality. Finally, Funkenstein 2007 rejects all theologies of the Holocaust in favor of a thoroughly secular interpretation of the event.

                                                                                                • Buber, Martin. Eclipse of God: Studies in the Relation between Religion and Philosophy. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952.

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                                                                                                  Buber’s last major work. Without explicitly referring to the Holocaust, the author blames the “eclipse of God” in contemporary culture on the loss of spiritual and moral absolutes, as reflected in the thought of Heidegger, Sartre, and Jung.

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                                                                                                  • Cohen, Arthur A. The Tremendum: A Theological Interpretation of the Holocaust. New York: Crossroad, 1981.

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                                                                                                    Searches for new language to describe catastrophic suffering and to talk about God now that evil is understood to be permanent, not transitory in temporal structure. The reality of God is now reconceptualized as di-polar energy, threading itself into the historical world like a filament, and prefiguring human freedom.

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                                                                                                    • Fackenheim, Emil. God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations of Philosophical Reflections. New York: Harper Torch, 1970.

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                                                                                                      Includes the wildly misunderstood assertion that Auschwitz reveals a “614th” commandment to resist Hitler. This splinters into four conflicting fragments. These are the duties (1) to remember, (2) to live, (3) for secular people to not abandon the world to the forces of Auschwitz, and (4) for religious people to “wrestle” with God in radical ways. Marks Jewish existence as stubborn, defiant perseverance against man and God.

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                                                                                                      • Fackenheim, Emil. To Mend the World: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought. New York: Schocken, 1982.

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                                                                                                        Resistance during the war by Jews, Christians, and secular humanists, and the resistance reflected by the State of Israel, form the basis in life with which to mend the world philosophically and theologically. The astonishing will to bare life in the face of radical death counts as nothing less than a trace of revelation.

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                                                                                                        • Funkenstein, Amos. “Theological Interpretations of the Holocaust.” In Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses during and after the Holocaust. Edited by Steven Katz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                          Rejects all attempts to interpret the Holocaust from a theological perspective. This includes especially the passive and active messianism of ultra-Orthodox Judaism and religious Zionism, as well as the more diluted forms of messianism of Berkovits and Fackenheim, and the 1960s radical theology based on Heideggerian philosophy. The author seeks to cast and comprehend it as a purely human event. Originally published in The Tel Aviv Review 1:1 (1988).

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                                                                                                          • Heschel, Abraham Joshua. A Passion for Truth. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1973.

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                                                                                                            Heschel’s last major statement. Already post-Holocaust and almost anti-theodic, the text betrays the most theological rage marshaled by Heschel against God in relation to the Holocaust. In the end, however, sympathy and pity for God overwhelm the author’s anger.

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                                                                                                            • Kolitz, Zvi, ed. Yossel Rakover Speaks to God: Holocaust Challenges to Religious Faith. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1995.

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                                                                                                              Includes the famous “Yossel Rakover Speaks to God.” This testament first began to be disseminated in the 1970s. What many considered a genuine document and recognized as the quintessence of Jewish faith turned out to be the literary work of this Israeli novelist living in Argentina. Suggests how post-Holocaust theology was literary in inspiration.

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                                                                                                              • Rubenstein, Richard L. After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966.

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                                                                                                                Rejects the transcendent “God of History” and the canons of theodicy. In its place, a type of Jewish paganism and the “God of Nature” orient Jewish religious thought around natural rhythms and rituals of life and death. While refining the theology, the updated second edition fails to convey the original mood of 1960s radical culture of the first edition.

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                                                                                                                • Wyschogrod, Michael. “Faith and the Holocaust.” Judaism 20.3 (Summer 1971): 286–294.

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                                                                                                                  A formative intervention in early post-Holocaust debates by a maverick modern Orthodox thinker. This critique of Fackenheim argues against any attempt to extract theological meaning from the Holocaust.

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                                                                                                                  Theological Responses from Christian Theologians

                                                                                                                  The impact of Christians and Christianity as a goad to post-Holocaust Jewish thought cannot be underestimated, but it would be a profound oversight to look at Christianity merely as a negative foil for Jewish response to the Holocaust. This would overlook the importance of the Holocaust to the emergence of postwar Christian theology and the importance of Christian thinkers to a more comprehensive understanding of post-Holocaust theological discourse. This contribution was first evidenced among radical Christian circles in the late 1960s and 1970s. Alongside post-Holocaust Jewish religious thought, one would have to also consider Protestant Death of God theology, Catholic liberation theology, and Christian feminism. These groupings of Christian thinkers were keen to shed the comforting pieties of Christian faith and a defensive posture vis-à-vis the Christian roots of anti-Semitism. There are two broad ways with which to assess post-Holocaust Christian thought (i.e., the realization that Christianity has to undergo radical change after the Holocaust). First, works by Christian thinkers, like Eckardt 1970 and Ruether 1974, grapple with the legacy of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Second, Moltmann 1974, Littell 1975, and Sölle 1975 focus more on the Jewish Jesus and/or the suffering of Jesus on the cross, rather than on Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Christ. Many of these theologians arrive at their positions out of dialogues with their Jewish counterparts. A particular example of this dialogue is Roth 1979, which came out of the author’s encounter with the survivor and author Elie Wiesel.

                                                                                                                  • Eckardt, Alice. Encounter with Israel: A Challenge to Conscience. New York: Association Press, 1970.

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                                                                                                                    A work of liberal Christian theology rejecting the history of Christian supersessionism and anti-Semitism. The author argues that Christian responsibility for the Holocaust obligates Christians morally and spiritually to support the renewal of Jewish life in the State of Israel.

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                                                                                                                    • Littell, Franklin H. Crucifixion of the Jews. New York: Harper, 1975.

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                                                                                                                      A passionate critique of Christian theology for ignoring the Holocaust and particularly of the complicitous role of the German churches. Concludes that, if Jesus had been alive during the Holocaust, he would have been among the victims and not the perpetrators.

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                                                                                                                      • Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. London: SCM Press, 1974.

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                                                                                                                        Written in part as a corrective to the author’s earlier Theology of Hope (1967), the focus here is on the crucified God and the problem of suffering. Explicitly indebted to the witness of Jewish Holocaust survivors. Golgotha is perceived as being “in the shadow of Auschwitz.” Inseparability of theology from the problem of suffering.

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                                                                                                                        • Roth, John. Consuming Fire: Encounters with Elie Wiesel and the Holocaust. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979.

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                                                                                                                          This is the first book by the prolific liberal Protestant theologian who writes about ethics, theology, politics, and the Holocaust. An attempt to practice Christian theology in a Jewish key. Of interest here is the personal account of encountering Wiesel’s work and the political and theological challenges posed by the Holocaust to Christian faith.

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                                                                                                                          • Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism. New York: Seabury Press, 1974.

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                                                                                                                            A groundbreaking study of the roots of Christian anti-Semitism. This work struck a sensitive nerve among Christian readers. The approach is historical and theological, tracing all the way back to the early Christian communities and the New Testament.

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                                                                                                                            • Sölle, Dorothee. Suffering. Translated by Everett R. Kalin. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

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                                                                                                                              Embraces and resists suffering. The author is confident that most suffering can be made meaningful. Accepting it makes one alert, alive, and more sensitive to the pain of others. The God of omnipotence dies. Christ becomes God, who justifies Himself by sharing and overcoming suffering. The author admits that this can’t make sense of “senseless suffering,” especially that of the Musselmänner.

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                                                                                                                              Recent Reflections

                                                                                                                              Post-Holocaust theology, philosophy, and critical scholarship are followed by a generation of thinkers and scholars who note the displacement of Holocaust consciousness and memory that accompanies the passage of time. This literature about the Holocaust reflects upon the fact that the Holocaust no longer occupies the central place in Jewish thought and culture that it once did in the 1960s into the 1980s. Without underestimating the enormity of the catastrophe or dissolving its force through comparative reflection, the texts in this section show how reflection on that event can be reduced in scope to the length of a single chapter or set of chapters rather than a full monograph. One finds, perhaps, a renewal of religious faith in God and of humanist faith in literature and art. In theology, one finds a move away from the intense focus on human suffering and the tense positioning of anti-theodicy that characterized the post-Holocaust moment and a more fulsome embrace of Jewish tradition. Braiterman 2000 articulates a literary aspect of this approach, while Kepnes 2007 develops the liturgical dimension. Raphael 2003 rebels against the earlier theologians by formulating a feminist theology of the Holocaust. Levitt 2007, on the other hand, opts for a secular response to the Holocaust. Rosenfeld 2011 is a plea to return to the early Holocaust memoirs as antidotes to those who would turn the Holocaust into universalizing metaphors.

                                                                                                                              • Braiterman, Zachary. “Against Holocaust Sublime: Naive Reference and the Generation of Memory.” History and Memory 12.2 (2000): 7–28.

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                                                                                                                                Against the post-Holocaust and postmodern, and turns to the language of incommensurable rupture. Instead of the sublime, the author recommends a type of naive style by which to avoid both bathos and closure when responding to the Holocaust. By “naive” is meant a canny and artfully simple style of telling and retelling that appears “simple” only at the surface.

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                                                                                                                                • Kepnes, Steven. Jewish Liturgical Reasoning. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195313819.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  A central chapter is devoted to Holocaust and post-Holocaust Jewish theology. Confident in the world’s goodness and in the goodness and spontaneous freedom of God, not as a group of propositional assertions. Liturgy creates a powerful counter-image in which the experience and memory of suffering is transformed into an anticipation of joy.

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                                                                                                                                  • Levitt, Laura. American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                    Draws on and develops the idea of postmemory advanced by Marianne Hirsch. Combining autobiography and theory, explores the tension of maintaining fidelity to the memory of catastrophic history in Europe and the quotidian Jewish life and more ordinary forms of familial suffering and trauma in the United States during and after the Holocaust.

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                                                                                                                                    • Raphael, Melissa. The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust. London: Routledge, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                      Counter to the androcentric assumptions in post-Holocaust theology, the theological focus is on a God who suffers human suffering and who redeems through acts of human care. The author seeks the Mother–God in Auschwitz. Central are stories and images taken from survivors’ accounts that relate to motherhood, kindness, and tactile human gestures.

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                                                                                                                                      • Rosenfeld, Alvin. The End of the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                        Against the current universalization, metaphorization, relativization, Americanization, and attendant trivialization of the Holocaust and its memory in popular culture, the author returns the reader’s attention to the classics of Holocaust literature—Améry, Levi, Imre Kertész, and Wiesel. A strong appeal to the power and urgency of literature and art in memorializing the Holocaust. In this view, the Holocaust should never be transcended.

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