Sunday, June 26, 2005

Jews blaming ourselves for the Holocaust

Once more on the theme of Jews blaming ourselves for the Holocaust. Over on DovBear, Toby Katz has again fallen into the pit which she herself has digged, with the following comment:
1. I said, over and over and over, that no one knows why the Holocaust occurred, that there were numerous reasons for it, and that the only people to "blame" for it are the Nazis. OTOH I did say that "it was no coincidence the Holocaust started in Berlin." That is the only sentence of mine you keep quoting, because you seem to think it shows me at my worst. Mis-nagid [another blogger] has openly admitted he's an atheist, but what about the people who claim to believe in the Torah? Do you deny Hashgacha Pratis [individual Providence - i.e., the idea that God watches over each individual]? Do you deny the validity of the Tochacha [the Rebuke - series of punishments described in Deut. 27-28, which are supposed to come upon the Jewish people if they fail to obey the covenant with God]? Do you think that whatever happened in Europe, it WAS just a coincidence? By causing people to focus their hatred against Torah-true Jews [i.e., Orthodox Jews] instead of against the failings of their own non-Torah movements, you prevent the Ge'ulah [redemption]. And how do you know for sure that it WAS just a coincidence? That Reform was not even one thousandth of a thousandth of a reason for any of G-d's protection to be withheld from His people, not even one tiny bit? Did G-d Himself tell you that the Tochacha is no longer operative?

I find this offensive in so many ways, principally because it involves a Jew blaming other Jews for mass murder inflicted upon Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. I also object to the view of God that Toby Katz (and not only her - see also the comments of a Rabbi Forsythe, A Torah Insight into the Holocaust) puts forward - as an unmerciful, vengeance-seeking, tyrant. What about the prayers that we utter during the Days of Awe, asking for God's forgiveness and being assured that God will forgive us? "And repentance, prayer, and charity/ righteousness will avert the evil decree."

I also object because Toby (and Rabbi Forsythe, and perhaps others) are arguing that this is the only "Torah-true" perspective on the Holocaust, something which is clearly not true. The best example, perhaps, is to be found in the writings of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, a Polish Hasidic rebbe (whom I've written about before) who led a very successful yeshiva and educational program before World War II. He was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazi invasion of Poland, and lived through the "Great Deportation" in summer of 1942, when the majority of the Ghetto's Jews were taken to Treblinka and killed.

His first attitude towards the sufferings the Jews were enduring at the Nazis was very much the traditional view espoused by Toby Katz & R. Forsythe, although unlike them he was going through this suffering, rather than theologizing about it after the fact. He first held that the Jews were suffering because they had left religion, were not studying Torah with the proper diligence, etc. After a while in the Ghetto, his views began to shift, and he began to believe that it was not because of the sins of the people that they were suffering. Instead, he began to see it as an unknowable mystery about which even God himself was weeping in his inner chambers - and a mystery into which a weeping Jew can enter precisely through his own weeping.

Rabbi Shapira also denied that the sufferings of the Holocaust could be compared to any previous suffering in Jewish history. In November, 1942, after the Great Deportation, he writes in a note, "Only until the end of 5702 [summer of 1942] was it the case that such sufferings were experienced before. However, as for the monstrous torments, the terrible and freakish deaths the malevolent monstrous murderers devised against us, the House of Israel, from the end of 5702 and on - according to my knowledge of rabbinic literature and Jewish history in general, there has never been anything like them. May God have mercy and deliver us from their hands in the twinkling of an eye" (p. 139 of R. Shapira's Esh Kodesh, a collection of his homilies published posthumously after the war; translation from Nehemia Polen, The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, pp. 132-133).

One of the qualities that shines through Rabbi Shapira's writing is his love for the Jewish people and individual suffering Jews - and I believe it is this quality of his that we must emulate when writing and speaking about the Holocaust, rather than blaming the victims and besmirching the memory of the Jews were were murdered.


  1. tracked you from your latest Toby Katz comment (I don't hate you....)...great blog you have here.

  2. "he began to see it as an unknowable mystery"

    I fully agree with that statement, but also think it is possible to seek lessons in the Holocaust, as well as historic patterns, even though we ultimately cannot understand why such a horrendous atrocity was committed against our people.

  3. as i see it, one of the great lessons is that there is a reason of all jewish paths, and that this helps us survive as a people. thanks for pointing to the teachings of Rabbi Shapira. it is a miracle that we have them.

  4. I find this offensive.

    I also find THIS offensive:
    The condescending comments that Chana has referenced cannot possibly be taken out of context." -orthomom

    Oh yes they can!

    She wrote me a number of private emails, each more consdescending and ruder than the last, and she hasn't quoted here what she wrote to me.

    I answered her at length and with great patience, to no avail. All I got for my pains was more rudeness, unbecoming in anyone but all the more so in one so young

    Orthomom, I tried to find a way to email you privately on your site but could not.
    Toby Katz | 06.27.05 - 1:52 am | #


    So my entire email correspondence with her is now up over at

    Everyone can view my "rudeness" for themselves.

  5. I'm still having to take all the blame for the Shoah, being a downright unobservant Jew. I see no reason I should only get a ten thousandth of a ten thousandth of a blame, once we start this sort of reasoning. I'm simply as bad as Hitler, or a personal camp exterminator. Why not? Say it a little, Toby Katz, or say it clearly, but I prefer clearly. I betrayed God (or G-d). Why shouldn't He punish all of us for my apikorsim?

    I'd ask how Toby Katz knows God's word so well, but, alas, this is where we start to differ. (And two sets of people, yes, some of whom believe they know how to know God, and some of whom believe maybe not so much, and both apparently take the other's belief as reason to doubt; we all try to work it out from there.)

  6. My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead.