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Her wake up call?

One of the things that never fails to upset me is when people of stature start trying to explain the Holocaust. There are some rabbinic figures who have tried to do so, both past and present. It seems like there is a new addition to those ranks in the person of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, a venerated Rabbinic personality of the 20th century.

I do not say this to disparage him. He is a man who garners tremendous respect from observant Jews from all walks of life. There are people who consider his Hashkafos about Judaism their guide to life. He has a wide following, perhaps greater today posthumously than when he was alive.


My introduction to Rabbi Avigdor Miller was when I read his book, Rejoice O’ Youth which was an unsuccessful attempt to refute the theory of evolution.  For many years that book angered me. But I have mellowed in that regard and now believe that he has every right to his views on that subject and to promote them in a book. Just as others do to refute it.

I recall also being upset at something I once read about him where he strongly disparaged Modern Orthodoxy. I will be Dan L’Kaf Zechus that he was not disparaging observant Jews that are modern but meticulous in their observance and respect the Mesorah. He was probably referring to those I like to call MO-Lites. Jews who are not so meticulous about their religious observances and are more assimilated into the culture than they are into their Judaism. Or those Modern Orthodox Jews that are on the extreme left and try to innovate practices that depart from the Mesorah.  Like Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and Yeshivat Maharat.

According to an article in Mishpacha Magazine, his son, Rav Shmuel Miller, has published a book posthumously written by his father  that in my view is unconscionable. The thesis of the book is that the Holocaust was actually a Chesed… a kindness from God in the way of a wake-up call! It is called  ‘A Divine Madness’ – Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s Defense of HaShem in the Matter of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller did not want to publish this work during his lifetime. He felt that so soon after the Holocaust it would upset survivors. His son has decided that enough time has passed and published it. Rabbi Avigdor Miller is certainly entitled to his views. But I am entitled to totally reject them.

He is not the first one to put forward the theory that the Holocaust happened because Jews were abandoning the Torah and observance in droves in the period prior to the Holocaust. But what is so upsetting about this particular thesis is that he considers the Holocaust a kindness. I understand his point. Which he tries to illustrate using an example once cited by the Chofetz Chaim as follows.

If someone is in the coldest region on Earth like the North Pole and falls asleep, he will freeze to death in short order. If someone is there next to him, he will try to wake him up from his slumber. If calling out to him, won’t work, he will shake him. If that doesn’t work he will smack him. If that doesn’t work, he will take a stick and hit him. An onlooker might see this as being cruel and not understand that he is trying to wake him up in order to save his life. In other words what looks like a cruelty to another human being – is actually a kindness meant to save his life.

This is such a bad analogy that it boggles my mind that it was even attempted let alone published in a book.

There are 6 million individual stories of savage slaughter that happened in the Holocaust. And that is just about Jews that were systematically killed. There could be as many as another six million stories about horrors experienced by survivors.

Just to cite 2 personal examples.

My father escaped the Nazi death camps by hiding in 3 different bunkers with other families until his city was liberated by the Russians.

When the first bunker was discovered, the escape route planned in such an eventuality via the town sewer system enabled an escape by my father and my 3 older brothers (who were in their early teens at the time). But my father’s first wife (my brothers’ mother) never made it. She was captured while trying to escape. The next bunker was a makeshift one in the forest. That too was discovered, but my oldest brother got caught while my father and his two younger sons escaped. My father heard his oldest son screaming as he was being carried off by the Gestapo.

My wife’s uncle was an Ish Tam – a Gerrer Chasid; kind and sincere; simple  and pure in his devotion to God. He had not an ounce of evil in his bones. He had a beautiful family – a wife and children – prior to the Holocaust. They were all slaughtered by the Nazis except for him. He was captured by the infamous Josef Menegle for purposes of medical experiments. That left him without family and sterile after the war… never able to rebuild his family. Although he did remarry and made Aliyah.  He was a truly good man who never questioned God.

You can multiply these two stories by the number of victims and survivors. How many stories like this and far worse have we all heard?!

If this is God’s Chesed, I’d like to know what it’s like when He gets angry! How dare anyone say that God decided to torture innocent people in order to wake us up? Rabbi Miller does not make understanding the Holocaust any easier. He makes it even more difficult to understand, in my view.

Many great rabbinic figures were slaughtered by the Nazis. It is said that the great people of any given generation are punished because they did not protest the increasing rejection of Mitzvah observance of their time. Even if that’s true, how can such inhumanity to the average Jew – innocent people who are not Gedolim – be explained?

How can anyone say that being tortured by the likes of Mengele is the same as being hit with a stick at the North Pole?! How can anyone say that forcing Jews to dig mass graves for themselves and then being shot into them is the same as being hit with a stick?! How can anyone one say that the millions of Jews marching into the ‘showers’ at Auschwitz and Buchenwald is the same as being hit with a stick. Such analogies are an insult to not only the six million who died, but to all the survivors and their children, of which I am one!

Wake up call?! How exactly did all the torture endured by survivors wake up all those who lost their faith after the Holocaust?

My negative attitude about the Satmar Rebbe is well known here becauseof his antipathy towards the State of Israel and his disparagement of Rav Kook. But there is one thing I do agree with him about. The Holocaust cannot be explained.  And all victims of the Holocaust including survivors have earned an automatic place in the world to come – even if they did not remain religious.
I therefore object in the strongest possible terms the publication a book which espouses the view that the Holocaust was a ‘wake-up’ call. His right to publish such opinions should not trump the hurt such views have upon survivors and their children.

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  1. I have the highest respect for Rabbi Avigador Miller. This concept is not new. Anyone who wishes to offer an explanation for the Holocaust and thinks they have "the answer" is at best searching for the impossible. Enough time has not passed for this book to be published; there are Holocaust survivors who will be very upset reading this. My outlook as a son of HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS is that no one knows the answer except G-d. You might wish to read my book, "Theological and Halachic Reflections on the Holocaust", which contains the writings of some of the greatest Rabbis of our generation, in particular a translation of "Kol Dodi Dofek" By Rav Soloveichik. What is important to me is that the lessons of the Holocaust be learned by future generations and instead of dwelling on six million dead and how they were murdered, I prefer we speak of the heroic survivors who made a difference in our world. They performed the impossible by building homes for themselves, children and grandchildren as well as Yeshivas and places of Higher Jewish learning. Merely travel through Boro Park as I often do, and one can see that Hitler did not accomplish his wish.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  2. I can bet Holocaust is the reason, that so many Jews are secular. When you see how 6,000,000 people dying around you day and night, who would believe in God? What kind of GOd let so many of his people die in wain? But Holocaust have just one good thing, that happened after it. It was re-creation of independed Israel and the oaf " Never again". All this religious people didn't live in real world. They created their own world around them, and they simply don't understand ordinary people. This is what their problem.

  3. The Holocaust did not lead to the founding of the State of Israel. Most of the people in Europe and other areas who were affected by the Holocaust were not religious Jews. Unfortunately we have created what I call "the romanticization of the Holocaust." Namely, that all victims were righteous, religious and helpful to one another even in the Concentration Camps. The truth is there existed the good, the bad and the ugly. Most victims were secular Jews and in the camps there were saints and devils among the Jews. If one wishes to believe in Rabbi Miller's hypothesis, the question remains, "can another Holocaust happen?" The answer is yes. A number of nuclear bombs can destroy the State of Israel. When my father Jacob, a survivor of the Holocaust, was still alive, and I was a teenager intending to become a Rabbi, I asked him "Why did the Holocaust happen?" He said simply, "It is in the bible, the Tochacha section.". At the end of the Tochacha [verses of rebuke in our Parsha], the pasuk [verse] says that these ninety-eight terrible curses come "as the result of your not having served the L-rd, your G-d, with joy and with good spirit (b'simcha u'vtuv leivav) when you had and abundance of everything" [Devorim 28:47]. This is an unbelievable statement.." Those who believe the Holocaust is predicted in the Bible would agree with Rabbi Avigador Miller's book. Only G-d knows the truth. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  4. Question for the Day.


    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    Edison, NJ

    The Jewish Claims Conference negotiates compensation payments from the German government on behalf of Holocaust survivors. Do you feel the Claims Conference disperses the negotiated funds appropriately?

    The German government would like your opinion. Please contact Mr. Wolfgang Schauble, Germany's Federal Minister of Finance and let him know your thoughts.

    Republic Square 1.

    11011 Berlin

    Phone: 030-227 26 00 7.

    Fax: 030-227 67 44 7.

    Email: wolfgang.schaeuble

  5. why did the Holocaust happen? Some people claim it on that Israel did not listen to their prophets but treated them badly and also when Christ was brought before Pontius Pilate, they cried out "crucify Him" plus shouting "His blood be upon us and our children" this is some people's reasonings. Yet if Hitler had not been in power and persecuted the Jews, would the Jews have gone back on their own to the land of their forefathers Israel? or did it take Hitler for the prophesy to be fullfilled. that G-d would gather them and bring them back from where they had been driven, so that today Israel is a prophesy fulfilled? sorry don't mean to cause anyone pain. It is also said that Hitler brought the best out of most people and the worst in others. Was the whole world being tested. still so many unanswered questions, but we know that the time of the Messiah return is near, as when He has told us, When the Fig tree brings forth leaves, know that the time is near at the very doors. Shalom and G-d bless.

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