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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Religion’s Most Repellant Idea

The late Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum.

The late Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum.

The most dangerous and offensive of all religious ideas is that innocent people suffer because of their sins. This notion, so easily abused, makes victims into criminals, denying them divine sympathy or human compassion.

We’ve heard it all before.

Why was there a Holocaust? Because German Jewry assimilated and abandoned their faith. They desecrated the Sabbath. They adopted Germanic names. They married out. They wanted to be more German than the Germans. In the words of one of the greatest Jewish sages of prewar Poland, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, who was executed by a Nazi firing squad, “The fire which will burn our bodies will be the fire that restores the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, felt that the Holocaust was a punishment for secular Zionism. Jews can only return to Israel when God himself redeems them. Rabbi Menachem Hartom said the exact opposite. Jews were punished by God for being too comfortable in Germany and abandoning their attachment to Israel, their ancient homeland.

One Rabbi who lectured in my community not long ago said, before a crowd of hundreds of modern orthodox Jews who barely found his words objectionable, that one can see how lax Jews were in their observance in Germany from the women who were about to be gassed in Auschwitz. Pictures have them standing naked, after the SS removed their clothing, and they are not even trying to cover up in front of the German soldiers. Here was a Rabbi finding fault with Jewish women who were about to be murdered along with their children, which just goes to show that the belief that suffering results from sin can lead to shocking anti-Semitism.

Ideas like these are not only repulsive, they are factually inaccurate. The majority of Germany’s Jews, who supposedly incurred the divine wrath through sin, survived the holocaust. They knew who Hitler was and had a few years to try and get out. The people who did not know that Hitler was coming for them were the Hassidic Jews of Poland, with long side curls and beards, who had no idea that Hitler planned to invade Poland on 1 September, 1939. They were devout in the extreme. So what was their sin? And what of the 1.5 million dead children. What guilty were they?

Regardless, are these Rabbis seriously suggesting that because of assimilation, God decided to ghettoize, wrack with disease, gas, and ultimately cremate six million Jews? And if that’s true, is He a God worthy of prayer? And do we have any right to condemn six million people whom we do not know to murder in the assumption that they were so horrendously sinful that they and their children warranted extermination?

No. This theology is an abomination. It rejects the very name of the Jewish people, ‘He who wrestles with God.’ A Jew must struggle with God in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice.

What does Abraham do when God threatens to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, even though God had said, “Their sin so grievous.” Abraham thunders at the heavens: “Will the Judge of all the earth not Himself practice justice?” (Gen. 18:25).

The same is true of the prophet Moses. How does the great redeemer react when God threatens to destroy the children of Israel after the sin of the golden calf? Does he bow his head in submission before God’s declaration that the people are sinful and deserving of destruction?

No.

Moses, in one of the most haunting passages of the Bible and eloquent defenses of human life ever recorded, says to God, “Now, forgive their sin – but if not, blot me out, I pray you, of the Torah you have written.” (Ex. 32:32).

The Bible is clear: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deut. 29:29). God is in charge of the hidden things. Why does He allow humans to suffer unjustifiably? What goes on in secret behind the partition of heaven? Well, that is of no human concern. But the revealed things, this is our area of focus. A parent is mourning the death of a child. A woman is crying over the loss of her husband. Why did they die? As far as we are concerned, for no reason at all. In the revealed here and now, their suffering served no higher purpose. Suffering is not redemptive, it is not ennobling, it is not a blessing, and it teaches us nothing that we could not have learned by gentler means. It’s Christianity, rather than Judaism, that says that someone has to die in order for sin to be forgiven. We Jews reject any idea of human sacrifice.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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9 Responses to “Religion’s Most Repellant Idea”

  1. Mildred Bilt says:

    The impoverished Jews of some sections of Eastern Europe were forced to attend Christian churches on Sunday and were continuously subjected to the sermons from the pulpit. No matter how much they tried to close their ears, it penetrated. So today those same ideas are perpeurated by specific sects of the Hasidim. They have no idea they are spouting apostacy; by now it's ingrained into their belief systems. They are semi Catholic. Because of their deliberately insular life style they have no way to assess their misbegotten credos, The Satmars are not the only sect that was affected and infected.

  2. Hadar Israel says:

    Divre' Qefirà by this guy.
    In plain English: worthless B.S.
    No surprise here. He is not new to kashering pigs.
    Contrary to what he says, the WHOLE Torah stand on the principle of reward and punishment, just as we were punished during the First and Second Beth HaMiqdash, and MILLIONS died and were exiled by the Romans and the Babylonians, who were instruments and paid and will pay for what they did.
    A REALLY JEWISH approach to the issue can be found in the article "Confronting The Holocaust Jewishly", penned by a REAL Talmid Chakham, who had for years a column in this paper, and who received semichà TWICE: once at the Mirrer Yeshiva by Rav Kalmanovitch, the other, after moving to Erets Israel, by Rav Mordechai Eliahu:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/am-israel/message/7493
    and
    http://ruvysroost.blogspot.it/2010/06/confronting-holocaust-jewishly-by-rav.html

  3. Brian Kent says:

    Anti-Torah article in the JP.Sadly a first.I hope it is the last.

  4. This is a theme in The Source that I didn't know about. Also in The Chosen by Potok? I'm not sure. There's a good "discussion" at the end of Michener's The Source that talks about this and the "right of return".

    Here are my "school books":

    SHORT LIST (See Full list “THE Books” Facebook page).
    The Haj by Leon Uris.
    The Source by James Michener.
    Muslim Mafia by Gaubatz and Sperry.
    Because They Hate by Brigitte Gabriel.
    “Slavery, Terrorism and Islam” and “Holocaust in Rwanda” by Peter Hammond.
    The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America by David Horowitz.
    Ivory Towers On Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America by Martin Kramer.
    The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism by Andrew G. Bostom
    The Legacy of Jihad by Andrew G. Bostom MD
    A Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden
    The Book of Jewish Knowledge by Nathan Ausubel.
    The New Moody Atlas of the Bible by Barry J. Beitzel
    The Al Qaeda Reader by Raymond Ibrahim.
    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.
    Sahih al-Bukhari (With Sheikh Humaid's article on Jihad).
    The Koran: Pickthall.
    The Quran: Yusuf Ali: Translated by Prof. Syed Vickar Ahmed.
    Holy Qur'an with Commentary: Maulana Muhammad Ali.
    The Second Message of Islam by Mahmoud Mohamed Taha.

  5. The Rabbi is dumb. anyone whom God gives to be born into the flesh and live in this world is obviously going to suffer for the experience. That is original sin, what we Catholics accept as the consequence of Adam offending God and being forced out of the Garden of Eden, to till the soil , suffer and die. The Rabbis thinks the world is some sort of Utopian Paradise, just waiting for the day it blossoms. That is psychotic thinking. The price of being human is to accept suffering , not because you are bad, but the human condition came by God's curse upon Adam, and so we need to have Faith that God ultimately saves us, and Jesus showed us that the Innocent Man, like Job, will suffer, but it is what God's Torah says must be.

  6. This is a topic that is at best highly controversial and leaves the author to be attacked on many sides. So kudos to Rabbi Shmuley for even expressing his ideas, which are always welcome. In fact Hashgocho Protis means that there are certain sinners who HAVE to die in order for their sins to be expiated and then the soul can move on to heaven.
    As far as WHY the Holocaust and myriad other disasters happened to us Jews and many others is strictly left up to Hashem's reasoning. There is no human being alive or dead who truly understood Hashem's rationale for everything he did. It is said that in every generation there is a leader, our own MOSES, who can lead us to the path of God.
    Let us hope we acknowledge the right Moses if we can all agree on anyone. Compassion and sympathy should be given and felt for anyone who suffers. We all suffer. If someone says they live in Bliss all the time – they are probably fodder for a mental asylum or truly resonating with a God consciousness we can all envy.
    Please remember the concept of Reincarnation and the Why of why our personal soul has been imbued in us in this body we now use.
    Also there is an element of collective reward and punishment, clearly discussed in Mesechtot Zevachim and Menachos and others that describe the various sacrifices we brought individually and collectively as a nation. Again, please don't judge Rabbi Shmuley too harshly for one article. I'm sure he can write a book(s) on this topic alone.

  7. The Rabbi was simply saying that when bad things happen, it's not always because the victim committed a sin in their own life.

    Sometimes the suffering is inflicted by men who live outside the rules…look at Catholic history and all the evils committed by the church. You can't blame the victim for the sins committed against them. Likewise, when those same evil men lived lives free of want and despair, it didn't mean they were blessed by G-d…it just means they haven't paid the price for their atrocities yet.

    Let him without sin cast the first stone? Christians have been getting their own teachings wrong for over a thousand years. I grew up in it, btw…every faith seems to point fingers and throw stones at each other.

  8. So are you going to offer your throat to the first jihadist who yells "jihad!"? And where do you live? Safe and secure in Israel or the US? If you're in such a hurry for God's punishment why don't you move to Egypt? Or see how much luck you have in "secular" Turkey?

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