Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, now exhale slowly… That was easy, wasn’t it? Not for everyone…
It has been estimated that more than half of the millions of Jews caught up in the Holocaust observed the mitzvot, the commandments of the Torah, in their daily lives prior to the advent of the Nazis. Did this commitment to halacha, the “way” of Jewish religious law, crumble and disintegrate under the pressures of the Final Solution? Or did halacha continue to bring not only some semblance of order, but of meaning, sanity, and even sanctity, into their lives?
Precisely because the motivations behind Holocaust were not without precedent, and because the halacha had confronted, dealt with, and transcended similar situations in the past, it was able to guide and sustain those who lived and died by it during the bitter and calamitous times of the German domination of Europe.
While much of its technology was novel, the Holocaust simply replicated, on an extensive and enormous scale, events that had occurred with tragic regularity throughout Jewish history. The concept of the Final Solution differed in kind from earlier attempts at the destruction of the Jews, but this could make little difference in the reaction of its victims, who were unaware of the comprehensive nature of the plan.
Pillage, psychological degradation, exclusion from society, mass murder, mass graves, burning, torture, beatings, cremation, forced labor, imprisonment, death marches, infanticide, rape, expulsion – all of these had all been experienced by Jewish communities in the past.
Long before the Holocaust, the halacha had developed its theoretical “theology” and practical course of action with regard to such tragic events.
The halacha was, therefore, uniquely equipped to adjust to death and suffering as well as to life and joy. It would be blasphemous for anyone who did not himself experience the terrors and the madness of the Holocaust to speak of the supportive and sustaining power of the Torah during that insane and diabolical period. But the vivid and compelling testimony of survivors, the literary testaments of victims, even eyewitness accounts of the SS and those in league with them, clearly indicate the significant and ennobling role of Jewish religious observance during the Holocaust.
In the face of events that would make Job’s trials seem trivial, Jews retained their confident belief in a just Creator Whose secret purposes they might not be able to fathom but Whose revealed and clear dictates in halacha they were bound to observe.
Halacha maintained that the only tenable response of the believing Jew to the chastisements of God – deserved or not – was that of Moses himself, who, after describing God’s outpouring of wrath upon His people, declared, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law” (Deut. 29:28).
The one course of action that remained mandatory under even the most calamitous circumstances was the fulfillment of the mitzvot.
Of course, there must have been thousands of observant Jews who did ask Abraham’s question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” and who found the conventional answers wanting. They could find no sin heinous enough to warrant the punishment they were receiving, and no promised bliss in the hereafter adequate enough to outweigh the hellish tortures they were suffering in this world. They abandoned and rejected halacha at the same time they denied God.
But there were thousands more to whom the mitzvot were as important – perhaps more important – during the Holocaust as they were in normal times. For them the rabbinic observation, “Since the day the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, is only to be found in the ‘four cubits’ of halacha” (Berachot 8a), became almost literally true. Their one sure link with God was performance of His commandments. The one world in which they could be certain God was to be found was the world of halacha.
It is these men and women, who lived in the Holocaust and the realm of Torah at the same time, who truly made a Kiddush Hashem.
About the Author: Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
“Yesha” and Binyamin Regional Council leaders said the attack “is not the path of Jews in Judea and Samaria.”
The occasion? The rarely performed mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor: Redemption of a firstborn donkey.
American leftists have a pathological self-inflicted blindness to the dangers of political Islam
Hard to remember when Jewish youth were so hostile to their heritage as they are on campuses today.
Names of the enablers of Iran’s Nuclear weapons will be added next to Hitler’s on the list of infamy
By most accounts, the one person with the political muscle to swing enough Democratic votes to override a veto is Sen. Schumer.
The next day, in a speech in New York to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Kerry substantially upped the ante.
In Israel, the judiciary has established itself as superior to ALL other branches of the government.
The Fifteenth Day of the month of Av became a day of national rejoicing. The moment that had seemed hopeless became the moment of Redemption.
I think the melodies in our religious services have a haunting sound to them that just permeates your guts and gets into your soul. If you have any musical inclination, I think they inspire you to compose.
Cavalier analogies to the Holocaust are unacceptable, but Huckabee’s analogy was very appropriate.
Pollard was a Jewish-head-on-a-pike for all American Jews to see and to learn the explicit lesson.
Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise
The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.
Rambam: Regarding a husband who refuses to give a Get: “He is beaten until he says, ‘I agree.’ ”
Increased education about the land, the people, and the Torah of Israel is the antidote to today’s confusion.
Why not tell us that Purim is to be commemorated with reading the megillah, dispensing mishloach manot, giving gifts to the poor, and partaking in a Purim feast?
The Talmud (Berachot 26b) says, “tefillot avot tiknum” – “prayer was established by the avot.” The Talmud then uses the following verse (Bereshit 19:27) to prove how Avraham established prayer: “Vayaskem Avraham baboker el hamakom asher amad sham et pnei Hashem” – “And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before God.”
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-halachic-response-to-the-holocaust/2008/04/23/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: