Question: Explain how the experience of the Holocaust might affect the faith of a Jew. (7 marks)
The Holocaust also known by Jews as “Shoah” was a tragic time in Jewish history whereby 6 million Jews were killed. The event poses deep questions about the nature of God, evil and reasons for suffering. Many Jews ask how and why God let this happen. The Shoah really tested many Jews’ believe in God. Judaism teaches God created everything. So therefore did God created evil? Surely God is all loving and therefore created evil for a purpose but what is it?
The covenant relationship made between God and Abraham states that if Jews obey the mitzvoth and the 10 commandments and serve God, God will in return protect them and provide them with the Promised Land.
Why did he not protect them here? Was the promise broken is what some Jews might say. Jews may question the existence of God as a result of the Holocaust.
Where was God and why didn’t he stop it? In this discussion the “problem of evil” arises. This states,
How can an all loving and omnipotent God let suffering into the world?
If God is omni benevolent (all good) why did he allow evil to happen?
If God is omnipotent (all powerful) why didn’t he stop it?
Unfortunately there is no one right or wrong answer on this but individual Jews will carry their own opinions.
Some Jews might as a result have lost all faith in God all together. Why wasn’t he there at the time? Why did he not intervene in the matter, is what some Jews would say? They might now believe there is no God and use the Shoah as proof of their views. Therefore their faith in God may have been greatly weakened and broken by the event. On example of a Jew greatly affected by the Holocaust in a negative way is Elie Wiesel. He was deported to Auschwitz as a teenager and therefore suffered the traumatic time but came out as a survivor. In his book entitled “Night” he says boldly,
” For the survivors death is not the problem. We learned to live with the death. The problem is to adjust to life”.
His accounts of anger with God are among the most powerful to emerge from the Shoah. An extremely powerful line of his book is,
“Never shall I forget those moments which murdered by God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust”.
Elie Wiesel has lost all hope and positive thoughts about God which can be evidently seen through his writing. Despite the fact he is a survivor he does not feel lucky for this but questions why?
On the other hand for some Jews their faith has been strengthened by the event of the Holocaust. They see now that God could not intervene in the matter and feel they have gained answers as a result of the Holocaust. God gave everyone free will and bad overpowered good. One example of a Jew who was affected in a positive way as a result of the Holocaust is Emil Fackenheim. He was a rabbi in Germany in the 1930s and spent a short time in a concentration camp. He wrote,
“As Jews we must continue to practise our faith. If we stop practising Judaism Hitler will have a victory from the grave….We have a service to the world…God’s chosen people will survive and this will be a testimony of life over death, on behalf of all mankind”. He approaches the event of the Holocaust in a very different way to Wiesel. He feels lucky for surviving the tragic event and sees it as a blessing from God that he was chosen to survive. He describes survivors as “chosen people” by God.
Lastly the question of why God allowed evil and suffering is explored in the Bible in the book of Job where God took away everything from Job yet his faith remained strong. Why did God do this; either as a test of his faith or as punishment. Job kept his faith strong no matter what the reason. Jews may follow this as an example of how to behave.
So therefore to conclude the faith of individual Jews has been affected in different ways by the Holocaust. Some have experience positively from the event and have increased faith in God whereas for others their faith has weakened as they question the presence of God at the time. Does the Holocaust go against what Judaism teaches about the role of God?