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  • Reflections on Emil L. Fackenheim z”l (1916–2003): The Man and His Holocaust Philosophy
  • Zev Garber (bio)


Professor Emil Ludwig Fackenheim, the eminent German-born Jewish philosopher of the Shoah, died in Jerusalem on 22 Elul 5763 (19 September 2003). Though his roots are with the great German-Jewish thinkers such as Moses Mendelssohn, Hermann Cohen, and Walter Benjamin, and his religio-philosophical faith with Franz Rosenzweig, Leo Baeck and Martin Buber, his fate as a refugee Jewish philosopher and writer is more akin to Hannah Arendt and Ernst Bloch, who described man as on a voyage of discovery, borne by the desire to reach his homeland (Das Prinzip Hoffnung, 1954–59). Imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1938, Fackenheim emigrated to Canada in 1940,1 then to Israel in 1984. Educated in Jewish thought at the Hocschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin (founded by famed Reformer Abraham Geiger in the nineteenth century), and in philosophy at the University of Halle and University of Aberdeen, he read widely in a wide range of sources, including, Bible and Rabbinic writing, Greek classics, and German idealism. His early writings and interest reflect an awareness of medieval Arabic scholasticism and medieval Jewish philosophy as well as studies on Schelling, Kant, and Hegel. But it is his insistence on the importance of Shoah for Jewish theology, his love for the Jewish People, and his commitment to its survival with dignity and without apologetics, which have consumed his thoughts since Sachsenhausen, that have rendered him the consummate Jewish philosopher-theologian of the Shoah.

The sub-units in this section are constructed as mini-essays to explain the contribution and significance of the work of Emil L. Fackenheim to Shoah Studies. They reflect issues and interpretation from and about his scholarly contribution. Haas suggests that the corpus of Fackenheim’s writing reflects a mind that tried to bring the verities and truths of the old world into the post-Shoah post-Modern-world. Garber discusses [End Page 107] aspects of Fackenheim’s Judaism after Shoah. Morgan writes on the main features of Fackenheim’s encounter with the Nazi horrors and addresses three fallacies about his Shoah thinking. Littell focuses on the importance of Fackenheim’s dialectical philosophy for the Christian world. Rubenstein shares agreement and disagreement with the thought of Fackenheim on the Jewish religious situation in the aftermath of the Shoah. Patterson evaluates the life of Fackenheim as a Jew, a philosopher, and a Jewish philosopher.

It is our hope that these essays, written by internationally respected scholars in the field of Shoah Studies, serve as a fitting tribute to a giant in our discipline, Emil L. Fackenheim. Yechi Zichrono Li-Vracha.

Emil Fackenheim: To Mend Two Worlds

Peter J. Haas

Emil Fackenheim’s life was lived in two worlds. His early years were spent in one homeland, that of pre-War Germany; his death took place in his other homeland, Israel. His training was in the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, while as a philosopher he had to struggle with the post-Modern collapse of Enlightenment optimism. His education was in one of the great institutions of the German-Jewish synthesis, the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums; his academic career was built in the secular, North American University of Toronto. In between these two worlds was the yawning gap of the Shoah. In his life and his work, Fackenheim struggled to bridge these worlds and make sense of each in terms of the other. In this struggle, Fackenheim, as a witness and a thinker, articulated the problem of what it means to be a Jew after the Shoah. In so doing he attempted to bridge several sets of worlds and helped define the agenda for future thought on the subject.

As Emil Fackenheim himself noted, Jewish philosophical thinking intersected fruitfully with the larger world of Western philosophy in only two cultural contexts. One was the Greco-Roman tradition, beginning with Philo and carrying through the great neo-Aristotelian traditions of Maimonides and the Maimonideans. The second was the German-Jewish synthesis of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Both of these phases proved to be highly congenial...

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