- Martin Buber, the Book of Job, and the Shoah1
Let us realize what it means to live in an age of such concealment, such a divine silence, and we shall perhaps understand its implication for our existence. . . .(Martin Buber, Eclipse of God)
But I know that my Vindicator lives and in the end will testify on earth. This, after all my skin will have been peeled off. But I would behold God while still in my flesh, I myself and not another would behold God; I would see with my own eyes. My heart pines within me.(Job 19:25-27)
One of the central preoccupations of Jewish theology after Auschwitz is God's apparent failure to intervene during the Shoah. For theologians who approach their respective theologies from the viewpoint of studying existence, the notion of divine providence during periods of tragedy like the Shoah formulates this central theological worry under the trope of absence. Thus, when the Jewish existentialist is confronted by the Shoah, the foundational question becomes: "Where was God at Auschwitz?" One answer to this question is formulated by Martin Buber, who sees productive forces in national tragedies that enable religionists to furrow out new religious questions and re-ask old ones.2 Simply put, Buber's answer to the critical theological challenge of the Shoah states [End Page 43] that God was hidden or eclipsed from humanity during the years of Auschwitz. Those who survived the gas chambers, and those who are the heirs to the survivors, are left waiting at the far end of disaster for God's presence to return in relation to the world. Upon the re-entrance of the Divine, the victims attain relation with the eternal "Thou" in profoundly new ways. Buber's notion of God's eclipse, along with his patient faith in God's return, is framed both prior to and after the Shoah as a historical working out of his commentary on the book of Job. The sufferings of Job, for Buber, are more than the writhings of a single man; they are the representation of a nation faced with an unprecedented communal disaster whose myriad theological responses to the experience of suffering stand as the cornerstone of religious belief. As Buber writes, "Behind this [Job's] 'I,' there stands the 'I' of Israel."3
Yet we must ask if Buber's notion of a steadfast and patient faith in an eclipsed God has coherence for modern theists who grapple anew with the memory of the Shoah. I believe that it does not. For among other philosophical problems, Buber's existentialist theodicy challenges his notion of the "I-Thou," leaving us to question the strength of his philosophic enterprise. The purpose of this study is to show why this is so. I begin by examining Buber's evolving exegesis of Job as the philosophical basis for his existentialist theodicy that leads to the notion of God's eclipse at Auschwitz. I will address generally the challenges such an existentialist theodicy brings to the modern theologian and if we are ready to accept such challenges.
Buber's first treatment of Job appeared in 1941 entitled, "She'eilat doro shel Iyov" (The Question of the Generation of "Job") was published in Moznayim 13, pp. 322-331. The following year it was included in his book, Torat ha-Nevi'im.4 Subsequently (1948), this book was translated into English carrying the title The Prophetic Faith (New York: Macmillan, 1948), in which the title of his essay on Job was shortened to "The Question." Other treatments of the book of Job are scantly found in his later works: Two Types of Faith (1951),5 "Dialogue Between Heaven and Earth" (1951)6 (printed in At The Turning), and Eclipse of God (1952).7 As a commentary on Job, these works can be split into two groups. The first is his essay "She'eilat doro shel Iyov" ("The Question"), published before the Shoah's full intensity in the early years of World War II. This is Buber's most detailed and comprehensive examination of the entirety of [End Page 44] Job as a work of...