- Holocaust Theology: A Reader
For the believer, observed the Hofetz-Hayyim, there are no questions. For the skeptic, he continued, there are no answers. No theological conundrum more clearly illustrates this than the issue of God and the Holocaust. Nearly six decades after the Shoah, the murder of European Jewry continues to vex the religious imagination. Scholars and religious thinkers still wrestle with the question of God’s relationship, if any, to the death camps. This question, however, raises still more queries: how is God to be conceived after Auschwitz; is evil an independent power; what is the role of human agency in relationship to divine authority; does the covenant still exist; how has the Shoah impacted Christian self-understanding; what is the current state of Christian-Jewish dialogue? These queries are a vital part of the post-Auschwitz theological ferment.
Seeking responses to these issues, Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok has assembled excerpts from the writings of more than one hundred Jewish and Christian scholars. He includes writings from those who survived the Shoah as well as a section from the writings of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro, who was murdered by the Nazis. Further, Cohn-Sherbok includes a second generation of scholars. The author’s Introduction provides a brief summary of each thinker’s position. The book itself is divided into four interconnected parts: “The Religious Challenge of the Holocaust,” “Faith in the Death Camps,” “Wrestling with the Holocaust,” and “Jews, Christians and the Holocaust.” Each excerpt is followed by two questions based on the reading. Cohn-Sherbok includes a brief section treating the history of the Holocaust, although in his reading the roots of the catastrophe only go as far back as the ill-fated Wiemar Republic.
The work has both the strengths and weaknesses associated with a Reader. Among its strengths are the author’s organizing principles and his bringing together in one place a collection of distinguished contributors. Moreover, his Epilogue, “The Future of Holocaust Theology,” calls for a “radical revision of Jewish theology” after Auschwitz. This is a suggestion that promises fruitful discussion; a discussion which has already occurred in the works of several of the thinkers included in the book, such as Elie Wiesel, Irving Greenberg, Richard Rubenstein, David Blumenthal, Alice and Roy [End Page 154] Eckhardt, John Roth, John Pawlikowski, and Eugene Fisher. Cohn-Sherbok’s section on Jewish-Christian dialogue contains useful selections and reveals a wide range of thinking on the topic.
Concerning post-Auschwitz Christian and Jewish theology, he correctly notes that a “shift from the absolutism of the past” has “radical and far-reaching” implications. The sociologist Peter Berger once described religion functioning as a “sacred canopy.” Rabbi Cohn-Sherbok wisely notes the change from canopy to canopies. Theological absolutism leads to exclusion and fanaticism. Subjectivity, notes Cohn Sherbok, serves only to restrict speculation about God. Religious pluralism, for its part, can free humans to re-image the divine in ways that move beyond traditional notions of a superintending deity. This, in turn, may result in the realization that God’s relationship to the Holocaust is not an insoluble problem, but an “unfathomable mystery.”
The book does, however, have two weaknesses. One of them deals with what is excluded, another with what is included. For instance, the omission of any reference to or selections from the March 1998 Vatican document, “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” is difficult to understand given its profound impact on Catholic-Jewish relations after Auschwitz. Similarly, “Dabru Emet” [September, 2000], a Jewish response to “We Remember,” is not included. No matter the flaws of each statement, collectively they represent a turning point in interfaith dialogue. More to the point, it is not possible to understand the current status of this dialogue without reference to these documents.
Equally difficult to comprehend is Rabbi Cohn-Sherbok’s decision to include excepts from a liberation theologian whose main contribution is to espouse the tired and tiresome rhetoric of the Left which equates Israelis with Nazis. Whatever one thinks of the politics of...