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  • On Sanctifying the HolocaustAn Anti-Theological Treatise
  • Adi Ophir (bio)

(original editor’s note: Almost every political dispute in Israel eventually leads to each side trying to prove its point with reference to “the lessons of the Holocaust.” Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz of the Hebrew University thinks that the conquest of the West Bank may turn Israel into a Jewish-Nazi state; while Menachem Begin claimed that the alternative to fighting the PLO in Lebanon would be to face Auschwitz again—the 15,000 PLO fighters suddenly appearing to have the power and threat of the entire Nazi apparatus of destruction. The attempt to remember the Holocaust has already generated its share of distortions in the political discourse of the State of Israel. …)

Vol. 2, No. 1. 1987.

A religious consciousness built around the Holocaust may become the central aspect of a new religion, one which has at its core a story of revelation that goes something like this: “In the year five thousand seven hundred since the creation of the world according to the Jewish calendar, in central Europe, Absolute Evil was revealed. The Absolute—that is, the Divine—is Evil.”…

The God described in this religion, revealed in the furnaces, will be seen as a vengeful God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generations. … The new religion is already taking form today, and already there are few who would reject the popular interpretation of its revelation: the commandments which echo from within that thick cloud which arose from the earth of iron to the empty iron heaven of Europe (Deut. 28:23).

The four commandments of the new religion: …

“Thou shalt have no other holocaust.” There is no holocaust like the Holocaust of the Jews of Europe. To what lengths Jewish historians, educators, and politicians go to remind us over and over of the difference between the destruction of the Jews of Europe and all other types of disasters, misfortunes, and mass murders! Biafra was only hunger; Cambodia was only a civil war; the destruction of the Kurds was not systematic; death in the Gulag lacked national identification marks. …

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or likeness.” … Whoever tries to peek through the furnace of revelation and describe what he saw with his own eyes, or in his mind’s eye, is destined to fail. The best of literature, drama, or cinema can only touch upon the margins of the atrocity, document it through fragments of memories of those still living … toward which they are directed.

“Thou shalt not take the name in vain.” How many outbursts of rage did Menachem Begin earn when he dared to profane the name. How many warnings have been uttered since then by researchers of the Holocaust, politicians and educators, against that disreputable phenomenon, a transgression, no doubt, derogating the Holocaust by borrowing its name for calamities and disasters of a lesser order of atrocity, the earthly order.

“Remember the day of the Holocaust to keep it holy, in memory of the destruction of the Jews of Europe.” This is the most important commandment. This is the burden whose shirking is the archetype of sin. …

Absolute Evil must be remembered in exquisite detail. And already scattered throughout the land are institutions of immortalization and documentation, like God’s altars in Canaan one generation after the settlement. Already a central altar has arisen which will gradually turn into our Temple, forms of pilgrimage are taking hold, and already a thin layer of Holocaust-priests, keepers of the flame, is growing and institutionalizing; only, instead of rituals of sacrifices, there are rituals of memorial, remembering and repetition, since the sacrifice is completed and now all that is left is to remember.

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Adi Ophir

adi ophir is Professor Emeritus, Tel Aviv University and Mellon Visiting Professor, the Cogut Center for Humanities and the program for Middle East Studies at Brown University.



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