Contemporary Jewish Religious Responses to the Shoah.
In the nearly identical introductions to these volumes of collected essays, Jacobs notes that, while contemporary scholars in multiple disciplines have long recognized the Shoah to be a critical challenge to Christianity and Western civilization, as well as a watershed event in Jewish history, there did not exist a collection of thoughtful essays from either Jewish or Christian perspective. These volumes fill that void by bringing together many of the leading Jewish and Christian religious thinkers who were asked to respond to two questions: What are the questions that religious thinkers should be asking about the Shoah today? What are the answers that you yourself would give? Looking at the contents provides us with the scope and variety of individual authors and their particular concerns.
The Jewish responses include: "Judaism and Christianity after Auschwitz," Steven L. Jacobs; "In a World without a Redeemer, Redeem!" Michael Berenbaum; "Academia and the Holocaust," Alan L. Berger; "After Auschwitz and the Palestinian Uprising," Marc H. Ellis; "The Holocaust: A Summing Up after Two Decades of Reflection," Emil L. Fackenheim; "Voluntary Covenant," Irving Greenberg; "Auschwitz: Re-Envisioning the Role of God," Peter J. Haas; "Why?" Bernard Maza; "Apocalyptic Rationality and the Shoah," Richard L. Rubenstein; and "Between the Fires," Arthur Waskow.
The Christian responses include: "Revisionism and Theology: Two Sides of the Same Coin," Harry James Cargas; "Evil and Existence: Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited in Light of the Shoah," Alan Davies; "Suffering, Theology, and the Shoah," Alice Lyons Eckardt; "Mysterium Tremendum: Catholic Grapplings with the Shoah and Its Theological Implications," Eugene J. Fisher; "In the Presence of Burning Children: The Reformation of Christianity after the Shoah," Douglas K. Huneke; "How the Shoah Affects Christian Belief," Thomas A. Idinopulos; "A Contemporary Religious Response to the Shoah: The Crisis of Prayer," Michael McGarry; "The Shoah: Continuing Theological Challenge for Christianity," John T. Pawlikowski; "Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Shoah: Getting beyond the Victimizer Relationship," Rosemary Radford Ruether; and "Asking and Listening, Understanding and Doing: Some Conditions for Responding to the Shoah Religiously," John K. Roth.
What comes through in these essays, as Jacobs notes, is "the primacy of a renewed exploration of the ethical . . . over that of the intellectual task of 'theologizing.'" What also comes through is that, while Judaism continues to confront the "unprecedented" (Fackenheim's term) atrocities of the Shoah head-on, Christianity has yet to do so. Cargas's essay, e.g., reminds us that there are those (against whom he argues) who would deny the historicity of the Shoah and that this type of historical revisionism is an outgrowth of Western civilization's (and the church's) anti-Jewish attitudes. Davis, moreover, suggests that neither Barth nor Tillich nor Niebuhr provides a cogent religiotheological explanation of the Shoah. For Fisher, however, "remembering" (anamnesis in Greek; zikkuron in Hebrew) can be viewed as a primary category for bridge-building between Catholic and Jewish communities, while for Ruether Shoah theology has direct implications for Jewish empowerment in America and in Israel, particularly with regard to the Palestinians.
When we shift our focus to the Jewish volume of responses, we find somewhat different concerns raised. While Ellis, like Ruether, chastises both the State of Israel and the American Jewish community for ignoring legitimate claims of the Palestinian peoples, many of the Jewish responders center on God's involvement, or lack thereof. Maza, however, sees the "hand of God" in the Shoah as a means of calling an errant Israel back to its true commitment to Torah. For Berenbaum, "the God who was silent then, should be ashamed to act now." Haas shifts the focus from divine involvement in the Shoah to the secular, scientific thinking that allowed such an evil to happen.
Each of the contributors agrees that the unprecedented evil of the Shoah, its human and theological obscenity, must never be forgotten. For Judaism, as Fackenheim writes, it is time for the Jew to take leave of Exile (Galut, the place of the Shoah) and return to Zion. For the Christian, as Huneke writes, it is time to repudiate Christian Antisemitism and to reorder theological education. These calls and others in the two volumes can never be too passionate. Jacobs's desire to have these volumes "broaden the base of the reader's own thinking" and to thus "enter into dialogue with the reader" is commendable. What is missing, for me, is a broader-based dialogue between Jews and Christians. Given that the Shoah is such a highly charged event, it would have been helpful had each volume included interfaith responses to selected issues. E.g., it would have been highly beneficial if each essay from a Jewish perspective could have included a one-page response from a Christian and vice versa. In any case, these volumes - which should be read side-by-side-serve as fruitful foundations for future interfaith writing, speaking, and reflection.
Kenneth P. Kramer, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
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|Author:||Kramer, Kenneth P.|
|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1997|
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