The Message of Maoz Tzur: Defying Universalization of the Holocaust

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11 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Our human power of rationalization is such that everything can be turned rhetorically into its opposite.   Every true narrative of our victimization has an false, equal and opposite, counter-narrative.  We Jews need to see the truth with total clarity.  How many times and in how many places have we and our faith been almost snuffed out while some of our own people bought into the lie and cheered until HaShem delivered us?  Hanukkah recalls one example.   We can’t make sense of Hanukkah without looking squarely at the Jewish Hellenists and what they represented in those days.   We struggle daily against their successors as well as our external enemies.   Bringing those successors, now mostly brought up in abject historical ignorance, back into the fold voluntarily remains a major challenge.

    • Tzipora Weinberg says:

      Your insight on Mityavnim/Hellenist Jews is, I believe, an important one; we can perhaps draw a parallel to the Yevsketsia presence in the Soviet regime. The push to universalize and flatten historical record is especially prevalent in the United States, where there is a constant yen for neat resolutions, for happy endings in all things. Here is where the drawing of moralistic lessons from the Holocaust becomes a focus of, and often a distraction from, the serious study of its history.

  2. Shades of Gray says:

    R’ Hutner  refused to use the term “the Holocaust” or “Shoah” in order to place it within the framework of Jewish history. Similarly, in 1977, R’ Soloveitchik proposed to Menachem  Begin that Yom ha-Shoah be subsumed in Tisha Ba’av as indicated in the kinnos(see R’ Moshe Lichtenstein’s  “Weep for What Amalek Has Done Unto You: Lamentation and Memory of the Holocaust in our Generation”).

    There is a danger in not universalizing the Holocaust to some extent, as it can be used to withdraw from the suffering of the larger world. R’  Berel Berkovitz writes about such withdrawal in the  8/09 Jewish Action, ” To some extent, this is understandable. In part, it reflects an insularity due to historical experience. Having seen how the world abandoned us in the Holocaust, we turned our back on the world.(“Questions, Answers and Silence: Reflections on the Tsunami” ). However, I think just as the Torah uses the experience of Mitzrayim to focus on the “nefesh hager”, perhaps paticularism can become universalism.  Similarly, R’ Adlersetin told Pat Robertson, ” Our experience as Jews is that love starts at the home, in your own neighborhood, and it expands in concentric circles”(compare with preface to the Shaarei Yosher which  talks about the expanding self).

    In her 1993 book,” Denying the Holocaust”, which became famous in the David Irving lawsuit, Deborah Lipstadt devoted a chapter to the concept of “Immoral Equivalencies”. Later in a 2003 interview with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (“Denial of the Holocaust and Immoral Equivalence”), she says, “My own position on the uniqueness of the Holocaust has changed somewhat in recent years. I used to be a purist, considering it unique; but I now think that one errs by arguing that stand too strongly. There are other situations with some elements similar to those of the Holocaust…The true uniqueness of the Holocaust starts only after 1941, with the Nazi implementation of a systematic plan of murder. No other example exists of a modern government using all its forces (including post offices, banks, army, etc.) to annihilate an entire people: men, women, and children…While there is no example of a situation that comprises all elements of the Holocaust, we can still use the Armenian genocide as a comparative tool. Likewise there are places in Bosnia where one may conduct a similar analysis, as that too included some elements of genocide.”

     

    • Tzipora Weinberg says:

      Rav Hutner sought to preserve the status of the Holocaust within the parameters of Jewish experience. He did so in rejection of the stance of Yad VaShem specifically, to protect the understanding of this awful event as within the cycle of history, flouting the supposed uniqueness conferred by the word Shoah. Today, Yad VaShem’s chief historians are still at odds with the current trend to universalize, with the opposite aim: To stretch the impact/import of the Holocaust over a broad spectrum of genocides. Dan Michman and Dina Porat, in response to an attack on the distinct approach to Shoah studies at Yad Vashem, said the following: “If the Holocaust is stripped of its distinctive aspects in order to fit into a pattern of genocide, it indeed remains ‘only’ the murder of the Jews and, therefore, is not unique.”
      But there were other voices. The Piacezno and Slonimer Rebbes, for example, held that the Holocaust was a unique event in Jewish history- not that it did not emanate from the Churban, rather that it was historically more destructive, more pervasive than any other event in Jewish history. The Torah instructs us to be precise in our examination of past events (Zechor yemos Olam, Binu shnos dor va’dor). It is incumbent upon us to fully appreciate our own history such that we can be truly sensitive to world events as they unfold. If we miss the nuances, the shades of gray if you will, we are bound to dull our sensitivity to the plight of others, rather than heighten it.

  3. Tzipora Weinberg says:

    Rav Hutner sought to preserve the status of the Holocaust
    within the parameters of Jewish experience. He did so in rejection of the
    stance of Yad VaShem specifically, to protect the understanding of this awful
    event as within the cycle of history, flouting the supposed uniqueness
    conferred by the word Shoah. Today, Yad VaShem’s chief historians are still at
    odds with the current trend to universalize, with the opposite aim: To stretch
    the impact/import of the Holocaust over a broad spectrum of genocides. Dan
    Michman and Dina Porat, in response to an attack on the distinct approach to
    Shoah studies at Yad Vashem, said the following: “If the Holocaust is stripped of its distinctive aspects in
    order to fit into a pattern of genocide, it indeed remains ‘only’ the murder of
    the Jews and, therefore, is not unique.”
    But there
    were other voices. The Piacezno and Slonimer Rebbes, for example, held that the
    Holocaust was a unique event in Jewish history- not that it did not emanate
    from the Churban, rather that it was historically more destructive, more
    pervasive than any other event in Jewish history. The Torah instructs us to be
    precise in our examination of past events (Zechor yemos Olam, Binu shnos dor
    va’dor). It is incumbent upon us to fully appreciate our own history such that
    we can be truly sensitive to world events as they unfold. If we miss the
    nuances, the shades of gray if you will, we are bound to dull our sensitivity
    to the plight of others, rather than heighten it.

  4. Rachel Tessler says:

    The writer raises an important question which has been considered by every Holocaust scholar and museum: what is the optimum lens through which the Holocaust should be viewed? Should we consider the Holocaust as a warning, for how one ethnic group’s hatred for another can lead to mass murder? Should we be focused on the grisly tortures and suffering the Nazis created int he hell of concentration camps as a message to understand the depths of human cruelty? Or should we view the Holocaust as a chapter in the long story of Jewish suffering and persecution, which perhaps might affect how people react to modern day anti-semitism? There is no one answer, but certainly Jews should know their history, and Tzipora Weinberg contributes much to furthering our connection to it.

  5. Reb Yid says:

    Eli Wiesel, z”l, stated it best about the Holocaust:

    Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.

     

  6. mordy rakover says:

    Ms. Weinberg is to be applauded for exploring issues which are either ignored or oversimplified by many. A story comes to mind. The Chafetz Chaim once convened a meeting of Roshei Yeshiva and asked at the outset that all present sign a comittment to refrain from Lashon HaRah and to view it as severely as eating pig. Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski objected much to the shock of all present. Rav C.O. explained “Rebbe they will not view Lashon Harah as severely as pig;they will view pig as lightly as they view Lashon HaRah”.By using the Holocaust as the model of evil we are defining it in terms of our experiences which are nothing near that indescribable [even for those who lived through it and certainly for us who were at best eating ice cream in new york when it happened]  hell.

    Another important point which Ms. Weinberg forces us to confront is whether we can rise above our liberal insecurities and see the Holocaust as against Jews and not just a universal metaphorfor hatred of varying degrees. A great man was asked by his student during the Biafra famine how we.as Jews .should view it. He replied “Since Hitler ,with rare exception ,all the world must be assumed to be sonei Yisrael. If you dont feel mercy toward Biafra you are cruel;but if you get too caught up in mercy you are a dangerously naive fool. And I am not sure which is worse– cruelty toward others or toward self”. One thing is for sure–any serious Jew after reading Ms. Weinbergs sensitive piece must move beyond the “there is no business like Shoah business” approach and begin to think seriously about what will be the Holocaust legacy we leave to the next generation as it moves toward the great Resolution of all Jewish suffering.

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    Rabbi  Meir Solevitchik relates that Dr. David Luchins was asked by Rav Gifter in the 1960s to describe what Rav Aharon Solveitchik discussed in his chumash shiur, to which Dr. Luchins  responded, “Rav Aharon Solveitchik is very concerned about Biafra”. Rav Gifter praised Rav  Solveitchik’s being uniquely concerned about the suffering of people, whom most never even heard of.(“Modern Orthodox Education in 21st Century Israel & America”, 56:00).

    In the JA article by Rabbi Berel Berkovits I quoted previously,  he writes “But despite these considerations[of being abandoned in the  Holocaust], it does not exonerate us of the need to act towards others with compassion.”

    Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman   wrote about  Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, “I never heard him speak negative about another human being and his care and compassion for all of Hashem’s creatures was legendary. What other Rosh Yeshiva in the world got up in the middle of the Beis Medrash and announced that the Yeshiva will be collecting money to support the “Vietnamese Boat People” who were escaping Vietnam in 1979 on unsafe boats and were in desperate need of help and support? His love of Hashem motivated him; “Were these not Hashem’s children?” he asked.”(“The Short Vort’ – “Rebbe Zt”l”)

    • mordy rakover says:

      the point was not to ignore the plight of biafrans or not to feel compassion but rather not to foolishly think that anyone in te world would care about the plight of jews if we were the suffering and opressed. .eisav sonei lyaakov is a bitter reality we would be foolish to ignore. we cannot rely on anyone but the RBSO. The reason the world was silent during the Holocaust was because all were happy that Hitler ymsh had the courage to call a spade a spade and try to do what they all would have liked to but couldnt bring themselves to do.

      of course we need to emulate vrachamav al kol maasav but chabdeihem vchashdahem is the only prudent and intelligent way. turning the Holocaust into an “example” of inhuman behavior is a mistake–they meant Jews ;All Jews.

  8. Shades of Gray says:

    R’ Avroham Pam’s view and own example  might shed light on the distinction to be made upon being rejected by parts of the non-Jewish world, versus relating to its entirety. In an article by R’ Yaakov Feitman in this week’s Yated(” Rav Pam’s Laser Light on the United Nations”), R’ Feitman quotes from R’ Pam in Atarah Lamelech in 1984:

    “The purpose of the U.N. in Hashem’s plan, is to serve as a permanent, unimpeachable record of the hatred of the nations for Am Yisrael”.

    At the same time,  R’ Feitman also notes that:

    “The righteous gentiles of the world will be amply rewarded for their rapport and solidarity with us, but most of all, they themselves will feel validated for having done that which is right, often against the numbers and odds.”

    In the article,  Rav Feitman references his discussion  of  Rav Hunter about the Holocaust in a previous Yated article  that,“the purpose of these disappointments was to free Am Yisroel from falling into the ‘lure of the nations,’ …the new sakanah of our becoming enamored by the power, culture, seeming graciousness and promises of the gentile world.”

    Notably, after the Jewish Observer published R’ Feitman’s  “Teaching Churban Europa to Our Children” (JO, May ‘03) based on Rav Hutner, Rav  Feitman was one of those who encouraged the JO  to write about Tzelem Elokim and kavod habriyos, such as R’ Shimon Finkelman’s  “With Kindness and Respect”(Jewish Observer, March, 2004). Here is an excerpt about Rav Pam:

    The day on which Rabbi Avraham Pam was to enter the hospital for major surgery, he left the Mesivta Torah Vodaath building to be driven home by Rabbi Avrohom Biderman. They started to walk to the car when Rav Pam abruptly turned around and said that he had to return to the yeshiva. They entered the building’s lobby, where a Hispanic maintenance worker was mopping the floor. “Good morning,” said Rav Pam with a smile. The worker returned the greeting and Rav Pam left the building.”I always say ‘Good morning’ to him,” Rav Pam told Mr. Biderman. “But I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I did not greet him when we left the first time.”

    Similarly, Rabbi Akiva Males relates in “Rav and Rebbetzin Pam and Halloween” on  Matzav.com:

    It was October 31st. In contrast to the many Jewish homes around the Pams who had turned off their lights to discourage trick-or-treaters, the Pams left their front light on.  While they all chatted with Rav Pam in the dining room, his Rebbitzen was in the kitchen working the hot-air popcorn popper and preparing plastic baggies of popcorn to give out with a smile to all the local non-Jewish kids who knocked at their door.

    I would add regarding the first  story, that one doesn’t need a “Gadol story” to teach basic manners(see R. Simcha Feurman’s “Are Gedolim Stories Good for Chinuch”), rather, the point is that R’ Pam  went back even when preoccupied about surgery.

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