Confronting the Holocaust Jewishly - by Rav Meir Kahane, z"l, hy"d
CONFRONTING THE HOLOCAUST, JEWISHLY
These excerpts were taken from an article written by Rabbi Meir Kahane, ZTUQ"L, HI"D (may he be remembered for his goodness, may he be a blessing in his holiness, and may his blood be avenged by G-d) published in Kahane Magazine, Nov. 1985.
What is the fundamental issue of the Holocaust that we avoid speaking about and that, when mentioned, is dismissed with a curt and swift non sequitur?
Why, surely it is the issue that, unless raised and discussed and answered, will guarantee yet another and another national catastrophe. Surely it is an issue that goes to the very nature of the Jewish People, its meaning and role in life, its direction and fate.
What is the fundamental issue that must be met and grappled with?
Why surely the one that asks the question: Where was God? How could He have permitted it?
Our failure to grapple with this issue (instead we corrupt our souls by the terrible reply: It is a question no one can answer) has caused us to be silent accomplices in the worst of all Jewish sins and crimes - Hirúf v'gidúf, blasphemy against the Lord; open insult and attack on His Name - Hillúl hashém (cursing G-d).
How dare we sit by quietly while Jewish ignoramuses and blasphemers speak of the "death of God", and His Name is dragged through the mud of a theology and philosophy of heresy?
How dare we allow Him to be blasphemed and our children to be turned down the path of apostasy and atheism because our reply to the attacks of the blasphemers is: "No one can answer the question!"
Of course there is an answer! It is a Jewish answer. But, of course, it is the kind of answer that the irreligious Jews, the secularists, the impossible Reformers and Conservatives simply cannot cope with.
It is an answer that can only come from a Jew who believes fully and completely and it is the answer that can only enter the mind and soul of a Jew who believes fully and completely.
And since the non-Orthodox Jew is essentially an atheist (though lacking the courage to admit it), the answer to the Holocaust is simply impossible for him to accept.
And as for the Orthodox Jew, in such great measure, he is responsible for laying the groundwork for the inability of Jews to understand or accept the Jewish answer to the Holocaust. Let me explain and you, dear reader, study the words carefully, They will pain you, but they can also save you.
The reason for the Holocaust, the Jewish reason and answer, is the one that rises out of the fundamental of fundamentals of Torah. What happens to the Jewish People is dependent on their actions and they way they live their lives.
The Jewish People is a Chosen people; chosen for a mission it cannot avoid or escape. At Sinai, the covenant bound us to a life of truth or falsehood, of life or death. "See, I have set before you this day, life and good, and death and evil... And if thy heart turns away and you will not hear... I tell you this day that you will surely perish... I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that both your and your seed may live. [Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:15,17,18,19 selections therein]
The clear, direct mission and warning to the Jewish people. The open message of reward and punishment. If the Jew will obey the Torah in all its ways, he will have life, glorious and majestic. If not, he will have death, terrible and
Of course we can answer it; but the irreligious Jew, the one who does not accept the Divinity of Torah, refuses to accept an answer that lays the blame upon him, upon the Jew who - knowing of the warning - ignored it and disdained it.
No, since it is impossible to accept the relationship between Jewish suffering and failure to obey the Law, one must blame God. One must create the image of Jewish people in Europe that was saintly and pious and observant, and thus one must ask how the modern God, a beaming Santa Claus who would never take serious our desecration of mitzvót (commandments), could do such a thing. And, of course, using that as a premise, "there is no God..."
And the Orthodox Jew joins in. He creates a picture of European Jewry that must lead to agonized and perplexed questioning of God. He creates a picture of saintly men that must lead to a vision of a God that is a cruel God who punishes a people who, for the most part, were religious and observant and if so, how could He do such a thing unless He does not exist or "there is no answer..."
The picture that is handed down to the American Orthodox youth, of the yeshivas of an East European Jewry that was pious and traditional and observant is one that must be destroyed because it is false.
It is an image that the yeshiva world gave us in its desire to negate the present material western one. But by their falsely idealizing Man, they have laid the groundwork for the desecration of God.
By painting the East European Jew as a saint, they designed a God of cruelty and irrationality. And that most terrible of sins must be ended: We must save God and sanctify His Name by telling the truth about European Jewry in the years preceding the Holocaust. Then and only then will we be able to tell our children and all Jews the truth of the Holocaust.
The false idealizing of the Jewry of Eastern Europe is worse than foolishness. In the words of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "Say not: 'How was it that the former days were better than these?' For it is not out of wisdom that you inquire concerning this." [Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 7:10] Then and only then can we save God from blasphemy and ourselves from future horrors. Then and only then can we honestly and truly say: "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies." [Tehillim/Psalms 25:10]
Of course we know the real truth of the situation and from that comes the answer, if we wish to be honest. Then and only then can we reply to the wicked and the honestly confused both - honestly. For in the words of Tehillim: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and His covenant to make them know it" [Tehilllim/Psalms 25:14] and Mishlei/Proverbs: "Men of evil will not understand justice but those who seek the Lord will understand everything." [Mishlei/Proverbs 28:5]
Yes, as the nineteenth century passed into its third quarter, the Jew of Russia and Poland was, indeed, observant. But what else could he be?
The overwhelming number of Jews lived in a Pale of Settlement that restricted them to the shtetl, the village, where they were isolated from the gentile world, barred from participating in anything else except the society of the shtetl. And that society was religious in toto.
What Jew, even if he wanted to, was prepared to rebel against the society that laid down the religious rules of life?
Who was prepared to accept the ostracism that would be his inevitable punishment if the dared to throw off the halachá that was more than religion in the shtetl, but the entire social fabric of the life of the Jew?
And so, of course, the Jew was "religious". He had no other choice.
But once that choice arrived, look at what happened! And in such a short span of time! The Enlightenment that began to arrive in Eastern Europe in the last third of the nineteenth century swept away, in a relatively few years, a society and structure that had been built up for centuries. The great Torah centers spawned, overnight, a rebellion and revolution that uncovered the reality of Jewish "religiosity".
The same Vilna that had become a byword for piety and Torah learning, the home of the Gaon, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," now gave birth to' the Jewish labor movement, the Bund, a bitterly anti-religious and anti-nationalistic group that saw Jews, who just yesterday were "religious", flocking to its ranks to spout atheistic socialism.
The Poland and Russia and Lithuania and Galicia, the areas of the Va'ad Arba Ha'aratzot (Council of the "Four Lands" of the 17th Century Kingdom of Poland), the places that had given us the Rama and the Shach and Chassidism and the great yeshivas, overnight gave birth to Jewish communism and socialism and secular Zionism and assimilation. The door was barely opened to enlightenment and emancipation and the Jew rushed to be a Universalist and to throw away Judaism.
This was "religion". This was a "pious, saintly, committed Jewish community" that was cruel and unjustly allowed to be slaughtered by God? Hardly. The Jews who, arriving in America from centuries of "religion" and who threw away their tefillín (phylacteries) and their Shabbat at the first opportunity, symbolized so many other Jews who remained behind. It was not "religion" that had marked them but a social system of ritual that was observed by most only because the outside gentile world refused to allow them entry to it, and there to throw off the yoke of heaven.
The moment the barriers dropped, the Jew rebelled. This was the reality, and the fault dear Jew, lies not in our God but in ourselves.
And there was of course, more. There was the terrible class struggle within East European Jewry.
There was the terrible oppression of Jewish workers and proletariat by the wealthy Jews, the parnessim, the communal leaders.
Not for nothing did the Bund and communism succeed so easily in attracting poor Jewish workers to their ranks.
The low wages and horrible working conditions in the factories owned by Jews are epitomized in the classic story told in the name of the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev who once visited a matzah bakery on the eve of Passover.
There, he saw the terrible conditions from dawn to dusk. "Dear God", he said, lifting his eyes unto heaven. "What liars are the gentiles! They accuse us of using gentile blood in our matzah. It is not true. We use Jewish blood..."
And too few know of the black chapter of the Hatufím, the kidnapped Jewish children of Czarist Russia. When the Czar decreed that Jewish children be drafted as "Cantonists" in the army for 25 years, the rabbis declared that the quota imposed on each community be filled by casting lots to see which child would be drafted.
Tragically, the wealthy communal leaders would hire gentiles to kidnap the poor Jewish children, lock them in the synagogue and keep them to be turned over to be Czarists.
The lack of Ahavat Yisrael, love of Jews, cried out to the Heavens! Was this "religion"? Was this a saintly Jewish community that was cruelly and unjustly slaughtered by God? Hardly. The fault lies not in our God, but in ourselves.
And this lack of unity and love was epitomized, too, in the incredible number of machlokes, of bitter arguments and splits within the Jewish community, a sin'át Hinám, a needless hatred that split communities and families into warring camps of enemies.
What we have seen in the disgusting attacks of hatred between Satmar and Belz or Satmar and Lubavitch is only a small portion of the bitter hatred between misnagd�m (religious Jews who disagreed with Hassidism) and Hassidim and between Hassidic groups themselves, in Europe.
The bitter divisions between Jews was told to me as a child by my father, of blessed memory, who described to me the bitter split between the Sanz and Rizhin, a hatred that reached its climax with Hassidim going to the Western Wall to put the Sanzer Rebbe, the great Divrei Chayim, into Hérem (a term similar to excommunication). And at a Shabbat seudá shlishít (third Sabbath meal, eaten shortly before the prayers ending the Sabbath), a Hassid attempted to stab the Divréi Hayím...
Families were broken up because of disputes. Needless hatred ran through East European Jewry as a thread, and the classic example of the Munkatcher Rebbe declaring, concerning the Pressburger Yeshiva founded by the Hatám sofér: v'hivdilánu min ha'toím - "and He has separated us from those who err," even as the Pressburger Yeshiva refused entry to any baHúr (student) who was a member of the MizráHi...
And this terrible, terrible hatred was long ago, set up by the Rabbis as an unpardonable sin with a terrible, terribly clear and precise warning:
"How severe is maHlóket, division and split! The Court of Heaven does not punish until one is over the age of 20 and the court on earth from the age of 13, but in the dispute of KoraH, children of one day were burned and swallowed up by the earth..." (Tanchuma, Korach 3) And the Rabbis in Shabbat (33b): "When there are righteous in the generation, the righteous are caught for the sins of the generation. When there are no righteous, then little children are caught for the sins of the generation (this is the explanation for the million and a half Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the death camps). Let each of us think long and carefully about this. And let us search our souls.
And let us remember, on top of all the sins and the reality of Jewish crimes, the refusal to grasp the Land of Israel to our bosom. "And they despised the desirable land," is the Biblical condemnation of the generation of the desert and its great scholars and leaders who preferred to return to Egypt rather than go to the Land of Israel.
Their actions led to the night of "weeping for generations," Tisha B'Av. What shall we say about the rejection of Eretz Yisrael in the decades preceding the Holocaust by so many great religious leaders in Europe? That, too, must be added to the reality of East European Jewry.
It is time to put an end to the nonsense of "we cannot know the reasons". That answer guarantees the turning away of Jewish youth.
It is time to bury the myth of East European Jewry that was pious and saintly. That insures the creation of a Jewish God who is senselessly cruel.
It is time to put an end to the indictment of God, to Hirúf v'gidúf, blasphemy against the Lord. A Jewish People that clings to the Law, truly and completely, will be saved from Holocausts. And one which rejects it and which turns it into a ritualistic sociological fraud will suffer for it. And until we learn this, that which was will, God forbid, be again.
But do not blame God. He remains the One whose duty compels us "to declare that the Lord is just, He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him." [Tehillim/Psalms 92:15]