The Next Fifty Years

 

There are few concepts so intimately linked in Jewish life as memory, tradition and the covenant. Contemporary Jewish scholars have spent much of their energy thinking through this connection in the post-Holocaust era. Yet those who have reflected on the Holocaust and its meaning find memory, tradition and the covenant problematic. How do we remember after the Holocaust? In whose name do we remember? Is there a continuity of tradition before and after the Holocaust? Or does the Holocaust fragment memory and tradition? If memory and tradition are in dispute, what can be said about the covenant? Is the covenant itself in fragments? Because of this fragmentation, many who reflect on the Holocaust find their task to be rethinking these three conceptual centers of Jewish history.

At the same moment that this rethinking is taking place, a new center of Jewish life has formed as a response to the Holocaust. Israel, as a nation-state, declared its independence only three years after the liberation of the death camps. In the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, many Jewish thinkers and activists declared Israel to be the answer to the fragmentation. The ensuing decades have cast shadows on that judgment as the policies of Israel, especially in relation to Palestinians, have caused divisions within the Jewish community. Some of these divisions have promoted deep fault lines in Jewish affiliation and commitment.

In these fault lines the issue is Israeli policies; the referent is often the Holocaust. The twinning of the Holocaust and Israel has added another dimension to Jewish discussion that is both external and intimate – the Palestinians. It is my view that Jews, Judaism and Jewish life at the dawn of the 21st century come after the Holocaust and Israel, and that the outsider/insider dimension of Palestinians, though controversial and unannounced, is central to the fragmentation of Jewish life. It may also be the key to its renewed viability. By surveying several post-Holocaust Jewish attempts to name the fragmentation and search for renewed viability, we can at least approach the task of the next generation. That task is to remember the dead as a form of fidelity to Jewish history and life.[2]

Memory, of course, is problematic; memory can be a force for justice but it can also be deceptive, even treacherous. The obligation of Israel to remember is selective, tied to God’s acts of intervention in history and Israel’s positive and negative responses to them. Remembrance is found within ritual and recital, and thus the narrative of Israel is both liturgical and historical. Though the mission of Israel is tied to God, it is traced through history; the covenant is a bridge between God and history embodied in Israel itself. Remembrance is central to the covenant and the security of the relationship between God and Israel.

If memory is central, the failure to remember is disastrous. More than a momentary lapse of attention or an excusable human failing, the lack of memory is fraught with tremendous anxiety, as it threatens to sever the relationship which is so important to Israel and the world. Yerushalmi points out a peculiar and revolutionary aspect of this remembrance in that God is also enjoined to remember.

Like Israel, God is bound in the covenant. The remembrance found in ritual and recital is also a way of reminding God of the commitment that is jointly shared and is to be found and demonstrated in history. Memory can thus be a hymn of praise, but can become a query, even an accusation, when the promises of God are found to be wanting.[3]

Memory has rooted the Jewish people throughout history, especially in the years of exile and suffering, but the role of memory in contemporary Jewish life is deeply problematic. The dangers of memory, with its focus on exclusivity and chosenness, have traditionally co-existed with its possibilities, a sense of relationship with God and God’s protection within suffering. However, contemporary Jewish life – especially after emancipation in Europe, the Holocaust, and the birth of Israel – has taken on a bifurcated reality.

The result of emancipation in Europe and America and national sovereignty in Israel is that Jews have fully re-entered the mainstream of history, and yet, as Yerushalmi notes, “their perception of how they got there and where they are is most often more mythical than real.” If myth and memory provide the foundation for action, there are myths which are worthy of preservation and reinterpretation and those which “lead us astray” and must be redefined. Still others are dangerous, and these must be exposed and jettisoned.

Yershulami ends his lectures without specifying which myths are worthy of preserving or which are dangerous. Nor does he specify the danger that Jewish life is in beyond tracing the rise of secular culture, a modern scientific understanding of history, and consequent decay of Jewish memory. The dangerous juncture reached in Jewish history after the Holocaust and the rebirth of a national identity in Israel seems to be defined as the vulgarization of Jewish life or its oversimplification, that is, a trend toward a superficial discussion and embodiment of Jewish life. 

“Nothing has replaced the coherence and meaning with which a powerful messianic faith once imbued both Jewish past and future,” Yerushalmi writes, “Perhaps nothing else can. Indeed, there is a growing skepticism as to whether Jewish history can yield itself to any organizing principle that will command general assent.” The danger here is movement beyond vulgarization and superficiality toward assimilation. Perhaps all three trends will come together sometime in the future. Yerushalmi is honest when he states that there is no obvious solutions to the issues he has raised.[4]

One wonders if a third category of Jewish memory has been created, even as it remains unarticulated by most Jewish scholars. The injunction to remember God’s acts in history and the peoples who have threatened Jewish existence is joined with the need to remember acts Jews have undertaken against others, in this case the Palestinian people. As with the first two injunctions, forgetting or pretending that the deeds have not taken place creates a further rupture within Jewish history, one that allows myths such as Jewish innocence and exclusive redemption to triumph. The balancing factor of history which grounds the work of God in the life of the people – in many ways the essence of the covenant – fades.

As the covenant becomes more and more mythicized, God becomes abstract or even peripheral to the people. The center of Jewish life, which is also the place of affirmation and resistance, begins to lose its force, and the people drift from cause to cause until there is only power or apathy to attract them. Religious and secular orthodoxies predominate as both refuse the tension of God and history.

In contemporary Jewish life, the Holocaust and Israel have assumed their rightful and complicated place within this void as emotional attachments to a mythologized history in which most Jews are not participants. Viewed from afar and uncritically, the Holocaust and Israel may lose their place in history and assume a mythic status as protector of the void.

The Jewish Liturgy of Destruction

This need for revision is true for the Jewish liturgy of destruction as well. In his own work, David Roskies, Professor of Jewish Literature at Jewish Theological Seminary, explores remembrance in the context of Jewish writers and artists during the Holocaust. Roskies finds that in the midst of the Holocaust catastrophe, religious and secular writers and artists alike used the Jewish tradition of remembrance to articulate the difficulties, sorrow, and anger of their predicament. By using ancient Jewish archetypes of divine promise, election, the mission of Israel and its place among the nations, and counterposing them to the present circumstances, Jewish writers and artists were simultaneously able to locate themselves in a history of suffering and promise over against the Nazi vision of the Third Reich and carry on a transcendental dispute with the God of the Jewish covenant. Here the interaction of myth and history is placed in full mobilization.

A narrative emerges which is fully engaged with the present and rooted deeply in the past. The history articulated reads almost as a liturgy, a liturgy of destruction, to be sure, but also a liturgy of resistance. An example is Yitzhak Katzenelson, a secular poet, who organized a public reading of the Bible on the day the Warsaw ghetto was sealed. This was to demonstrate a continuity of history as a people rather than belief in God. At the same time Hillel Zeitlin, a modern religious existentialist, began translating the Psalms into Yiddish, and when his ghetto tenement was blockaded, Zeitlin arrived at the roundup point for deportation dressed in prayer shawl and tefillin.[5]

The liturgy of destruction spans Jewish history, and the writers and artists of the Holocaust are heirs and innovators within that tradition. For the most part, contemporary Jewish thinkers serve as narrators of that liturgy, recovering and naming the disparate voices of the European diaspora. These thinkers enable the present generation of Jews to see the continuity of the tradition even as it seems to be shattering. Paradoxically, the loss of tradition is the call for its survival, indeed the proof of its importance and vibrancy, if only the post-Holocaust generation will embrace it. Post-Holocaust writers and artists deal with these themes extensively, placing the traditional Jewish archetypes such as the Akedah, the Exodus, the covenant at Sinai, the destruction of the Temple, and the pogrom in a radical and subversive context.

It is here that the problem surfaces. What is to be done with this liturgy of destruction and the archetypes as they are handed to the next generation? If, as Roskies states, the catastrophe itself endows the Jewish writer and artist with “unprecedented authority,” and, if, at the time when the “traditional doctrines of redemption and retribution had lost their power to console, visual icons of Jewish suffering came to symbolize the staying power of the people,” what will endow the symbols and structure of a secure and established Jewish life with purpose and meaning? Can the broken tablets pictured in Samuel Bak’s “Proposal for a Monument,” or his “City of Jews,” which features a devastated urban landscape with the tablets themselves a part of the tableaux, speak to Jews today? In the “City of Jews,” the only sign of life is a smoking chimney; the city itself is sinking under the weight of God’s commandments, “dying under the sign of its chosenness.” For Roskies, Bak’s midrash on Jewish history is as follows: “To live as Jews means to uphold the covenant even as it is desecrated, to exist both in the shadow of eternity and on the brink of destruction. There is no return to the Decalogue except via Vilna and Ponar. The tablets have been broken – in order that they may be pieced together again. One cannot build them other than on ruins. The sacred symbols, though defiled, are the only ones left.”[7]

Here the fear of superficiality, trivialization, and assimilation is raised again. The fear of assimilation is paramount as Roskies notes that the inner cadences of Jewish life are challenged by the invasion of foreign symbols, especially the Christian symbols of Christ’s crucifixion found in the paintings of Marc Chagall and the work, at least in its interpretation by Christians, of Elie Wiesel. Roskies is caustic when he denotes the crossing of the boundary of Christian symbolism into Jewish life as a “real breakthrough.” Picturing the travails of the Jews as a crucifixion in a sense hands Christians a victory to their own claim of universality, at the same time overriding the internal dialogue and history of the Jewish community vis-a-vis the liturgy of destruction and the animosity between the two communities. However, the use of Jesus can also be a form of resistance, as in Uri Zvi Greenberg’s statement against Jesus and the Christians who claim him, graphically laid out in the form of a cross. It can even be an attempt to speak to the Christians in a language which they can understand, forcing them to ponder their transgressions.

Still, the acceptance of Jewish evocations of the Holocaust in the non-Jewish world requires a self-censorship, an editing of particular Jewish symbols and inner dialogue. The understanding of writing and art becomes dependent on interpretations wholly foreign to the Jewish experience. With Wiesel, this happens in the introduction of his work by the famous Catholic writer, Francois Mauriac, in his invocation of Wiesel and the Holocaust victims as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion. It ends by Wiesel highlighting the themes of existential doubt and the post-war isolation of the individual over the appeal to fight the anti-semites who would consign the Holocaust to oblivion. As Roskies sees it, since “no one in the literary establishment of the 1950s was ready to be preached to by a Holocaust survivor, existentialist doubt became the better part of valor.”[9]

What Roskies does not see is the possibility that Chagall, Wiesel and others might be attempting to bridge the gap between Jew and Christian for reasons other than acceptance and self-advancement. Perhaps they recognize that the shattering of the tablets represents the shattering of traditional Jewish discourse, and that the archetypes of Jewish culture and liturgy will be lost if not interpreted within a broader framework. Perhaps the danger of the Holocaust is so deeply felt by them that security takes precedence over anger; reconciliation is a necessity so that the next generation will remember the Holocaust rather than be faced with a similar event in their lives. The continuation of the Holocaust, even as an event of catastrophe much smaller than the destruction in Europe, might mean the end of the Jewish people.

The attempt to bridge the communities could also mean that these writers and artists retain faith in the possibility of the humanity of the “other,” a faith in the “conversion” of Christianity to the plight and hope of the Jewish people through the recognition of Christian culpability in Jewish suffering. That this latter hope could come from the victims of the Holocaust who had no reason to harbor such hope seems incredible. Could the shattering of the tablets and the weight of God’s chosenness mandate a final appeal for a breakthrough beyond the violence and destruction of human history?

Another possibility locates the theme of survival within the West and the birth of Israel. It could be that these writers and artists recognize that an appeal to remembrance in an expanding dialogue on the Holocaust is crucial to the post-war integration of the Jews into the West and the mobilization of support for Israel. The end of the Holocaust and the birth of Israel are separated by only three years, so that the emergence of post-Holocaust literature parallels the origins of the state. As Yershulami and Roskies implicitly criticize this reconfigured midrash, they are also dependent on it. Yet even leaving aside this unannounced dependence, the criticism of the superficiality, vulgarization, even assimilationist aspects of Holocaust theology, remains abstract. The criticism falters when the missing connection to a life of depth is sought. There is no way back to the worlds that these authors explore.

But where is the road ahead? Or at least what paths need to be explored to create a Jewish framework worthy of the past and able to be passed on to the future? Can the myths of Jewish history even be brought into the dynamics of history so that Jewish purpose in the world will be grounded in reality? Can the liturgy of destruction be transformed into a liturgy of healing and creation?

Perhaps the answers to these questions can be found in confronting historical events which have been neglected or suppressed by the Jewish world. As Jews know all too well, on the other side of innocence and redemption lie those who are cast off and displaced, those made invisible and who are forgotten. It may be that the recovery of this history is the key to confronting the dangers which Yerushalmi and Roskies consider.

If memory is problematic, sometimes deceptive, even treacherous, does it also retain an explosive power which can transform a peoples’ search for survival and identity? Can the memory of suffering inflicted on Jews one day come to terms with a suffering that Jews have inflicted on Palestinians? And could that dawning realization of the difficult struggle for survival and the loss of innocence propel the Jewish people into a search for life beyond being a victim or an oppressor? Perhaps such a recovery of memory can limit the bifurcation which is so much a part of Jewish life. It may also lead to a reconciliation with the “enemy” which often as not portends a reconciliation with one’s self.

For has the trauma of the Holocaust, which is remembered, recited, and ritualized today more than at any time in Jewish history, led to a healing of the Jewish people? A corollary question is whether Jewish empowerment in the West and in Israel has healed Jews of fear, anger, and the brokenness which post-Holocaust writers and artists portrayed so vividly.

Through memorialization and power it is difficult to argue that Jews have finally put the era of Auschwitz behind them. One wonders if the theme of Auschwitz remains part of the landscape awaiting, at least in the Jewish psyche, a rebirth in a future scenario of destruction.

Warsaw, Israel, Palestine

Can a healing between Jews and Palestinians become a bridge within and across the Holocaust? Is this healing the key to making Jewish consciousness whole again where now it is bifurcated? Is the desire to live with Palestinians in a renewed and transformed homeland for both peoples – the creation over time of a binational Israel/Palestine based on citizenship rather than ethnic or religious identification – a way of remembering the Holocaust for the future?

It is important that diverse Jewish thinkers, Yerusalmi and Roskies, but also Irena Klepfisz, Cynthia Ozick, and Emil Fackenheim, point in this direction.

Irena Klepfisz is an essayist and poet. Her father, Michal Klepfisz, was an activist in the Bund and a member of the Jewish Fighters Organization in the Warsaw ghetto. In early 1943, she and her mother were smuggled outside the ghetto by her father, and he also smuggled in weapons and materials used to produce weapons later used in the ghetto uprising. On the second morning of the uprising, three days after his thirtieth birthday, Michal Klepfisz was killed while protecting other ghetto fighters as they escaped. After the war, Irena and her mother, Rose Perczykow Klepfisz, emigrated to Sweden and then the United States.

Klepfisz’s experiences of the war, memories of her father and life with her surviving mother were, in retrospect, hardly easy. Grappling with the issue of Palestinians and Israeli power was no less easy, but in the end provided Klepfisz with an arena to come to a new understanding of the possibilities of personal and communal healing after the Holocaust. After traveling to Poland and Israel, Klepfisz helped organize in April 1988 the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which shortly thereafter began to hold weekly vigils in New York City at the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The group’s proposal to end the violent repression of the Palestinian uprising and to support an international peace conference and a two-state solution was often greeted with hostility. Some Jews insisted that the Holocaust precluded such political action. One Jewish man told Klepfisz that he wished she were buried in Poland like his own parents. A few Jews wished another holocaust on the demonstrators. Still others felt that their actions would lead all Jews, including them, “back to the ovens.”

In different ways, Klepfisz and the Committee demonstrators were accused of disloyalty and of being collaborators with historical and contemporary Nazis. As Klepfisz writes: “We were told that to give the Palestinians a state was to give Hitler his final victory, that our behavior was desecrating the Holocaust of the 1940s and ensuring the Holocaust of the 1990s, perhaps even the 1980s.[11]

Klepfisz extended these thoughts as she addressed a group of survivors on the forty-fifth anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in April 1988. Her talk begins with the idea of mourning and asks what it is that the survivors mourn. In the case of Anne Frank, for example, do the survivors grieve that she was deprived of being a great writer, or that she was deprived of the ability to nurture that which was inside of her, to explore the world around her, to enjoy the “normal process of growing up free to experiment, to experience the pleasures of success, the difficulties of failure.” For Klepfisz, Jews should mourn that Anne Frank was denied an “ordinary, anonymous life.” That lost experience of the ordinary serves as a reminder and also ultimately a link to the present: “I have come to believe that ordinariness is the most precious thing we struggle for, what the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto fought for. Not noble or abstract theories, but the right to go on living with a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth – an ordinary life. It is this loss we mourn today.”

Klepfisz then issues her challenge specifically in relation to the Palestinian people; to apply the “fierce outrage” of the ghetto fighters at the destruction of the ordinary life of their people to those who live on the other side of Jewish power. Jews are called upon to feel outrage whenever they see signs of the disruption of Palestinian common life: “The hysteria of a mother grieving for the teenager who has been shot; a family stunned in front of a vandalized or demolished home; a family separated, displaced; arbitrary and unjust laws that demand the closing or opening of shops and schools; humiliation of a people whose culture is alien and deemed inferior; a people left homeless, without citizenship; a people living under military rule.”[13]

Fackenheim’s later the work is important, as he explores the possibility of healing the rupture which came into being with the Holocaust. The Commanding Voice of Auschwitz, which for Fackenheim replaces the voice of the God once heard at Sinai, but is silent in the death camps, is the call to Jewish survival. Indeed, Fackenheim posits a commandment which issues from this voice, the 614th commandment, that forbids the handing of Adolf Hitler a posthumous victory by refusing to do whatever is necessary to survive as Jews, including and especially in Israel. This call remains, but is now complimented with the Jewish need for healing, a need Fackenheim articulates with the Hebrew word tikkun, meaning repair, restoration, mending.

Tikkun olam, the mending of the world, is necessary because of the unprecedented and inexhaustible horror of the Holocaust; tikkun is possible because of the unprecedented and inexhaustible wonder of resistance to the Holocaust among a minority of Jews and Christians. On the Jewish side, this resistance was diverse, from religious Jews who continued to hold fast to tradition and therefore to their dignity in the face of the ultimate attempt to destroy both, and those who, like the Warsaw ghetto fighters, fought the Nazis despite the odds against them. On the Christian side, there were principled protestors, like the German philosopher Kurt Huber and the Catholic priest Bernard Lichtenberg. In holding up the “idea of man” and the “Christian word,” they forfeited their lives.

And yet for Fackenheim the greater witness came from those Christians who, without a great and noble cause, showed what in other circumstances would be considered ordinary decency: “In the Holocaust world, a Gentile’s decency, if shown toward Jews, made him into something worse than a criminal – an outlaw, vermin – just as were the Jews themselves; and as he risked or gave his life, there was nothing in the world to sustain him, except ordinary decency itself.” This Fackenheim names as a “tikkun of ordinary decency.”[15]

It is important that Fackenheim’s understanding of tikkun connects the ontological with the ordinary. In this sense the retention of ordinary decency is itself a dual crossing of boundaries. The rupture of the Holocaust, ontological in its significance, creates a boundary in which the ordinary flow of life is demeaned, denigrated, and made impossible. Because of this, ordinary decency is a crossing of the boundary within history and beyond; it is profoundly human and much more.

One might call the assertion of the ordinary a miracle, that is, a “yes” to life that is being systematically destroyed. At the same time that the crossing of the boundaries is for life in its ordinariness, it is carried out with a threat to one’s safety and often without the support of or even actively against the majority of the community. Therefore, the crossing of boundaries is a carrying of one’s entire life toward others into a perilous unknown future which becomes, in an ultimate sense, a future for humankind. In a situation of utter horror, ordinary decency is found in the bonding of the ontological and the human.

The rupture, boundaries, and tikkun that Fackenheim articulates are within Judaism and Christianity and between Jew and Christian; they are expressed by both within their commitments to Israel. In fact for Fackenheim, tikkun is Israel itself, the place of future life for Jews and the place of commitment to Jewish life by Christians. Yet even this tikkun is fragmentary, limited in terms of Israel’s size, capacity, defense and its ability to guarantee its Jewish citizens a Jewish culture or a strong Jewish identity. Fackenheim sees the enemies of Israel as implacable, attempting to renew exile for its Jewish inhabitants. Internally, the exile for the Jewish people continues with the denial of the obligation to further identifiable Jewish life in response to the Holocaust.

Fackenheim does not pursue this analysis in relation to the Palestinians and, like Wiesel, would surely object to such a proposal. One wonders if this exile which Fackenheim analyzes continues because a further rupture has occurred between Jews and Palestinians, a rupture which itself is in need of tikkun. It could be that this tikkun is also both ontological and ordinary, and that only the assertion of ordinary decency in this time of trial could mend the contemporary world, a mending which Fackenheim so much desires.

It could also be that those Jews who embrace Palestinians are simply carrying on the tikkun of Jews and Christians in the Holocaust, and therefore preparing a possible future for both peoples. Will Palestinians write one day of the righteous Jews as Fackenheim writes of the righteous Gentiles? Could this ordinary and unprecedented tikkun be a search for a covenantal framework, which in asserting ordinary decency over against political practicalities and enduring in a tension of fragmentariness, is nonetheless affirming a grounding that has been undermined and even in some cases destroyed? Surely these boundary crossings, though still incomplete and risky, represent a search for a tikkun which has evaded the Jewish world.

V. The Thick Wall of Scandal

Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigail Amir, tried to forestall the movement toward the end of the era of Auschwitz. As with Baruch Goldstein, the sense that a solidarity could be extended to Palestinians threatened the Holocaust world-view they cultivated and felt at home in.

Even the first tentative steps toward a restoration of the ordinary were seen as fundamental betrayals of the commanding voice of Auschwitz. Political compromise violated the boundaries of Auschwitz, as both Goldstein and Amir felt Palestinians to be the new Nazis. The era of Auschwitz, in their view, had to continue lest Jews fall into a lethargy that would allow the actual Auschwitz to be reconstructed. Continuing the era of Auschwitz is following the will of God, whose renewed voice can be heard in the Jewish settlements that spearhead the reclamation of the greater land of Israel.

In the commentary on the assassination of Rabin, the need to mute religious voices was set forth. Cynthia Ozick, a Jewish novelist and conservative commentator, sought to refute those who placed the issue of Jews and Palestinians in a utopian, transcendent framework, arguing that the issue of messianic perfectibility from the right and the left encouraged destruction and death. For Ozick, the situation suffers from a “common arrogance” relating to this search for perfectibility: “There are too many seers in the land, too many utopians. There are too many dreams of Eden, right and left, pious and profane. A murdered prime minister will not increase holiness. A Palestinian state will not insure paradise.”

Surely Ozick is correct; the issue is not one of messianic perfectibility. Instead, the issue of Jews and Palestinians could be one of covenantal responsibility. The removal of politics from millenarian fantasy is quite different from seeing a religious grounding and basis from which ethical and political judgements arise. In the wake of the assassination, Michael Walzer, a Jewish ethicist and liberal commentator, also longs for a naked public square in Israel where the “politics of calculation and restraint,” a politics “without God, without myth and fantasy, without eternal enemies, without sacred causes or holy ground,” triumphs over a religious politics..[17]

Because of this loss, and the resultant mournful language, “having lost so much and so many,” for Jews there are no longer any “unrelated issues.” However, there is a “thick wall of scandal” separating Jews from the covenant, and, according to Ozick, this scandal is two-fold. On the one hand, the scandal denies a decimated people the needed contributions of women; on the other hand, the very injustice denies women their rightful place in Jewish history, especially after the Holocaust. Ozick’s discussion of injustice is important: ” What is injustice? We need not define it. Justice must be defined and redefined, but not injustice. How to right a wrong demands ripe deliberation, often ingenuity. But a wrong needs only to be seen, to be seen to be wrong. Injustice is instantly intuited, felt, recognized, reacted to.”

The recognition of injustice gives rise to the feeling that there is “something missing.” In Ozick’s understanding, that is the reason that the written law, found in the Hebrew bible, is complemented later by the oral law found in the Talmud. The written and oral law become an extended Torah and covenant that in every instance “strives to teach No to unrestraint, No to victimization, No to dehumanization.” When the Torah is silent in relation to injustice, injustice calls the Torah into question: “Where is the missing Commandment that sits in judgment on the world?” With regard to women, the question is strong: “Where is the commandment that will say, from the beginning of history until now, Thou shalt not lessen the humanity of women?”[19]

Ozick relates the unfolding of Jewish teaching and living – the unfolding of the covenant – to the search for missing commandments. When found and implemented, these commandments are recognized after the fact as having been born of the covenant itself. The next step in Jewish life is in retrospect obvious and granted validity as the reality that it addresses becomes an acceptable part of life.

Therefore the commandment about women is within the Torah before it is spoken and recognized as it is added. The covenant unfolds as new questions are asked and answered: the covenant expands as the people and their history journey through time. The next question which demands action is in response to injustice that, if allowed to exist over time, perverts the covenant. A thick wall of scandal is erected which can only be overcome when the Torah ceases to consort with that which created the scandal in the first place.

How many Jews hear the commandment, “Thou shalt not lessen the humanity of Palestinians?” Did Rabin’s soldiers hear it when they had difficulty carrying out the “harsh and cruel” action of expelling Palestinians from Lydda and Ramle? Did Rabin himself hear the commandment when he wrote of this difficulty in his memoirs? Did the Israeli censors hear it when they refused to allow the inclusion of that passage in Rabin’s published memoirs? Perhaps Rabin heard it again when he invoked the image of a shared humanity at the signing of the first accord in September 1993: ” We, like you, are people – people who want to build a home. To plant a tree. To love – to live side by side with you. In dignity. In empathy. As human beings. As free men.”[1] I have outlined this position in more detail in O’Jerusalem: The Contested Future of the Jewish Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999). I am currently writing about the consequences of the refusal of Jewish academic and institutional leaders to confront these questions. The result is an exile of Jews who cannot live with this question unanswered. My own sense is these Jews in exile are now in a global and ecumenical diaspora that will be named in this century. The title of this book is Traveling the Diaspora: A Memoir of Exile and Hope.

[2] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982).

Ibid., 9-10.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Ibid., 99-101. Yerushalmi writes that some reorientation is required: “The task can no longer be limited to finding continuities in Jewish life, not even ‘dialectical’ ones. Perhaps the time has come to look more closely at ruptures, breaches, breaks, to identify them more precisely, to see how Jews endured them, to understand that not everything of value that existed before a break was either salvaged or metamorphosed, but was lost, and often some of what fell by the wayside can become, through retrieval, meaningful to us”(101).

Ibid., 35.

[7] Ibid., 262. Roskies suggests that the Hebrew word Shoah, meaning calamity, ruin, desolation, and the Yiddish der driter khurbm, meaning Third Destruction, have problems of their own when referring to the Holocaust. See his discussion on 261-62.

David Roskies, Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 198, 197.

[9] Ibid., 302.

[11] Ibid., 130-31.

[12] Ibid., 134-35.

[14] Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World: Foundations of Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought (New York: Schocken, 1982), 307.

[15] Ibid., 312.

[16] Cynthia Ozick, “The Consensus That Plagues Israel,” New York Times, December 2, 1995; Michael Walzer, “Reasons to Mourn,” New Yorker, November 20, 1995.

[17] Cynthia Ozick, “Notes toward Finding the Right Question,” in On Being a Jewish Feminist, ed. Susannah Heschel (New York: Schocken, 1983), 120-51.

[18] Ibid., 135, 144, 149-50.

[20] Quoted in the New York Times, September 14, 1993.

Mr. Marc H. Ellis is University Professor of American and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.