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. Post-Holocaust life is deeply problematic for Jews. Simple responses and arguments, especially through anger and challenges to loyalty, only make more difficult the formation of Jewish identity in the coming decades. These are not simple problems and they can only be worked out over time. The fiftieth anniversary markers of the Holocaust and Israel are behind us. What lies ahead is the next fifty years where many of these questions will be answered or at least responded to. Is there now, then, a future for Jews and Judaism? Will the covenant, so central to Jewish history and argued about in the last fifty years, be relevant to those who come after the Holocaust and Israel?

The Bifurcation of Memory

Memory is in the past but its remembrance is always in the present. Both point toward the future where justice, once denied, will be embraced. This pattern began in the Exodus, where God remembering injustice and the promise of the covenant, forged a future of justice anchored in remembrance. The link between memory and justice has always been central in Jewish life, though the Holocaust has made it less clear or even has created an unbridgeable chasm.

Still Jewish thinkers persist. One such person is Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, the Salo Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture and Society at Columbia University. In 1977, while on sabbatical in Jerusalem, he delivered a lecture at the Institute of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University on Jewish historiography in the sixteenth century. Though the topic was specific to that time period, it encouraged him to develop a series of lectures on the subject of Jewish memory and its defining role in Jewish life.

Yerushalmi finds the core of Jewish survival and identity in the Bible, where a type of historical and mythical remembrance is called for by God. Exhortations to remember are numerous and are seen as a religious imperative for the entire people. Reaching a crescendo in Deuteronomy and the prophets, these books recall the wonders that God has done for the people Israel and call Israel to remember what their enemies have done against them. The defining moment of remembrance in Jewish history is found in the Bible as well: “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt …” 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. As complicated as his argument is, and as tentative as his proposals for the future are, one cannot help think that he has left out an important aspect of contemporary Jewish life and with it a major element of the memory which needs to be acknowledged. Though his first lecture was delivered in Jerusalem, and though he identifies nationalism as an important part of the contemporary Jewish experience, Yerushalmi nowhere mentions the complicated history of Jews and Palestinians as part of the collective memory of the Jewish people.

If Jewish memory has become abstract, unable to bridge myth and reality or to fashion a coherent center for contemporary Jewry, is it possible that it is this lack of remembering which contributes to the problems that Yerushalmi raises? There is a history between Jew and Palestinian to record, to recite, perhaps even to ritualize in the city where these lectures were delivered. Yet if this history does not record that memory or even allude to it, then perhaps Jewish life is further bifurcated.

While lecturing in Jerusalem, Yershulami seems blind to the history around him, including those people struggling under Israeli domination. Or perhaps he was unable to articulate this change in Jewish history within the framework in which he was trained and sought to articulate. Either through ignorance or inability, was he actually contributing to the vulgarization, superficiality, even assimilation of Jewish life? Did including Palestinians in Jewish remembrance threaten to historicize the Jewish experience to such an extent that the traditional framework of Jewish life would be overturned? And if the Palestinians are not included, how can Jews decide which myths are worthy of preservation and which are dangerous and need to be jettisoned? 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. If the liturgy of destruction fulfills the Jewish understanding of myth and history in its deepest interaction, providing an identity, a strength, a framework for resistance, and a search for meaning during the Holocaust, it also provides a space where Jewish ritual and recital interact. Memory here is recovery of an entire history, which includes myth, history, ritual, and recital in a dynamic way.

The sense of collectivity is invoked within the context of individuality, transforming, in Roskies’ words, “collective disasters into individual rites of mourning and of individual deeds into a model of collective sacrifice.” What greater testimony to the strength of Jewish life can there be than the recognition of a common history, one filled with diversity and argumentation, suffering and resistance, where the collective and the individual find their place and thus plant the seeds for the continuation of the people, even in their darkest night? The liturgy of destruction is a liturgy created by martyrs for themselves in continuity with the past and as a link to a future which the martyrs themselves will not be alive to witness. Their martyrdom is a sign of fidelity to history and the moment, to the covenant even in its shattering, and to a future that will rise from that martyrdom. 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.” The Holocaust itself has become a Jewish archetype, and this, too, is a reference point for the future. However, the Holocaust archetype is as ambiguous as it is powerful. The “City of Jews” represents a destruction which challenges the future to a depth of recollection and reconstruction which the present may be unable to bear. One cannot ignore the symbolism of dying under one’s own chosenness, for it represents a deep rendering of the Holocaust experience.

Nor can one look askance at someone seeking to “forget” that experience. For how can one “remember” this city – which represents the collective experience of the Jewish people – without desiring to forget it at the same time? Surely there are ways of simultaneously remembering and forgetting, thus trivializing the Holocaust even as one employs the rhetoric derived from it.

Roskies sees the danger primarily in the universalization of the Holocaust which arise from the designation itself. Though the Latin word “holocaust” refers to burnt sacrifices in the Bible, the word itself is extrinsic to Jewish history. This being so, the term Holocaust lacks the resonance of Jewish history and discourse and makes it available to the broader non-Jewish community, which is then free to define and redefine the parameters of the event or even compare their own experiences within that framework.

The danger Roskies sees is the diminution of the horror of the Holocaust and the loss of its particularity. This gives rise to a confusion by which the catastrophe, “once the most private of Jewish concerns, becomes part of the public domain,” with the resulting problem that “external perceptions replace inner realities, and borrowed words and archetypes are enlisted to explain the meaning of destruction” to Gentiles but also to Jews. 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.”[8]

The cost of this “valor” is high, at least from Roskies’ point of view. The theme of catastrophe particular to Jewish sensibility is a way of consoling fellow sufferers, and provides a message of hope and continuity; the theme of existential despair leaves the survivors in a generalized exile and breaks the dialogue between Eastern European writers and their Jewish audience. The replacement of the particular with a non-parochial message reduces the message of the Holocaust, as difficult and ambiguous as it is, to one of “complete despair.” When Wiesel and others edit out the shared expressions of faith to concentrate on the terrifying plight of the individual, Roskies believes they embrace a cultural rapprochement and sever themselves from the Jewish liturgy of destruction.

The implication is that individual advancement and the larger cultural acceptance of their work takes precedence over fidelity to the family and communities that perished in the Holocaust. Whether intentional or not, the universalization of the Holocaust carried out by Jews themselves is a form of alienation and a further exile from the Jewish ethos threatened with destruction in the Holocaust. Implied but not specifically addressed is the most paradoxical of questions: that the near universal attention that the Holocaust has received, in large part due to the ability of Chagall and Wiesel and others to communicate the horror of the event to those outside the Jewish world, may facilitate the loss of Jewish identification and understanding, except in the most vulgar and superficial modalities.[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.[10]

Understandably, Klepfisz experienced a mixture of shame, fear and anger, emotions she had experienced her entire life as a child of a ghetto fighter and a survivor. Still she remained resolute: “Knowing that the world was passive and indifferent while six million Jews died, I have always considered passivity and indifference the worst of evils. Those who do nothing, I believe, are good German collaborators. I do not want to be a collaborator.” Klepfisz took seriously the admonition of a Palestinian woman whom she came to know in Jerusalem in 1987: “Write about what you see. Write what is happening to us.”

In reflecting on the Palestinians’ challenge, Klepfisz reflects on the disturbing analogies of Israel, Holocaust and the Palestinians and how they resonate in her life: “`What does it remind you of’? I ask my mother, and read her the Newsday article about the Palestinian men in Rufus: rounded up by the Israeli police, they’re told to lie face down in a nearby field. ‘I know what it reminds me of’, she answers and says nothing more.”

For Klepfisz, given the images etched in the collective consciousness of the Jewish people, how can this not remind Jews of the Holocaust? “What is it that we have been asking everyone to remember? Is it not the fields of Ponary and those nameless fields on the outskirts of dozens of shtetlekh that we’re all pledged to remember? Am I to feel better that the Palestinians from Rufus were not shot by the Israelis but merely beaten? As long as hundreds of Palestinians are not being lined up and shot, but are killed by Israelis only one a day, are we Jews free from worrying about morality, justice? Has Nazism become the sole norm by which Jews judge evil, so that anything that is not its exact duplicate is considered by us morally acceptable? Is that what the Holocaust has done to Jewish moral sensibility?”[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.”[12]

In her moving address on the meaning of Holocaust memory as the sacredness of ordinary life, and by including and naming Palestinian life within the context of Jewish memory, Klepfisz implies what the Jewish community has yet to realize: that no matter what the resolution of the conflict, even were the agreements to fulfill the demands of justice and equality, the destruction of Palestinian life by Jews is now a part of Jewish history that must also be remembered.

Though Klepfisz does not state the corollary, it seems obvious that the image of the Warsaw ghetto uprising symbolizing the dignity and violation of ordinary Jewish life is complimented by the Palestinian uprising, which functions in a similar way for Palestinians. This suggests that not only the violation of Palestinian life but the defense of that life must be remembered in Jewish history. In this context those Jews who seek to defend Palestinians are to be remembered at the same liturgical moment, perhaps in the same liturgy, as the heroic Warsaw ghetto fighters. Klepfisz further intimates that the loss of the ordinary common life of any people is worthy of remembering, and that the destruction of that life by Jews threatens to violate the memory of the destruction of ordinary Jewish life. The fight to remember Jewish suffering is tied to the fight to mitigate or even reverse Palestinian suffering.

The Tikkun of Ordinary Decency

In Klepfisz, there is no mention of God. Her testimony, on the theoretical and theological level at least, is more distant from God-language than Wiesel himself. Holocaust thinkers are in a sharp, profound, and angry dialogue with God; with many of the next generation that dialogue has ceased, been repressed or become inarticulate. Yet one wonders if active solidarity with Palestinians is an unspoken reassertion of this dialogue, a pre-theological action that represents an intuitive desire to create a framework from which speech about God may become possible again.

Is this solidarity an example of a counter-testimony to Auschwitz, a counter-testimony which the Jewish world did not expect and perhaps cannot accept? Perhaps this testimony could initiate a restoration of the image of God so desecrated in the Holocaust.

Emil Fackenheim is of importance here, for along with Wiesel, he helped lay the groundwork for Jewish reflection on the Holocaust. In his early work Fackenheim pointed to the difficulties of belief in God and the need for Jewish identification and solidarity. As for Wiesel, Israel represents the focal point for that solidarity, even as the rupture with God and the world continues.

Fackenheim understands that the answers to the pressing questions about God and the world invoked by the Holocaust are unanswerable in the present. However, the mobilization of the Jewish people cannot await these answers, as their complexity and depth can be addressed only over time in a community structure which survives the aftermath of the Holocaust. The additional covenant may provide a holding action while, over time, inquiry takes place. For Fackenheim, the threat to the community continues in the present, a threat that renders the questions mute. Only survival, especially in Israel, can provide the physical and psychological structure to continue on.[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.”[14]

Though Fackenheim understands that this tikkun does not mean that ordinary decency has inherited the earth, it nonetheless, and like the Holocaust itself, has an ontological status. In fact, Jewish and Christian resistance to the violation of ordinary decency represents the healing of a rupture and becomes the ultimate ground of post-Holocaust thought and activity. For Fackenheim, then, these tikkuns ontologically root the moral necessity of the 614th commandment and the Commanding Voice of Auschwitz.

Humanist, Jewish, and Christian fidelity give birth to a future philosophy, a future Judaism, and a future Christianity. Though a future is possible because of fidelity in the past, post-Holocaust thought dwells between the extremes of despair and a certain faith. For Fackenheim, authentic tikkun is sought within the tension of despair and faith, affirming a “fragmentariness” that is both incomplete and laden with risk. 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.. The truth is that all competing parties within the Jewish narrative appeal to Jewish history and the covenant, however interpreted, for their understanding of the present and the path to the future. There is reason for such an appeal: Israel does represent a dramatic, difficult and ambiguous unfolding of Jewish history. Rabin’s meeting with Yassir Arafat was highly charged in the mind of Amir and no doubt in the minds of most Jews, for more was represented than politics in their first reluctant handshake.

The facing of the “other” — the new “other” of Jewish history — was recognized as a rendez-vous in Jewish history. Such a facing of the “other” should be seen in the context of the Holocaust and the 1967 war as the possibility of ending an era of history as well. The handshake represented the possibility of ending a cycle of suffering and violence which Jews have endured and now have perpetrated. When Rabin spoke of ending that cycle, one felt an opening toward a responsibility grounded in history and hope.

This opening could be the culmination of a history of suffering and violence and the beginning of a reconciliation with the traumas of Jewish history: a possible healing of the Holocaust that has not occurred through Jewish empowerment in Israel and in some ways has grown deeper through the conquest of another people. Surely, the humiliation of the Palestinian people, which has reminded many Jews of the historic humiliation of the Jewish people, cannot heal the Jewish people. To do so would require working through the idea of the covenant itself; mobilized and militarized after the disaster of the Holocaust where God and humanity were found wanting, the possibility of healing by ending the cycle of suffering and violence is itself jarring.

For if the covenant, once given, now broken, and found again in the Commanding Voice of Auschwitz, is demobilized and demilitarized, what will happen to Jewish identity, Jewish defense, Jewish assertion and Jewish power? Could that covenant promised to and accepted by Jews, a covenant carried throughout a long and difficult history, now be renewed by sharing it in the promised land with another people?

The next step of Jewish history might begin with the realization that the cycle of displacement and death can only end with the sharing of a land and therefore a history which once featured and even now promises an aloneness and exclusivity. The new challenge of the covenant is to find Jewish chosenness within and among those who share the land often called holy.

Paradoxically, Ozick laid the groundwork for such an understanding years ago in an essay, “Notes Toward Finding the Right Question.” Though this essay addresses the issue of feminism, asserting that the inclusion of Jewish women in Judaism on an equal basis with men is a sociological rather than a theological question, it may apply to the inclusion of Palestinians in Jewish life as well. After arguing that contributions to Jewish life must be valued regardless of whether they come from males or females, Ozick sees the urgency of that inclusion not with regard to the upsurge of Jewish feminism, but in light of the Holocaust: “The timing is significant because the present generation stands in a shockingly new relation to Jewish history. It is we who come after the cataclysm. We, and all the generations to follow, are, and will continue to be into eternity, witness generations to Jewish loss. What was lost in the European cataclysm was not only the Jewish past – the whole life of civilization – but also a major share of the Jewish future. We will never be in possession of the novels Anne Frank did not live to write. It was not only the intellect of a people in its prime that was excised, but the treasure of a people in its potential.”. 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?” When the Torah is silent on injustice, it is unable to judge. Instead it “consorts” with the world at large. It is as if the covenant is in search of the missing commandment which will return it to its proper role in the world and remove the wall of scandal separating the people from the covenant and the people from each other. The reaction of the Jewish people to these missing commandments throughout history has been to strengthen the covenant by discovering new commandments to confront injustice. As Ozick writes, to strengthen Torah is to “contradict injustice; to create justice, not through fragmentary accretions of pilpul but through the cleansing precept of justice itself.”[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.”[20] Ozick states that to right a wrong demands “ripe deliberation, often ingenuity.” Perhaps the hearing of this commandment – illustrated by spoken word and affirmed in public in a haunting and beautiful way – simply leapt ahead of Rabin’s ability to implement these words in concrete deliberation and ingenuity. Perhaps the commandment, once uttered, is so powerful that the prospects of implementation has to lag behind the recognition of the injustice itself.

For if recognition and implementation occur simultaneously, the fear is that all will be lost, that the enterprise of empowerment will be undermined, and that instead of steadfast purpose, a sense of confusion and remorse might predominate. Was Rabin balancing the hope and fear of finding the missing commandment of his own personal life and the life of his people because it was so earthshaking and explosive?

In the context of the Torah and the covenant, then, Amir’s assassination of Rabin debased both. Amir thought that by murdering Rabin he could banish the commandment against lessening the humanity of the Palestinians. He was frightened of the commandment’s corollary: the recognition that the covenant can only unfold with the understanding that Jewish and Palestinian destiny is a shared one, and the only question is to how that humanity and destiny will be shared. By murdering Rabin, Amir was really attempting to murder the covenant itself.

From this perspective, the condemnation of Amir by most commentators – including liberal commentators like Amos Oz and Michael Walzer who favor a “divorce” of Jews and Palestinians – should be seen as a holding operation to isolate the murderer, and in so doing displace and manage the missing commandment which continues to surface. Amir and Walzer are, in a paradoxical way, to be seen together as guardians of a covenant that consorts, one speaking in overt religious language, the other seeking to banish that language completely.

Ozick does not analyze how missing commandments are found, who is likely to find them, or how, once found, they are to be implemented. If injustice is obvious, when does it become so? Are there stages of development when what is obvious in retrospect becomes obvious in the present? Does the community see the obvious, or do leaders understand before the people? Does the generation that recognizes injustice find the missing commandment? Or does that await the next generation? Do the leaders who participate in implementing the commandment do so with pure intentions and backgrounds or do they come to understand injustice because they have helped to create or maintain it? Can the missing commandment, once located, be lost again for the moment or forever, or once found is there a momentum, which like the cycle of violence, takes on a life of its own?

What happens to those victimized while the search for the new commandment takes place? Do they simply wait out the process and celebrate as the victorious community comes to grips with its own complicity? Are the victims of injustice better off with the assassins or the managers of the covenant? Are the oppressed simply suffering students, learning their own potentialities when empowerment, in the long cycle of history, finally comes their way? Or is the struggle against injustice the path toward finding the missing commandment and thus as essential to the history of the oppressor as it is to the oppressed?

This latter reality points to the interdependence of victor and victim. The “other” holds the key through its oppression and the struggle against that oppression, and the way forward for the powerful can only be found when the “other” is seen within the history of the powerful. The oppressed, then, serve as a permanent reminder of the victors’ capacity for injustice and as judgment on whether the found commandment has been implemented. The commandment, “Thou shalt not lessen the humanity of Palestinians,” is a reminder to Jews and renders judgment on the Jewish past, present and future.

The Next Fifty Years

In 1998, the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s independence was celebrated. The mood was quite different from what would have expected. Some of the celebrations were modified to include a more sober acknowledgment of Israel’s past and future. Some of the celebrations were cancelled altogether. There were also counter-celebrations designated “commemorations.” These commemorations took notice of the Palestinian catastrophe associated with the founding of Israel and raised the question whether celebration is possible in the context of occupation and settlements. At that moment, the Oslo process was stalled and the assassination of Rabin and inauguration of the Netanyahu years had taken a toll on Jewish hope.

Jews were found in all of these venues and weighed in on the issues surrounding Israel’s birth and future. Would Israel come to terms with Palestinians by granting a limited autonomy in the small and segmented areas of the West Bank and Gaza not yet settled by Jews? Or would Israel see another way, recognizing the Palestinian need for a secure and expanded land base to rebuild Palestinian life? Would Jerusalem, so central in religious, cultural, political and economic terms to Jews and Palestinians, be shared? Or would Israel claim the city as its own and further divide Jews and Palestinians?

On the surface these seem purely political questions to be resolved in the political arena through negotiation and ultimately through power. As victor, Israel makes its claim and the Palestinians, as the weaker party, appeal to the mercy of the victor.

Will that appeal be heard? Is that appeal more than political? The issue seems less about the past than the immediate context. Politics is often played out in the forum of the immediate. The long range is secured by decisions in the present, especially if they benefit the people or the nation. The nation seeks security, expansion and affluence. All nations that are victorious think that the future is theirs.

And so it may be. But the thinkers analyzed here suggest a past that haunts the present almost as an accusing image. Those who reflect on the Holocaust see disjunctions in contemporary Jewish life that have not been bridged by empowerment. The nation of Israel has brought pride and sometimes shame on the Jewish people; with its nationhood secure and normalized, its symbolic hold on the Jewish people is already diminishing. Future generations will see Israel in the framework of the international nation-state system. The power of the Holocaust to mobilize the Jewish community is likewise receding. In the future it will be less and less connected in the Jewish imagination with Israel.

Hence the arrival of Operation Birthright, the program that seeks increased travel to Israel, especially among Jewish youth. This program, and others like it, will teach Jewish youth the connection between the Holocaust and Israel and the connection of both these events to their own lives. What was once obvious to a generation that witnessed the Holocaust and the birth of Israel is no longer self-evident. The bifurcation of Jewish life, experienced by the those who lived through those years, then analyzed by those who lived after the Holocaust and the formation of Israel, appears to be increasingly accepted as the norm of Jewish life by the next generation. The possibility of a strong and integrated Jewish identity, when bifurcation is at the center, is difficult to imagine. Jewish identity, like Jewish memory, will exist in a mythic form, abstracted from the difficult details of life.

The challenge is the next fifty years. What will Israel look like then? Will the Holocaust be remembered and, if so, how? There will be those who identify themselves as Jews. What will the content of that identity be? Will the missing commandment be found, or will it fade into a distance that obscures the violation itself? If the missing commandment is found by a few, what will they do with that commandment? Will their voices be heard? Will they speak a language that allows that voice to find its place in the long history of the Jewish people? Will the covenant be spoken about, but its substance lost, be held up even as its ability to challenge the people who claim it is diminished?

Against their own political positions, Yerushalmi, Roskies, Fackenheim and Ozick propose a way forward. The next fifty years could signal a recognition of the historic wrongs done to Jews in Europe and Palestinians in Palestine. This recognition could bring some Jews and Palestinians together across the borders that are now being sealed. A movement for civil rights in the expanded state of Israel and among the Palestinians within and in-between Israeli sovereignty could bring the missing commandment into view. The tikkun of ordinary decency is likely to be the unannounced motivation in this movement toward the sharing of the land and equality. Klepfisz’s plea will be heard in less emotional circumstances as a claim upon Jews that desire for others what they desire for themselves, an ordinary life which would be, if both peoples find it in the next fifty years, extraordinary.

The Holocaust will recede in its ability to mobilize Jews and Jewish identity, but it may become even more powerful for those who cannot reconcile themselves with the norm of bifurcation. The Holocaust will move from a memory to mobilize Jewish empowerment to a subversive memory that critiques those forms of Jewish empowerment that institutionalize injustice. That memory will seek an interdependence of justice and equality and will operate within and around state power. The tikkun of ordinary decency will move across borders of state and community, Jew and Palestinian, Jew, Christian and Muslim. It will create a common homeland for Jews and Palestinians. Then the mourning of the Holocaust will find its place in a Jewish identity that laments and is hopeful, aware of death and the possibilities of life.


[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.

[3] Ibid., 5,11.

[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.

[6] Ibid., 275, 305.

[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.

[8] Ibid., 263, 268, 301.

[9] Ibid., 302.

[10] Irena Klepfisz, Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches and Diatribes (Portland, Oregon: The Eighth Mountain Press, 1990), 124-26. I am indebted to Hilda Silverman for introducing me to the work of Irena Klepfisz.

[11] Ibid., 130-31.

[12] Ibid., 134-35.

[13] For the classic statement of his early position see Emil Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections (New York: New York University Press, 1970).

[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.

[19] Ibid., 151.

[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.