For many, the Holocaust is an event that is so unique it has no historical parallels with which to compare it to. This makes the Holocaust a devastatingly destabilizing occurrence which carries with it an almost unlimited supply of inspiration for the kind of innovation that tries to patch up what is believed to be an unworkable system of transactions and relations.
The Holocaust brings into question not only Jewish religion but other belief-systems like Christianity that have been thought to have opposed Jewish religion. To have intentionally taken a course of action that obscured both Jewish religion and Jewish people in the recordings of civilization that we call history. After the Holocaust anti-Semitism became condemned and Jewish people ascended to prominence in business, culture, and politics.(Sarna, 1990, 355) It is more or less taken for granted that Jewish religious life has transformed. An examination of whether this is the case will nevertheless be executed because though Jewish life has inarguably transformed, the nature and extent of this transformation require greater attention and increasingly focused analysis.
I. The Death of God
In After Auschwitz Richard Rubinstein reinterprets Judaism so radically that unlike other esteemed 20th century theologians of Judaism, the course that Rubinstein takes is so divergent that Rubinstein the theologian proclaims “the death of God.”(Braiterman, 1997, 75)
To justify this proclamation he engages in what is really a very simple exercise in applying logic to the propositional tenets that upheld previous discussions of God. Rubinstein willfully defied propositions that had previously sustained any discussion of theology that was to be a fruitful discussion. In his argument what Rubenstein did was elegant but is still as ultimately uncertain as the existence of God. According to Braiterman’s reading of Rubenstein, Rubenstein achieved his radical conclusions by applying logical rules to propositions; Rubinstein, by willing to posit that the existence of a “just and omnipotent God covenanted to Israel and active in its affairs could only mean that God justly willed the murder of six million Jewish people.”(Braiterman, 1997, 75) Unofficially, this signals that what is sustained is a faith in the existence of an overriding covenant that still stood firm in some strong way, even for a skeptic like Rubinstein.
This formulation that appears to be too simple to refute is really quite unstable because it contradicts with subtle audacity, a tenet that Christian Theologians have held certain for over 2000 years. The tenet is the same tenet that was engaged to justify Jewish oppression and persecution; As according to the Christian tenet, the Jewish people had so departed from God’s purposes that the tragic fate of the Jewish people served to mirror God’s displeasure.(Haynes, 1994, 555-556) Alternatively, it can be said that the Jewish people were thought to have exhibited in their suffering, the very omnipotence of God.
This is echoed in Jewish Religion as well. Prior to the Holocaust and the formation of Israel, Jewish religion only enhanced popular perceptions of the Jewish people as the eternal victims of historical misfortune who would always remain victims because they were fundamentally impaired from being able to provide for their own defense. Following from this, perceptions held that the Jewish people would always be dependent upon another’s protection and could never provide for their own defense but were always dependent on another’s protection.
As this was noted in both Christian as well as Jewish Theology prior to the Holocaust it was nevertheless given greater attention by Jewish Theologians because it directly exposed a weakness that could be exploited for the purposes of extermination. Jewish Theologians with their intense preoccupation with Shoah are so centered upon that period of near collapse for the European Jewry that to say that one is a Jewish Theologian is only shorthand for saying that one is a Jewish Holocaust Theologian. Jewish Holocaust Theology attempts to rid Jewish religion of its passive acceptance of servitude and instead strides towards empowerment.
This brand of empowerment is very nationalist in that the very survival of the Jewish race is predicated upon the preservation of Israel. Jewish Holocaust Theology is strangely irrational in light of its regard for Israel, for within Jewish Holocaust Theology Israel is the most solid basis for the sustenance and survival of the Jewish religious. As Jewish Religion after the Holocaust pushes almost fanatically for self-determination, Israel is designed to operate in isolation from other states so that it cannot be endangered by dependence on foreign powers. Consequently, Jewish Religion reacts by making isolationism the post-Holocaust virtue even when other states are worked into extensive networks of interdependence and mutual reliance. This is thought to be a result of abstract workings that operate under the terminology of globalization which both sharpen and agitate state claims to independence and the freedom to resists strictures imposed by an interdependence premised upon economic necessity.
While this new formulation of Jewish Religion may appear to represent a diametrical departure from a frame of identification based upon the dynamics of servitude, it may instead engage in a more interesting dialectic of the master and the slave. Just as Jewish religion promoted behavioral modifications that portrayed the Jewish religious as passive pawns always directed by a stronger hand. Post-Holocaust Jewish religion takes the opposition as a source of immediate identification and this identification extends to the twin concepts of “master” and “mastery” so much so that the Jewish religious apparently become masters instead of slaves. No longer symbolic pawns, the newly invigorated Jewish religion uses Israel to exhibit mastery and possessive control so as to legitimate a symbolic reversal of the Jewish condition as it had existed before the Holocaust. Before the Holocaust the Jewish religious did not try to change history but rather felt helpless in the face of history; one significance of the holocaust is that it is unique because it allows for the acceptance of Jewish control over history. From this one can extend that this observation results from dialectical exchange. An exchange that occurs as the Jewish religious transform from pawns moved by powerful hands into the powerful hands that they so studied in their previous and eminently historical position of deference and passive servitude.
Arguably, this is not a strange or haphazard reversal because the Jewish religious have, for thousands of years, operated in close coordination with historical masters. This intimacy enforced by parasitical relationships on both ends, would have allowed for the internalization of the will towards domination and mastery by the same group who personified timeless servitude.
It’s not a small detail to use the word “timeless” because few things last, and throughout history masters have had their glorious epochs of conquest and domination but have also fallen and have even perished after losing the struggle to which they would inevitably fall.
Traditional Jewish religion makes servitude a sacred and honorable system with the doctrine of “Chosenness” that communicates a devotion to service as an end in itself while at the same time containing an acknowledgement that pride is hidden and consequently can enlarge itself beyond bounds.(Stein,1984,18) If the servant or slave wishes, the slave can perform humility while preferring to believe that he is the morally superior to his master. While this affect of arrogance is almost impossible to detect, a few outspoken Christians have through the ages passionately condemned the Jewish Religious for “haughtily claiming to possess God in the guise of serving him.”(Stein,1984,18)
While there is a startling truth that a great number of theorists have suggested that the Jewish Religious were instrumentally responsible in forming masters who vanquished God and tried to take God’s place. Like wings of wax, it is still the case that expressed belief that is not even authentically believed by the speaker, can propel a person upwards on a very limited basis so that they will inevitably fall to their destruction. When the dominating master falls as a result of trying too sincerely to imitate the divine, the surviving slave may be able to realize an actualization of his death-impulse that can only be achieved through the ultimate sacrifice of another. As the slave is left standing while the master has drowned, an odd thing happens because while the slave will try to be the master and establish domination over another. This ironically cannot be achieved if only because the preservation of the slave has always depended on a structure of protection that only another master can provide.
II. The Abortion of Sacrifice
The story of Abraham that is so central to traditional Jewish religion, functions as an allegorical tale that has as its ‘morality’, the germ of Jewish survival. In traditional Jewish religion, the wish-impulse, as exhibited by the practice of infanticide, is negated by the creation of the covenant. Furthermore, the story of Abraham and the creation of the Covenant are remarkably exaggerated in stature within the formulation of traditional Jewish religion. Isaac, who does not complain or utter words of violence to attack his father for being willing to sacrifice him to God, survives and in surviving, manages to ensures that a taboo is created against sacrificing one’s children even for God himself. The faith that is supposedly rewarded may be the sort of faith that a person has when they can rely on someone to fake aggression while they do not betray emotion as a result of knowing how staged it is.
If God indeed mandated that infanticide not be practiced by the Jewish religious, then God made the error of creating a false idol from the body of Isaac. While Christians were willing to sacrifice their children for the greater good, and routinely engaged in socially prescribed infanticide, the Jewish religious were protected from this in such a strong way that it’s uncanny and extremely suspicious. While traditional Jewish religion celebrates atonement and ‘martyrdom’ their ‘martyrdom’ can be regarded as an illicit betrayal of the very meaning of martyrdom. If one only pretends to be willing to die but does not end up dying, and if one has become accustomed to faking death in order to preserve life, then staged martyrdom is truly a deceptive front for personal preservation that wins group enhancing benefits through false or merely portrayed sacrifice that is further exaggerated and made far more pious than its original intention.
The incredibly strong self-sustaining impulse that is further legitimized by traditional Jewish religion, may be one of the reasons for the persistence of anti-Semitism. Frequently anti-Semitic remarks will concern not only perceived greed but also a perceived lack of patriotism amongst the Jewish religious. While war has long been associated with rites of nobility in many civilizations, it has also for thousands of years been framed in honorific terms. One does not risk life in order to serve, that makes no sense at all. Instead, one risks one’s life in order to offer one’s essence for the protection of the greater good as a signal for true loyalty and faith.
Even though traditional Jewish religion nurtured a population of Jewish religious who were notoriously agile at playing the game of supposed self-hatred, this is a strange sort of self-hatred because life is never endangered and is even promoted as a result. When Goethe’s Werther truly despises himself and finds in himself nothing worthwhile to preserve he ends his life in a way that can be regarded as barbaric and poorly-motivated. However, confidence is such a important determinant for predicting one’s interest in preserving life that the issue of self-hatred is more important than it may seem. As theorization of the Jewish person by classical sociologists often address the alienation confronted by the Jewish religious as they must protect themselves through alienating techniques. What is not addressed is whether this ability is bound by cultural limitations or as is often presumed, something that can be learned through further assimilation with a most tragic condition of modernity. Alienation as it relates to the introjections of hatred so that one hates oneself without realizing that one is truly hating what the self has been forced to be as a result of exterior factors and conditions. When a person is unable to reconcile his concept of self-worth with the perceived worthlessness of what he does, almost instantaneously a suicidal pact is made and the march towards destruction is hardly a masquerade.
To live with alienation is to live with an intensity of self-loathing that can contemplate only one release, the release of sacrificial death. Overcome by alienation, the nevertheless civic actor blames himself most viciously and hates himself most intensely. Memories are haunting and one can sleep serene only in rare moments of unaware forgetfulness. Life is not really lived but rather loathed, as one lives with the urgent hope that there may be some provisional opportunity that allows for meaningful sacrifice. Meaning is so important for so many people that they would prefer to die meaningfully than to live worthlessly in betrayal of altruistic impulse that can be better characterized as a ‘nobility of spirit.’
With capitalist modes of production necessitating a seemingly endless series of undignified subjugations unto death, Christian theology does still maintain much of its original other-worldly orientation. If Kierkegaard is right and Christianity is born from despair over realizing the constraints placed upon one’s capacity for actualization or individualization. This despair could not arise if not for the sacredness conferred to achieving individualization so as to become what one was created to be. According to Kierkegaard, if one is miraculously able to achieve the actuality of truly being what one is as originally intended by the ultimate creator. Then one has witnessed God’s reflection and within it, the true grace of the infinite.
The Religious Jewish have long been denied access to the honorific. Much of anti-Semitic thought makes mention of their parasitical formation along with their subjected motivations that are nevertheless more vicariously ruthless because they can conceal their internal venom while responsive and actualized behavior cannot.
While prejudice can be said to create a perception of something quite ‘generic,’ traditional Jewish religion encourages the proliferation of these prejudices as children are trained against their instincts to be seemingly incapable of aggression or retaliation. Just as Horkheimer and Adorno both commit the error, in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, of underestimating women by assigning them to generic categories; such a denial of honorific individuality at the same time procures life because it renders power incapable of inflicting capital punishment.
As the insane have long been protected by the law from capital sentencing, any other person termed sufficiently generic or perhaps even banal is almost automatically pardoned from a state ordained death. While many people see this pardon as something that is worse than death, if a person were so poorly individualized that quality distinctions could not be made. A higher quantity of lived days would be preferred to a higher quality of lived days. When both cannot be had, most people would probably favor quality over quantity but people who have escaped the burdens of individualization find it to be much easier to live anywhere so long as one can live.
As the Jewish Religious have been denied honorific titles and supports, the Jewish religion has promoted generality as opposed to individuality. To supplement protections the environment of the city and even the protection of an occupation enable the Jewish Religious to survive. One may wonder, if six million Jews were killed, then how many more Jews escaped? Furthermore, why were the Religious Jewish so adept at negotiating for their own lives whenever possible along with the lives of their relatives whenever that was an option. Why was it only possible for the Germans to exterminate such an enormous number of Jews after they devalued money and other symbolic abstractions related to capital formation? The Germans, who lost faith in money when they faced such miserable inflation and international humiliation, tore a path that would ultimately fail but were throughout resigned towards the possibility of death for all committed members of the Nazi Party.
When one examines the military directions concerning the transportation of Jews to concentration camps one is easily puzzled by an apparent irrationality that arrives in the form of transport decisions. The extermination of Jews was given such a high priority that supply chains were neglected so that more Jews could be sent to concentration camps. While more pragmatic Nazi leaders took action to save Jews because they were more productive than other inhabitants of concentration camps, committed bureaucrats like Eichmann ignored supervising orders that contradicted Hitler’s public statements. Many Nazis believed that they could not afford to be so anti-Semitic because the Religious Jews could predictably offer productive output under degenerate conditions when other persecuted groups more or less refused to work even when they knew that the cost of such a refusal would be automatic and anonymous death.
One does not quite know what to make of this but as Jewish religion is so often informally operative through intensive training directed by the Jewish mother. It is unclear if there have been fundamental changes to Jewish religion when the payout still seems to be survival even in the face of a great deal of disdain, hatred, and even extreme loathing.
Returning to the story of Abraham, to some extent Jewish religion has exchanged one sacred object for another because the other is more symbolically satisfying in its representation. The state of Israel is more pure and prestigious than Isaac could ever be. As the perfect child is an impossibility and nature wills children towards disobedience and mistrust of paternal authority. The newly birthed state can provide the kind of rehabilitative solace and status that has been so urgently craved by the Jewish religious. Abraham did what he was told, and took the best of two contradictory orders. The state that confers hereditary benefits finally provides the kind of legitimacy that Jewish people have so urgently desired but have been so neglectfully refused.
Prejudice does not serve social ends as it only creates that which we cannot contend with. To battle ‘enemies’ with violence one risks only falling into a deafeningly hopeless trap. Too many conquerors have nevertheless been quite unable to conquer the Jewish religious. All too often, intense hatred of structural defects channel with ultimate uselessness towards ‘model’ minorities who are denied honorific roles and who cannot attain an honorific status on the basis of merit. What people forget is that these minorities are frequently more subdued and internally abused than they are themselves.
If one is to learn anything about Jewish religion and its ‘changes’ one should remember that if a form stays approximately the same then nothing substantial has changed in term of overriding structural enforcements. Against the litany of woes, a will to survive however unfortunate life may be, is something that is courageous and honorable in a fundamental way. As much as the Jewish religious could be criticized most harshly, it is quite possible that if not for the survival of the Jewish people, civilization may not even exist as a word.
Sarna, J. (1990) American Jewish History. Modern Judaism, 10(3) 343-365.
Braiterman, Z. (1997) “Hitler’s Accomplice?”: The Tragic Theology of Richard Rubenstein. Modern Judaism, 17(1) 75-89.
Haynes, S. (1994) Christian Holocaust Theology: A Critical Reassessment. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 62(2) 553-585.
Stein, H. (1984) The Holocaust, the Uncanny, and the Jewish Sense of History. Political Psychology, 5(1) 5-35.