Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials may be under copyright. If you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact the Bentley Historical Library at bentley.ref@umich.edu

June 08, 1990 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-06-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.



Editor Emeritus

Holocaust And The 'Where Was God' Query

ndurance was mostly
myth for the victims
of the Nazi savageries.
Yet many endured to retain a
measure of faith while posing
challenging questions. The
barbarities that were sub-
jected to were indescribable.
Also equally indescribable is
the faith that sustained
It was in the spirit of Job
that many lived with the
despair. Not at all surprising,
many often asked "Where is
God?" As we recall Job, the
guilt ascribed to God remains
legitimately as a dispute with
the Almighty.
A very distinguished
scholar, with a record of
leadership in major Jewish
movements, raised the ques-
tion and dealt with the
dispute in an article in the
May 6 New York Times Book
Review. Arthur Hertzberg
was commenting on a session
of scholars who were review-
ing the Holocaust. In his
lengthy essay, Dr. Hertzberg
emphaized voluminous
publishing of books on the
Holocaust. Deeply moving
memories are in the Hert-
zberg essay, "A Lifelong
Quarrel With God."
Dr. Hertzberg's evaluative
judgments are fortified by his


many years of leadership in
Jewish movements, in the
Zionist ranks, as a member of
the Jewish Agency Executive.
His learning began under the
tutelage of his father, a
Chasidic rabbi in Baltimore.
His scholarship gave him
recognition among the
distinguished in Jewry.
Dr. Hertzberg takes into ac-
count two major conflicting
views about the redemption of
Israel and the attainment of
freedom in the battle against
injustice. He draws a contrast
between the attitude of the
ultra-Orthodox, who assert
that Jews are in exile for their
sins, and Zionists, who main-
tain there was a lack of
response when the masses
refused to support the
The endless reminder that
the punishment is for our sins
is constantly repeated "in the
prayer "Umipne hataenu
galinu m'artzeinu — for our
sins we were exiled from our
That's when Hertzberg
draws upon the lesson of Job
to illustrate a faith in Jewish
life. To quote him:
Everyone who has been
touched by the Holocaust
— and what decent person

Arthur Hertzberg

has not? — has his own per-
sonal quarrel with God,
with men and with himself.
I have never found a way
to absolve God of the crime
of Auschwitz. I was bar
mitzvah in 1934, the year
after Hitler came to power.
Even as I participated in
the ritual of the Chasidic
synagogue in Baltimore, of
which my father was the
rabbi, I knew that I had
come to doubt God. How
could He let the Nazis win?
My troubles with God have
inevitably increased year
after year. I find no help in
those who say that He is a

limited power who en-
courages mankind to do
good but is not responsible
for the pain and evil in the
Naturalist, "this-wordly"
theologians, such as
Mordecai Kaplan, were
talking of a "limited God"
long before the Nazis ap-
peared, as an answer to the
problem of evil. But such a
God is essentially created
in the image of a
fashionable preacher in a
bourgeois synagogue or
church. He has the power
to exhort but not to com-
mand, and therefore He
has no responsibility for
what is happening in life.

The most elegant version
of this idea, that God is not
responsible for evil, and
especially not for the
ultimate evil of the
Holocaust, was fashioned
by Martin Buber in his
Eclipse of God (1957). He in-
voked the cabalistic image
that God sometimes "hides
His face," that He absents
Himself from the world
and so darkness rules.
Buber turned his notion
around, to suggest not that
God had chosen to go
away, but that some dark

power eclipsed Him for a
But, as I once screamed
at Buber himself in his
home in Jerusalem, what
right had God to go away,
or to let His light be blotted
out, while all my mother's
brothers and sisters and
their children were being
I have always been even
angrier with those who
find reasons with which to
justify the ways of God, as
He acted in the 1930s and
1940s. These theologies
seem rooted in Scripture.
In the historical books of
the Bible, the usual ex-
planation for the suffering
of the Jews is that they had
disobeyed the will of God
and, thus, they deserved to
be punished.
So, an ultra-Orthodox
Jewish theologian, Joel
Teitelbaum, the Rebbe of
Satmar, now in Romania,
insisted in a book in
Hebrew under the title On
True and False Salvation
(1967), that the Jews were
punished by God for the
sin of Zionism, for refusing
as they had been com-
manded, to wait passively

Continued on Page 38

More About The Quarrel With God


hen, in the midst of
horror, the tortured
from the Nazi
brutalities asked "Where Is
God?" it was not in a sense of
sacrilege. It was in the quest
of relief from injustice for all
When recalling the Holo-
caust, there was the
repetitive query, "Where was
God during the Holocaust?"
The faith of Jewry was gain-
ing affirmation because the
abandonment of it would be a
yielding to evil.
There has, nevertheless,
always been a challenge to

(US PS 275-520) is published every
Friday with additional supplements
in February, March, May, August,
October and November at 27676
Franklin Road, Southfield,

Second class postage paid at
Southfield, Michigan and addi-
tional mailing offices.

Postmaster: Send changes to:
Franklin Road, Southfield,
Michigan 48034

$29 per year
$37 per year out of state
75' single copy

Vol. XCVII No. 15


June 8, 1990

FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 1990

God to end the evils that
brutalize the Jews and then
continue into an injustice to
all mankind. The normalcy of
such a quarrel with God has
been evidenced in a
multiplicity of confrontations
with the Almighty. Perhaps
among the most deeply mov-
ing which have become most
memorable, and therefore the
most impressive, is about one
of the most endeared leaders
in Chasidism. It was the de-
mand made upon God to end
the sufferings of the Jewish
people by Levi Yitzhak of
Bereditchev. It is related
anew in a Henry Holt volume
The Healers of Shattered
Hearts — A Jewish View of
God by Rabbi David J. Wolpe.
Here is how Rabbi Wolpe
lends important significance
to the story about Levi Yit-
zhak of Bereditchev:
A story is told of him that
once, right before the Kol
Niche service, the opening
service of the Day of Atone-
ment, he stood before the
ark as the sun was about to
set. For a long time he
stood, silent, still, as the
evening approached.
Noticing that the time to

begin prayer was upon
them, his students and
disciples became uncom-
fortable, worrying that the
Rabbi would begin too late.
At the last possible mo-
ment, he spoke.
"Dear God," he said, "we
come before You this year,
as we do every year, to ask
Your forgiveness. But in
this past year, I have caus-
ed no death. I have
brought no plagues upon
the world, no earthquakes,
no floods. I have made no
women widows, no chil-
dren orphans. God, You
have done these things, not
me! Perhaps You should be
asking forgiveness from
The great rabbi paused,
and continued in a softer
voice. "But, since You are
God, and I am only Levi
Yitzhak, Yisgadal v'yis-
kadash sh'mei rabah," and
he began the service.
That is the final answer.
There is no escaping the
pain of suffering and the
tormenting questions of
God's silence. In the end,
however, the Jewish posi-
tion has always been to

understand that, however
close, there is a gap bet-
ween human beings and
God, and we cannot final-
ly understand His inten-
tions or design.
Therefore we continue to
Levi Yitzhak (1739-1809)
sanctified and also challeng-
ed God. He inspired reverence
and devotion to the Almighty.

There has always
been a challenge
to God to end the
evils that brutalize
the Jews.

S.L. Hurwitz quotes him from
his book Tzar HaTorah:
Lord of the universe! I
saw an ordinary Jew pick
up his Tefillin from the
floor, and kiss them; and
You have let Your Tefillin,
the Jewish people, lie on
the ground for more than
two thousand years,
trampled by their enemies,
— Why do You not pick
them up? Why do You not

act as a plain Jew acts?
The famous Chasidic Rabbi
Levi Yitzhak is also quoted in
S.A. Horodetzky's Leaders of
as having
declared: "Lord, if ever Thou
shouldst issue a hard decree
against Jews, we Tzadikim
will not fulfill Thy command."
Rabbi Wolpe's The Healer of
Shattered Hearts depicts
another example of reverence
to the Almighty while suffer-
ing, as in Job. He lends em-
phasis with the following:
Remarkable in this
respect is the tale reported
by Solomon ibn Verga, a
Jew who survived the
Spanish Inquisition. Jews
from all over Spain were
forced to convert or be
banished. Many chose
banishment and set out on
terrible, often fatal
journeys. In Verga's work
Shevet Yehuda he tells the
stories of many who suf-
fered and some who
In one tale, he reports on
a man who, having en-
dured a harrowing voyage

Continued on Page 38

Back to Top

© 2020 Regents of the University of Michigan