Theologians

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Emil Fackenheim

No philosopher or theologian has written as extensively or as feelingly about the Holocaust as has Emil Fackenheim. Having experienced life in a camp, Fackenheim, seemingly out of a sense of compulsion, has tried to grapple with the overwhelming events of the death camps in order to draw some meaning from them for post-Holocaust Jewry. In a series of essays, and especially and most clearly in his God's Presence in History (1970), Fackenheim has tried to find a way to avoid both the absolute faith of the pious who do not see any special problem in the Holocaust and those like Rubenstein who argue that the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from Auschwitz is the "Death of God" and the ultimate absurdity of history.22 If the former alternative blasphemes against Hitler's victims, the latter blasphemes against the God of the victims. Both victims and God have to be held together in dialectical tension after Auschwitz; neither can be devalued without resulting distortion and loss of truth.

To keep God and Israel together is the demand of Jewish theology; it is still an imperative after the Holocaust; the problem is how it is to be effected. If Rubenstein's solution of Jewish communal existence without the God of historic Judaism is no answer, what then is the answer? Fackenheim's reply is both subtle and difficult. He is adamant in his refusal to allow any theological explanation of the Holocaust. In no sense, he argues, can any particular theodicy be propounded in which God's goodness can be vindicated and Auschwitz seen as part of a rational cosmic pattern whose interpretation can be understood by man. In this sense the Holocaust is devoid of explanation and meaning. Thus, like Rubenstein, he totally rejects any account which interprets Auschwitz in terms of mi-penei hata'einu—"because of our sins." The various attempts to explain the…...

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