By: Rabbi Yossi N.
Growing up in Crown Heights, I seldom heard the Holocaust mentioned. We had no Holocaust Day in yeshiva. Needless to say, we learned no Holocaust history either. My first real exposure to the Holocaust came from reading a copy of Night, by Eli Wiesel, that I found in our dilapidated basement. The question remains, why does the chareidi community ignore the Holocaust?
One could argue, the chareidi community’s aversion to teaching about the Holocaust is no different from their aversion to teaching history in general. As Yosef Chaim Yerushalmi famously explained in his acclaimed study, Zachor, rabbinic Judaism has exited the confines of “history” following the destruction of the Second Temple. The historical events following the Churban Bayis Sheini, Jewish or otherwise, have no bearing on rabbinic Judaism. All the frum Jew has is the daled amos shel halacha. This being the case, as a historical event, the chareidi community’s neglect of the Holocaust fits perfectly well with its general neglect of history.
However, I would argue that there is a deeper reason for the Holocaust neglect in the chareidi community, mainly, that the killing of 6 million Jews poses an existential threat to the chareidi ideology and belief system. Chareidim are taught to believe that they are God’s Chosen People, Uvanu Vacharta Mkol Am Veloshon. If indeed this is true, how could Hashem have allowed his chosen people to be slaughtered in such a manner?
However a chareidi may choose to answer this question, the question will always remain stronger than the answer. For this reason, the chareidi community has decided that the best way to deal with the Holocaust is to simply ignore it. The great irony is, the Jews who prize Jewish continuity the most, are the ones who least want to discuss the Holocaust.
This does not mean that chareidim are totally unaware of the Holocaust, rather, they generally learn about it through heroic tales of pious Jews who self sacrificed to observe the mitzvos even in the concentration camps. For example, in the Chabad community the most famous Holocaust survivor is Rabbi Nissan Mangel. If one listens to his five hour lecture series on the Holocaust, titled, “Where Was God in the Holocaust?” it will become apparent quickly that the answer to this question is rather straight forward: God was with Rabbi Mangel. All the heroic Holocaust tales repeated in the chareidi community add up to the same message, God was with the pious frum Jews who clung to the mitzvahs even under the most dire circumstances. That God was not with the 6 million Jews who were gassed and went up in smoke is completely ignored. The upshot is, the pious heroic tales allow the chareidi to learn about the Holocaust in a non-threatening manner. After all, Rabbi Mangel is still alive and a frum yid, clearly Hashem still cares about the Jews.
I still remember the devastating effect the “Schindler’s List” film had on me in my early 20’s. At the time, I was attending the Chabad smicha program in Melbourne, Australia. I always wanted to watch Schindler’s List in order to see for myself what really happened during the Holocaust, but never managed to get hold of the film. Then one day, through a series of events, I obtained the film from a local Blockbuster. With film in hand, I paid the night watchman at a local hotel to allow me to watch the film in one of the empty hotel rooms. Alone, I watched the film from beginning to end. About half-way through, I couldn’t stop crying. It was at that point that I understood, like never before, why the chareidi community ignores the Holocaust.
One thought on “One Rabbi’s Perspective on Charedi Jews and the Holocaust”
If you think that the God as defined by Judaism is “love” then you are in the wrong religion. Our concept of God is far more complicated and deep. The Torah is littered with the words “Chayav Mitta” (liable to death) for seemingly minor misdemeanours, such as lighting a flame on the Sabbath. So it’s not a huge leap of faith to say that the Holocaust was God showing his cruel side in response to Jewish misdemeanours.