Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Dangers of Proclaiming Explicit Miracles in Our Day
A post from 2006;
In yeshiva at Aish [I, II, III, IV, V, comments following here], it was given over more than once that the number of Jews lost to intermarriage, apathy and assimilation since the Holocaust surpasses the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust...I’m more interested in the spiritual/philosophical consequences of the statement more than the practical use to which it may be put.
Provided this is a true statement, the consequences are enormous. The great number of religious Jews certainly don’t speak about the current situation as if it were true [that we are in a spiritual Holocaust; since 2006, "Out of the Ashes" has been seen by many, and plenty do speak of "spiritual Holocaust"], nor for that matter are there any university degree programs devoted to [“Post-War experience” as] Holocaust Studies; I had to put in lots of brackets, italicization and quotation marks to keep it sufficiently PoMo….Clearly the emphasis in the statement is on “lost” and “Jews”, where the definitions derive from religious pre-suppositions. Like most people, Jews are physical and spiritual beings (unlike most people in the particular relationship of the soul to the body - but that’s another post probably never to be written), with Aish implying that the loss during the Holocaust and the era of loss since should be viewed as matters of spiritual as well as physical-genetic loss – trumping the view of them as mere “body counts” or cultural/existential loss, as materialists would likely propound. Similarly, when committed Jews talk about the quantitative, empirical differences between the suffering of Other vs. Us, when we throw out “our” statistic slogan, “Six Million” - we often find ourselves at least thinking “Six Million…souls” – a more-than-quantitative loss, not merely Jewish bodies or genes alone.
...Within the context of “holocausts”, we treat survivors of holocausts who lose faith or have serious crisis of faith qualitatively different from how we treat similar suffering on the part of those not in the given holocaust. In regards to victims of the Holocaust, the ultimate fate of Jewish victims - as well as all who died “as Jews” over history* - is treated as though they died as a conscious Sanctification of the Divine Name, and their place in Heaven is a great one.
Even if this Aish statement is correct, we do not treat the ultimate fate of victims in this horrific soul-loss and rampant assimilation anything like how we treat survivors of the Holocaust (this would apply even Aish because I think they miss the point due to the usefulness of the statement), I muddle victims with survivors here not out of any disrespect, but because - assuming Aish is correct - we are still in the throws of this Holocaust, which is to say that not all who are to pass on have passed on yet - nor are all those thought lost necessarily lost; there must always be hope – with honesty (Again, I’m not making a direct comparison of degree between the “Holocausts”, I’m making a comparison of kind – and I think the difference of kind is a mix of the spiritual and genetic shared by both).
...Provided the “Aish statement” is true, we treat as qualitatively different, loss that occurred in one context from loss that is occurring in another – even though both are more qualitively similar (of shared spiritual/genetic nature), than not, and where the latter is more extensive by comparison and is ongoing. We are not merely observing this loss - we are experiencing it and regretably prolonging it in some ways.

If we take the 'metaphor' more seriously than we are comfortable doing, we are not only moved towards the Aish goal of mobilizing the Rabbim to do/say/believe something, anything to make a difference (the "War of Love" in which all is doubly fair) - we also risk considering that we all, who live to see these days, are spiritual Holocaust survivors and living victims - and there will be victims among survivors (and more distressing - Shoah Survivors who are now also spiritual Holocaust Survivors as well) - those who lose faith, experience fractured faith, the Orthoprax, etc, and we may have no more a place criticizing the Jewish survival efforts of anyone, or denying place in this world or the next for those despondent than we do the Holocaust Survivors and victims and their means of survival. Here, tolerating those who survive outside Establishment Orthodoxy by involvement with other movements might be considered too great a risk of sanctioning the movements. I can already hear comparisons to Jewish children who survived in Christian settings during the War and Shoah - and someone who makes such a comparison needs to think about the frame of mind that so easily declares non-Orthodox Jewish institutions comparable to Christianity.

In addition, I remember also that there were voices raised, claiming that the Holocaust occurred during a time when there was already Hester Panim (NOT that it began with the Holocaust), a time without clear and explicit evidence of God's Hand in history. Even by the mid to late 1800s, much of European Jewry was not observant, decades on by the time of the Holocaust. In such circumstances, the strict societal treatment of non-observant simply did not apply - according to the Chazon Ish - and the Holocaust itself could not be considered an act of direct Divine Retribution;

"(Such laws) only applied at times when the divine presence was clearly revealed such as in the days when there were open miracles, and a heavenly voice was heard and when the righteous would operate under direct divine intervention which could be observed by anybody. Then the heretics were of a special deviousness, bending their evil inclination towards immoral desires and licentiousness. In such days there was (the need) to remove this kind of wickedness from the world, since everybody knew that it would bring divine retribution to the world...But at the time of "divine hiding," in which faith has become weak in people, there is no purpose in taking such action (harsh measurements against heretics and violators), in fact it has the reverse effect and will only increase their lawlessness and be viewed as the coercion and violence (of religious fanatics.) ...God's presence is no longer as exposed as it was, and much of what happens to man and mankind seems to be random, without any indication that it is the work of the Lord of the Universe. Therefore, one can no longer call heretical views the result of deliberate viciousness. These views may, in fact, be the honest consequence of careful deliberation which is clouded by the confusion of not knowing how to see and understand the workings of history and matters such as personal tragedy.

For several centuries, so-called "academic studies" of the Torah have undermined the authenticity of the Torah, convincing a great number of well meaning people to believe that there was proof that the Torah did not reflect the will of God. As such, there was no longer a reason to live by its precepts. This is no longer deliberate heresy but intellectual confusion.

As such, it is difficult to argue that the Holocaust was caused by divine anger for the violations of Torah precepts and deliberate heresy. The curses in the Torah are meant to come down on those who against better knowledge and with the full understanding that they were violating the will of God decided to do so -- not on those who are confused or the victims of others' misunderstandings.

Rav Yehuda Amital further removes the guilt of the curses from even those who "against better knowledge and with full understanding" become non-religious, based on Rav Kook's view of formerly-religious Jews of even his pre-Shoah days. It would seem such inter-nesting frameworks would apply to our generation as well, following the "true metaphor" of Aish; we were as then likely experiencing the natural outcome of the societal mechanisms of the world, and as so many religious Jews (the last remnant who could receive tochecha, guilt and punishment), are in such desperate straits, so many despairing of their very religious lives - are becoming non-religious and "orthoprax" at best.

But since 1967 and the rebirth of Israel in the Land, claims by Religious Zionists and Charedim have included implications that we are now, while in the throws of a new Holocaust, no longer in an era of Hester Panim - the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in Israel proves it! God has shined his countenance upon us! Rav Kook, who witnessed neither the Holocaust nor Israel - saw in the settling of the land in his day, the Hand of God - and since the Holocaust, his disciples seem to treat the Holocaust in the "traditional" manner as some measure of divine retribution - and Israel as proof the Hesder Panim is over.

But what are we to make of such resoundingly different perspectives on the present State of Israel - and hense our present state? Has God's Face remained turned away or not? Are we all blameworthy or not?! This is no small thing if Aish is right about the depth and degree of the disaffection from Torah since the Holocaust, since 1967. Since even the aftermath of the first-wave of the Baal Teshuvah movement, a response to the Post-Holocaust, generations of Jews who came to Torah in the aftermath of the Holocaust and Israel are now becoming disaffected amidst the response to the Spiritual Holocaust.

If we affirm Hester Panim, we undermine so much basis for spiritual hegemony in our day in the "explicit miracles" so extolled (Rise of Medinat Israel, the Yeshiva world, etc). But if we deny Hester Panim, we risk having to explain this Holocaust as direct Divine Retribution - no mere resignation of mankind (oops, sorry...just Jews), to the whims of nature - and this 'holocausts' supposed 'victims' are merely willful and misguided fools...

THANK GOD, Rav Yehudah Amital has written on the question of God's role in Israel and the Holocaust in his "World Built, Destroyed and Rebuilt" and elsewhere, and R. Aryeh Klapper has written about such events from a non-messianic Orthodox approach.

But amidst all these competing precedents for action to which we may appeal, we may be missing one (though one also not uncontested); mitzvot need not be intended to be fulfilled...granted, transgressions are engaged in - at times disinterestedly by the formerly-religious, in ignorance by the non-systematically-observant - but Jewish actions, normative "moral" acts can indeed cumulatively count for ALL Israel, when ANY of Israel do them. We may be further along Redemption amidst the spiritual Holocaust, where Jewish bodies can still, albeit unconsciously, do mitzvot - than the physical and spiritual Holocaust - which now maintains its horrific place and character. But would this approach sell to Aish, et al?


At 2/21/2010 4:15 PM, Blogger Itzchak said...

Very interesting...
I would like to suggest that you read R. Soloveitchik's Kol Dodi Dofek closely.
It addresses the both the hastarit panim of the shoa ad the giluy panim of Israel...

At 2/22/2010 7:45 AM, Blogger Pierre Sogol said...

But RS's contention that the era of Hestarat Panim "of the 1940s" was over in time for the State of Israel is just the problematic feature I'm talking about. If we are NOW in an era where God's Face is upon us - amidst the more-numerically-significant loss of Jewish souls to the degree that we are - that is a tremendous problem that my post is speaking about. Suppose we are in an era of explicit miracles, as RS's disciples and their students speak (regardless of his intents - considering the many clamants to his legacy, a fact which cannot be set aside as irrelevant). Chazon Ish had expressed the view, considered normative, that in an era of Hester Panim we disregard the penalties on the non-obervant (as Chazon Ish suggests), even among those Torah Jews who leave - and in an era where His Face is upon us and evidences occur (as so many mainline religious Zionists claim), we CANNOT make that claim. Where RS mentions the state of Israel as being a means by which jews estranged were in his day reconnecting...note IN OUR DAY the rampant phenomena of "post-zionism", the attrition rates among Birthright participants, the Yordim and the vast alienation of diaspora Jewry from Israel.


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