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Holocaust, the

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-J058-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

The specific, tragic event of the Holocaust – the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War – raises profound theological and philosophical problems, particularly problems about the existence of God and the meaning of Jewish existence. Among the thinkers who have tried to wrestle with the conceptual challenge posed by the destruction of European Jewry, three who have presented original arguments that can be termed, in a relatively strict sense, philosophical are Richard L. Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim and Arthur A. Cohen.

Rubenstein has formulated an argument that turns on the theological difficulties raised by the realities of the evil of Auschwitz and Treblinka in a world putatively created and ordered by a benign God. For him, such evil decisively refutes the traditional theological claim that a God possessed of goodness and power exists, and entails the conclusion that ‘there is no [traditional] God’. In working out this conceptual position, he uses an unsatisfactory empirical theory of verification concerning religious propositions and too narrow a notion of evidence, both historical and ethical, that ultimately undermines his counterclaims and ‘Death of God’ affirmations.

Fackenheim seeks not to defend a religious ‘explanation’ of the Holocaust, but rather to provide a ‘response’ to it that maintains the reality of God and his continued presence in human, and particularly Jewish, history. To do so, he uses Martin Buber’s understanding of dialogical revelation, asserting that revelation is an ever-present possibility, and formulates his own moral-theological demand to the effect that after the Holocaust, Jewish survival is the ‘614th commandment’ (there are 613 commandments in classical Judaism). Fackenheim’s defence of this position, however, is philosophically problematic.

Cohen provides a ‘process theology’ argument as an explanation of the Holocaust; that is, the Holocaust requires a revision in our understanding of God’s nature and action. It forces the theological conclusion that God does not possess the traditional ‘omni’ predicates; God does not intervene in human affairs in the manner taught by traditional Western theology. However, Cohen’s working out of a process theological position in relation to the Holocaust raises as many philosophical problems as it solves.

Citing this article:
Katz, Steven T.. Holocaust, the, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-J058-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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