The Holocaust and the State of Israel


Yom Ha-Sho’ah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – will be commemorated this year on April 8, with Yom Ha-atzma’ut – Israel Independence Day – one week later.  The proximity of the two events these commemorations mark, the Holocaust and the establishment of the modern State of Israel, is reflected in history as well as on the calendar.  The modern State of Israel is created a scant three years after the liberation of Hitler’s death camps. 

Yet philosopher Emil Fackenheim warns against deriving a causal connection between the two.  To be sure, the drive for fulfilling the ancient dream of the re-establishment of the Jewish home in Israel was given additional impetus by the need to care for the survivors and the desire to found a safe-haven for Jews in the event of any future catastrophe.  But to suggest that the Holocaust was the necessary precursor for the establishment of the modern State of Israel, argues Fackenheim, is as much sacrilegious as it is obscene.  It would tantamount to saying that six million – including one an half million children – had to die in order to bring Israel into existence.  

A far better way to conceptualize the link between the Holocaust and the State of Israel is developed by Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, the dean of modern Orthodox rabbis in the twentieth century.  In his popular and inspirational work based on the imagery of the Song of Songs (particularly the beginning of Chapter 5) Kol Dodi Dofek (The Voice of My Beloved Knocks, published in 1961), Rabbi Soloveichik speaks to those Jews puzzled by the apparent absence of God during the Holocaust.  He argues that explanations for needless suffering are wanting.  However, the true response of Jews to suffering is not to demand answers but to find meaning that transcends suffering.  That meaning is best located in Jewish practice.   At the same time, to conclude that God does not exist or that God is apathetic would be wrong.  There is ample evidence to demonstrate that God is near at hand.  He is, to use the Biblical metaphor, knocking.

Of the six “knocks” that show, to Rabbi Soloveichik’s satisfaction, that God is immanent, three relate to the State of Israel.  The very establishment of the State of Israel is “an almost supernatural occurrence.”  The victory of the nascent state over five invading Arab armies is similarly a “miracle.”  And the creation of the State of Israel as a host for persecuted and dispersed Jews is a new historical phenomenon.  Thus the State of Israel is a profound indication that God lives and God cares.

The existence of State of Israel is not the result of the Holocaust but provides a perspective that addresses one of the key theological questions raised by the Holocaust.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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