'Shoah victims - reincarnated sinners'
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has argued that those murdered in the Holocaust were a reincarnation of sinners from past generations, Ma'ariv reported on Sunday.
In his weekly Saturday evening sermon, whose subject was the period between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha Be'av fasts, the rabbi explained that on Tamuz 17, a number of calamities had occurred, including the breaching of Jerusalem's walls which led to the destruction of the Temple on Tisha Be'av, as well as the sin of the golden calf which led to the shattering of the Tablets of Stone.
"There is no calamity that the people of Israel suffer that isn't part of [the punishment for] the sin of the golden calf. The tragedies we've endured throughout generations - the Inquisition, the Holocaust - they are all part of the sin of the golden calf," Rabbi Yosef explained.
"After all, people are upset and ask why was there a Holocaust? Woe to us, for we have sinned. Woe to us, for there is nothing we can say to justify it," he said.
"It goes without saying that we believe in reincarnation," continued Yosef. "It is a reincarnation of those souls. Our teacher The Ari said that there are no new souls in our generation…all the souls were once in the world and have returned.
"All those poor people in the Holocaust…we wonder why it was done. There were righteous people among them. Still, they were punished because of sins of past generations."
Two years ago Rabbi Yosef blamed Israeli army deaths on lack of Shabbat observance by its soldiers and several years before that, Rabbi Yosef made the same Holocaust statement made again yesterday.
This type of bizarre theodicy is endemic to fundamentalist movements.
The late Lubavitcher Rebbe did something similar with the Holocaust. Publicizing that in Ha'aretz two years ago, Professor Yehuda Bauer wrote:
…Schneerson does not accept the idea of "hester panim," or God's face being turned away, to explain why He was not present when 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered. According to some religious Jews, this hester panim was a consequence of man's sins, and, above all, the sins of the Jewish people. Schneerson says that God was there, and that he wanted to Holocaust to happen. But because it is inconceivable, in his view, for God to commit evil, he portrays the Holocaust as a positive event, all the more so for the Jews.…
Chabad went apoplectic and tried – as it did the first time this material surfaced in the early 1980s – to claim that we just don't understand the Rebbe, who based all he said on Torah. (When that didn't work the first time, Chabad resorted to claiming the Rebbe's opinion had been forged, something that wouldn't work the second time because the Rebbe's own handwriting is on the page, fine tuning the statement.)
Two years ago I wrote the following in response to the Rebbe's theodicy. In it, I mention Rabbi Yosef's:
There are several schools of thought in classical Judaism about why bad things â mega bad things â happen to the Jewish people. Most are predicated on God's involvement in the bad, and explain that by saying we do not truly understand the 'evil.' If we could view it from God's perspective, the reasoning goes, we would only see good.
A favorite example given is the operating theater. Imagine waling into a gallery overlooking an operating room. There behind the glass is are people dressed in white cutting off a man's leg. You have never seen surgery. You do not even realize there is a medical treatment called surgery. What do you think when you see the 'horror' below you? You scream, you try to get the 'butchers' to stop mutilating the man. But, in truth, what these men are doing is saving the life of that patient.
The problem here is not with the Rebbe's analogy or Professor Bauer's understanding (or lack there of) of it. The problem is the Rebbe made statement's without carefully thinking about how they would be viewed by people who are not steeped in the particular theology espoused by him. A more current example of this lack of forethought comes from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who, not so long ago used the explanation of the Ari for the Destruction of the Second Temple and the deaths that surrounded it to explain the Holocaust. Rabbi Yosef's remarks were met with a similar firestorm of disapproval.
I wrote a piece for the American Jewish World explaining â but not necessarily endorsing â Rabbi Yosef's position. That piece was in response to a piece similar to Professor Bauer's, this one written by an old friend, Holocaust scholar Stephen Feinstein. I recall Rabbi Moshe Feller, the head Chabad rabbi in the upper Midwest, being very pleased with that piece and hoping the JTA would pick it up. (The JTA did not.)
My piece didn't change Stephen Feinstein's mind, largely because the fine distinctions needed to make these types of analogies work â in this case, the amputated limb is not itself bad, per se â are difficult to accept for those who do not buy into this line of reasoning to begin with.
Going back to the example of the Ari, he was explaining the Destruction of the Second Temple 1500 years after it happened. But what he was really doing without expressly saying so was explaining the Expulsion from Spain less than 100 years after that tragic event, roughly the same distance between it and the Ari's generation as the Holocaust and ours.
The Rebbe would say after this experience that it is wrong to explain or justify the Holocaust. It is simply too close, to raw, and no explanation will be accepted.
I would say that a God who needs to treat an illness by roasting alive hundreds of thousands of Jewish babies is not much of a God. The Rebbe, I think, would reply that an illness that requires the roasting of those babies as treatment must be a horrible, horrible illness.
In essence, this is exactly what is happening today between Professor Bauer and Rabbi Shemtov.
The Rebbe's explanation requires belief in a perfect, kind and just God who does no evil. To accept that requires accepting unspeakable horrors as good, divinely mandated and endorsed. For most people, even believing people, this is very difficult to do.
The Rebbe's words cut like jagged-edged swords. They were widely publicized and hurt many, many people, especially survivors.
The Rebbe meant no harm, but harm was done, nonetheless.
Professor Bauer's words are not "unwarranted, unacademic, personal attacks against the Rebbe." They are words of a survivor, a man who saw unspeakable horrors and spent his life documenting them so the world would not be able to forget, not be able to sweep a few million butchered Jews under the rug.
What Chabad should do is admit the Rebbe's error, his lapse of judgment, and then move on. But Chabad will not do this because it will never admit that its rebbes were anything less than perfect.
A God who needs to bayonet, club and burn 1.5 million babies to death isn't much of a God. He shouldn't be worshipped. He should be ignored and belittled, spat on like the dust of this earth – dust laced with the blood and soot of 6 million of his children.
There is punishment and there is sadistic punishment. And then there is the sadistic orgy of hell caused, rabbis say, by inattentive worship of the Great Sadist Above, the Uber-Torquemada of the Heavens and the Earth.
At best, theodicy cheapens God. And that's at best. Most of the time it just makes Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins look smart and correct.
[Hat Tip: Joel Katz.]