It may be that the reason for the Holocaust is beyond our understanding, and that the answers are “in the heavens,” meaning God only knows what they are. But that certainly doesn’t mean that they are beyond our concerns, as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach claims (“Religion’s most repellent idea,” January 18). Moreover to say that only God knows the meaning of the Holocaust is equivalent to saying that there is a good reason why He either allowed it or intended for it to happen, and that therefore the Jews got what they deserved. That is a good argument for rejecting the theistic God of the Bible and of Jewish tradition. If non-Jews would say the same thing we would call them anti-Semites. Boteach, with good reason, argues in favor of the counter, subversive tradition in Judaism as exemplified by Abraham and Moses’ challenging God when they thought He was unjust.
A more morally potent example, however, is found in the Book of Job. There God tells Job that his so called “comforters,” who all tell him that he must have done something to deserve his unspeakable suffering, are wrong, and that he, Job, who stuck to his guns and proclaimed his innocence, is right.
Boteach excoriates the rabbis and rebbes who, like the comforters, say the Jews brought their annihilation on themselves and that Nebuchadnezzar and Hitler were only God’s agents. But he is wrong in saying that melech hamoshiach belongs to the camp that argues with God. The plaintive cry of the Lubavitcher rebbe that Boteach cites (“How long? How long?”) is hardly an adequate challenge to God’s moral authority. In fact the rebbe belongs in the same camp as the Satmar rebbe and others who found some higher good in the Holocaust. This is what Schneerson said about it: “It is clear that no evil descends from Above, and buried within torment and suffering is a core of exalted spiritual good. Not all human beings are able to perceive it, but it is very much there. So it is not impossible for the physical destruction of the Holocaust to be spiritually beneficial. On the contrary, it is quite possible that physical affliction is good for the Jewish spirit.” And Boteach says he “misses the Lubavitcher rebbe even more.” More than what? The response to Schneerson’s contemptible excuse for God harmed his moral authority. He never withdrew it but rather found it more prudent to keep silent on the subject.