The biblical justifications are based on interpretations of phrases from the Jewish Bible. Rather than viewing the Holocaust as a natural occurrence, these concepts portray the Holocaust as God’s will. Two central ideas are:
- Hester Panim
- Divine Punishment
Hester Panim – Hiding of the Face
All this is come upon us; yet we have not forgotten Thee,
Neither have we been false to Thy covenant.
Our heart is not turned back,
Neither have our steps declined from Thy path;
Though Thou has crushed us into a place of jackals,
And covered us with the shadow of death.
If we had forgotten the name of our God,
Or spread forth our hands to a strange god;
Would not God search this out?
For he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Nay, but for Thy sake are we killed all the day;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?
Arouse Thyself, cast not off for ever.
Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face,
And forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
Our belly cleaveth to the earth.
Arise for our help,
And redeem us for Thy mecy’s sake.
Excerpt from the Forty-Fourth Psalm
The idea of Hester Panim conveys the image of God hiding his face. God hides his face from the Jewish people during the Holocaust. There are two different explanations as to why God chooses to hide from man. The first interpretation includes the concept of the Jewish people being punished and the second interpretation is a “mysterious explanation” viewing God’s disappearance as a positive lesson for the Jewish people (Berkovits 360).
The punishment was a cause of Hester Panim, “the hiding of the face” (Berkovits 355). God’s anger was triggered, thus he retreated to divine silence and hid his face from his followers and the world. The Holocaust was a cause of God’s absence from the world. The idea is suggested in the following passage from Deuteronomy, 31:17-18,
The phrase “my anger shall be kindled against them” expresses God’s intentions to punish. The Jewish people suffered because they acted against his will and caused his anger. The following phrase, “they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them” illustrates the Holocaust. Linking the two ideas together, the passage highlights the notion that the Holocaust was a punishment caused by God’s absence.
The My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them;…, And I will surely hide My face in that day for all the evil which they shall have wrought in that they are turned unto other gods.
A second interpretation of Hester Panim is a religious lesson that God wishes to convey by hiding from the Jewish people. This is illustrated as “divine indifference to the destiny of man” (Berkovits 360). It is marked as his Godly characteristic. Contrasting the first interpretation, this image portrays Hester Panim as God’s choice regardless of human behavior. He is not responding to man’s actions; rather he is practicing a divine “quality of being” (Berkovits 360).
The prophet Isaiah interpreted it as God’s will to save his people by hiding from them. Isaiah emphasizes that the follower who realizes God’s intentions will be faithful to him and “wait for the Lord that has hideth His face”¹ . Isaiah’s interpretation of Hester Panim is as a test. The follower is tested to look for meaning in God’s action. If the follower does realize his intentions, they gain deeper understanding and trust in God.
This idea of Divine Punishment originates from Rabbi Elchonon Wassermann (1875-1941) “representative of Orthodox Jewish thought during the Holocaust years” (Rubenstein 375). His view illustrated the Holocaust as a sacrifice for a messiah to come. He personally believed that every Jew should die knowing that they were marked as a martyr for the rest of the Jewish society. Rabbi Wassermann died in 1941, accepting the fact that he was a sacrifice for his people. His ideas were similar to that of Emil Fackenheim, a famous Judaic philosopher and Rabbi. This justification illustrated the Holocaust as a prerequisite for a new Messiah; it was believed to be part of God’s plans.
The concept of the Divine Punishment is linked to illustrating the Holocaust as a punishment to the Jewish people. The Holocaust was God’s method of reiterating the importance of the Judaic faith among its followers. The Holocaust was “God’s punishment for secularism” and the “sins of Israel” (Rosenak 163). It was a reminder to teach the Jewish people a lesson. This is the punitive view of Holocaust.
The logical justifications are related to two main concepts, the dialectical principle and the idea of man’s independence from God. Rather than emphasizing what the lesson of the Holocaust was, these ideas explain why the Holocaust had to occur. The following justifications attempt to analyze the Holocaust from a logical view rather than from a personal understanding of the Holocaust.
The dialectical principle applies the necessity for the Holocaust to occur, for the need for evil in this world. The argument from Elisha ben Abuyah, later known as Aher, is often used to justify evil regardless of magnitude. When God created a certain object, X, he created that object X’s opposite. Because of a relative perspective the opposite of X proves the existence of X.
For example when God created day he had to create night to realize that day existed. When God created hills, he created valleys and when he created man, he created woman. This is applied to good and evil, when God created good, he had to create evil to illustrate the existence of good. The argument concludes that “without good, no evil and without evil, no good” (Berkovits 363). This is the logical reasoning for the evil in the Holocaust.
The concept of man’s independence is the idea that God created man with the freedom and independence to make his own decisions. It is based on a traditional doctrine that “God’s silence is necessary for human freedom” (Rosenak 164). The Holocaust is man’s choice that God does not have to intervene in. It transforms the argument from God’s responsibility to man’s responsibility. This argument illustrates the Holocaust as a triggered occurrence, caused by the choices of man. While God may have the power to intervene, he chooses not to because the Holocaust was man’s responsibility.
God is the Higher Power
God is divine and has higher power than man. Thus, God is also above the laws and judgments of human life. There are aspects of human life that cannot be applied to God because he is greater than humans. Judgments such as “justice, love, peace, mercy are ideas for man only” (Berkovits 371). These were established in human society therefore are not applicable to God. He cannot be judged or judge other things as good or evil, these were aspects of human life realized by man.