Monday, July 12, 2010

A new Outreach approach: Blame secular Jews for the Holocaust

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

Note: I first published most of this article in a different venue, before Tisha b'Av of 5767. I still find it relevant, so I'm posting it here. [I did not end up airing the video in question.]

I think I need a reality check, so please help me out here.

A major Kiruv organization is advertising a video for Tisha b'Av. I watched their preview, and I'm not sure I can use the video.

The opening segment of the preview includes the following declaration: “…but there’s something quite harsh and that is that HaShem has demands. HaShem made demands on Klal Yisrael, Europe was destroyed because of the spiritual state of Klal Yisrael there, and if that happened then, it's very scary as to where we are holding today. If we understand that what the Holocaust did was, destroyed what Gedolei Yisrael called a business that was running bankrupt, because Klal Yisrael was really falling part, the minority, just the minority was still Torah-true, if that happened there, well, what's going to happen to Jewry today? And that's scary.

The same theme runs throughout the preview.

I am a fan of this kiruv organization, which has done an incredible amount of good with a high degree of professionalism. I know and respect quite a few of their personnel, and I like a great many of the programs they put out. But is this a kiruv message, or a richuk [distancing] message?

As a relevant aside, the accuracy of the message is debatable. Suffering is, sometimes, Divine punishment; that's clear in Tanach and Gemara. But it's equally clear in Tanach and Gemara that suffering, sometimes, comes about for reasons other than Divine punishment, as we have discussed elsewhere.

Certainly, one could argue that the Holocaust, at least in some part, may have involved punishment for sin. Nonetheless, the words of Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, from a public shiur recorded in 1989, come back to me:

Because if one tries to explain the Holocaust, he will be nichshal [stumble] in one of two things. If he will try to explain the Holocaust under the secular perspective he will be nichshal in blasphemy. And if he will try to explain from a religious perspective, and point a finger at certain people, why the Holocaust took place, then he will speak stupidity and gasus haruach [arrogance].

But beyond the debatable accuracy, to return to our main point: Is this something to disseminate? Is the Jewish public ready to use the Holocaust as a kiruv tool? “Gd punished you sixty years ago, so you had better shape up now before you get whacked again?”

Perhaps the makers of the video weren't hearing the screams of tortured Jews when they taped those words. Perhaps they weren't thinking about the raped women of the liquidated ghettoes, the rabbis whose beards were torn off and who were otherwise disgraced before they were killed. Perhaps the staff that reviewed the film didn't, during their work, call to mind the thousands of babies who were brutally massacred.

Or the opposite - perhaps they did call all of those things to mind, and that's exactly what motivated them to call Jewry to Wake Up, in a Kahanaesque attempt to wake the masses with harsh truths... but I'm not sure that Kahanaism works as good kiruv. My experience is that it does not.

The key questions, to me:
Is the message going to make a single Jew commit herself to greater observance?
Or is the message going to turn off a single Jew who feels that the memory of her parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts is being sullied?

My gut feeling is that this does not qualify as proper תוכחה (instruction). The Holocaust is still אבילות חדשה (mourning for recent loss), an open and fresh wound; I think that calling it Divine punishment would be a turnoff. Rabbonim far greater than me have balked at that approach.

What do you think?


  1. I can not see this attracting anyone to Judaism, quite the reverse. I'm not sure that you can scare or threaten anyone into greater observance. And sullying the names of the martyrs of the Holocaust just makes matters worse, particularly when you consider how important the Holocaust is to the Jewish identity of many contemporary Jews.

  2. It is outrageous, stupid and simply reprehensible. You don't attract people using scare tactics.

    And furthermore the anger and distrust that exists between the communities has already created issues.

    I have friends who are convinced that Orthodox Jewry hates them- really, hate is the term they use.

    Sadly some of them point at Orthodox Jewry and use terms like cultish, clannish, ignorant sheep.

    I just don't understand why they lack the sechel to recognize the inherent problems that these types of kiruv efforts cause.

  3. Kach mkublani mbeit avi abba- when good things happen, ascribe them to someone else's merits, when bad things happen, look homeward angel (hameivin yavin) and worry about the truth, not what makes you look best
    Joel Rich

  4. Daniel, Jack -
    Thanks for the reinforcement.

    Joel -
    But does that apply to telling others of their flaws?

  5. We should spend more time focusing on ours and less on theirs - we seem to have reversed the proportions
    Joel Rich

  6. Joel-
    Ah, now I see what you meant. Thanks for clarifying.

  7. I post I did recently based around an earlier post on those who want to derive rebuke from the Shoah;

    The problems are very, very complex if a kiruv organization wants to base such claims on "look what happened to innocent children in the Shoah because of what other Jews did". 6 Million is idolatry compared the actual account of each individual life accumulating to that number - which should be unspeakable, instead of a cliche. I am disgusted out of my mind by the kinds of "Torah" that's produced before Tisha B'Av and Yomim Noraim. History happens, events occur - and they will always be able to say "something big is coming, and since we're so bad compared to earlier times, it's got to be worse one way or another". they write the "prophetic" news before the news - when prophecy has long since left Israel.

  8. Their view does not seem authentically Jewish to me. In Pirkei Avos (4:19) we learn that Rabbi Yannai said "We cannot understand the tranquility of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous". I don't think we need to go further than this.

  9. If we don't call it divine punishment what should we call it? When those who we reach out to ask about this we have to have some kind of answer.

    I also submit that there is another factor to consider. If the circumstances that led to a tragedy are no longer relevant than we need not delve to deeply into the causes. However, if the circumstances have not changed then the situation is likely to reoccur. So, what should one do if he believes that a tragedy is going to happen? Should he keep his mouth shut because the message would turn people off?

    I have frequently heard people denigrate the Jews in Germany who stayed despite the Nurenberg laws. They don't understand how someone could not see the writing on the wall. How must it feel to believe you see the writing on the wall and be the only person to understand it? Being the Cassandra of the Jewish world can't be the most pleasurable experience available.

  10. Pierre-
    I do believe that this is done for the right reasons, but I agree that it is off the mark.

    Yes, but there are plenty of other sources they could cite against that.

    1. Re: "What to call it" - I'm with R' Aharon; I think "I don't know" works just fine.

    2. Re: Being Cassandra - Perhaps there are different, more effective ways to warn people?