30.02 Elaboration (pps.20-31)
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originates in sin.91 Job’s friends attempt to defend an obvious wrong as justice. By doing so, they unintentionally degrade Job’s idea of God. But because of his faith, Job cannot accept a defense of God that implies an insult to the dignity of God.92 Ultimately, Job’s innocence is vindicated, and the friends’ “fundamentalist response” repudiated, by the Divine.93We will address directly one Holocaust theodicy. This theodicy, popular in certain circles, proclaims that the Holocaust was a punishment for European Jewry’s transgressions, and explains the Holocaust as a modern-day version of the tochacha (admonition of punishment) cited in the Torah portions of Bechukotai (Leviticus 26) and Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 28).94
Theodicies of “punishment” are less prevalent in newer theological writings,95 in parallel to the amplification of the (Literal) Written Law by the Oral Law. While there is an old tradition within Judaism that suffering man should examine his deeds, the same tradition admonishes man against pointing at another’s suffering as Divine punishment.
The Divine harshly reproves the friends of Job, who have explained away Job’s suffering as punishment for sin.
The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.”
The Divine, in the final chapter of Job, continues his reproach of the “friends,” who have defended God by rationalizing Job’s suffering as punishment.
. . . and My servant Job shall pray for you; for it is only by dint of his [Job’s] sufferance of you that I have not done terrible things to you; for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right.
Norman Lamm, in a blistering assault on the “Holocaust as punishment” theodicy, terms it “massively irrelevant, impudent,
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91 Interestingly enough, the Buddhist response to suffering bears a parallelism to mainstream rabbinic thought. See Kyokai, The Teaching of Buddha (Tokyo: Kosaido Printing Co., 1966), p. 84. “But if one carefully considers all the facts, one must be convinced that at the basis of all suffering lies the principle of craving desire. If avarice can be removed, human suffering will come to an end.”
92 Berkovits, Faith After the Holocaust, p. 68.
93 See Glatzer, The Dimensions of Job, p. 287. “The aim of the Book of Job was to refute certain notions of retribution, of suffering as punishment.”
94 See also the articles by Eliyahu Dessler (p. 26), Yitzchak Hutner (p. 39), and Mordechai Gifter (p. 56) reprinted in Wolpin, A Path Through the Ashes. All three view the Holocaust as tochacha (punishment). See Gifter, in particular: “The Churban should thus become a source of inspiration and encouragement for us. We are assured that we do have a Father in Heaven who cares for us and is concerned enough with our spiritual status to demonstrate His disfavor” (p. 59).
We are left numbed by the reasoning and can only comment that great minds sometimes make great mistakes.
95 Montefiore and Loewe, in A Rabbinic Anthology, p. 541, refer to this theodicy thrust as “The old view, now far off, and obsolete.”
Cf. T. B. Berachot 16.
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