The Voice Emil Fackenheim Heard

The Jewish philosopher heard in the silence of the Shoah’s victims a voice issuing a 614th commandment to the Jews. Was he right?

January 10, 2022 | Paul Wilford
About the author: Paul Wilford is assistant professor of political science at Boston College, where he specializes in German idealism and the philosophy of history.

Emil Fackenheim on April 10, 1994. Steven Siewert/Fairfax Media via Getty Images.

On November 11, 1938 Emil L. Fackenheim found himself in a jail cell in his hometown of Halle, Germany, a city that briefly made headlines in 2019, when a gunman attacked its synagogue on Yom Kippur, and killed two people. An oppressive quiet pervaded the small holding cell, constructed to accommodate “at most six people but now crowded with twenty-odd Jewish men” who had been rounded up over the past two days, until an elderly man broke the silence, and voiced a question that was surely on the minds of all: “You, Fackenheim! You are a student of Judaism. You know more about it than the rest of us here. You tell us what Judaism has to say to us now!”

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