The Faith of a Holocaust Survivor

Feb. 12 2018

In an exploration of traditional Jewish belief, Moshe Koppel explores the worldview of “Shimen,” an archetypal figure based on someone Koppel knew in his youth. Growing up in an East European ḥasidic community, Shimen came to America after the Shoah, in which his two children were murdered by the Nazis. Koppel writes:

[Shimen’s] beliefs . . . are thoroughly internalized. . . . Shimen’s belief is emotional not intellectual, though if you insist that he expound on his belief, he’ll trot out the standard story, the one he learned in ḥeder, [about the revelation at Sinai and so forth]. But the truth is that he hasn’t the slightest interest in exploring the veracity of any of the historical claims on which his most basic commitments ostensibly rely.

To understand why this is so, we need to understand the relationship between his internalized belief and his assent to the claims surrounding it. Think of it this way. Shimen loves his [murdered] children, Leibele and Chaya Sara. He remembers them as sweet and innocent and wise beyond their years, almost angelic. The specific representation of them that he holds in his memory allows him to focus his love on actual human beings. But were they actually as angelic as he chooses to remember them? Were they never cranky or ornery, foolish or immature? Perhaps Shimen should undertake archival research and interviews of surviving neighbors to replace his fond memories of Leibele and Chaya Sara with more accurate ones? I hope you see how utterly idiotic this is.

Shimen doesn’t love his children because they were angelic; he recalls them as angelic because he loves them. And recalling them this way only intensifies his love, and his longing, for them. Similarly, Jewish belief is only coherent and meaningful to those already committed to the Jewish way of life, who experience its vitality viscerally. For those who experience Jewish life as instinctively as Shimen, assent to codified Jewish belief might frame and intensify the experience, but it is not the basis for that experience. And subjecting the claims [of Jewish belief] to historical analysis makes as much sense to him as subjecting his memories of his children to historical analysis.

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More about: Holocaust, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East