How the Holocaust Caused a Secular Crisis of Faith

April 4 2022

In addition to Passover, the month of April—and the Hebrew month of Nissan—contains Yom HaShoah, the day established by the state of Israel to commemorate the Holocaust. Shalom Carmy reflects on the debate, now largely forgotten, over whether the Shoah should receive its own day on the Jewish calendar, or its memory included on other days designated for the recollection of national woes. This debate, in turn, points to the different ways religious and secular Jews have responded to the 20th century’s great catastrophe:

Traditional chroniclers and liturgical poets tended to blend their mourning for the sorrows of their own time with the age-old fast days and poems commemorating the destruction of the Temple. This pattern continues today. Among the accepted elegies recited on the day set aside to mourn the destruction of the Temple, one finds dirges referring to the Holocaust, authored by prominent rabbinic personalities. These religious leaders thus emphasize continuity, not uniqueness.

[By contrast], there is a deeper religious factor that makes it difficult for modern, secularized Jews to place the Holocaust within the continuum of Jewish history. The problem is not what the millions murdered say about God’s providence—the secular mind dispensed with providence long ago—but what they say about man. If theodicy in the broadest sense is the attempt to justify the ways of the world, there can be a secular theodicy, wherein some power other than God supervenes over history. For enlightened people in the 19th and 20th centuries, that power was the goodness and progress of humanity.

Because the Holocaust made it so difficult to sustain modern secular theodicies, its impact on secular conceptions of Jewish life and history is different in kind from its effect on traditional Jewish thinking, which never relied on optimism about modern culture. As a result, the Holocaust can be oddly very important to the spiritual lives of secular and progressive Jews—not in a positive way, but as the nadir of Jewish history, perhaps of human history, the episode of radical evil that casts a long, dark shadow that is far realer than whatever vestiges of the modern narrative of progress continue to guide the secular spirit.

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Read more at First Things

More about: Holocaust, Judaism, Yom Hashoah

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter