New Yad Vashem books teach Holocaust to haredim

Four-volume series stresses courage of Jews who did not lose faith during war.

By MATTHEW WAGNER
October 27, 2008 21:42
3 minute read.
New Yad Vashem books teach Holocaust to haredim

Holocaust generic. (photo credit: Jonathan Beck)

 
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A new four-book series entitled Years Wherein We Have Seen Evil that teaches the Holocaust from a religious perspective was launched Sunday by Yad Vashem. The books and the accompanying testimonies preserved on CD will be used as the basis for teaching the Holocaust in haredi educational institutions. The books mark an ongoing trend at Yad Vashem to emphasize the particular, subjective experiences of individual Holocaust victims over attempts to view the Holocaust as a collective experience, said historians, educators and haredi figures involved with the project. "The secular Zionist state originally created Yad Vashem to present the Holocaust as a collective memory that fit nicely into a secular Zionist narrative," said Dudi Zilbershlag, the first haredi board member of Yad Vashem. "It basically ignored the courage of spirit demonstrated by so many pious Jews who did not lose faith throughout the horrors of the Shoah. Haredim distanced themselves from the Zionist tendency to emphasize the few examples of physical courage, militarism and revolt against the Nazis that helped shatter the myth that Jews were led as sheep to the slaughter. But over the years, people at Yad Vashem realized the absurdity of it all. How can you focus on the few incidents of partisan uprisings when these make up just a fraction of Holocaust experience?" Nava Weiss, head of Yad Vashem's Haredi Department, which was established seven years ago, said that tailoring the teaching of the Holocaust to the special needs of the haredi community is part of larger trend in Israeli society. "Over the past few decades we have seen the focus move from the collective to the individual," said Weiss. "Israeli society has matured. We no longer think in terms of a monolithic whole. Rather we recognize the diversity of different groups. Teaching the Holocaust is no different." The four-book series focuses on the lives of Orthodox Jewry during the Holocaust and the special moral and religious dilemmas they faced. The first volume tells the story of the Orthodox community in Germany during the 1930s. According to Zilbershlag, the book intentionally shatters the stereotype of the haredi Jew as coming exclusively from Eastern Europe. "It presents the heritage of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the forerunner of modern Orthodoxy, who combined Torah scholarship with work and worldliness," he explained. The second volume traces the life of religious Jews in the ghettos. Specifically religious dilemmas, such as maintaining a kosher diet when starvation is rampant, or celebrating the holidays with being allowed access to houses of prayer, are examined. The third volume is about various rescue attempts, including an entire chapter devoted to the attempts by Rabbi Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl to save Jews through bribery. The fourth and final volume is devoted to the Final Solution. Funding of the series was provided by Rudolph and Edith Tessler in memory of the children of Shlomo and Esther Tessler and the children of David and Fradel Hoffman. Until recently, the haredi education system did not teach the Holocaust. In part this was due to a dearth of teaching materials, said Weiss. But it was also part of the haredi rejection of Zionist narrative of the Holocaust and its refusal to recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day, which fell on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Even today the teaching of the Holocaust and other "secular subjects" are discontinued for boys when they reach the eighth grade and graduate from Talmud Torah to yeshiva. In yeshivot, studies are restricted to the learning of the Talmud and other strictly religious subjects. Females continue to devote themselves to general studies through high school and there is even Holocaust studies at the women-only Beit Vegan College in Jerusalem, which has a predominately haredi student body.

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