For so many people religion is practiced out of a sense of superstition; like a
furry rabbit’s foot, it wards off evil spirits. Fulfilling the word of God keeps
you from experiencing bad things. So what happens when you’re religious and
those bad things happen anyway? It must be because you sinned.
to be amazed at how many people see God as “the great blackmailer in the sky,” a
term I first heard from the atheist Oxford philosopher Jonathan Glover in a
debate I moderated between him and my friend Dennis Prager. God threatens us
with death and suffering unless we follow His will. Insofar as I have recently
published a full-length book refuting this idea, both biblically and logically,
I will not here address it, other than to focus on the most insidious
permutation thereof, namely the belief that the Holocaust was punishment for
No doubt you’ve heard this argument before.
straightforward, and goes like this: The Jews of Germany didn’t want to be
Jewish any more.
They wanted to be more German than the
They changed their names. They assimilated.
out. The Reform Movement, which started in Germany in about 1820, expunged all
mention of Zion and Jerusalem from its prayer book. Germany and Berlin were the
new promised land.
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In short, the Jews of Germany abandoned God. Worse,
they thought they could get away with it. So God decided to teach them a
Just try and forget Me. Here, have a few gas chambers. Let’s see
how independent you feel when you’re incarcerated behind barbed
Let’s see how much you love Germany when they collectively
slaughter your children.
I’ve heard many variations on this
One is that it wasn’t assimilation and attachment to Germany that
brought about the Holocaust, but the exact opposite. The Jews were punished for
secular Zionism and the attempt to return to the ancient homeland without divine
assistance. Another variation, which I heard just recently and supposedly exists
on a tape from one of the great Jewish scholars of the 20th century, was that
the only way the Jews would ever give up their deep, emotional attachment to the
great Torah centers of Europe, like Lithuania, was to see their neighbors shoot
Whatever the variation on this theme of
Holocaust-as-punishment, let’s be clear: these theories are ignorant, repulsive
Ignorant because no human being knows the mind of God.
Repulsive because they take six million innocent martyrs – including 1.5 million
children – and turn them into culprits responsible for their own deaths. Wrong
because they ignore the most basic fact of all, which is this: the majority of
German Jews survived Hitler, even though, of course, huge numbers
In 1933 there were 522,000 Jews living in the Reich. By 1939
and the start of the Second World War, 304,000 had emigrated. Beginning in
January 1933, when Hitler came to office in a torch-lit parade down Unter den
Linden, the Jews of Germany knew that they were in the hands of a monster.
Almost immediately Jews were beaten in the streets, their businesses boycotted,
their synagogues attacked. By September, 1935 the Nuremberg race laws were
By November 1938 the horrors of Kristallnacht defined the
growing Nazi tyranny. And throughout, the Jews of Germany tried to get out. They
knew they were otherwise doomed.
And while the nations of the world
closed so many doors to them, the majority managed to escape.
who did not escape were, among so many other millions, the Hassidim and
ultra-religious Jews of Poland who had no idea Hitler had signed a secret pact
with Stalin to partition Poland. They had no inkling of Hitler’s plan to invade
via blitzkrieg on September 1, 1939, and that they would be caught in his
Are we to believe that these Jews, who were devout and pious, with
Jewish names, who observed the minutiae of Jewish law pertaining to kashrut and
the Sabbath and prayed thrice daily for the Jewish return to Zion were punished
with extinction while the “sinful” culprits of German Jewry mostly survived? And
what of the more than one million children who were gassed and cremated, who
were utterly innocent? The theory of the Holocaust-as-punishment is not just
abhorrent. It is factually absurd.
But there is more.
Do those who
argue that European Jewry were nearly wiped out by God as a consequence of sin
really believe they are doing God a favor with this heresy? Do they believe they
are defending His reputation? Let’s say for a moment that they’re
God bears no responsibility for the gas chambers at Auschwitz
because the Jews of Europe had it coming. They earned death by virtue of their
iniquity. They deserved to be turned into ash because they had abrogated God’s
Now, how many of you feel like praying to a God who could do
that? How many of you feel like loving a God who enacts the death penalty for
eating a cheeseburger? How many people would want to worship a God who cremates
children when their parents drive on the Sabbath? No, this stomach-turning
theory paints God, and the Jewish people, in the worst possible light, when, in
reality, it’s the Nazis that deserve that opprobrium.
As to God and the
question of where He was as the Jews of Europe were slowly exterminated, I will
forever believe that we have the right, nay, the responsibility, to challenge
and question God on that issue.
I don’t know why God allowed the
Nor do I care. Any explanation would not minimize the horror
of it. Nor would it bring back my six millions murdered Jewish brothers and
sisters. Indeed, asking for an answer is itself immoral insofar as it is an
attempt to reconcile ourselves with the irreconcilable.
What we want is
for God to fulfill his promises to the Jewish people, that they might live a
blessed and peaceful existence, like so many other nations that are not
perennial targets for genocide.
True, God has sustained us, for the most
part, and we alone have survived from antiquity.
We are grateful to God
for our longevity.
But it should not take the deaths of innocent Israeli
soldiers to guarantee our survival.
It is high time that God show Himself
in history and bless a people who have been, for the past 3,000 years, the most
devoted and religious of nations, deeply faithful to God, practicing charity,
promoting scholarship, fostering hospitality and spreading light and blessing to
all nations of the earth.The author, whom Newsweek and The Washington
Post call “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling
author of 29 books, and will shortly publish The Fed-up Man of Faith:
Challenging G-d in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. His website is
www.shmuley.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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