Two views of Fackenheim and related approaches

I wanted a more critical approach to Fackenheim than found in the works of Michael Morgan so I turned to David Patterson, Emil Fackenheim Syracuse UP 2008. The book won the 2008 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Modern Jewish Thought, so I assumed it would be more critical.For Patterson, Fackenheim represents a Jewish thinker who affirms the centrality of Torah, yet does not despair of philosophy the way Levinas and Soloveitchik despair. Fackenheim has the tikkun for the darkness at the heart of man as told by Joseph Conrad or Primo Levi. The height of the book for me was when Patterson used the thought of the kabbalist Yitzhak Ginzburgh to explain Hannah Arendt, that too much ego leads to absolute evil.

A different approach is offered by Konstanty Gebert. An observant Polish Jew who was instrumental as an educator and journalist in Solidarity. He now edits Midrasz, a Polish-Jewish monthly.  Interview with him

He wrote an article “Forgetting Amalek” in Responsibility in Crisis, editor David William Cohen & Michael Kennedy 183-201

Gebert writes that the Torah teaches us to wipe out the memory of Amalek but to always remember their treachery – there is a tension of memory/oblivion

Emil Fackenheim offers the 614th commandment. For Gebert, that is like the situation described by Gregory Bateson, a double bind that produces pathological disassociation or a catch -22. If the Shoah makes one turn away from religion then the 614th commandment to not give Hitler a posthumous victory by turning away. It means that one is either not true to one’s self or is helping the holocaust. One cannot turn away and if one accepts the call of the Holocaust one disassociates from oneself.

He ponders if Amalek in the Torah, as pure evil, is a construct based on their trauma and not on actual knowledge of Amalakites.  Hating Amalek was an easy thing in their post traumatic stage and the inherited trauma of their immediate descendents.

But, the Babylonians mixed all the tribes in the area through forced relocations. This nullified the commandment to eliminate the Amalek, because at that point the Amalek ceased to exist as a tribe.

Gebert thinks that the university today has a responsibility to help prevent the creation of new Amalek images. We need to separate historic understanding from justifying. We need free debate and intellectual liberty.

Now Amalek’s children themselves need to condemn the evil and work together with the children of victims. We need to remember the evil of Amalek, but the only way to truly wipe out Amalek is through reconciliation. Children of Amalek will come to naught if not helped by the children of the victims.

As a comparison, Avi Sagi sought to justify the Biblical prohibition and explain the moral problem now that we have modern morals, many commentaries on Joshua and Samuel also resort to justification and limiting, but not to reconciliation or the role of the university.  The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem, Avi Sagi, Harvard Theological Review Vol.87, No.3 (1994)

Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman taught that we have to turn to simcha to overcome the inner darkness. Then we have to return to Torah in a more open way. Reb Shlomo text.

In contrast, the Haredi world, based on a teshuvah of Rabbi Menashe Klein, overcomes the Holocaust by creating a saving remnant of true Jews. They focus only on the true Haredi Jews and limit the validity of conversions including Emil Fackenheim’s son.

One response to “Two views of Fackenheim and related approaches

  1. In many ways, I find that Fackenheim undermines the centrality of Torah. By adding he takes away.

    Unlike Berkovits who maintains Torah despite the Holocaust. Though one could argue that by Berkovits, unlike Soloveitchik, downplays the significance of Torah because Torah cannot change to incorporate the affects of the Holocaust.

    Perhaps, even Yitz Greenberg’s post-Holocaust theology could be read a very conservative, insofar as it legitimates all responses to the Holocaust, even Menashe Klein’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s