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Did God save the Jews during the Holocaust?

June 9, 2011 – 6:12 pm47 Comments

A text relevant to the topic

Geoff Bloch was recently tasked with arguing the case for the affirmative at a debate put on by the JBD of Melbourne, on the topic of “Did God save the Jews during the Holocaust?”

This is not a debate about whether God saved individual Jews during the Holocaust. It is a debate about whether God saved “the Jews”. The definite article makes a significant difference. “The Jews” connotes the collective – Am Yisrael. Our focus must therefore be on whether God saved Am Yisrael during the Holocaust and I will present conclusive proof that He did.

However, before doing so, I would first like to explain why, in any event, it would be difficult, if not impossible, realistically to debate whether God saved individual Jews. The affirmative side could not possibly nominate which Jews may have been saved by God and which Jews may have survived by reason of their own wits, by the intervention of others or by sheer luck. How can anyone possibly know what role God played in any particular case? The negative side could harp on endlessly about the fact that God did not save millions of Jews. Even those naturally inclined to the affirmative side in this debate must acknowledge that God did not save six million individual Jews.

So let us therefore focus on the debate topic as stated and review the conclusive proof that God indeed saved Am Yisrael during the Holocaust.

The sheer scale and technology of the mass murder is what sets the Holocaust apart but it was not the first and only mass murder in Jewish history. Am Bnei Yisrael is first mentioned by our arch-enemy, Pharoah, after Joseph’s death. He issued an edict condemning Jewish males to be drowned in the Nile at birth and God knows how many more died from avodah kasha (slave labour). So from the very first moment we were referred to as Am Bnei Yisrael, we were targeted for annihilation. The destructions of the two Temples by the Babylonians and the Romans were accompanied by the murder of God knows how many more Jews. The list of our violent adversaries is a long one which also includes the Persians, the Greeks, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Chmelnitzky and many other pogroms. Throughout history, Am Yisrael has been targeted and Jews have been systematically murdered.

So our debate topic could just as well have been: “Did God save the Jews in Ancient Egypt?” or “Did God save the Jews during the Babylonian exile?” or “Did God save the Jews during the Inquisition?”. Our debate topic which relates to the Holocaust is therefore a variation on the same theme.

There is a very clear pattern of subjugation and survival over the broad sweep of Jewish history, of which the Holocaust is but the most recent example. We read on seder night: B’chol dor vador omdim aleinu lechaloteinu, v’hakadosh baruch hu matzileinu miyadam – In every generation they rise up to annihilate us, but God saves us from their hands. Every time a nation attacks the Jews, Jews die but Am Yisrael survives. Part of the pattern is that God always exacts midah k’neged midah (measure for measure) – Am Yisrael survives, but the attacking regime dies! Where is the great Babylonian empire? Where are the 127 Persian provinces? How about the once mighty Roman Empire? Or the Egyptian empire which was the great power in biblical times? The Third Reich was supposed to last a thousand years. They have all vanished. But Am Bnei Yisrael has remained and seen off all these antagonists, despite our tiny numbers. This miraculous pattern of subjugation and survival has been repeated over and over again for nearly 4,000 years. We are a part of that pattern and therefore part of the miracle!

Our survival defies all secular logic. We should have vanished thousands of years ago. But it is unarguable that our survival is consistent with God’s biblical promise that we will always endure. God has promised that we as a nation will never be utterly forsaken. What is the source of the biblical promise? It goes right back to the very beginning – to the days of Abraham.

Vahakimoti et briti beini u’veinecha u’ven zaracha achareicha l’dorotam livrit olam – I will establish an everlasting covenant with you and your descendants – lihyot lecha leilohim u’lezaracha achareicha – to be your God for all time. God then repeats the promise to the yet unborn Yitzchak: Vahakimoti et briti ito liv’rit olam l’zar’o acharav – I will establish an everlasting covenant with Yitzchak and his descendants (Bereshit 34).

There are many references to the brit olam, to God’s everlasting covenant, throughout our Scriptures.

I’m a barrister. I love a good circumstantial case. A strong circumstantial case is the best proof there is. If something fits a pattern, a modus operandi, it can be utterly persuasive beyond all reasonable doubt.

The divine promise that the Jews will always survive even in our darkest hour obviously does not confer invulnerability upon each and every Jew. But this does not constitute proof supporting the negative side in this debate. Jews being murdered is much more a problem for man than for God. God gave man the free will to build hospitals and schools or gas chambers and crematoria. The Holocaust is all about man’s inhumanity to man. It is not about God forsaking Am Yisrael. That is why the oft-heard question: “Where was God during the Holocaust?” is purely an emotional cry. It is not a logical question (as the social commentator Denis Prager has put it). The logical question is “Where was Man during the Holocaust?”

Could God have created a world in which the Holocaust could not have happened? A world without evil? An all-powerful God no doubt could have done so, but it would be a very different world indeed from the one we know. It would be a place where man did not have the free will to act as he chooses and would be reduced to behaving on instinct alone, like the rest of the animal kingdom. It logically follows that the great social polarities of good and evil could not exist in that world, just as they do not exist in the animal kingdom.

“Good” contemplates the possibility of “evil”. You cannot have the one without the other. So in order to have a world in which “good” is the divine paradigm to which mankind should aspire, that world must, by definition, also enable man to act unethically. So in this world, it is inevitable that there will be terrible episodes of evil. That is the world God created and why, perhaps, God does not intervene to prevent evil even though, from reading the scriptures, it is clear He abhors it.

Man’s ability to be taught the difference between good and evil is therefore ultimately what separates us from all other living creatures. Living in a society which values and esteems righteousness and goodness – concepts unknown in the animal kingdom – is what makes our lives worth living. We would NOT choose to live in a world in which those concepts were unknown, despite the superficial attraction of a world devoid of evil.

There is a powerful concept in the Torah known in Latin as imitato dei – imitating God. We are commanded to imitate God by the injunction Kedoshim tihyu, ki kadosh ani Hashem Eloheichem – You shall be holy because I am holy. It is one of the cornerstones of our obligations as Jews. That is why I have said that “good” is the divine paradigm to which mankind should aspire.

We can never know all the ways in which God may have brought about the defeat of Hitler and Nazism. Did God have a hand in Hitler’s inexplicable strategic error in advancing against Russia to the east rather than against England to the west when England was on her knees? Did He have a hand in ensuring that the USA did not maintain an isolationist policy but finally joined in the Allied military campaign which otherwise might not have prevailed?

It really doesn’t matter that we cannot be certain about precisely what measures God took to save the Jews during the Holocaust. We have all the proof we need. We have the strongest possible circumstantial case – 4,000 years of Jewish history! And even if that were not enough (and it certainly is), we can reflect on the miraculous fact that in barely 3 years, we, “the Jews”, moved from our darkest hour to the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the modern State of Israel after 2,000 years.

No other nation on earth has survived so long let alone re-established its homeland. No other nation on earth has been persecuted so relentlessly yet seen off all their enemies. But then again, no other nation on earth received the divine promise that they would always endure.

It is fitting to conclude with the timeless question posed by Mark Twain in 1899: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed and made a vast noise and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

In my eyes, that question is rhetorical because it suggests its own, obvious, answer, namely that our survival is due to the brit olam, to God’s eternal promise that Am Bnei Yisrael will always endure. And God kept that promise, yet again, when he saved the Jews during the Holocaust.

Geoffrey Bloch is a Melbourne based barrister.

For the podcast of the original debate, including Mark Baker‘s delivery for the negative, click here.

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47 Comments »

  • Larry Stillman says:

    One should not conflate the merits of divine relationships (personal god, interventionist god, removed god), and the alleged truth of biblical events and what follows thereafter.

    But there is one key issue before we get into that argument. Jews–at least Jews as we know them haven’t been around for 4 thousand years. If you believe that Jews have been around for 4000 years, that places fully formed Jews just after the 3rd dynasty of Ur, or even Abraham as the ancestor of it all. There is absolutely no historical evidence for such a position, though it is clear that his story and placement have something to do with Amorite migrations with all sorts of backwards archaisms and geographical conflations in the stories around him. Such grand statements about the long-history of the Jews (and I am sure I have heard the claim of 5000 years at times) only lead to an exaggerated sense of historical existence, when other groups can probably claim the religious continuity — Hindus or Zorastrians.

    For the sake of common sense, Abram/Abraham and the patriarchal and matriarchal narratives need to be seen in the context of the theological history and argument of ancient Israel, which belongs at least a thousand years later. But even then, 3000 years ago, can we speak of ‘Jews’ Judaism as we know it now? No. The narratives probably got fixed in the late first millennium BCE (with various sources and tendencies conflated for political-religious reasons). Some books and stories were included, others dropped. And the Judaism we know, ‘normative Judaism’ is a creation of at least the period after the destruction of the Second Temple and the period of the Talmud and it has been changing ever since.

    So where does that leave us with respect to the idea of ‘covenant’ and an eternal relationship with god? It is something that has been important to Jews in the past and continues in various ways to be important to Orthodoxy, but it is not the machine behind the forces of history and the rise and fall of empires.

    I’ve been reading Descartes, and even he, the master of rational thought was trapped by having to have his god as the final cause for the unknowable, even though now, so much has been revealed through modern ways of thinking and discovery. To think, as Geoff Bloch argues, that there is an unknowable god somehow working to determine the outcomes of war is quite bizarre, because that the leaves ‘his’ mysteries with the most shocking other outcomes in human history–other genocides, terrible natural disasters, as the results of a dice play by a deity. We have to remove such a primitive notion of god from the pattern of human existence.

    History, as Irving Howe put it so bluntly, is a bitch.

    In the first millennium, the problem for Israel and Judah was that they were small ‘ethnic’ kingdoms in the middle of the freeway between the competing great powers (and we really don’t have a perfect understanding of who and what they were, as well as the period before then). After then, when religion and nationalism became important in Hellenistic and Roman times, Jews became a spectacularly persecutable minority group in the Middle East and the West. With the rise of the Church and Israel, a dumping ground for man-made theological adversity and the evils of anti-antisemitism. But I would leave god as the ‘person’ up there or out there out of the causation equation and indeed as the force that ‘rescues’ us.

    So what is special about Jewish history then? What makes Jews and Judaism so distinctive in comparison to other groups is that it has managed to preserve its form of history and theology in writing–preserving its story as winner despite adversity and this has influenced world culture beyond all measure, and this profoundly influences how ‘we’ see the world.

    But I suspect that throughout history, other groups have not been so lucky and not able to frame their story in a theologically causal or redemptive way. When they have claimed the effect of redemption, they have borrowed from ‘us’. As examples of godless but real history, wWe only need to think of the genocide in Rwanda as part of a long cycle of enmity between two ethnic groups shrouded in claim and counter claim, and the effects of colonialism. In China, millions died for the cause of the emperors and Mao, and Stalin did his bit. As another example, the enmity in the Balkans is based upon narratives of origin, uniqueness and a history of persecution unmatched by any other nation (I am thinking of the Serbs), wrapped up with their version of religion. Leave god, covenants, or redemption out of any of this, for Jews or anyone else, and that includes the Shoah.

  • Malki Rose says:

    So Larry what, then, is the answer to Twain (and Bloch’s) final question?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    As far as I am concerned, it is all based on a false premise about the nature of divinity. It is a massive universe, we make what we want of it. It you want to believe that there is someone pulling the strings for an ‘am segula (special truth claim) with a special truth claim you can. The Jews are a unusual and generally tight minority group that have been on the outer for a long time and we’ve been lucky and known how to play politics as well.

    That’s all.

  • geoff bloch says:

    Hi Larry,

    I enjoyed reading your comments which obviously took some time and effort. The only point I wish to make is a very fundamental one, which does NOT involve taking issue with any of your arguments.

    The point is this: Although I don’t know you and therefore don’t know your religious orientation, your comments reflect the kind of rational, reasoned arguments one would expect from a secularist/atheist rather than by a person who believes in God or believes that God has played a part in Jewish history.

    Of course the obvious argument the negative could have embraced in this debate is that God does not exist – i.e. in order to argue that God didn’t save the Jews during the Holocaust (or any other time), all you really need to do is to argue against the existence of God.

    What I thought I would let you know is that, to his credit, Mark Baker did not take up any of the arguments you have outlined because both of us approached the debate from the perspective that the existence of God is a given. In that light, I think you would concede that the topic becomes a much more difficult one to grapple with and I would urge you to listen to some of things which Mark had to say which I personally found extremely interesting. I think you would enjoy the podcast. Frosh has given the link to it in his introduction.

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Sure, I just see the issue from a very different perspective, one which some theologians would also argue is eminently defensible, that even if there is something out there, it/she/he has no effect. I will listen to the poddie.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    There was a very similar discussion some time ago on Galus

    http://galusaustralis.com/2009/11/2375/no-need-for-religion/

  • Before we can answer this question with any certainty, it would be useful to apply a little scientific rigour to it. I’d like to look at the question in terms of classical logic, specifically using Modus Ponens.

    If P, then Q.
    P.
    Therefore, Q.

    where P is a premise and Q is a consequent.

    It might help if I first provide a simple example, to help explain what I mean:

    An example of an argument that fits the form modus ponens:

    If today is Tuesday, then I will go to work.
    Today is Tuesday.
    Therefore, I will go to work.

    This argument is valid, but this has no bearing on whether any of the statements in the argument are true; for modus ponens to be a sound argument, the premises must be true for any true instances of the conclusion. An argument can be valid but nonetheless unsound if one or more premises are false; if an argument is valid and all the premises are true, then the argument is sound. For example, I might be going to work on Wednesday. In this case, the reasoning for my going to work (because it is Wednesday) is unsound. The argument is not only sound on Tuesdays (when I go to work), but valid on every day of the week.

    Here, the question is:

    Did God save the Jews during the Holocaust?

    Let’s set P = “God exists” and Q = “God might have saved the Jews during the Holocaust” and then phrase the question in terms of Modus Ponens:

    If God exists, then God might have saved the Jews during the Holocaust.

    Now, who can help with the first part of this proof?

    Michael.

  • Ari says:

    Michael,
    Instead of putting a wikipedia link and then copying out the entire link as your post perhaps you would sound more pretentious if you simply said “based on modus ponens” and then added the link only.
    Or perhaps instead of going to all that trouble you could have read Geoff Blochs response to Larry.

  • Michael,

    Your consequent in the modus ponens form is that “God might have saved the Jews during the Holocaust” (my emphasis). Unlike the consequent in the Wikipedia example (“I will go to work”), yours isn’t definite, just speculative. Would anyone make a logical argument of the form “If it’s Sunday, then I might go out for lunch with friends”? You’ve incorrectly applied a scientifically rigorous device to twist the debate into something completely different.

    At least Larry does this with some degree of academic rigour, although he too completely misunderstands that the topic presupposes the existence of God.

  • And if the presupposition is false, the entire discussion is irrelevant.

  • Michael – check out the very definition of http://www.thefreedictionary.com/presupposition. It’s something we all assume is true coming into the debate! When we decide to debate the existence of God, I’ll be sure to invite you.

  • I question how anyone can accept that a god will cause millions of people to be murdered and then go on to question if the same god saved the very people he just destroyed. I’d be calling that god an arsehole, if I believed in it.

  • Reality Check says:

    This is totally obscene. To argue whether G’d saved us from the Holocaust Go ask the victims, the ones thrown into the gas chambers or the women who were raped ask them if G’d saved them. Get david Irving to join in. Haven’t you f..k heads anything else to debate for f..k sakes.

  • geoff bloch says:

    Dear Reality Check,

    I may be wrong but it seems to me from your post that you have neither read the opinion piece nor listened to the podcast. That is because you have completely misinterpreted the debate topic. Your comment (that we should “go ask the victims, the ones thrown into the gas chambers or the women who were raped”) would have some validity had the topic been “Did God save Individual Jews During the Holocaust” but that was not the debate topic.

    The topic is completely different, namely whether God saved us as a nation. Even a cursory reading of the first paragraph would have alerted you to this.

    It would be nice to read a bona fide intellectual attempt to grapple with the arguments I have raised on behalf of the affirmative side and to see my arguments deconstructed. Instead, all I have read so far is the questioning of God’s existence (which is irrelevant for the reason David Werdiger succinctly explained) or arguments based on a misunderstanding the topic.

    I wait with interest to see if any such attempt is forthcoming.

    Geoff

  • How can you have a truly intellectual discussion on a topic that is based on an as yet to be established premise?

  • geoff bloch says:

    Hi Michael,

    I should have included you in my earlier reply to Reality Check because you, too, have failed to grapple with the topic.

    You have posed the question “how anyone can accept that a god will cause millions of people to be murdered and then go on to question if the same god saved the very people he just destroyed.” That does not grapple at all with my arguments because I did NOT base any part of my argument on the premise that God caused millions to be murdered or destroyed anyone. To the contrary, I have advanced the argument that Man, not God, perpetrated the atrocity.

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    Geoff,
    The givens for the debate were that God exists and that the Jews survived. In considering a possible causal link between the two (the affirmative case), there are only 3 possibilities: either God is responsible for everything that happens, for nothing that happens, or for just some things.
    If God is responsible for everything, then that obviously includes the surviving remnant of Jews, and so God could be considered to have saved them. But this leaves you to deal with the problems of theodicy posed by the six million. Or God might be responsible for nothing in history- a “set and forget” deist God. Both options seem to be unengaging and not very Jewish world views.
    You take the more interesting position that God is responsible for only some things, and then you need to establish that saving the Jews was one such thing, using two lines of evidence, which are to some extent mutually supportive.
    The first is Torah evidence in the form of the covenant. If the covenant is accepted on the basis of religious conviction, then probably no other argument is necessary- and if it is not accepted, your second line of argument probably wont stand on its own.
    This second line of evidence is the historical durability of the Jews against staggering odds. This relies on the notion that things which appear to be highly unlikely, or beyond conventional explanation, require us to postulate divine intervention. However, one might equally argue that the burden of Jewish suffering over the millennia is also highly improbable- (Raimond Gaita, just last weekend at the Aftermath Conference, alluded to an irreducible mystery at the heart of anti-Semitic evil). So on this logic one might have to invoke God’s intervention to account for the bewildering and inexplicable array of tragedies in Jewish history- which takes to back to a position you want to avoid.
    Geoff, I really enjoyed listening to both positions in the debate, the real problem for me with the case for the affirmative is not one of invalid syllogisms or the limits of inductive logic, but rather the failure to do justice to the overwhelming nature of the event in human terms. And that is where Mark’s presentation-non-linear and full of human struggle and bewilderment and reluctance to answer the question in simple terms- was ultimately more convincing.

  • Geoff,

    In response to your comment:

    I have advanced the argument that Man, not God, perpetrated the atrocity.

    I would put it to you that if man perpetrated the atrocity, man is also responsible for his survival.

    Human life has been on this planet for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, clearly predating Judaism and the god of the Jews.

    Man has clearly survived through all manner of circumstances to get us to where we are today, and I am quite comfortable to accept that this is simply a result of the survival instinct that is part of our DNA.

    I don’t see any place in this picture where we need to hand responsibility over to a supernatural deity for the existence of any group of people on this planet.

    Michael.

  • Marky says:

    Michael writes “….clearly predating…”

    How do you know this so clearly about G-D?

  • The story hadn’t been made up that far ago.

  • Marky says:

    What story?

  • Good question. You’ll know when you work it out. :)

  • Marky says:

    I think I know what you mean, but I would prefer not to respond to riddles, just in case I misunderstood.

  • Andrew & Geoff,

    Do you reject the notion that “God is responsible for everything” because you can’t countenance a God that allows so many tragedies to happen in the world (particularly to His own people)?

    I got the impression from the debate that Geoff & Mark actually had a similar view as to the nature of God’s relationship with the world.

  • I’m waiting for the Disney 3D version of this fantasy story. It should be quite entertaining. Will they get Robin Williams to do the voice of god?

    I’ve never heard a bigger load of nonsense in my life. Anyone who believes that a god will come along and save the Jewish people after he’s just sat back and casually watched 6 million Jews, not to mention the rest of the people, get murdered is more deluded than I thought. And you call yourselves intellectuals?

    No god has ever existed. No god has ever saved a single person on this planet.

    You’re all full of it.

    Michael.

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    David

    I cant countenance people who allow so many tragedies to happen- I think if we sort ourselves out God will look after himself

  • Marky says:

    A world without G-D sounds ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense. Life just came at the same time as the heat of the sun is just the right distance away not to burn and not to freeze us! And all the other billion things that make the world liveable. Eyesight, hearing, food from the ground. Could go on all day. Other theories have not found any answers(every second day they change).

  • Michael,

    You say “… I am quite comfortable to accept that this is simply a result of the survival instinct that is part of our DNA.”

    Would you then attribute the survival of the Jewish race for so many thousands of years despite continued attempts to destroy us as a result of a superior “survival instinct”? Surely that would make Jews genetically or evolutionarily superior? ;)

  • geoff bloch says:

    Hi David,

    You have sought Andrew’s and my responses to whether we reject the notion that “God is responsible for everything”. I will, of course, answer only for myself.

    Your question is based on the assumption that we perhaps “can’t countenance a God that allows so many tragedies to happen in the world (particularly to His own people)”.

    I will answer your question by explaining why I reject your assumption – i.e. why I CAN and DO countenance a God who allows tragedies to happen.

    What I tried to explain in my address at some length is that once God decided to invest Man with the free will to act as he chooses, it logically follows that Man may exercise his free will ethically or unethically. Because the great social polarities of good and evil are a logical and natural consequence of Man having free will, it is inevitable that there will be episodes of horrific evil when Man decides to act unethically. It is therefore perfectly logical that God WILL allow tragedies to happen.

    I therefore see no tension at all between a loving God who values and commands us to act ethically and a God who allows tragedies to happen. To my mind they are the two sides of the one coin.

    Which brings me to your actual question. I suppose it could be argued that because God created a world in which Man is free to murder and commit all sorts of atrocities, God is responsible for those murders and atrocities. But that would amount to an argument why God should not have created a world in which Man has free will (which I must admit is a reasonable argument to make but one which I would not support).

    I hold that the alternative is far worse… that we would NOT want to live in a world free of evil because that must, by definition, also be a world which would not esteem and value righteousness and goodness, concepts which, as I have stated, make our lives worth living.

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    Geoff, how does your model account for earthquakes, drought and smallpox – these are sources of suffering not predicated on the need for a world with human free will. If you reply that God puts them there as tests of the human spirit, then you allow for a God that directly creates harm (for his own “good” reasons), which opens the discussion to (though obviously does not prove) God being responsible for human mediated suffering. If you say some or all such events are random natural occurrences then you have a complicated cosmic model which starts to seriously chip away at the notion of Godly omnipotence.

  • Reality Check says:

    Hi Geoff,

    That’s exactly how I read it; namely, did G’d save the Jewish people? It’s like the cavelry coming to the rescue after half the town has been wiped out. So you’re arguing about the role of G’d and using the Holocaust to do so. The Holocaust which saw the barbaric murder and abuse of millions. That is why I find this debate offensive. Did G’d save the Jewish nation from the Holocaust? meaning, justifing G’d’s role in the Holocaust and it really wasn’t so bad because, after all, G’d did save us. Yeah right!

  • Reality Check says:

    That’s exactly how I read it; namely, did G’d save the Jewish people? It’s like the cavelry coming to the rescue after half the town has been wiped out. So you’re arguing about the role of G’d and using the Holocaust to do so. The Holocaust which saw the barbaric murder and abuse of millions. That is why I find this debate offensive. Did G’d save the Jewish nation from the Holocaust? meaning, justifing G’d’s role in the Holocaust and it really wasn’t so bad because, after all, G’d did save us. Yeah right!

  • geoff bloch says:

    Dear Andrew and Reality Check,

    I will respond to your various questions but would ask that you wait for a day or two because I have a trial beginning tomorrow and am about to start witness conferences which will last well into the night. I’ll reply as soon as I can.

    Geoff

  • Andrew – God created a world, and part of that world is what we call “nature” – the way things ordinarily happen. Nature includes disease and disasters, and includes human free will do evil if they so choose. You can view all bad (and good) that happens as a test from God, but not doing so doesn’t reduce His omnipotence. Check out http://jbdmelbourne.podbean.com/2011/04/04/rav-mosheh-lichtenstein-floods-fires-tsunamis-a-jewish-response/ which is another discussion about the role of God in the world.

    RC – the topic does not dare suggest that ensuring the continuity of the Jews despite the destruction of the Holocaust is “justification” for God or a mitigation of the evil He allowed. I find that notion as disgusting as you do. It seeks to probe the nature of God’s relationship with a world that is imperfect and where terrible things happen.

  • Reality Check says:

    And without G’d’s help the Germans would have won the war. Primo Levi wrote that he couldn’t as others did prey to G’d to save them during the selections because why didn’t G’d save the others, and what about the next selection. We can’t argue if G’d saved the Jewish nation because every individual is as important as the whole nation, and that’s another reason why this debate is so absurd and so stupid.

  • Geoff took great pains at the outset to note that the debate topic was about the Jews. It’s not about whether God saved any specific individual; that perspective forces us to consider the millions He sent to their deaths, which you validly point out is very challenging. Rather, this takes the macro view of the survival of Jews as a nation.

  • My earlier comment that man can take credit for his own survival does not seem to have attracted much interest in this discussion. I put it that this is the only valid explanation for the continuity of the survival of any nation of people on this planet.

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    David, thanks, but I’m not sure how your comment to me relates to my query to Geoff- are you suggesting that natural disasters and human evil are just different manifestations of the natural world that God established? That seems to differ from Geoff’s position, where I hear him saying that human freedom is a special case – an exception within the world of natural causality – which is why God can “disavow any knowledge of our actions” and not be considered responsible for Auschwitz in the way he can be for an earthquake.

  • Whilst I, and perhaps no one else reading this blog, sees this as an anti-intellectual discussion replete with a degree of depravity and arrogance, I am left pondering this question based on the author’s statement:

    I will respond to your various questions but would ask that you wait for a day or two because I have a trial beginning tomorrow and am about to start witness conferences which will last well into the night. I’ll reply as soon as I can.

    Is the author a self-determining being? Is he able to make his own informed decisions about his professional life, or is he “divinely guided” to making the decisions he arrives at?

    If the former, then I’d be curious to hear an explanation as to why his personal experience is different to that of the Jewish people post-Holocaust. And if the latter, then I’d be even more curious to understand how come he doesn’t take full responsibility for his decisions and thought processes.

    Michael.

  • geoff bloch says:

    Dear Andrew,

    You are essentially testing the model I outlined (namely that God indeed countenances, although abhors, suffering caused by man’s inhumanity to man), by asking me to reconcile that model with the axiom that God indeed countenances human suffering caused by earthquakes, drought and disease (i.e. causes which have nothing to do with harm caused by Man exercising his free will).

    In trying to grapple with your thought-provoking challenge, may I say two things at the outset? First, although your challenge is perfectly fair in the context of this debate, it ranges far beyond the issues Mark and I were immediately concerned with. Secondly, I do not pretend that my response to you represents an authoritative religious position because I am altogether unqualified to give one. I can, however, express my own views, for what they are worth.

    I don’t think my model needs to account for human suffering caused by Acts of God. My model is limited to human suffering caused by acts of Man and hopefully goes some way to explain why, in my view, God countenances or permits such suffering. While I readily concede that a consideration of the latter may give rise to a contemplation of the former, it is not a logical imperative that my model can only stand if it can be shown to be compatible in every respect with human suffering howsoever caused.

    I am well aware that that may not be an intellectually satisfying response, because it leaves unanswered the riveting question as to why God created a world in which random suffering exists, if He is truly omnipotent and presumably loves His creations. If you are asking me to answer that specific question, my answer is a simple one: “I just don’t know”. I readily concede, however, that in the absence of faith or belief, many of those who are dissatisfied with leaving such a significant question “hanging in the air” and who believe that there must always be an answer to every question, are very likely to convince themselves that God does not exist.

    May I say, parenthetically, that that is one of the things I liked about Mark Baker’s address – If I understood Mark correctly, he is perfectly prepared to occupy a space where not every question must be categorically answered nor every apparent challenge or contradiction clearly resolved. That’s not a bad place to be, so long as the desire to acknowledge every argument does not render one incapable of making a value judgment and preferring one argument over another when it is important to reach a clear decision on an important issue.

    To answer your follow up query, no, I would never hold that “God puts (earthquakes, drought and disease) there as tests of the human spirit”. The image of an all-powerful, narcissistic God playing some kind of ghastly, sadistic game to test inferior beings of limited understanding, is quite repulsive to me.

    Regards,

    Geoff

    Dear Reality Check,

    You have attributed a conclusion to me which I simply did not draw. It is absurd and offensive to suggest that “the Holocaust… really wasn’t so bad because, after all, God did save us.”

    Whether you like it or not, the brit olam is at least consistent with our survival. Some of us believe that that is precisely why we have survived against all odds. But holding that belief is not synonymous with a belief that annihilation is fine so long as a remnant remains which can rebuild.

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Andrew,

    Yes – I was suggesting that such a thing could be the case according to Geoff. Of course he himself replied differently.

    Is the main issue reconciling our notion of God being innately good with all the awful things that happen in the world?

    Michael,

    I responded to your comment about survival

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    Hi Geoff , thanks for taking the time to reply in the midst of work pressures – I think we are probably in agreement – the thrust of my posts was to nudge the conversation in the direction of the “I dont know” which feels so much more apt for a topic of such extremity and paradox. As you imply, a position of not “creatively not knowing” as espoused by Mark, is somehow more satisfying when it comes to such matters. But then you cant be held responsible for a debating position given to you by David.
    Regards
    Andrew
    PS I wasnt intending to imply that lack of intellectual tidiness or hanging questions should be determinants of belief/non belief in God

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    Hi David
    no the Good God/bad events conundrum wasnt the issue for me here
    thanks
    andrew

  • Reality Check says:

    I attributed to you, Geoff, a conclusion that you implied, not that you drew. If you want to attribute to the Almighty all the times in our history where we survived against all the odds, and want to include the Holocaust, then that it is devoid of any intelligent discourse and belongs to the methology of our tenacity as a stiff neck people and has nothing to do with G’d’s intervention.

  • Adam Neira says:

    There were a multitude of reasons why the Holocaust happened. G-d is not to blame. Adolph Hitler was a satanic fool who had very little chance of conquering the world and creating an eternal Third Reich. As an example the Barbarossa Campaign was just another one of his delusional ideas. He exhibited anti-Jewish tendencies twenty years before the Eastern Front. With his increasing madness came an accelerated desire to kill off the Jews. All behaviour is a result of mindset and setting. There are rational and logical reasons why his rule came about. All acts of violence, whether they be personal or national in scope, can be deconstructed. With the correct modalities in place on the world stage there will never be another Hitler, bizrat hashem. All empires or regimes since year dot that have based their modus operandi on violence have failed. The Messianic Kingdom will be based on a totally different underlying set of assumptions about the universe and the true nature of humankind.

  • Adam Neira says:

    To give people a hint about what I am alluding to in the above post Moses at the end of his incredible life reiterated to his people the terrible consequences that would befall them if they failed to observe the Mitzvot.

    There is one Mitzvot that attracted little attention in all the centuries leading up to the period of 1933 to 1945 yet is the most important of all. Many people even in the twenty first century still have a problem with it. There are whole tomes written on the correct way to pray or how long your tzitzit must be. Relevance escapes many.

    And that is the prohibition against child sexual abuse.

    Denial is like the nothing in the Never-ending Story. It has darkened the realm of human affairs since the dawn of time.

    A saying from a wise sage comes to mind…

    “It doesn’t matter what you think we will all know the truth and what is correct in the end !”

    The “end” is nigh…

    P.S. Many people hated Moses because he told the truth.

  • Eigthman says:

    The history of the Jews is certainly a signpost for the existence of God.

    That is about where it stops as far as an understanding about God is concerned.

    Orthodox Judaism makes absurd claims and presumptions about what God does or doesn’t want, His attributes and a host of other conclusions that amounts to little more than refined paganism.

    The Holocaust is certainly a matter of man’s deficiencies. The attempt to bring God into the equation is just another idle anthropomorphism.

    As far as Descarte is concerned, as a principal apologist for the Catholic Church, his metaphysical musings are likely compromised.

    The narrative of normative Judaism only has a few elements that run through the entire time span. Much of it is imported and conflicting nonsense. The rabbis behave just like any other class of religious overseers from antiquity. The trial of God that underscores this discussion presumes a classical position on His operations. That is a problem from the start.

    If Abraham was a single family when he left his home circa 1800BCE, I would think that 800 years would be the minimum amount of time required before he could spawn a national entity. What has been claimed to have been written and said along the way is about as reliable as any other human catalogue, perhaps less so in some respects.

    The choice of ‘responsible for everything’, ‘responsible for some’ or ‘responsible for none’ is just an expression of the limits of 2 dimensional human understanding. This premise supposes that God is even interested or present within those terms and parameters of that understanding.

    Reducing the inquiry to these limitations is idle and further accentuates human limitations. Some questions must draw blanks and are not really worth expending effort on other than as a mental exercise. Better to play chess.

    Meaning must be obtained from the extant facts. These do not so much as tell us ‘how’ but ‘what’.

    The covenantial dynamic between God and Abraham is, by any measure of the understanding, an irresistable fact. Few Jews or non-Jews are willing to make this concession.

    But if God is even less than half of what He is presumed and imagined to be by the established religions, no-one will be able to ignore His will.

    As for the musings of Mark Baker on this topic, I am inclined to think that after many readings of his published political ‘reasonings’ on topical issues that these do not serve as any recommendation to merit any indulgence of his views on anything much else, so this post was made without the benefit of his insights.

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