Though I have not reblogged him on my site until now, for years I’ve enjoyed reading the articles of eminent Dr. Henry Abramson, focusing on Jewish history. At his site Jewishhistorylectures.org he brings some of the best modern trends in the history of Jewish thought to the web in a wonderfully readable and concise manner. I was especially taken by this recent article, about a manuscript dating from the Shoah (Holocaust) discovered stuffed in a milk can in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1950, and which has profound implications for how contemporary European Jews of the 1940s saw, from a theological perspective, the horrors that were happening to them. This is a great article describing a great new book about this text. Do check out the full article!

The Aish Kodesh died 74 years ago, martyred in the Trawniki labor camp. Now, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira is at the center of a surge of new research into the most profound questions surrounding the Holocaust. A new critical edition, prepared with phenomenal scholarly energy by Daniel Reiser, demonstrates that we have just started to plumb the depth of the thought of this twentieth century thinker.

First-generation Holocaust scholars like Lucy Dawidowicz, Raul Hilberg, and Yehuda Bauer described Hitler’s rise to power, the internal mechanics of the Nazi bureaucracy, and explored the forms of Jewish resistance. The impact of the Shoah on Jewish theology—another key avenue of research—was examined by thinkers like Emil Fackenheim, Richard Rubinstein, Eliezer Berkovits, Yitz Greenberg, and of course Elie Wiesel.

The second generation of scholarship emerged at the end of the twentieth century. This class of scholars—Christopher Browning, Gershon Greenberg and Michael Marrus, to name a few—challenged initial premises on the basis of closer examination of archival data, case studies, and interdisciplinary approaches. One question, however, received many responses but no definitive answer: where was God during the Holocaust?

Rabbi Shapira’s manuscript, discovered in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1950, promised a singular, compelling perspective. The original 1960 printing of his work under the title Aish Kodesh (Holy Fire) attracted much attention. But the transcription was flawed, and the errors were compounded in a 2007 reprint. Much of the work’s moral and intellectual value was therefore missed or distorted.

A new generation of Holocaust scholars now has unprecedented access to the mind of this Hasidic Rabbi, and by extension to his beleaguered community in the hellish environment of wartime Warsaw. Reiser’s two-volume critical edition is published under Derashot mi-Shenot Ha-Za’am, “Sermons from the Years of Rage.” His prodigious efforts should form the basis of an entirely new sub-discipline, the very contours of which have yet to be defined. Reiser’s work isn’t merely a new and improved edition—it’s a revolution.

In his work, Reiser chronicles the original difficult process of transcription by four elders of the surviving Piaseczno Hasidim in Israel. Back then, the editors were often hampered by technological limitations, struggling to read the Rebbe’s cramped and idiosyncratic calligraphy off poor quality microfilm. The editors of this early edition were also motivated by pious considerations—some of the more arresting theological statements of the Rebbe, as well as pointed criticisms of the state of Hasidic life, were omitted. These and many other changes were made without editorial comment, effectively closing off the Rebbe’s thought process to later readers.

Reiser has, through stubborn and plodding scholarship, reversed these errors. His first volume presents the corrected text with full scholarly apparatus. More remarkable—and inevitable, from a scholarly perspective—is the second volume. This work is a facsimile edition, presenting a high-resolution photograph of the original handwritten manuscript on one page, and a painstaking transcription—in multiple colors and superscript—on facing pages.

How does this reflect on our central question of where was God during the Holocaust? Here, deciphering the Rosetta Stone was easier. Reiser has provided us a powerful telescope to probe the dark universe, but he has not attempted to locate the blackest hole of all.

Full Article: Deciphering the Rosetta Stone of the Holocaust

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