Who Owns The Holocaust?

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Twelve years ago, the British Union of Jewish Students launched a project called 50 Days For 50 Years, an effort to commemorate the Holocaust by having Jews learn something each day for 50 days in memory of a Jew murdered in the Holocaust. A book of 50 essays written by leading (Orthodox) rabbis and scholars was published and the program was launched. In 2005, TRIBE, a section of the British United Synagogue (Modern Orthodox, Jonathan Sacks is their chief rabbi) relaunched the program under a new name, 60 Days For 60 Years. It then changed the name to 60 Days For 6 Million and "syndicated" the program to communities around the world.

Fine. To a point. Now groups like Aish and Ohr Somayach have gotten on the bandwagon (please see the pictures above for an example), and use this program as a way to draw non-Orthodox Jews to Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodox Jews to haredism.

But the problem with this program is deeper than subterfuge from Orthodox outreach organizations. First of all, many of the Jews who died in the Holocaust were secular or non-Orthodox, and they were secular or non-Orthodox by choice. They were Jews who left the backwaters of shtetl Orthodoxy for the bright lights of the Enlightenment. Is the proper way to remember those Jews learning Orthodox theology and theodicy?

Some of you will argue it is, claiming that Orthodoxy has a monopoly on theological truth. I beg to differ. Leaving aside the overwhelming failure of Orthodox rabbinic leaders leading up to the Holocaust (please see our discussion here), I would still argue that an Orthodox monopoly on this endeavor is wrong. Why? To me, it is too much like the Mormon baptisms of long-dead non-Mormons.

The proper way to do this, I think, is to take a Jewish text we all accept and study it or sections of it. For example, take the Pentateuch. Use the text to show how traditional commentary (like Rashi and Ibn Ezra) work, show how halakha is derived, codified and implemented. Show how the Documentary Hypothesis works, how modern Biblical Criticism works, and how Orthodoxy (for the most part) rejects it.

Another possibility is to deal with the exact issues the 60 Days program does, but bring varied, pluralistic responses to each one.

Of course, when an Orthodox organization sponsors an event like this, one expects the viewpoints to be Orthodox. That is why I don’t have much of a problem when the OU sponsors 60 Days, or the British United Synagogue does. But when Orthodox outreach organizations get involved, especially when those organizations have a history of deception and when their involvement is partially masked by community organizations like the Jewish Community Relations Council (please see above pictures) or the non-Orthodox day school, I think a line has been crossed.

Should the Holocaust be used as a marketing tool to bring Jews to Orthodoxy? If you think it should, shouldn’t information like Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman’s letter (which I first read in the Aish HaTorah beis midrash) and the behavior of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe be presented right along with it?

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4 Comments

Filed under Chabad and the Holocaust, Haredim, History, Modern Orthodoxy, Outreach

4 responses to “Who Owns The Holocaust?

  1. mb

    At least the Aish and Ohr Semayech students will now be exposed to some great thinkers such as Chief Rabbi Sacks.( He has several essays in the book)

  2. DK

    Shmarya, it’s sometimes much more sinister than that — The Dark Light (Ohr Somayach) is using this Holocaust program as an entry point into Hillel. From there, they recruit college students to Ohr Somayach’s J.L.E. program in Jerusalem.

    Please help alert parents, students, and administrators what is going on in Chicago’s Hillels!

    http://kvetcher.jewschool.com/2006/12/dark-light-invasion-of-college-campuses.html

  3. It’s a nice idea and it’s always nice to see Jewish organizations working together. If you read the text of the postcard there is a mention of a “Book of Jewish Themes” provided as part fo the program. I’d reserve any negative opinion until reviewing that book. It’s not a bad idea that a resource book is provided since some participants may not have access to Jewish literature. I hope JCRC carefully vetted this book.

  4. The chapter tiltles and excerepts are on line at the 60 Days website. It’s all Orthodox.

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