Emil Ludwig Fackenheim

Emil Ludwig Fackenheim

Fackenheim, Emil Ludwig, 1916-2003, Canadian-Israeli rabbi and philosopher, b. Halle, Germany, grad. Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1939; Ph.D., Univ. of Toronto, 1945. Briefly interned at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (1938-39), he became a rabbi and left Germany for Great Britain, where he was interned as an enemy alien after World War II began. He was sent to Canada in 1940, where he was a rabbi (1943-48), then professor of philosophy (1948-84) at the Univ. of Toronto; he subsequently moved to Israel, where he was associated with the Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem. Fackenheim explored the problem of revelation and the relationship of the Jews with God, believing that the Holocaust must be understood as an imperative requiring Jews to carry on Jewish existence and that the existence of the state of Israel is a rebuke to those who view the Jewish people as obsolete or dying. Among his books are God's Presence in History (1972) and To Mend the World (1982).
Emil Ludwig Fackenheim, Ph.D (June 22, 1916September 18, 2003) was a noted Jewish philosopher and Reform rabbi.

Born in Halle, Germany, he was arrested by the Nazis on the night of November 9, 1938, known as Kristallnacht. Briefly interned at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (1938–1939), he escaped to Great Britain where his parents later joined him. Emil's older brother, who refused to leave Germany, was killed in the Holocaust.

Held by the British as an enemy alien after the outbreak of World War II, Fackenheim was sent to Canada in 1940, where he was interned at a remote internment camp near Sherbrooke, Quebec. He was freed afterwards and served as the Interim Rabbi at a small Reform Temple in Hamilton, Ontario, from 1943 to 1948. . After this he enrolled in the graduate Philosophy Department of the University of Toronto and received a Ph.D from the University of Toronto with a dissertation on Medieval Arabic Philosophy (1945) and became Professor of Philosophy (1948–1984).

Fackenheim researched the relationship of the Jews with God, believing that the Holocaust must be understood as an imperative requiring Jews to carry on Jewish existence and the survival of the State of Israel. He emigrated to Israel in 1984.

"He was always saying that continuing Jewish life and denying Hitler a posthumous victory was the 614th law", referring to the 613 mitzvot given to the Jews in the Torah. . See The 614th Commandment.

Do not give Hitler posthumous victories

Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim created this concept and advocated it as what he believed to be the "614th commandment" or "614th mitzvah". The often paraphrased idea behind that name represents an imperative that people must not act in ways that validate Hitler or his beliefs. He asserted that this should be an addition to Jewish Talmudic Law, a claim that meets strong opposition in some quarters. Despite the controversy over this part of Fackenheim's claim, the content of his message is a subject of serious dialogue both within and beyond the Jewish community. Opposition to the goals of Hitler is a moral touchstone that has implications for several sensitive issues.

A new moral imperative

Traditional Jewish law contains 613 mitzvot (commandments) as compiled by Maimonides. These laws cover all aspects of life. Fackenheim asserted that tradition could not anticipate the Holocaust, so one more law became necessary. "Thou shalt not hand Hitler posthumous victories. To despair of the God of Israel is to continue Hitler’s work for him." This proposes that people of Jewish heritage have a moral obligation to observe their faith and thus frustrate Hitler's goal of eliminating Judaism from the earth.

Fackenheim came to this conclusion slowly. A professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a Reform rabbi, he did not become a Zionist until 1967 when his reaction to the Holocaust and its implications for Jewish law crystallized:

It was at a meeting, just before the Six Day War. It was a meeting in New York, and I had to make a speech. Before that, the Holocaust had never been essential to my ideology. However, when the chairman said, 'You've got to face it,' I had to face it. I said the most important thing I ever said.

In a fuller expression of his sentiment, Fackenheim explains the concept this way:

... we are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted. To abandon any of these imperatives, in response to Hitler's victory at Auschwitz, would be to hand him yet other, posthumous victories.

Terminology

In dialogue about this subject, choice of words is a sensitive matter. Within the Jewish community, some absolutely reject Fackenheim's assertion that this could be called a commandment. Commandment 580 already forbids adding to the Torah commandments. Wording that expresses this concept in the form of a commandment may also give offense.

This becomes a contentious point because references to a "614th commandment" are not unique to Fackenheim. This concise term has other shortcomings besides the theological objection. To count this as an addition to Jewish law is an implicit statement that it applies only to Jews. Opposition to the goals of Hitler is a universal concept. Gentiles can respect it by studying the Holocaust and opposing anti-Semitism. In Christian contexts this ideal sometimes appears as the "11th commandment." Christians generally recognize 10 commandments. This may give unintentional offense to Jews who recognize a different 11th commandment and may lead to confusion with other unrelated ideas that Christians have called an 11th commandment.

Although there is no single formulation that expresses this concept in terms that avoid controversy, posthumous victories and Hitler appear in most descriptions.

Implications

Zionism

Fackenheim applied this reasoning to the state of Israel and its Law of Return as a necessity to prevent a second Holocaust. Had a Jewish state existed in the 1930s, it could have accepted Jewish refugees and rescued large numbers of people. This opinion carries clout with most Jewish people although the specifics of how to apply it in contemporary politics is a subject of debate. Boris Shusteff invokes it in a conservative opposition to Israeli withdrawal from occupied settlements.

Despite the explicit connection to Zionism, few sources mention Hitler and posthumous victories in reference to Islam. Christian Palestinian Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh of the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law in Lausanne paraphrases it ironically in a defense of Palestinian interests. Where a form of it appears in the Asia Times as part of a quote from Robert Novak, the cultural resonance appears to go unnoticed.

Holocaust remembrance

The concept encounters broad acceptance in connection with Holocaust remembrance. In the late twentieth century, efforts to document the memories of remaining Holocaust survivors echoed the notion that preserving these facts for future generations was a way to keep Hitler and his ideas in the grave. A guide for British primary school teachers gives the concept in a guide for informing children about the Holocaust. Richard A. Cohen of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte cites it in an essay, "The Holocaust is a Christian Issue."

Caution against anti-Semitism

The phrase finds resonance within Christian communities as a rebuke against anti-Semitism. Methodist minister Rev. Robert A. Hill quotes Fackenheim in a sermon with this context:

...the fact is that Christianity has been pervasively guilty of latent and patent anti-Semitism and the Gospel of John has been one of its sources. We have and can learn from this failure, by carefully monitoring our use of religious language...and our Jewish brothers and sisters can teach us to continue, with Jacob, to wrestle with God.

Conversion from Judaism

Within the broader context of religious tolerance, this concept applies to the sensitive subjects of conversion and intermarriage. Gregory Baum, a German-born Catholic theologian and Professor Emeritus in Religious Studies at McGill University in Montreal, expresses the effect of this concept on Christian views toward conversion. From the perspective of most Christian faiths, whose doctrines normally advocate conversion of nonbelievers, this represents a deep respect for Fackenheim's concept:
After Auschwitz the Christian churches no longer wish to convert the Jews. While they may not be sure of the theological grounds that dispense them from this mission, the churches have become aware that asking the Jews to become Christians is a spiritual way of blotting them out of existence and thus only reinforces the effects of the Holocaust.

Fackenheim's affirmation of his Jewish heritage, although embraced by many other Holocaust survivors, was by no means universal. Physicist Lise Meitner had been born and raised Jewish. She rejected newspaper attempts to characterize her as a Jew following the bombing of Hiroshima when the press learned that she had been the first scientist to recognize nuclear fission. Decades before Hitler rose to power she had become a Lutheran. Although the Nazis stole her savings and ruined her career she refused to work on the bomb or let Hitler define her identity.

Intermarriage

Intermarriages between Jews and non-Jews are relatively common in the United States and Canada. Several circumstances complicate these unions from the perspective of the Jewish community. Different movements within Judaism recognize different standards for conversion to Judaism and transmission of their heritage. Social pressure generally falls upon men to marry Jewish women because all movements recognize a Jewish woman's offspring as Jews.

The moral ban against giving Hitler posthumous victories can inspire conflict about the juncture of personal choice and shared heritage. Rev. Elizabeth A. Lerner, a Unitarian Universalist minister and the product of a mixed marriage, belongs to a religion that has traditionally not actively sought converts from other belief systems. Her statements express both sympathy with Holocaust victims and rancor against one of the injunction's implications:

My father was descended from a long line of rebbes, and a great grandfather was sacrificed as part of a pogrom…that was what encouraged relatives to leave for this country. While Jewish law would not consider me Jewish, Hitler's law would have put me in the death camps and with those who died. That sense of vulnerability has never left me, and I believe I share this with all Jews everywhere.

A strong advocate of personal choice, she condemns a rabbi's pressure of a Jewish man on the eve of a marriage to a Catholic bride:

They searched long and hard for a rabbi who was willing to perform the wedding...and in the car on the way to the hotel, the rabbi was talking to the groom about his imminent marriage and said to him: 'You are completing Hitler’s work.' This terrible, hateful thing he said is not actually that unusual...Jews actually say this to each other when one of them is leaving, or marrying outside the fold.

Criticism

Rabbi Toba Spitzer finds this idea compelling yet incomplete. In a Passover essay for SocialAction.com she addresses it sympathetically before embracing the Passover tradition and its Seder ritual as a more meaningful story:

...of a people born in slavery, freed by their God, and taken on a transformational journey. It is the story of the steps taken towards becoming a community bound by a holy covenant, where social relationships are defined by the Godly principles of tzedek and chesed, justice and love.

Rabbi Marc Gellman rejects it outright in a 2005 Newsweek column:

I am Jewish because my mother is Jewish, and, more importantly, because I believe Judaism is loving, just, joyous, hopeful and true. I am not Jewish, and I did not teach my children or my students to be Jewish, just to spite Hitler.
Focusing not on Fackenheim's conception of Jewish identity but on Zionism, renowned scholar Daniel Shoag presents a critique of this view from within the Jewish community in The Harvard Israel Review:

While Fackenheim's sentiments about the need for Jewish self-reliance in the form of a Jewish state are immensely popular, Fackenheim fails to locate a religious or divine source for his moral imperative. For Fackenheim, self-defense, and its manifestation in Zionism, are not religious values but rather things that precede religious value or stand outside of it. Thus Fackenheim locates the significance of the Jewish State in the Holocaust rather than in traditional Judaism...
Perhaps the strongest rejection of Fackenheim's idea of the 614th commandment comes from Rabbi Harold M. Schulweiss:

We abuse the Holocaust when it becomes a cudgel against others who have their claims of suffering. The Shoah must not be misused in the contest of one-downsmanship with other victims of brutality....The Shoah has become our instant raison d'etre, the short-cut answer to the penetrating questions of our children: 'Why should I not marry out of the faith? Why should I join a synagogue? Why should I support Israel? Why should I be Jewish?' We have relied on a singular imperative: 'Thou shalt not give Hitler a posthumous victory.' That answer will not work. To live in spite, to say 'no' to Hitler is a far cry from living 'yes' to Judaism.

Rabbi Michael Goldberg has developed this sort of criticism in his book Why Should the Jews Survive?: Looking Past the Holocaust Toward a Jewish Future.

Conclusion

During Fackenheim's last interview in 2000 he confronted the question, "Do you think Israel can ever come to the point where it doesn’t have to be in a state of resistance?"

I think it will be a very long time. But I would say this. Will the time ever come when we can say Hitler's shadow is gone? I think, yes, it will come when Israel is accepted in peace with its neighbor states. But it doesn’t look like it will happen soon.

There are few survivors of the Holocaust as of 2005, and many feel their memories and opinions deserve respect. The idea that people must not further Hitler's goals has become a meaningful part of public discourse about Judaism, Zionism, and anti-Semitism, but many who discuss it sympathetically do not embrace it wholeheartedly. Some in the newer generations who understand the Holocaust as history feel the injunction to grant Hitler no posthumous victories denies positive interpretations of the subjects it addresses.

The preceding discussion, rich as it is, does not begin to do justice to Fackenheim's achievements and teaching as a professor and scholar of philosophy (in his years as professor of Kantian, Hegelian, and German idealistic philosophy at the University of Toronto) — above all as a scholar of Hegel; nor does it do justice to his oft expressed indebtedness to Leo Strauss, who was for Fackenheim the exemplar of what it means for a Jew to pursue the philosophic vocation in the times in which we live.

For those who are interested in Fackenheim's contribution to the understanding of how strictly rationalist philosophizing can and must be a part of the crown of Jewish existence in our time, worth pondering is Leo Strauss's judgment that Fackenheim's book on Hegel — The Religious Dimension in Hegel's Thought (1967) — is the strongest alternative to Kojeve's atheistic interpretation of Hegel.

Hegel scholarship

Fackenheim's academic career was based on his competence as a professor of Hegel's philosophy. In spite of his awareness of the Holocaust, he attempted to reconcile Hegel's concept of Absolute Spirit with traditional belief in the Hebrew God. An example of his erudition is his following judgment regarding Hegel's seemingly self–contradictory wordplay: Fackenheim implies that Hegel's lack of clarity is a result of his profound depth of thought. In addition, Fackenheim presents his personal opinion of Schopenhauer's philosophy and his conclusion that elegant writing is a consequence of shallow thinking. This implication was in accord with the Prussian Ministry of Education and Medicine's edict of 1824 declaring that non–Hegelian philosophy was "shallow and superficial.

See also

Notes

Bibliography

  • Paths To Jewish Belief: A Systematic Introduction (1960)
  • Metaphysics and Historicity (1961)
  • The Religious Dimension in Hegel's Thought (1967)
  • Quest for Past and Future; Essays in Jewish Theology (1968)
  • God's Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections (1970)
  • The Human Condition After Auschwitz: a Jewish Testimony a Generation After (1971)
  • Encounters Between Judaism and Modern Philosophy: a Preface to Future Jewish Thought (1973)
  • From Bergen-Belsen to Jerusalem : contemporary implications of the holocaust (1975)
  • The Jewish return into history: reflections in the age of Auschwitz and a New Jerusalem (1978)
  • To Mend the World: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought (1982)
  • The Jewish Thought of Emil Fackenheim: A Reader (1987)
  • What is Judaism? An Interpretation for the Present Age (1988)
  • The Jewish Bible After the Holocaust (1991)
  • Jewish Philosophers and Jewish Philosophy (1996)
  • The God Within: Kant, Schelling and Historicity (1996)
  • An Epitaph for German Judaism: From Halle to Jerusalem (Fackenheim's Autobiography) (2004)

References

  • Ed. Gregory Baum, The Twentieth Century. A Theological Overview, (Orbis Books Maryknoll, New York - G.Chapman, London 1999). ISBN 1-57075-282-6
  • Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought (New York: Schocken Books, 1994). ISBN 0-253-32114-X
  • Emil Fackenheim, The Jewish Return into History: Reflections in the Age of Auschwitz and a New Jerusalem (New York: Schocken Books, 1978). ISBN 0-8052-0649-3
  • Eva Fleischer, ed., Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era? (New York: KTAV Publishing, 1977). ISBN 0-87068-499-X
  • Ruth Lewin Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). ISBN 0-520-08906-5

External links

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