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Re/Considering Religious Traditions at the Time of the Holocaust Jewish and Christian Theological Attitudes

Tue, December 19, 8:30 to 10:00am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Marquis Salon 1

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


While the Final Solution has generated a plethora of post-Holocaust reconsiderations of both Jewish and Christian religious teachings, documented contemporaneous attitudes toward these theological doctrines have received little attention. This panel focuses on the in real time assessments of the Jewish and Catholic articles of faith: the covenantal chosenness of the Jewish people and the Jew as a despised witness. Our papers register comparable polarized patterns of responses to the evolving history of Jewish destruction: a bold re-vision and reinterpretation of the dogmatic tenets versus tenacious entrenchment in the traditional teachings.

Greenberg discusses the attitudes of Cabbalist thinkers who grounded themselves in the theology of the cosmic drama of the Lurianic of meta-history. By moving from the arena of history into a spiritual reality, they believed they could enable that reality to continue. In contrast, Horowitz examines the long poem “Lekh-lekho” [Go!] by Simkha-Bunim Shayevitch of Ghetto Lodz. The poem transforms the covenantal promise which induced Abraham’s journey to the Land. Now the Promised Land means Auschwitz, and the journey to the site of the extermination marks the death of the covenant. A similar pattern of detachment-engagement marks the responses of Catholic witnesses. Connelly discusses the absence of the theological response and the insistence on the age-old Catholic theology of contempt. Only after the war some groups started the process of theological rethinking that eventually led to Vatican II. Brenner contrasts this detached position with the case of Zofia Kossak, a Polish Catholic and a prewar antisemitic publicist, who in her open address to her fellow Catholics demanded a transformation from the doctrine of contempt toward Jews to the commandment of neighborly love. The panel raises consciousness of the complexity of the theological responses of both Jews and Christians and indicates the potential for further comparative study.

Explanation: We are aware that the panel has four presenters and we will make sure that the presentations do not exceed 15 minutes each. We are asking for the committee’s special consideration since we are convinced that the overarching parallel structure of the panel – two illustrative examples for each religious denomination – offers a perspective of particular interest which will elicit a productive discussion. Please contact us if you have any comments, or questions.

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