Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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Holiness and Holocaust:
The Jewish Writing of Hugh
o b s e s s e d
b y
t h e
problem of evil and the Holocaust, Hugh
Nissenson’s literary vision comprises an extended midrash on
the terrible dilemma of faith in the century of Auschwitz: is
it possible to reconcile God’s promise of redemption and the
destruction of His chosen people? Nissenson pursues his explo­
ration of the relationship between Holocaust and holiness
through a variety of genres: journals — which he views as a
“means to explore the experience of history personally” — nov­
els, short stories and, most recently, paintings. His is the record
of a religious sensibility which portrays the moral-religious
quandary engendered by the position which contends that God
is the sole source of both good and evil. Because of the Holo­
caust, Nissenson describes himself as a “militant atheist.” Yet
his work in fact confirms Elie Wiesel’s observation that “As a
Jew, you will sooner or later be confronted with the enigma
of God’s action in history. Without God, Jewish existence would
intrigue only the sociologists. With Him, it both fascinates and
baffles philosophers and theologians.”1 In confronting this en­
igma, Nissenson’s work reveals two stages. Initially, his charac­
ters contend with God, struggling to maintain faith after the
death camps. The tension between Holocaust and holiness
proves insurmountable in the second stage of Nissenson’s writ­
ings when his characters abandon faith in God. Theologically,
these two stages embody the positions of Wiesel and Richard
L. Rubenstein.
1. Elie Wiesel,
One Generation After.
Trans, by Lili Edelman and Elie Wiesel
(New York: Schocken Books, 1982), p. 166.