Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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other hand, Nissenson interviews Shoshanna Raziel, the widow
of the founder of the Irgun who in effect tells him that the
Jewish people is the cause of Jew-hatred. “Our claim to be the
chosen people,” she observes, “is the cause of anti-Semitism.”
This dismissal of chosenness is the post-Holocaust position
Rubenstein adopted in his dramatic encounter with Dean
Heinrich Gruber.8
Nissenson’s trenchant reporting reveals the demonic side of
choice which occurred in the Holocaust. For example, he re­
ports the words of Lazar Rabinowitz, an Israeli lawyer and sur­
vivor of the Vilna Ghetto and Auschwitz. Now living in Je ru ­
salem, Rabinowitz urges the author to “Write the truth about
the Holocaust!” In Vilna, the Nazis issued life-saving labor cards
to heads of families. But there were never enough passes to
exempt the whole family from deportation. Consequently, the
Jews were forced to become accomplices to their own murder.
Reacting to this tale, Buber later confides to Nissenson that
God’s demonic aspect means that “the Almighty Himself attacks
us, makes us accomplices to our own destruction.”
Nissenson further illustrates the complexity of choice and the
role of faith in his short story “The Prisoner.” Set in 1906 Po­
land, the tale focuses on a former rabbinic scholar who had
studied with the Sage of Kotsk and is now imprisoned because
of his socialist activities. The two witnessed a pogrom in which
a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl was raped and murdered by
drunken peasants following a church service. Like Elisha ben
Avuyah, who denied God’s beneficence after seeing a pious Jew
killed,9 the prisoner tore off his clothes in public, denied God
and attacked the rabbi with his nails and teeth. Following this
episode, he chooses to abandon Judaism turning instead to the
messianism of socialism.10
Awaiting Siberian exile, the prisoner is chained and “wearing
a peculiar vest, like a uniform, with black and gray horizontal
8. Richard L. Rubenstein, “The Dean and the Chosen People,” in
Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism
(Indianapolis: Bobbs-
Merrill Company, 1966), pp. 56-58.
9. There are several versions describing why Elisha ben Avuyah declared his
loss o f faith. Common to them all is the theme o f the suffering o f the
righteous. See Yerushalmi Hagigah ii, 77b and 14b-15b.
10. Nissenson utilizes the alternate faith o f socialism extensively in his later
My Own Ground.