Page 33 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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BERGER / HOLINESS AND HOLOCAUST
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temporary Elisha ben Avuyah is not a heretic, but the inevitable
outcome of an Auschwitz universe. The post-Auschwitz bar
mitzvah ritual includes tales of terror and murder. Jacob fails
to decisively defeat Esau. Nissenson’s works suggest that
twentieth-century man is caught in a dilemma; the loss of re­
ligious faith is accompanied by the realization that nihilism is
not an answer. What then remains?
Nissenson responds by contending that aesthetics are closely
akin to holiness. “Beauty,” he observes, “is a very high form
of worship and adoration; a way of keeping the dark at bay.”19
He views the task of the writer as being twofold: to entertain,
and to celebrate the religious impulse. After Auschwitz, how­
ever, this impulse manifests itself in a search for human com­
passion. Evil and mass death are terrifying realities against
which one must, like Jacob of antiquity, wrestle. Nissenson’s lit­
erary vision compels readers to take seriously the post-Holocaust
meaning of holiness in a world without God.
19. Nissenson, “A Sense o f the Holy,” op. cit., p. 140.