Jewish Theological Dilemmas After the Holocaust


Students will reflect on the complexities and range of responses with regard to questions of faith and remaining Jewish after the Holocaust.

The concept of “theodicy,” or why a just God would permit evil in the world, entered the conversation among scholars and rabbis after the atrocities of the Holocaust. There is no easy answer to the question, “Where was God during the Holocaust?” but the resources in this lesson are meant to provide structure and language for teachers and students to enter this continuing conversation. We often hear from teachers from different Jewish educational settings that their students wrestle with the notion of God during the Holocaust, at a time when they are trying to make sense of God in their lives today. Although there is a temptation to provide comforting answers to our students when they ask the difficult “why” questions, it is important to allow students to reflect on the complexities of the question, “Where was God?”

In this lesson, students will compare and contrast a painting by artist and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak that grapples with this same question and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel, with which Bak’s painting is in dialogue. This comparison invites students to explore the theme of the absence or presence of God during wartime. Then students will close-read quotations from six theologians, writing on the topic of faith and God after the trauma and tragedy of the Holocaust. Through these activities, students explore the themes of faith and doubt after the Holocaust and have opportunities to reflect individually on how they might respond to the question, “Where was God during the Holocaust?”



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