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Yom Hashoah 5775

04/16/2015 09:02:24 AM


Dear Friends,

Rabbi Yehuda Amital was one of the most thoughtful and influential religious leaders of our time. He is also a Holocaust survivor. As today is Yom Hashoa, please take some time to read Rav Amital's account of religious life before and after the Shoah.

Rabbi Yehuda Amital (Klein) was born in 1924 in Transylvania, at the time part of Hungary. Following the Nazi occupation he was taken to a labor camp where he remained for about eight months. He was liberated on Simchat Torah, 5705 (Oct. 9, 1944), and made his way to Eretz Yisrael as the only surviving member of his family. He continued his studies at Yeshivat Hevron and received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer. The day after the declaration of the State of Israel, he was drafted into the IDF and fought in the War of Independence.

"After the war I was in contact with Abba Kovner a”h [a leader of the Vilna Ghetto revolt, and a kibbutz leader and poet in Israel]. Once we were both participants in a TV panel about the meaning of the Holocaust. He asked me, “Did you have problems with your faith?” I answered him, “I had problems? Your problems are even more serious. I believed in God; now, I don’t understand His ways. But you believed in man; now, do you continue to believe in man, after what you saw in the Holocaust? Truly, we both have a problem.” (Click here for the entire interview)

(Click here for a brief clip of the interview - Hebrew)

I find Rav Amital's honesty in dealing with religious challenges to be inspirational. Not every religious leader is willing to say what Rav Amital says below. It reminds us of the need for humility in speaking about faith. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it: " Truth on earth is not, nor can it aspire to be, the whole truth. It is limited, not comprehensive; particular, not universal. When two propositions conflict it is not necessarily because one is true and the other false. It may be, and often is, that each represents a different perspective on reality … In heaven there is truth; on earth there are truths. 

At a time in history when religion is being used to exclude and to create divisions based on exclusive claims of truth, we can learn a lot from Rabbis like Rav Amital and Rabbi Sacks. Religions can be unifiers. Once Again, Rabbi Sacks: " In the course of history, God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims. Only such a God is truly transcendental – greater than not only the natural universe but also than the spiritual universe articulated in any single faith, any specifi c language of human sensibility. How could a sacred text convey such an idea? It would declare that God is God of all humanity, but no single faith is or should be the faith of all humanity."

I conclude with more words from Rav Amital that sum up our obligation as Jews in the wake of the Shoah.

Do you believe that we have more of a moral obligation than other nations, in the wake of the Holocaust?
I believe that it demands of us greater morality, greater attention to others.
As a rabbi and educator, where do you see the Holocaust’s influence on your educational approach?
First of all, I took upon myself to be a rosh yeshiva because I knew that I had to fill the place of my friends who did not survive. That [sense of mission] gave me the strength to do something. That fact that I was among the few who remained, that gave me strength. Otherwise I would not have taken upon myself such a role. I don’t come from a family of rabbis and leaders. My wife comes from a well-known rabbinical family. I come from a simple family; what business did I have building a large institution? I also took upon myself some public roles [as a minister in the Israeli government] a few years ago. I emphasized the moral aspect, and afterwards I was also in the opposition as far as a large portion of the Religious Zionists were concerned. What gave me strength was the fact that I must fill the place of others who did not make it there.



Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780