Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Morbid Halacha

These are questions that G-d forbid, no one should ever have to ask.

Unfortunately, (or perhaps, it is an amazing testament to Judaism), during the Holocaust people did ask these questions from halachik authorities.

Is it right to give a German soldier a gold watch in exchange to killing someone's father without torturing him?

Is resorting to cannibalism allowed during famine in the ghetto?


These are only two examples of dilemmas raised by Jews during the Holocaust and collected in more than 150 books throughout the years. A CD containing the dilemmas was revealed for the first time Tuesday. It was produced by the Claims Conference (an organization representing global Jewry on issues of reparations against Germany and Austria) in association with Bar-Ilan University and the Netivei Halacha institute.

The whole article is here on YNETnews.

Today, when some people's emuna/faith maybe challenged by questions of Torah vs. science (but it's really not something worth losing sleep over) -- all of that falls to the wayside when reading about the faith of Jews under unthinkably difficult situations during the Holocaust.

Their commitment to Judaism -- the desire to find the most moral answers to their questions using Judaism as a moral compass should serve as an inspiration to us all.


And may these questions never have to be asked again.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

17 comments:

Batya said...

Just shows that things were worse, so that means that as awful as things are now, they are better.

Good night!

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

This book by R. Ephraim Oshry z"l contains many heartbreaking she'elot which he, then a young man, was asked in the Kovno ghetto. He hid his notes and recovered them after the war.

FrumGirl said...

Cannibalism was a prophecy.... Just the thought is... excruciatingly difficult to imagine and bear.

exsemgirl said...

Amen.
I can't even get my head round the questions never mind begin to understand where they came from.

Mike Miller said...

Re: R' Oshry's book,
Apparently, the English is a selection from the full (5 volume) Hebrew original, although the name escapes me at the moment. I have to find where I have it... I have the English version somewhere, but I've never seen the original (although if someone wants to lend it to me, I'd be glad (wrong word) to see it)

orthomom said...

I posted on this also. Crazy. I can't even relate my comfortable little life to this horrific questions.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>the name escapes me at the moment

Divrei Ephraim

Soccer Dad said...

It's not Memaamakim?

jeffrey smith said...

Another book is The Holocaust and Halakhah, by Irving Rosenbaum, Ktav, 1976 (I don't know if it's still in print), which discusses a wide spread of halachic questions that arose both during and after the Shoah. Rabbi Oshry is cited several times. But the most notable incident IMO Rosenbaum cites is narrated in the introductory chapter, and was reported by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Meisels in a volume of responsa entitled Mekadeshei ha-Shem. R. Meisels was a survivor of Auschwitz, and the incident occurred almost literally in the belly of the beast. The SS conducted an Aktion on Erev Rosh haShanah which resulted in 1400 of the youngest boys being set aside for the gas chambers. There was a period of almost the full day between the selection and the actual murders. Many parents bribed the kapos who were guarding the boys to release their own son, but the kapos would insist on grabbing another, hitherto unselected boy, so that the full count of 1400 remained. It was thus impossible to secure the release of one boy without ensuring that another boy was sent to death in his place. A father of one of the boys approached Rabbi Meisels with a question: in the circumstances--that his son's life could be purchased only at the cost of another life--was he allowed by the halacha to bribe the kapos to free his own son. Rabbi Meisels did not want to answer the father and thereby kill all hope for the boy. He therefore gave various excuses ("it's a serious question and I don't have my books to consult", etc.). The father, apparently an average Jew with no special learning, immediately understood what the halacha was, telling the rabbi that if there was any loophole available, the rabbi would have told him of it; and he therefore treated the rabbi's non answer (despite Rabbi Meisels repeatedly urging him not to do so) as a psak forbidding him to save his son's life. Said the father, "So my only son will lose his life according to the Torah and the Halakhah. I accept G-d's decree with love and with joy. I will do nothing to ransom him at the cost of another innocent life, for so the Torah has commanded!"** And the father spent the rest of the day praying that his sacrifice be as acceptable to G-d as Abraham's binding of Isaac had been. [Note the date of this incident.]

Sorry to be long, but I think this is one of those incidents that shouldn't be lost in the fog of history. Rosenbaum's account contains a long footnote summarizing Rabbi Meisel's discussion (written, of course, after the war) of the halachic ambiguities which allowed him to avoid a direct answer.

**This is apparently Rosenbaum's direct quote of Rabbi Meisel's direct quote of the father.

trn said...

Divrei Ephraim

I thought it was titled Sh'eilos U'Teshuvos MiMa'amakim
[Questions and Responses from Out of the Depths].

daat y said...

jef,As you stated the Rosenbaum book is powerful and moving-and written in English.As Jameel stated the level of emuna is amazing.

Jack's Shack said...

Wow. What else can I say other than I join your prayer that these questions need never be asked again.

Soccer Dad said...

The "selection" shailah mentioned by Jeffrey Smith has been mentioned a lot in Shuls I go to on Tisha B'Av.
It's an incredible testament to someone's emunah.

Ari Kinsberg said...

I am holding Oshry's book in front of me. It is titled ספר שאלות ותשובות ממעמקים

Ari Kinsberg said...

I thought I remember that Weinberg's Seride Esh has some Holocaust-related teshuvot? I only have vol. 2, but from a quick glance I don't see any Holocaust teshuvot in it. Does anyone have the other volumes?

Berkowitz's "With God in Hell" also demonstrates the tenacity of Yiddishkeit during the war under trying circumstances. Eliach's Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust is also important.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>I thought it was titled Sh'eilos U'Teshuvos MiMa'amakim

You're right, of course. Must be my age.

bec said...

jeffrey smith put up a great comment. i also own the book Holocaust and Halacha and find it to be extremely powerful. it is very well written in that it is easy to pick up and really understand, regardless of your prior knowledge of halacha, and from an historical point of view it really gives insight into the minds of those who refused to give up faith even in the face of hell.

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