The Holocaust and Responsibility
Menu JTA Search

The Holocaust and Responsibility

Download PDF for this date

“After the Holocaust, one is not entitled to be comfortable,” Dr. Irving Greenberg, a dynamic and Orthodox Jewish thinker, historian and spiritual guide said here last night at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.

Greenberg, who participated in the “Dialogue ’78” series sponsored by B’nai Jeshurun’s Institute of Adult Jewish Studies and moderated by Rabbi William Berkowitz, spoke on a variety of issues, but his underlying theme remained the same: the individual’s need for constant exposure to new challenges.

Speaking on responses to the Holocaust and specifically, that of Jewish leadership, Greenberg said that the “massive failure” to respond which facilitated the catastrophe occurred, in part, because the world was “not prepared for the unprecedented.” The Jews, he said, were so committed to being integrated and accepted into American society that they could not challenge it. It was the “old problem of idolatry,” he said. At a time when this country was obsessed with the issue of dual loyalty, the Jews were “invested in modernity” and caused the loss of their “own sense of options.”

Greenberg said that Jewish leadership today is responding differently, in that it is prepared to confront the American government on issues of concern. While he said that the lesson of the Holocaust has thus begun to “sink in,” he stressed at the same time that Jewish leadership is still too quiet on behalf of Soviet and Syrian Jews.


The Holocaust was unprecedented, Greenberg said, because never before was such a total attempt made to exterminate the Jews. He said that the “admission of uniqueness is the beginning of response,” and while it is ” our challenge” to re-enact and to relive the Holocaust–by seeing films, reading and listening to eyewitness accounts, as well as devising other methods–we must not try to embrace it within the old tragedies.

Faith after the Holocaust is possible, Greenberg said, because the rebirth of Israel is the “single most powerful statement of God’s presence.” Faith entails action, not talk, he said, and the so-called “secular” State of Israel “has done more for faith than most of us have.” He said that while ritual response is important, it should also provide the context in which Jews move toward their ethical responsibilities.

Greenberg spoke of his dream of religious unity among American Jews, in which difference in practice and observance are seen as important, but secondary issues. American Jews have achieved financial unity, he said, in fund-raising for Jews around the world, but spiritual unity is still lacking. “You should be ashamed of what you are,” Greenberg said, because with this shame comes the awareness of the need to grow, and to respond to new responsibilities in new ways.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund