Pope emails Jewish leader in response to Holocaust sermon

ROME (JTA) – Pope Francis emailed Menachem Rosensaft, an American law professor who deals with Holocaust and genocide issues, with a reflection on the place of God during the Shoah.

The email was a response to Rosensaft, who had sent the Vatican the text of a sermon he delivered at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue on the topic during the High Holidays,  Elizabeth Tenety wrote in the Washington Post’s On Faith blog.

Rosensaft, the son of Holocaust survivor parents, is general counsel of the World Jewish Congress and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

In his sermon, which was published in the On Faith blog, Rosensaft had declared, “My parents’ entire immediate families were murdered in the Shoah. My mother’s five-a-and-half-year-old son, my brother, was one of more than one million Jewish children who were killed by the Germans and their accomplices only and exclusively because they were Jewish. Again, what possible transgressions could any of them have committed to cause God to turn away from them?”

How, Rosensaft asked, “can we believe in God in the aftermath of the Shoah? Shouldn’t an omniscient God have had to know that the cataclysm was being perpetrated? And shouldn’t an omnipotent God have been able to prevent it?”

Rosensaft concluded that God was indeed present during the Holocaust, within those inmates of the death and concentration camps who saved or helped others, such as Janusz Korczak in the Warsaw Ghetto who accompanied the children of his orphanage to their death at Treblinka, and Rosensaft’s mother, who with a group of other female inmates kept 149 Jewish children alive at Bergen-Belsen.

According to the Post, the pope replied, “When you, with humility, are telling us where God was in that moment, I felt within me that you had transcended all possible explanations and that, after a long pilgrimage — sometimes sad, tedious or dull – you came to discover a certain logic and it is from there that you were speaking to us; the logic of First Kings 19:12, the logic of that ‘gentle breeze’ (I know that it is a very poor translation of the rich Hebrew expression) that constitutes the only possible hermeneutic interpretation. Thank you from my heart. And, please, do not forget to pray for me.  May the Lord bless you.”

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