Encore Archive

Welcome to Encore, the place where you will find the latest thoughts and reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on topics of the moment. Each week you will find something new and (hopefully) engaging here!

To access the CLAL Encore Archive, click here.
To join the conversation at CLAL Encore Talk, click here.

[Last week we reprinted a controversial piece on the Holocaust and forgiveness by Stanley Hauerwas, a Protestant theologian. In the course of the next three weeks we will reprint responses to Hauerwas and the latter's reply.]

Our Readers Answer Pastor Hauerwas

Marjorie S. Yudkin (Sh'ma 11/202, November 28, 1980)

Sh'ma has received considerable response to the sermon by Stanley Hauerwas published in 10/198. We apologize for not being able to publish the correspondence in its entirety. Here is a summary:

Werner Glass questions Hauerwas ' "definition of the. crime that was committed: '...a civilization ... put six million people to death for no other reason than that they claimed to be God's chosen people.' The active fault of the victims is emphasized: '...they claimed to be...' In the ears of his congregation this claim was clearly presumptuous and fraudulent, thus some punishment was deserved, if not the death penalty ... Surely the distinguishing characteristic was not any claim, fraudulent or otherwise, made by the victims of genocide." Glass suggests that Hauerwas "blames the victim " and transfers the guilt to God, while it was people who committed the deeds.

Dayton Yoder, a Unitarian minister asks of Hauerwas "Why does he expect Jews to be influenced by texts which they do not accept as scripture, or the authority of Jesus whom they do not believe to be God?" Similarly, Erica Gorin questions Hauerwas' textual interpretation. "I assume that Dr. Hauerwas wants the Jews' forgiveness because of John 20:22-2 3: 'And when he said this, he breathed on them, and said to them "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. " ' However, according to the Gospel, Jews have not accepted the Holy Spirit. Hence they cannot grant forgiveness. "

Difficulties in Granting Forgiveness

Respondents were also concerned by the image of an all-forgiving Deity. Yale J. Berry writes "Hauerwas states that 'for God, resurrection is ... the clear sign that nothing we can do can alienate us from his steadfast will to forgive us and love us.' If you know that you are forgiven all deeds and acts, you can then perform all deeds and acts and count on forgiveness. Rather... the emphasis should be that all individuals forgive other individuals, but ... we should not accept self-forgiveness easily or perhaps at all, whether individually or collectively...If (people) are not forgiven there is the opportunity that they will remember more intensely. Rabbi Leo Trepp warns against the ominous nature of the " 'blank check' given Hauerwas' flock for the future. Should Christians stand idly by, while Israel is in mortal danger, or rest at ease while Jews are persecuted, or even participate in such persecution, they need feel no guilt afterwards. They merely have to learn to forgive themselves, as God always forgives everything."

Many writers felt that they could not grant Christians forgiveness because it must be granted by the victims, by God. Erica Gorin notes "As a Jew, who was fortunate in leaving Germany as a child in 1939 .... I believe with Rabbi Leo Baeck who cited the 94th Psalm as his authority that vengeance belongs to God. Thus forgiveness must come from God also. Men cannot grant it. According to Judaism, good deeds can lead to God's forgiveness." Herbert Hubert, who converted to Judaism in 1929 in Germany, was expelled from that country in 1939 and sent to Buchenwald. Discharged under the condition that he leave the country immediately, he lived in Shanghai for 18 months before emigrating to the United States. He questions "if (Hauerwas) feels he must insist on asking to be forgiven whom does he want to ask? My mother-in-law or my wife's cousins and aunts and uncles, or all those others who went up in smoke? Jewish understanding of atonement and forgiveness demands that in order to be forgiven one must ask the one who was wronged to be forgiven ... How can I forgive for what was done to the ones that are no more?"

How to Atone, how to Remember

Among those who could envision granting forgiveness, there were suggestions to concerned Christians. Rabbi William J. Leffler argues that an effort to do teshuvah, , "to change some of the conditions in Christianity which permitted supposed Christians to be among the persecutor," is necessary. Rabbi Samuel M. Silver responds "Of course Christians can have our forgiveness. But like Jews who seek forgiveness for their faults, Christians should earn it. How? First, admit the errors. Second, do it publicly. Third, atone by acts of Penitence. In our times, the third step would entail mobilizing against those forces which seek once more to gang up on Jews... " Paul Ostrand focuses on the need to learn from history. "I believe the Christian needs to come honestly to grips with what was done by 'civilized' men and try to understand how it could have happened. If this could be done, then I don't think it would be possible for it to happen again. " Matthew Garfinkel suggests that "perhaps a prayer for forgiveness as a permanent part of the liturgy would serve" the function of preventing humanity from ever forgetting what happened during that horrible time.

Advice to the Jewish community is included with these words to Christians. Rabbi Leo Trepp believes "that Christians should ask the Jews to forgive them, and Jews should search their hearts in an effort to be forgiving. Hatred of the Jews led to Christian loss of humanity, resulting in the Holocaust. Jews may not lose their humanity by holding the children guilty for the sins of their fathers, for the Torah forbids it."

Much of the debate revolves around the contrasting Jewish and Christian understanding of messianism. This is summarized by the conclusion of Dr. Stephen I. Rosenthal's letter to Hauerwas. "May the day soon come, when mankind truly follows your teachings, and our teachings, then it will be time to talk of forgiveness."

To join the conversation at CLAL Encore Talk, click here.
To access the CLAL Encore Archive, click here.