The subject of the Shoah, the near total destruction of the Jews of Europe and others, is one of great moral significance in the history of western civilization. Genocide, the obliteration of all members of a national group, is the most horrible of crimes and one of the most difficult to deal with in the field of social studies; it reveals the human race in its worst perspective. Researchers in the shadow of the Holocaust testify to the stubborn persistence of the Shoah to “the past that weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,” as Jean-Paul Sartre once described history. It is the “deadly weight” of the Shoah – the horrific tradition of state-sponsored victimization and murder and the unaccountable human, spiritual and material loss that followed in its smoke – that has aroused many Christians and Jews to speak out against revisionist “storycide” and to articulate the lessons learned from the Shoah (e.g., to combat the twin evils of anti-Judaism and antisemitism) might help prevent future animosity, disparity, disputation, and genocide.
The study of the Shoah has proceeded over recent decades through a variety of venues, including history (political, legal, social, military), sociology, psychology, religious thought, literature, and the arts. In Christian theologizing on the Shoah, the alpha and the omega appear to be the Church and its sacred texts and traditions. However, at an informal discussion at the Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches (Seattle, 1992), James F. Moore (Valparaiso University), Henry F. Knight (University of Tulsa), and Steven L. Jacobs (University of Alabama) decided that this sort of theology, while valuable, will not do in a post-Auschwitz age. They acknowledged that a comprehensive sense of understanding holocaustal events in terms of interfaith dialogue is the way to go. Shortly thereafter, Zev Garber accepted their invitation to join them to balance the dialogue partners.
Our modus operandi is straightforward and transforming: as practicing Jews and Christians, we examine the impact of the Shoah on our religious commitment by demonstrating how a dialogical encounter with selected biblical texts can foster mutual understanding and respect as well as personal change among its participants. Moreover, because we believe study of the Shoah requires that we transcend the objectivity and data driven detachment of standard academic approaches, we encourage students at whatever level to enter into a confrontation with the reality of the Shoah, its aftermath and the potential directions which we can take in a post-Auschwitz world.
The development of an interfaith approach to this confrontation, as presented by Shoah scholars who are also committed to a variety of religious faiths and confessions, offers a model for dialogue as well as an inter-subjective approach to learning. We have demonstrated to our own satisfaction that the dialogue approach is a necessary stage of Shoah research. What we have attempted in our focus on texts is only one version of what can be a model for much other research topics. Still, we understand that what we are doing is only one approach among many possible options. Perhaps another necessity is that the twenty-first century is also a turning point in terms of who are the researchers. We are the second generation of scholars and this new generation is the generation of dialogue. That is, we are not only modeling a way of doing Shoah research but are also modeling a style of being in the world that is ultimately the only way to say no to Hitler. This may seem grand but it is in fact the basic intent of all such research and teaching. That is, we aim not merely to expose the evil of the past or even just to sustain the memory for the sake of the survivors but we are challenged to build a world for the new generations and this is a world of dialogue
In sum, it is our view that no one philosophy can be superimposed on the Shoah agenda. Suggestions come easily when they deal with facts and figures. But issues in Shoah education reflect the vitality of live concepts. Thus, our interfaith discussion mirrors causes of existence and conditions of being, and responds to the imperative “remember and do not forget” in ways different from exclusively piloted agendas (e.g., like those found in strictly ecclesiastical or survivors conclaves). Also, Shoah thinking cannot function under ideological imperialism. Its stream of consciousness is like the natural world: only diversity and adaptation will energize it.
Our team, labeled the “Midrash Group” presents a learning exchange which focuses on dialogue engaging scriptural texts, which we have constructed and conducted over the last fifteen years, principally as a part of the Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches. Our dialogical methodology departs from and adds to the standard academic approaches to teaching the Shoah. It introduces an interfaith and inter-religious response to the Shoah by encouraging a face-to-face discussion between Jewish and Christian scholars, who focus on Hebrew and Christian scriptures, in order to make sense of the Event to both Self and Other. Our approach challenges the participants to think as Jews and Christians about our own texts as well as the central texts of the other. We believe that we are distinct in this regard, perhaps unique in the systematic way we attempt to do this. More to the point, as one of the most significant components of possible responses to the Shoah, the results of this discussion have become a valuable tool for our teaching of courses on the Shoah, particularly if we agree that religious and theological responses after the Shoah are a critical part of teaching a course on the Shoah. Samples of our efforts are noted in “Bibliography of Publications,” which follows this Mission Statement.
The overarching goal of our approach is demonstrate how the Shoah requires people of faith to face themselves and others differently as they hold themselves accountable to living history and the sacred traditions of their confessional worlds. To do this our more specific tasks are as follows: (i) describe the changed responsibilities that inform our post-Shoah reality (reference to Yitz Greenberg’s criteria of the burning children; J.B. Metz criteria of Christians doing theology in dialogue with Jews; and Alice L. and A. Roy Eckardt’s criteria that post-Auschwitz Jewish and Christian theology cannot be unaffected by the Shoah ); (ii) provide historical context to our project; (iii) describe the possibilities for/of midrashic dialogue; (iv) wrestle with an actual set of texts; (v) demonstrate how midrashic dialogue might work so that it can be practice by others; and (vi) identify and demonstrate the essential characteristics of dialogue that must characterize ongoing post-Shoah, theological work.
Zev Garber, Los Angeles Valley College and American Jewish University, and Rosenthal Visiting Fellow, Case Western Reserve University (Spring 2005)
Steven L. Jacobs, University of Alabama
Henry F. Knight, Keene State College (previously, University of Tulsa)
James F. Moore, Valparaiso University