Spring 1987, Vol. 39, pp. 5-21.

Hayim G. Perelmuter:
      Transcendence in Context: A Contemporary Jewish View

Pondering the Holocaust, Jewish theologians and religious writers have recently begun to detect signs of transcendence in contemporary experience.

Hayim Goren Perelmuter is professor of Jewish studies at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. He has also been visiting professor at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

ON the eve of Shavuot, the festival of the Revelation of Torah at Sinai, in Zaduska-Wola near Lodz in the year 1943, the Germans ordered all the Ghetto inhabitants to assemble in the market-place. The Jews knew what to expect, and they knew that their tormentors, with a special subtlety, would especially pick holy days on which to do their evil as though to underscore to their victims the absence of God.

On the previous day ten Hassidim had been arrested on spurious charges of sabotage. They were to be hanged on the eve of the festival. The choice of ten was as deliberate as the choice of the day. It was as though they intended to take vengeance upon the People of the Covenant for perpetrating the Ten Commandments upon world society.

Shlomo Zhchovsky was among them. Little was known about him, although, according to one survivor, he was the son of a pious cantor, who on festivals would invite children of the schools to a party, teaching them hasidic songs, marching them through the town and letting the streets resound with their fervor.

The tormentors prepared for the hanging of the innocents as though it were a popular carnival. In prison the chosen ten prepared themselves for the end. Shlomo suggested they treat it as a special, private Day of Atonement, the day of judgment, and despite the fact that the calendar said Shavuot, they used the Atonement Day liturgy under his guidance.

Before they could complete that all-day ritual with the special service of Ne'ilah, the Closing of the Gates, they were marched from prison. As they walked, Shlomo intoned the closing portions of the prayer. There was a quality of fervor and devotion, that for the assembled Jews transformed what was meant to be a degradation of the spirit into a triumph of the soul.

Here is how an eyewitness reports it:

Then, as the last preparations were being made for the hanging, I too looked into the face of Shlomo Zlichovsky. It was smiling with joy. I stood in the crowded place, in the midst of many humiliated Jews. But suddenly a spirit of encouragement passed over all of us. The gallows were standing in a row, under each of them a chair, in readiness. The Germans were in no hurry. A pity to waste a single moment of the "entertainment." But Shlomo Zlichovsky urged them on "Nu (come on already)," he cried and jumped on the chair in order to put his head in the hanging loop. Some moments passed. We all held our breath. Deadly silence came over the marketplace, a silence that formed its redemption as Shlomo Zlichovsky's mighty voice was shattering it in his triumphant "Sh'ma Yisrael Adonay Elohenu Adonay Echad -- Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One!" We were all elevated. We were exalted. We shouted ... without a sound; we cried. ..without tears; we straightened up ... without a movement, and called, called together in the innermost recesses of our souls, "Shma Yisrael . . . ."(1)
At the moment when the Jewish people remembered their greatest collective experience, that transcendent breakthrough in the presence of the total community; at the moment they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and renewed the covenant with the God of their ancestors, God thundered forth his message to them and they responded. At such a moment, three millennia later, when it seemed that God was absent, silent, a son of that covenant witnessed his unyielding loyalty to that covenant, affirming at once his innate dignity and reality -- and God's.


It is no wonder that Elie Wiesel has said that the Jewish experience of the transcendent rests upon two mysteries, the mystery of Sinai and the mystery of Auschwitz. As we examine the question of transcendence in the context of contemporary Judaism, with all its varieties of approach, and with the widest spectrum of views, this central fact must be constantly borne in mind. To be sure, one can find a correspondence of forces at work within Judaism as within Christianity. After all, both were in a sense thrust at the same time upon the stage of history after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism both came out of the matrix of a pluralistic Jewish world that preceded it. Both confronted the breakup of the Roman Empire. Both achieved their classical form at approximately the same time by the tenth and eleventh centuries.(2) Both confronted the rise of Islam. Both reacted to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Both confronted the scientific revolution and the Age of Reason. Both yielded to the enchantments of the rational and the secular.

In Christian theology, disillusionment with lofty scientific claims for ourselves set in with World War I and lay in ashes by the end of World War H. The same forces at work in Judaism express themselves with a characteristic difference, perhaps, at bottom, because what in the Christian world is symbolized by and through the Christ figure, as the personalized incarnation of the God-man-covenant relationship inherent in Judaism, is symbolized in the Jewish world of thought as the Jewish-people-as-a-whole. It is almost as though the difference turns on who "the suffering servant of the Lord" is in the eyes of its special community in history.


It is never an easy thing to put the vital life force on the Procrustean bed of historical theories, nor is it an easy thing to mark out sharp dividing lines in the historical process. Yet historians find it necessary to do so, and finite minds find it useful to function with neatly ordered categories. Hence, when we speak of the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the modem age, can we place it precisely? The French Revolution and the beginning of the end of feudalism, perhaps? The discovery of America and the invention of printing, perhaps? The question of the Greek philosophers in the Stop, unseating the Gods and making man the center of the universe, perhaps?

Who can know for sure? No exact and precise borderline can be drawn. Yet, imperceptibly perhaps, but none the less clearly, the process of placing the human person at the center of things, the capacity for the human mind to know and to understand, and the development of the inductive scientific method all combined to bring about the scientific revolution.

Man came to be seen as the measure of all things, an inexhaustible, glorious potential of creativity and achievement. He confronted the securities that religion promised, and even when he made peace with it, he philosophized and interpreted it into a realm of irrelevancy. Science and philosophy alike threw down the gauntlet to religion. The transcendent was either defined as everything (and therefore nothing) or totally ignored.

The modem era could well be seen as the enthronement of the seeking, creating, discovering human mind, shaping a world's destiny. It delved, it groped, it analyzed, it defined, it discovered, it invented, it gloried in its potential and its hopes. Nothing, it seemed, could be denied it, as nature yielded its mysteries and sired new and greater machines. Industrial and intellectual growth marched forward, the Spinozas put God everywhere, and therefore nowhere, the Humes doubted and Voltaires denied God. Revolutions, the growth of individualism, the romanticizing of individualism, destructive wars and holocaust saw the growth, maturing and decline of great secularisms.

The Jewish encounter with secularism oscillated between rejection and attraction. On the one hand Judaism saw itself apart from a corrupt and corrupting world, holding steadfast to a unique covenant relationship with the one true God. On the other, it entered into dialogue with the outside, making an attempt to interpret itself in their terms, and applying their techniques toward self-definition.

Medieval Jewish philosophy reflects this. Its great exponents, Saadya and Maimonides, to name but two, interpreted Judaism in terms of the dominant philosophical tendencies of their time, the Qalam (3) and Aristotelianism. Maimonides' interpretation of God and transcendence in such terms, though preserving the essential Jewish viewpoint, had enough of the God of the philosopher in it to incur the wrath and hostility of the mystics.

For the Jews, the medieval era represented repression and rejection. At best they were treated as a tolerated minority. At worst they were forced into ghettos, stripped of rights, expelled or massacred, In this light secular modernism was looked upon with a sense of hope and promise. The Reformation, the French Revolution, and the Enlightenment began to open the doors. You could, if only you entered this new world of hope, become free and fulfilled.

Thus, while in its ghettos the old ways prevailed, Jews who moved westward tended to move into the mainstream. "To the Jews as individuals, everything; to the Jews as a nation, nothing!" rang out the promise of emancipation in France.(4) The promise was seized, and in many cases the best of the Jewish mind and the Jewish heart was given to it. Art, literature, commerce, philosophy, scholarship, journalism, the theatre, politics, economics, and science received the full and enthusiastic gifts of the people that had so long dwelt apart. The ancient faith was interpreted, reformed, or abandoned. The transcendent God came down to earth for them in the form of the unlimited possibilities of freedom in this world. Tennyson's vision of unlimited progress "broadening down from precedent to precedent" became their vision. "Washington is my Zion, Cincinnati; my Jerusalem" was the triumphant proclamation of an American Reform Jew in the nineteenth century.(5)

Jewish scholars began to structure the corpus of Jewish learning in Western European forms. Steinschneider saw his task in gathering together the materials of Jewish bibliography and literature as preparing Judaism for a decent burial.(6) Jewish philosophers began to express Jewish theology in equally western forms. Hermann Cohen, the great Kantian, could for example systematize his view of Judaism in Kantian terms, in his Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums.

But the germ of antisernitism moved out of the Middle Ages into the modem era with all its reservations and doubts. The dethroning of religion did not include the barnacles of irrational hate-fear, and they attached themselves to the vessels of the new age. It became clear that the price of total self-immolation to it was for many too big a price to pay.

With the rise of modem nationalism, Jews looked at Jewish national rebirth in modem terms. Jewish philosophers increasingly used the forms of western philosophy to articulate a view of Judaism grounded in its roots and resistant to the blandishments of the new secularism. This is not to say that this secularism did not strike deep roots in the Jewish psyche. It did in fact, and its influence is widely pervasive. Jewish secularism could turn its back on thoughts of transcendence. It could, so it appeared, exist without God. But if it remained Jewish, it could not exist without the Jewish people. And as long as the Jewish people continued to exist, they could not escape the problem of the covenant. And in dealing with the covenant, they could not escape the problem of the partner on the other side -- God.


If World War I jolted the high hopes of the perfectibility of man in a man-centered world, World War II, with the Holocaust and Hiroshima, left it spiritually in shambles. It challenged and tested faith. It uprooted communities. It demanded self-examination and self-analysis. Whither was it all leading? What did it all mean? Where was God in all this?

The presumptions of philosophy and science began to be questioned. The western mind moved from the one extreme to the hopelessness of existentialist aloneness on the one hand; to the need for a God that cared and had meaning, beyond transcendence, on the other. God was either dead, or had to be discovered in a new reality beyond the "defining-away" of earlier philosophical and theological systems.

Jews had thrown themselves with great hopes into the arms of humanism and the promise of emancipation. It was not, however, a total immersion. There were some who had their doubts and uttered them. And among those who saw the promise of freedom there were signs of dissent.

It was in Central and Western Europe, where the giants of philosophy and theology held sway, that this was apparent. Martin Buber blazed new trails in the transcendent quest, and went back to Hassidic roots to find the embers of a vanishing faith. Gershom Scholem, rejecting the Europe of the optimism of the advocates of emancipation, undertook the monumental task of plumbing the depths of the meaning of the mystical stream of Jewish experience and the Kabbalah, returning to Israel to do his work. Franz Rosenzweig stepped back from the brink of apostasy into a deeper study of the mysterium tremendum of Judaism. Zionist theorists, political and cultural, did their work. It was all grist for the mill of the individual quest, and the perception of a group, folk destiny that was seen as a possible clue for a transcendent insight.

One must recognize the fact that the secularist, humanist forces deeply affected the Jewish world. In a world that exposed realms where religion did not count, being a Jew was no longer a handicap. Jews pursued secularity, and gave up religious practice to fit into the new society. The power of humanity to create a just social order could take the place of a saving and redeeming God. Eugene Borowitz writes:

Jewish spirituality now largely sublimated itself to the best of Western civilization. In my opinion that still remains the fundamental faith of contemporary Jewry as a whole. It lives out a vision engendered by Emancipation. All that follows should be understood as a qualification of that premise.(7)

It is against the background of this residual humanism that he describes a kind of return, a questing for values and transcendence, discernible in segments of seeking and searching young Jews as they confront the aftermath of the Holocaust. Some go back to the security of Orthodoxy, in vibrant communities created by learned, pious, observant native Americans. A minority of liberals who have moved beyond reliance on secular rationality, seek to live their personal freedom with tradition as their guide.

This devaluation of modernity has moved many Jews to a deeper, more direct spirituality. They have faced up to the agnosticism which much of secular Jewish life assumed, and found it wanting.

When... these Jews hold on to their high sense of values with continuing devotion, despite the loss of their secularized rationale for them, their social and ethnic idealism is a response to something that lies beyond reason and self and society, and is at the core of the universe itself. Through some such experience as this, a sizeable minority in the Jewish community is discovering a transcendent dimension to existence. The Jewish spirit ... is moving back to God. Astonishingly, we are seeing a direct spirituality being reborn among us. The covenant, our ancient partnership, is newly alive in our fresh perception of the Other, who meets and helps and commands and judges and forgives and saves and vindicates.(8)

The trauma of the Holocaust experience, long in sinking in, is the benchmark. The reaction to it sharply involves an approach to transcendence, whether in acceptance or in rejection. From this perspective we look at some examples of thinking about transcendence. No attempt is made at completeness. No effort is made to look at and describe those individuals who cling to an unaltered faith and know for certain that God is there beyond the veil, eternal and caring. Abraham Isaac and Joseph Soloveitchik deserve a special study on their own.


Elie Wiesel was snatched as an adolescent from the warmth and security of the simple faith of his Hasidic surroundings into the hell of Auschwitz. He comes out of it dazed, silent at first, and then the torrent of his witness pours out, perceptive and feeling. His is a strange dialectic -- anger at the silence of God at this dreadful abyss that witnessed what he saw as the death of humanity; and at the same time a passionate urge to confront God, to speak to Him, to hear from Him, to engage Him in dialogue, to call Him to account. A little of Abraham, a little of Jeremiah, a little of Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev speak through him.

As he reflects, he finds the yearning for dialogue with the transcendent a pressing fact. He sees a parallel in the writer's task, this drive to dialogue, this communication of solitudes:

Between author and reader there must be a dialogue. The creative process is a strange one; it comes from solitude and it goes to solitude, and yet it is a meeting between two solitudes. It is just like man's solitude faced with God~s solitude. Once you have this confrontation, you have art, and religion, and more. You have a certain communion in the best and purest sense of the word... When both are sincere God is there.(9)
For Weisel the transcendent veil is broken in the process of dialogue. He likes to cite Franz Kafka, who could observe that man has the power to speak to God but not about God.(10) Implicit too, is a deeply felt need for worship. For Wiesel writing was such a need. A need to adore. But he is ambivalent when he raises the question: "To whom? " He can understand our purposes for God. He wonders about God's purposes for us.

Wiesel often stated that Sinai and Auschwitz are the two central Jewish mysteries of all time. At Sinai the covenant was made. At Auschwitz was the covenant broken? The Jewish people did its part to keep it, he avers. Did God do his? A people was taken, he tells us in his poetic language, and turned into flames, and the flames into clouds. Now they come back to him as clouds to haunt him, to make him remember, an echo of the cloud that hovered over the Ark of the Covenant. The covenant was broken, but

Maybe it will be renewed, perhaps later; maybe it was renewed even then, on a different level. So many Jews kept their faith or even strengthened it. But it was broken because of the clouds and because of the fire.(11)
We shall encounter that theme of stubborn, unilateral renewal of the covenant again and again.

It is through his madmen that Wiesel's images of the transcendent concern come through with greatest clarity. A world that tolerated Auschwitz, that made it possible through its genteel unconcern that represented itself as the acme of civilization and sanity, seemed to call for madness as the only way to protest against its sham. Wiesel crafts characters who are mad because "sanity" led to the ovens, and they have decided in favor of God and of Humanity. Sanity and madness trade places. Moshe the Madman in The Madness of God and Michael in The Town Beyond the Wall assume madness the better to witness to Man and to God!

We know that God is a father. We know that God is a master. But is God a friend? The madman is asking the question and that is why he is mad. Who is mad? Someone who tries to see God. Because then, either he dies according to the Bible he must die; he who sees God dies -- or if he doesn't die he must go mad and maybe he goes mad in order not to die.(12)
For Wiesel, then, there is pain, anger, a need to speak, a need to confront God, a recognition of the urge to confront transcendence, and a recognition of the profound problem which we encounter in the process.


This young American theologian could not accept God as the omnipotent author of the historical drama in view of the reality of Auschwitz. This was driven home to him in his conversations on the Holocaust with German Evangelical Lutheran leaders, in which Dean Heinrich Gruber, an active anti-Nazi, nevertheless affirmed God's omnipotent rule even over the events of Auschwitz.(13) "I could not possibly believe in such a God, nor could I believe in Israel as the chosen people of God after Auschwitz," writes Rubinstein in the wake of this encounter.

After Auschwitz he could speak only of the "death of God." He could see himself as a religious existentialist. He could see the thread uniting God and Man, heaven and earth, as broken. He could aver, "We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful power beyond our resources. After Auschwitz, what can a Jew say about God?"(14) For Rubinstein there is a void where once God's presence was experienced. But Judaism has not lost its power. If Bonhoeffer saw that the problem was to speak of God in an age of religion, Rubinstein sees it in terms of speaking of religion in an age of God. He becomes a kind a Camus, in clerical garb! What remains for him is the Torah as the link, the record of Israel's encounter with God in "His terrible holiness." For the Jewish people in the twentieth century, there remains the excruciating experience of death and resurrection, Auschwitz and Israel reborn. Losing all hope and faith, one has lost also the possibility of disappointment. Rubinstein puts it this way:

Expecting absolutely nothing from God or man, we rejoice in whatever we receive. We accept our nothingness -- nay we even rejoice in it -- for in our finding our nothingness, we have found both ourselves and the God who alone is the true substance.(15)
It is to the hidden, darkly mythical God of Nothingness at the heart of mysticism to which he turns, to an end of estrangement implicit in the return to Israel's earth and to the divinities at the source of that earth. It is a kind of return to a mythical paganism, a kind of Canaanism reminiscent of one of the secular revolts in the Jewish-Zionist response to the onset of modernism in nineteenth century Russia, and the first two decades of the twentieth century in Israel. Its goal -- self-liberation and self-discovery; a return to the bosom of Mother Earth. In his view Torah remains, but not as a mediating force to transcendence and tradition as perceived by Scholem and later reemphasized by Jacob Neusner.(16)


Fackenheim asks whether after Auschwitz the messianic faith is falsified; whether a Messiah who could come and yet did not come at Auschwitz has become a religious impossibility. The response is there in a great nevertheless -- by the nature and fact of the people's survival out of Auschwitz. It may not have found its full articulation in thought, but it exists in the actual life-commitment of the people. It is not a mediating response, for this, in Fackenheim's view, is too much to expect of the Holocaust Kingdom. It must be confronted by a radical opposition.

In spite of the negation of all that the covenant relationship stood for, the Jewish survivor is the expression par excellence of this fact by the mere decision to remain a Jew. By this decision, the survivor has become the paradigm of the whole Jewish people. A strange intertwining of the secular and religious occurs:

The Holocaust Kingdom murdered religious and secularist Jews alike. The decision just referred to requires philosophical thought to restructure the categories of religiosity and secularity. Only by virtue of a radical "secular" self-reliance that acts as though the God who once saved could save no more, can even the most "religious" survivor hold fast to the Sinaitic past or the Messianic future. And only by virtue of a radical "religious" memory and hope, can even the "secularist" survivor rally either the courage or the motivation to remain a Jew when every natural impulse tempts him to seek forgetfulness.(17)

This Jewish testimony is, indeed, extraordinary. For despite the pain, despite the agony, despite the despair, it calls back into history, perhaps with anger, perhaps with defiance, perhaps even with love, the transcendent analogue to an eternal covenant relationship. After Auschwitz

the religious Jew still submits to the Commanding Voice of Sinai, which bids him witness the one true God. He is now joined, however, by the secular Jew, who by the act of remaining a Jew submits to a commanding voice heard from Auschwitz that bids him testify that some gods are false. No Jew can remain a Jew without ipso facto testifying that idolatry is real in the modem world.(18)

The decision to survive, to bring children into the world, to rebuild life in a reborn State and in communities throughout the world, becomes a ringing affirmation from one side of the covenant, that clearly implies the other side. This commingling of religiosity and secularity had found its embodiment, in his view, in the Jewish State.

It has always been impossible to understand the Zionist movement either in purely religious or purely secularist categories ....

After the Holocaust, the Israeli nation has become collectively, what the survivor is individually.(19)

The perception of the Jewish-people-as-a-whole as God's suffering servant, as the eternal witness to a transcendent possibility, is, in my view a crucial perception. As Fackenheim sees it, Jewish death at Auschwitz and Jewish rebirth at Jerusalem, might make Hegel, who once affirmed that no nations appear more than once on the world historical scene, wonder whether at least one people is not doing just that, and with consequences yet unknown.

This merging of the secular with the religious, seems to be a significant fact in the process. It is a perception not foreign to theological development in contemporary Judaism. One need only observe how Gershom Scholem used the tool of scientific historiography to plumb the depths of Jewish historical and mystical religious experience, to understand this.(20)

The mystery and the power of the Jewish response to the transcendent fact, the linking of the eternity of the Jewish people to the eternal reality of God, persists. Never mind the doubts. Never mind the harsh and brutal historic events that make the entire episode (in the words of a beloved teacher of mine) "heartbreak house," it persists. For the surviving Jew theophily made it possible to cope with theodicy.


Looking at the body of a lifeless child dangling from the gallows at Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel responds to the question: "Where is God?" with the answer: "Hanging there on the gallows."(21) But his writing and thinking is directed at a transcendent Other, who must give answers, and Whom what the martyrs stood for affirms.

If I began these reflections on transcendence in the Jewish context with the episode of Shlomo Zlichovsky, of a hasid who died on the gallows with a cry of faith on his lips, let us end with one who was not so sure and who survived and returned.

Pavel Friedlander lived in Prague in the years when Hitler came to power. He grew up in an assimilated milieu, his father a successful business man, and a lover of music. On his mother's side there were some vague Zionist memories. He remembers his mother visiting what was then Palestine, and an uncle going to settle there.

With Munich and the invasion, his family fled, always just a step ahead of the invaders. His father never quite understood the realities, and so could never act decisively enough or soon enough, as some few fortunates did. They found their way to France, France fell, and they fled to Vichy. By this time the options kept narrowing and narrowing.

Here, with collaboration with the Petain regime, the fugitives were turned over to the Nazis. Pavel's parents, in a last desperate decision, placed their child in the hands of Christian friends, to be secured against deportation as Frenchman and Christian. Ironically, it was another wrong decision, for his parents were forbidden entry to Switzerland to which they fled because only refugees with little children were allowed to cross the border! All others were sent back to Vichy France, destined for Auschwitz via Drancy. Of this experience Friedlander writes:

As I entered the portals of Saint Beranger, the boarding school of the sodality where I was to live from now on, I became someone else: Paul-Henri Ferland, an unequivocally Catholic name, to which Marie was added at my baptism, so as to make it even more authentic, or perhaps it was an invocation of protection of the Virgin, the heavenly mother safe from torment, less vulnerable than the earthly mother, who at this very moment the whirlwind was already sweeping away.(22)
He was treated with love, compassion and concern by people in this entirely
new world (of) the strictest Catholicism... almost Royalist, ferociously pro-Petain, anti-semitic France, . . [including] the ladies of the Sodality, who were going to save a soul, but who were also taking serious risks, because the soul they were saving was that of a Jewish child.(23)
There are spasmodic contacts with his parents, as their flight to Switzerland fails, and they move from camp to camp with Auschwitz as the final destination.

A few pictures, a few letters, a watch from his father, are an that he had to remind him of his past reality. Only vague, fuzzy knowledge of what had happened was in his mind. He was completely adjusted in the bosom of his protectors. He oscillated between hatred of Jews, and a vague sense of pride, when he learned one day, that Henri Bergson, almost a Catholic, was in fact a Jew.

It was Father L., a Jesuit priest, who had taken a liking to him, and to whom he was sent for a while for instruction and guidance, who turned him around. As they walked and talked through the church in the tiny village, they paused at a side chapel. Suddenly Father L. (just why no one will ever know) began telling him about Auschwitz, about the extermination of the Jews, about himself. He recalls:

I knew nothing of the extermination, [it was all] enveloped in vague images... that bore no relation to the real course of events. And so, in front of this obscure Christ, I listened: Auschwitz, the trains, the gas chambers, the cemetery, the ovens, the millions of dead . . . . (24)
Who can ever begin to understand the grace and the purpose that guided Father L. in the depths of his spiritual sensitivity to give this child a clear image of who he was? And who can begin to understand its purpose? "For the first time I felt myself Jewish," Friedlander writes, "no longer despite myself or secretly, but through a sensation of absolute loyalty."

Father L. did not press him to choose one path or another. Perhaps he would have preferred to see him remain a Catholic. His sense of justice and charity had led him to recognize his right to judge for himself.

Friedlander resumed his former name in its Hebrew version Saul. Israel was then struggling for its existence in the first days of the War of Liberation, and he made his way there. Today he is a university professor and fives in Jerusalem. He has come home after a day of lectures. He waits for his daughter to come home from school. "School is out. Michal comes breezing in... In the oldest of three photographs I have of my mother, she is a little girl: the same features, the same smile."(25)

He recalls his childhood days in Prague, receiving his first lessons about Judaism and puzzling over the story of Abraham and Isaac, and God's terrible command:

Why is this one of the first stories of our people?... I have read all sorts of interpretations and explanations of it, but this text does not leave me in peace! 'Take now thy son, thine only son... and offer him as a burnt offering . . . .' Abraham's obedience explains our entire history. Today most Jews no longer obey God's injunctions, yet they still obey the call of some mysterious destiny. Why this fidelity? In the name of what?(26)
The certainty of Zhchovsky and the doubt of Friedlander are one in confronting the transcendent reality, which "absolute loyalty" and "total fidelity" are evidence of its reality from this side of the covenant.

  1. Eliezer Berkovitz, With God In Hell (New York: Sanhedrin Press 1979), p. 20ff.
  2. Gershorn Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1941), p. 1.
  3. An early Arabic school of philosophy opposed to Aristotelianism. Cf. Isaac Husik, History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Philadelphia, 1948), pp. xxiv, 248.
  4. Clermont-Tonerre, at the national assembly of Paris, Dec.23,1789. Cf.article in Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6, p. 702.
  5. Rabbi Gustavus Poznanski, at the dedication of the new building for Temple Beth Elhohim, in Charleston, SC, in 1841. Cf. Charles Reznikoff and Uriah Engleman, The Jews of Charleston, (Philadelphia, 1950), p. 140.
  6. David Biale, Gershorn Scholem, Kabbalah and Counter History (Cambridge, 1979), p. 1.
  7. Eugene Borowitz, The Changing Form of Jewish Spirituality, America (Apr. 28, 1979), p.347.
  8. Ibid., p. 379.
  9. Harry J. Cargas, In Conversation With Elie Wiesel (NY: Paulist Press, 1976), p. 6.
  10. Ibid., p. 52.
  11. Ibid., p. 56.
  12. Ibid., p. 110.
  13. Richard Rubinstein, After Auschwitz (Indianapolis, 1960), p. 46.
  14. Ibid., p. 152.
  15. Ibid., p. 128.
  16. Jacob Neusner, "On Transcendence and Worship," CCAR Journal (Spring, 1978), p. 15.
  17. Emil Frackenheim, Encounter Between Judaism and Modern Philosophy (Philadelphia, 1973), p. 166.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. David Biale, op. cit., chapter 4, passim.
  21. Elie Wiesel, Night, trans. Stephen Becker (New York, 1979), p. 79.
  22. Saul Friedlander, When Memory Comes (New York, 1979), p. 79.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid., p. 137.
  25. Ibid., p. 135.
  26. Ibid., p. 28.