Irving Greenberg, "Judaism and Christianity After the Holocaust," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 12 (Fall 1975) 521-553

Precis accompanying the article


Both Judaism and Christianity hold as fundamental that humanity is of infinite value and will be redeemed, basing this stance on the central events in their history, the Exodus, and Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Each has interpreted the events of history in the light of this truth. Both traditions must therefore confront the Holocaust event and seek its meaning; not to do so is to render one's religious stance suspect because the Holocaust seems to be a counter-testimony to any belief in a God who cares or a humanity of ultimate value. Not to confront the Holocaust is to risk repeating it.

There is for both Judaism and Christianity, however, a built-in difficulty: since both acknowledge a revelation par excellence, both find it difficult to assimilate newer revelations in the events of history. Christian churches have largely failed to confront the Holocaust event although the challenges are great. Was the anti-Semitism associated with the Holocaust an essential part of Christianity? Does the failure of Christianity to respond to the genocide threat make Christianity any longer tenable? Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust have been many and varied, but Greenberg finds none entirely adequate. He suggests that merely traditional categories will not suffice and that we will have to live in dialogical tension, relying on the obscurity of "dialectical faith" or "moment faith."

The Holocaust did not obliterate faith; rather, it showed the bankruptcy of the alternate to faith, secular culture. While the Holocaust may have called into question the credibility of faith, it destroyed the acceptability of the secular option, and it highlights the dangers of any religious tradition's embracing modernity at any cost.

The rebirth of the State of Israel, granted its complexity, must be seen in its theological context. It confounds the despair of the "death of God" theologians; God's people still exist! Paradoxically, "secular" Israel gives the central testimony for the Jewish people today. Nonetheless, contemporary faith can only be a "moment faith," as the suffering servant continues to be a scandal.

All post-Holocaust dialectical reflection must be wary of any new idolatry: any simple humanism, any illusionary liberation ideology, or any facile distinction between "Israel of the spirit" and "Israel of the flesh." The result will be a torment by which to live because of its terrible uncertainty.