Fackenheim’s Post-Holocaust theology

Emil Fackenheim, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, was working to confront the scandal of the Holocaust, reckoning with the meaning of its uniqueness, impact on religious thought, and repercussions for Jewish-Christian dialogue. In particular, Fackenheim held no brief for those philosophers who tried to fit the tragedy of the six million into the Israeli history of heroism and martyrdom. Instead, as noted in his Quest for Past and Future, Fackenheim found the potential for rejuvenating contemporary Jewish identity within the experience of Midrashic existence. Therefore Fackenheim’s entire theological oeuvre cannot simply be reduced to the 614th commandment: “No posthumous victories to Hitler.” What brought the work of Heschel and Fackenheim together was a shared commitment to heavenly Messianism tied to political activism.

In his book To Mend The World , Fackenheim considers the Holocaust as an unprecedented rupture in history, which needs mending (tikkun olam). Historical continuity can no longer be maintained. The author of The Jewish Return into History returns to Kabbalistic sources in order to transform meta-historical myth into reality. Vessels were broken and Shekhinah went into exile. In the chapter “Historicity, Rupture and Tikun Olam”, he wonders if, despite the differences between orthodox and secular Jews, the common sharing of teshuvah is possible.[…]

For Fackenheim, contemporary Jewish thought must be awakened from the dogmatic slumber of speculative theology. Old dogmas should become the postulates of practical reason. Fackenheim criticizes any attempt of philosophical and theological response to Auschwitz. The author of God’s Presence in History assumes a position of a historian. The Holocaust was a unique historical event that altered world history. […] Fackenheim is far from accusing God of ultimate evil. He finds failure in man. […]

In The Jewish Return into History, Fackenheim mentions a dispute that took place before the destruction of the Second Temple between the School of Hillel and Shammai. For Fackeneheim every authentic human thought and existence is hermeneutical. In his book To Mend the World he claims that Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel are profound theologians who did not seriously grapple with the Holocaust. For Fackenheim rabbinic theology is an insufficient instrument in responding to suffering.

Emil Fackenheim is trying to retrace the via dolorosa of Abraham. For a reform rabbi, existence has an irreducible religious dimension. The aim of philosophical critique is to guard lumen supernaturale against the incursions of Western paganism. Fackenheim, a defender of rabbinic Judaism, would never accept “the Protestant death of God theology”. Every challenge to reconstruct a free will theology and divine providence is an anachronism in the post -Holocaust world. In Fackenheim theology of the sublime there is a place for fragmentary tikkun, mending the post-Holocaust world. As a world-historical event, the Holocaust calls into question the universalism of Platonic metaphysics and theology based on the transcendental categories of Truth, Beauty and the Good. The role of Fackenheim’s historical hermeneutics is crucial in understanding the authentic existence of humanity.

About the Author
Anna Banasiak is a poet and literary critic from Lodz, Poland. She studied Polish philology and culture studies at the University of Warsaw. She is the winner of poetry competitions in Berlin, London and Bratislava. Her poems have appeared online via New York, London, Surrey, Australia, Canada, India and South Africa.
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