Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

Holocaust denial: The mother of all fake news

The Holocaust, and in particular Holocaust Denial, is once again in the news, with Sean Spicer’s clumsy assertions regarding Assad, Hitler and gas doubling down on the Administration’s Judenrein Holocaust Day statement of last January.

On one level, Spicer actually had a point in comparing Assad’s actions to Hitler’s — but in a manner having nothing to do with gas, and everything to do with the lies and distortions used to cover up the crime. We saw this in Assad’s ludicrous claim that the images of suffocating children were staged by child actors. This false assertion was reminiscent of the infamous staged bit of Nazi fake news, the Red Cross visit to visit Terezin in 1944. The propaganda film of the visit fooled the world into thinking that a notorious concentration camp was the happiest place on earth.

Jewish sources affirm that deliberate deception on a scale such is a serious violation of the norms of a civilized society. We read in Tosefta Bava Kamma 7:8:

There are seven kinds of thieves — the first of them is the one who deceives people.

At least Spicer apologized for his outlandish claims, for which he must be given credit. But here is why Sean Spicer’s fumbling, bumbling, pathetic comparison of Assad to Hitler matters, despite the apology. And here is why the Administration’s steadfast refusal to follow the Spicer route and issue a similar retraction for its infamous Holocaust Day statement of last January, also matters.

Holocaust Denial is the canary in the coal mine of Fake News, the mother of all lies, in that it not only defies all standards of empirical science and meticulously documented history, but in doing so it also attempts to whitewash the greatest moral crime ever perpetrated.

When the Torah speaks of the command to remember the evil of Amalek, it is speaking to our generation specifically about keeping alive the memory of Holocaust. But on a far deeper level, it is speaking about keeping alive the essence of all objective truth. The Holocaust was objectively, verifiably, utterly — and not alternatively — a fact. That fact is, unfortunately, one of the pillars of our epoch, a foundation upon which we are trying to reconstruct a civilized society.

The dilution of this truth is the nullification of all truth.

Maimonides wrote,

A person is forbidden to act in a smooth-tongued and luring manner. He should not speak one thing outwardly and think otherwise in his heart. Rather, his inner self should be like the self which he shows to the world. What is in his heart should be the same as the words on his lips. (Hilchot De’ot 2:6)

What a lesson for Spicer and his boss to internalize!  Let’s start with retreating from the red line of minimizing or denying the Holocaust-truth. Then we can work some other basic truths.  Facts matter.  Words matter.

In Judaism, the Big Lie is a Big Sin, and there is no bigger lie than Holocaust Denial.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times (HCI Books). Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2018, he received an award from the Religion News Association, honorable mention, for excellence in commentary, for articles written for the Washington Post, New York Jewish Week, and JTA. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as About.com's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Chloe, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: rabbi@tbe.org (203) 322-6901 x 307
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