Holocaust theology

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The variety of theological responses that Jews have articulated about the Holocaust, can be related to wider traditions of thought. In order to understand their views in context, it is helpful to see the breadth and scope of traditional Jewish theodicies of evil, as well as to describe the roots of Modern and Post-Modern revisionist Jewish philosophical views.

The classic tradition of Jewish scholarship and spirituality, embodied in its historic texts, comprises many interpretations of Biblical and rabbinic Judaism. They vary from legal, imaginative and philosophical endeavours, to esoteric mystical theologies. Together they form a scholarly culture that the Jews carried and evolved, through their historic journeys. This tradition of thought developed from its own sources, and also sometimes through intellectual encounters with other traditions, giving and receiving ideas in turn. The revealed theology of Judaism, affected Western thought through its adapted forms in Christianity. Meanwhile, the other source of Western culture, arose from humanistic philosophy of Ancient Greece, based on independent thought from first principles. When the Jewish community were granted social rights after the Enlightenment, they developed their own religious and philosophical responses to Modern thought. These varied from re-commitment and reinterpretation of traditional observance, through synthesising embraces of the best of both worlds, to radical or revisionist reassessments of historical Judaism. In each of these approaches, new creativity emerged, with new theological and philosophical interpretations. Hasidic Philosophy developed Jewish mysticism in new ways. Litvish Orthodoxy formed new approaches to Talmudic scholarship and Mussar (Ethical introspection). Both of these Eastern European civilizations continued the theoretical interpretation of Lurianic Kabbalah, which underpins Haredi Jewish belief until today. Modern Orthodox Judaism thinkers reinterpreted Judaism in the language of modern secular philosophy and scholarship. The Haskalah gave birth to critical, academic approaches to Judaism, beginning with the 19th Century German "Wissenschaft des Judentums" ("Science of Judaism") movement. Theologians from non-Orthodox Jewish denominations expressed a range of revisionist views of Jewish spirituality and scholarship. New schools, such as Jewish existentialism, could find new meaning in Revelation, outside of Orthodox Judaism.

Historical developments of Jewish thought could rediscover new meaning in earlier traditions. The early scholars of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment movement) rejected the mystical in Judaism, in common with the secular Western thought of their time, and their personal wish to leave behind the Shtetl. This tendency was shared with the prevalent values of the Western secular Enlightenment of their time, that sought to rationalise Revelation. The philosophical father of Haskalah, Moses Mendelssohn, could seek therefore to remove the mystical dimensions of Jewish spirituality. The birth of academic scholarship of Kabbalah under Gershom Scholem, and the search for deeper Jewish spirituality, in the 20th Century, rediscovered Jewish mysticism for Jews of all denominations today. New movements of Jewish Renewal and Neo-Hasidism, could find spiritual and philosophical insights from Jewish mysticism, outside of Orthodoxy. This likewise reflects wider currents of thought in Western society, from the non-mechanistic and neo-mystical aspects of 20th Century Science and Mathematics, to philosophical and artistic interest in the values of cultural identity.

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