Ovadia Hedaya and Menashe Klein on the Holocaust

Last week, Shlomo Amar intimated that the Plesner committee could cause earthquakes. Similarly, Ovadia Yosef has often been criticized for his reasons for disasters like Hurricane Katrina. People don’t realize that these guys are lightweights. For all the bluster, Yosef and Amar are the sane moderates in the world of Sefardic theodicy. The obvious champion is Ovadia Hedaya. Hedaya, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Kabbalistic yeshiva Beit El, filled out his responsa in Halacha with Kabbalistic musings. At the end of volume 8, he tells us his reason for the Holocaust.

Why did the Holocaust happen in Poland, filled as it was with great rabbis and sages?
Hedaya gives two reasons. First, he quotes the Arizal on the sin of Abel. According to the Arizal, the sin of Abel, which involves gazing at forbidden places, cannot be fixed except through death. So in order to hasten the redemption, we need to kill a bunch of descendants of Abel.

This is obscure enough to mean anything to people uninitiated in Kabbalah. It also has the advantage of tying the Holocaust to mythological (rather than actual) sin and to greater metaphysical issues. The second answer is a lot more offensive:

Sometimes there are many mamzerim among the Jewish people who are unknown. God needs to kill them. But, he allows the destroyer to kill good people with them in order not to embarrass their families and point out who is a mamzer.

This not so subtle dig at the purity of Ashkenazic Jews was answered by Menashe Klein in the final volume of Mishneh Halachot.

I was shocked that he didn’t hesitate to write words like this. To slander thousands of Jews who sanctified the name of God in public. Also, why were there mamzerim only in Europe and Poland where Hitler conquered and not in America and Russia? And in Russia there were mamzerim only up till Moscow and then no more? And so on, in Denmark there were mamzerim and in Salonika there weren’t (sic)? God forbid to think this way. And according to him it was like this for sixty years. After all, the Talmud says, mamzerim  are killed in a plague every three generations. This was an unprecedented destruction of approximately six million Jews. Also, he says [that the destroyer] “kill[s] good people with them.” This implies that the good people are the minority. God forbid to say about millions of holy Jews who died sanctifying God’s name that they were mostly mamzerim.

Klein relates a story from his time in Monowitz to illustrate that the Nazis weren’t a random plague meant to strike bastards. They were at war against god.

At the time when we were about to pray Neilah of Yom Kippur at Monowitz, the lagerfuhrer asked the cantor “Where is your god? If you have a god why doesn’t he save you?”…They waged war on God and his messiah– and God forbid to impute to that a taint of mamzerut…We cannot fathom the wonders of the creator “the rock whose works are perfect and all his ways are just” and “the secrets are for the Lord our God” and we shouldn’t give reasons for events which are hidden from us and beyond our understanding.

The anecdote may have been difficult for Klein to relate, but it’s essential to the argument of the responsum. Klein steps out of the literary form of the responsa, and tells us where he’s coming from. It’s a melancholic assertion; what’s pure is what was lost. At the same time, this melancholic sense infuses his conservatism with an ethos that goes beyond technical Halacha.

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1 Response to Ovadia Hedaya and Menashe Klein on the Holocaust

  1. dlz says:

    I don’t understand anything about kabbalah, but Abel didn’t have any descendants – certainly not Jews, who are descended from Shais.

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