TO MEND THE WORLD: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought by Emil L. Fackenhein

TO MEND THE WORLD: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought

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A tortured, searching meditation on the Holocaust, rich in philosophical learning but so haunted by the nightmares of the past that (as regards the title and subtitle) it tells us little of how the wreckage of history might be rebuilt and sketches narrow foundations for future Jewish thought. As a former inmate of Sachsenhausen, Professor Fackenheim (U. of Toronto) has every right to be obsessed by the Jewish victims of Nazism, but his insistence on the absolute uniqueness of the Holocaust is a serious constraint. For Fackenheim, the six million kedoshim are not blood brothers and sisters of the Armenians and other victims of genocide; they are in a class by themselves. The 500,000 Gypsies slaughtered by Hitler are ""quasi-Jews."" A Polish gentile in Auschwitz is an ""honorary Jewess."" In the same vein, Fackenheim ignores all the other horrors of modern times--either in terms of their possible connection with the Holocaust or as matters to occupy future Jewish thought. He takes little note, too, of normative Judaism's view that the Holocaust, however dreadful, does not essentially alter the relations between Jews and God; nor will he consider Richard Rubinstein's thesis that God died in the concentration camps. As against these positive and negative extremes, Fackenheim plots a middle course of tormented, wounded faith. Tikkun olam (repairing the world) is ultimately possible (is in fact obligatory) because even in the infernal depths of the Holocaust both Jews and a handful of ""righteous gentiles"" put up a noble resistance in the name of God and man. But the intellectual shape of this tikkun is vague--the Holocaust having rendered most of the great modern thinkers, from Spinoza to Hegel to Heidegger, painfully obsolete. Fackenheim's essay deserves careful attention from all religious Jews, but it's not sufficiently balanced to do justice to its monumental topic.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1982
Publisher: Schocken