The Sacrosanctity of the Holocaust and its Influence on Judaism and the State of Israel

in International Journal of Public Theology
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The Holocaust maintains a status of inviolability in the Christian religious public sphere and also the mainstream media. The scale, gravity and sheer atrocity of the Holocaust still commands a response. The article argues that questions demanded by the Holocaust of the Christian church and the free world’s passivity in the face of genocide, led to a Christian support for the State of Israel driven by guilt and a sense of moral obligation which side-lined the impact of the State on the Palestinian people. With the Israel-Palestine conflict in its seventh decade, the imperative to overcome the hegemony of Holocaust memory is more urgent than ever. Seventy years after the Holocaust, its legacy in public and theological memory dominates questions of Judaism within the polity and the State of Israel. Two legal cases, which attracted media attention, illustrate how Holocaust memory is evoked in response to questions of Jewish practice in the European polity. Two further examples demonstrate how the pernicious influence of Holocaust memory and rhetoric colour responses to criticism of the State of Israel.




Ibid., p. 3.


Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World: Foundations of Post-Holocaust Thought (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1982, 1994), xliv.


Elie Wiesel, ‘Words from a Witness’, Conservative Judaism 21:9, (1967), 43, cited in Zoë Waxman ‘Testimonies as Sacred Texts: The Sanctification of Holocaust Writing’, Past & Present 206:5 (2010), 321–41 at 325.


Elie Wiesel, ‘Jewish Values in the Post-Holocaust Future: A Symposium,’ Judaism 16:3 (1967), 285, cited in Irving Abrahamson, ed., Against Silence: the Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel,Vol.i(New York: Holocaust Library, 1985), 205.


Peter Novick, The Holocaust and Collective Memory (London: Bloomsbury, 2001), p. 274.


This is raised by Ruth Langer, ‘Theologies of the Land and State of Israel: The Role of the Secular in Jewish and Christian Understandings’, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, 3:1 (2008), 1–17. Jewish Theologian Marc Ellis polarizes opinion in his plea for a Jewish theology of liberation that is not uncritically bound to Israeli politics. See Marc Ellis, Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2004).


Martin S. Jaffee, ‘The Victim Community in Myth and History: Holocaust Ritual, the Question of Palestine, and the Rhetoric of Christian Witness’, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 28:2, (1991), 223–38; Rosemary Radford Ruether, ‘Invisible Palestinians: Ideology and Reality in Israel’, The Christian Century, (1987), 587–91; Rosemary Ruether, ‘Anti-Semitism and the State of Israel: Some Principles for Christians’, Christianity and Crisis, 33:20 (1973), 240–44.


Sacks, Crisis and Covenant, p. 43.


Radford Ruether, ‘Invisible Palestinians: Ideology and Reality in Israel’, 590.


Jaffee, ‘The Victim Community in Myth and History’, 226.


Radford Ruether, ‘Anti-Semitism and the State of Israel’, 240.


Ibid., 227.


Ibid., 225.


Ibid., 236.


Novick, The Holocaust and Collective Memory, 11; Jaffee ‘The Victim-Community in Myth and History’, 234–35.


Jaffee, ‘The Victim Community in Myth and History’, 230.


Jaffee, ‘The Victim Community in Myth and History’, 227.


Ben Cohen, ‘Europe’s Assault on Jewish Ritual’, Commentary, 134:4 (2012), 16–20 at 17.


Kay-Alexander Scholz, ‘Circumcision Remains Legal in Germany’,, (12 December 2012), para. 2, <> [accessed 25 October 2014].


Ben Cohen, ‘Poland Bans Kosher Slaughter’, Commentary, (15 May 2013), para. 8, <> [accessed 14 October 2013].


Oliver Leaman, Jewish Thought: An Introduction(New York and London: Routledge, 2006), p. 150.


Ben Cohen, ‘Europe’s Assault on Jewish Ritual’, 20.


Ibid., 18.


Yoram Hazony, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul(New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 272.


Novick, The Holocaust and Collective Memory, p. 132.


Shira Stav, ‘Nakba and Holocaust: Mechanisms of Comparison and Denial in the Israeli Literary Imagination’, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society, 18:3 (2012), 85–98 at 89 (original italics).


Breaking the Silence, ‘Organization’, Breaking the Silence, (n.d.), paras 1–4, <> [accessed 25 October 2014].


Radford Ruether, ‘Invisible Palestinians: Ideology and Reality in Israel’, 588.


Martin Ivens, The Sunday Times, ‘Netanyahu cartoon: an apology’, The Sunday Times, (3 February 2013), paras 2–3, <> [accessed 25 October 2014].


Reza Barmaki, ‘Murder in Judaism: A Theological Perspective’, International Journal of Public Theology, 7:2 (2013), 157–73 at 161.


Jonathan Sacks, cited by Jennifer Lipman, ‘Chief Rabbi weighs into Sunday Times Scarfe cartoon row’, The Jewish Chronicle Online, (29 January 2013), para. 3, <> [accessed 14 October 2013]. With a new Chief Rabbi incumbent, Lord Sacks’ webpage for the office of Chief Rabbi is now unavailable.


William Oddie, ‘Not only was Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon not anti-Semitic; hysterically saying it was makes any rational criticism of it impossible’, The Catholic Herald, (31 January 2013), <> [accessed 14 October 2013].


The Algemeiner, ‘Pig Balloon at Roger Waters Concert Features Star of David; Wiesenthal Center Calls Him “Open Hater of Jews”’, The Algemeiner, (24 July 2013), para. 2, <> [accessed 14 October 2013].


Roger Waters, ‘An Open Letter from Roger Waters’, Facebook, (1 August 2013), para. 10. <> [accessed 14 October 2013].


Oliver Leaman, Jewish Thought, p. 152.


Elie Wiesel, And the Sea is Never Full: Memoirs 1969—(London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 182.


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