Was the Lord a sinner?

Faith and Doubt in JudaismWhere was God in Auschwitz?

Rabbi Zsolt Balla does everything to promote the spiritual life of his Jewish community in Leipzig. The pastor often takes up the guitar himself to sing psalms. But when the members ask him about the Shoah, Balla often doesn't know what to do next.

"The typical question is, if there is an almighty and good God in the world, how could he allow such a thing?"

Balla, who comes from Hungary and trained as an Orthodox rabbi in Berlin, admits that it remains a mystery where God was during the Nazi mass murder.

Orthodox: God is almighty

"We can only see tiny pixels of a quadrillion-megapixel image. We can only see a very small segment. We think that God, He has the ability to see the whole picture."

For the pastor, it is ultimately not about logical understanding, but about fixed principles of belief: Orthodox Judaism has to be guided by the 13 axioms that the Jewish legal scholar Moshe Ben Maimon established in the 12th century. Maimon, called Maimonides, preached God's omnipotence; this should not be doubted - not even in view of the crimes against his people.

"God is omnipotent. We cannot question that. The second you question that, it means that you are no longer within the framework of orthodoxy."

Liberals: God is partially powerless

Change of location, Berlin-Mitte, an apartment building with a heavy iron gate. A back yard leads to the "Center for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg". The educational scientist Micha Brumlik researches and teaches here. The liberal Jew, who was born as a child of Jewish refugees, has a different image of God than the Orthodox Rabbi Zsolt Balla. Brumlik makes cuts when it comes to the omnipotence of God.

Micha Brumlik, educationalist at the "Center for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg" (dpa / Hauke-Christian Dittrich)

"The most convincing explanatory model for me is that of the philosopher Hans Jonas, who wrote an important work on the concept of God after Auschwitz, in which he says: If you want to be intellectually honest, then you have to use the classic predicates of God, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipotence delete third property. "

But if the "ruler of the world" is partially powerless - can he still be called God?

"Yes, you can think so. God is the instruction, the guide, the voice from Sinai that obliges us. But not someone who can spark into human affairs from beyond the universe at will."

Rabbi Rubenstein: God is dead

The professor knows that Jonas' approach raises questions. Like whether God was ever omnipotent.

"Which of course contradicts the stories of the liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt. Because it is God who with a strong hand and outstretched arm led Israel from slavery to freedom. Only an almighty God could do that."

Where was God when six million Jews were destroyed? A question that has preoccupied Jewish theology for decades. The start was made in 1966 by the American rabbi Richard Rubenstein. With his book "Nach Auschwitz" he shook up the religious world.

"Basically, his position can be summed up in three words: God is dead."

Reports the historian and Germanist Christoph Münz. According to the Hessian journalist, Rubenstein argued radically at the time:

"First: God cannot possibly have allowed the Holocaust to happen. Second: The Holocaust did happen. And therefore, third, God - as it is thought in the Jewish tradition - does not exist."

Concentration camp survivor Fackenheim: God is anyway

Violent internal Jewish debates followed. A much noticed, contradicting thesis comes from the Jewish philosopher Eliezer Berkovits. The rabbi fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and lived in the USA for many years.

"Berkovits says that God hid his face in the Holocaust. And he does this to give man and creation space for freedom - that good and bad can grow equally strong."

Christoph Münz, who wrote his dissertation on theology after Auschwitz, analyzes: Some rabbis do not argue purely religiously when it comes to the so-called theodicy question, about the question of God's role in all the evil in the world. The liberal scholar Emil Fackenheim, a concentration camp survivor, put forward a historically based thesis. Fackenheim believes that God's call could be heard during the Nazi era: namely, his command to keep believing.

"The reason is: If you start to doubt God, then you are doing Hitler's job. That is exactly what he wanted to achieve: that we Jews, our heritage, our tradition, our religious identity."

Emil Fackenheim added another to the 613 Jewish commandments: National Socialism should not be allowed to triumph in retrospect. Since then, many Jews around the world have observed Fackenheim's 614th "Commandment". Christoph Münz:

"In a way, it opens a door through which both religious and secular Jews can go and, so to speak, interpret this 'in spite of everything' in their own way."

God as punisher, abuser

However, some theological explanations have also been rejected in the past few decades. For a long time, Orthodox Judaism argued that God allowed the Nazi machinery of extermination as a punishment for the sins of his people. For example for the alleged "sin" that more and more Jews have been thinking rationally since the Enlightenment and are no longer pious. But today many Orthodox, like the Leipzig Rabbi Zsolt Balla, no longer speak of the Holocaust as "divine punishment".

The Orthodox Rabbi Zsolt Balla, originally from Ukraine, at his ordination in Munich in 2009 (dpa / IKG / Unterreitmeier)

"When we say: There is a cause and an effect, then we have the arrogance to say: I know why what thing happens in the world. Only God knows! Why is that? We don't know."

One of the most provocative divine theses - was put up by David Blumenthal around 25 years ago. The American is a professor of Jewish studies. When God allowed the Holocaust, he abused his own people, according to Blumenthal's charge. This approach has also met with approval in psychoanalytic circles, explains expert Christoph Münz.

"But in the religious area he has been heavily criticized for this position - in the sense that with this image of God as a father who abuses his child, he would completely abandon the Jewish tradition so cannot be carried along. "

For decades, theological disputes have mostly only been conducted among rabbis and intellectuals - and not in synagogues. The Shoah debates have hardly found any expression in the communities. If the proportion of believing Jews is lower today than it used to be, says Münz, this is due to the general trend towards secularization.

"This makes it clear that in the mainstream, by and large, so to speak, the Holocaust does not seem to play a central role in revising or changing personal beliefs.