Why did G-d not stop the holocaust? Is there anything written to explain why He would not have stopped it? or why He would have allowed it?
This is a very broad and deep topic; the whole book of Job struggles with bad things happening to good people. After a lot of talk (and Job's friends trying to be helpful by saying "oh Job, obviously it's punishment for some sin you did, silly boy", and both Job and G-d telling them to go jump in a lake), the conclusion appears to be that it's beyond human understanding. But faced with the brilliance of G-d, the questions disappear.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik referred to questions about the Holocaust as "an exercise in futility." Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe) said that anyone believing in a merciful and omnipotent G-d is obligated to be challenged by what happened, yet we have no good answers.
The simplest answer here is that G-d gave humans free will; if people can choose to do good or evil, that means they are able to do good or evil. Humans chose to do a great deal of evil 1939-1945. Still we're left with asking when G-d interferes with human plans and when not, which is again beyond our comprehension. We do have the notion that once it was decided that an entire community will perish, that applies "wholesale"; even a few good people within it may not be saved, barring exceptional merit or Divine purpose.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein escaped Europe in 1937 and became the rabbinic backbone of post-Holocaust American Orthodoxy; he viewed his escape from the Holocaust as a sign of his calling to serve the people. People would ask why he wasted so much of his time answering all sorts of questions from all sorts of people; he replied "the rabbis who took themselves seriously aren't around anymore." But that explains one person, not the group effect.
To claim it's a punishment for sin is quite complicated, put mildly, and immediately leads to finger-pointing. Some have claimed it was the sin of Zionism; others, the sin of opposing Zionism. As Job told his "friends", let's not go there.
I've heard survivors say they have no questions, it was massive punishment just as the Bible says may happen. I've heard non-survivors say it can't be explained. We may not have better answers than that.
A helpful thought I heard on the subject from Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is from Maharal; that sometimes G-d lets great evil grow quite large, to show it can still be defeated.
With all that in mind, we move forward.
(Much of this is summarized from a talk on the subject from Rabbi Adlerstein I heard several years ago, as well as an mp3 from YuTorah.org by Rabbi Shnayer Leiman on theodicy.)
The Meshech Chochmah (1843–1926), writing decades before the Holocaust, describes the pattern of Jewish History. He explains how the Jews first arrive at a place and focus on Torah and mitzvos, but then later generations become comfortable, and begin slacking off in observance and forgetting they're in exile. Eventually this reaches the point that they are exiled again.
He predicts that a similar pattern will happen in Germany, for "they say Berlin is Jerusalem", and abandoned the Mitzvos. The actual 'exile' that happened was far worse than the previous exiles in history, but there it had also been a much greater change in society. Though no one in this world can fully understand how God runs the world or why bad things happen to good people.
The Meshech Chochmah can be found here (p. 244-245)
Sorry for saying that:
G-d doesn't stop what He started1,2. He didn't "stop" the Egyptian exile, where millions perished, neither He "stopped" the destruction of the two Temples and millions dead or expelled. And neither He "stopped" the Holocaust.
The failure to understand that those events did not start "against His will" or "while He was away" lead to this kind of emotional questions.
G-d has the absolute right to fulfilling His will3 (or His plan), whether we like it or not, and whether it seems just to us or not. As the Torah says (Deut 30):
הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל־דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט
אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא׃
The Rock!—His deeds are perfect, Yea, all His ways are just;
A faithful God, never false, True and upright is He.
The simple reason is that we don't know why because we have limited human intellect (like the parable the Rebbe gives of a person who never heard of modern technology showing up in an operating room).
There have been many tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people throughout history, and it is one of the weightiest theological questions. I won't address the holocaust directly, but just provide a short general response.
The Torah itself spells out with a large amount of detail the terrible things that will happen to the Jews if they do not keep the Torah. It also refers to the concept of 'hester panim', that if the Jews sin, God will 'hide' so-to-speak. This means that He will remove any form of protection from them, and not prevent terrible things from happening. In fact, even the righteous are not protected when this happens. Only when the people are at a high level do they merit Divine protection.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein briefly addresses this in his book "By His Light" (chapter 8). His general approach regarding the Holocaust is that we simply don't know:
"... it may be preferable to leave the problem unresolved- even if it is multiplied six million times- than to accept any of these answers".
The three 'answers' he says, are each unpalatable, unexplainable and give rise to problems in their own way. These three options are:
- 1) God willed the Holocaust
- 2) God gave man free choice and the Holocaust resulted without God interfering
- 3) Hester Panim as a consequence of our actions.
In "By His Light" Rabbi Lichtenstein gives the following response (p. 161) to a Holocaust related questions (copied in part):
Concerning faith during the Holocaust, we must recognize that the most firmly rooted tree cannot withstand great storm winds. There were many whose spiritual roots were deep and strong, who nevertheless were broken by the experience of the Holocaust. It is not possible for us to judge the religious state of particular individuals, or of a particular generation, by inquiring whether they withstood the test of the Holocaust. Of course, if someone emerged from the Holocaust with his faith intact, we have no greater evidence of devotion than this. By the same token, one who was broken by the experience did not necessarily possess less faith and trust in God at the outset. The test was overwhelming and it is not possible to derive meaningful proof from it..."
It can be compared to why Hashem punished Pharaoh for enslaving the Jews if it was Hashem who made them slaves in Egypt in the first place? The answer is that even though Hashem decreed that the Jews would be slaves, Pharaoh of his own free will treated them excessively harsh and that was what he was punished for. So even though Hashem put the Jews at the German's mercy, it was the Germans who decided to use that control for horrors.
Why didn't Hashem stop it? He did, in 1945.
THere's another way of looking at the Catastrophe:
Rashi on the Posuk (Gen 45):
וַיִּפֹּל עַל־צַוְּארֵי בִנְיָמִן־אָחִיו וַיֵּבְךְּ וּבִנְיָמִן בָּכָה עַל־צַוָּארָיו׃
With that he [Yossef] embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.
brings the Midrash B"R:
"עַל שְׁנֵי מִקְדָּשׁוֹת שֶׁעֲתִידִין לִהְיוֹת בְּחֶלְקוֹ שֶׁל בִּנְיָמִין וְסוֹפָם לֵחָרֵב:"
"for the [two] Temples which were to be in Benjamin’s territory and which would ultimately be laid in ruins"
The idea is that in G-d's eyes the 6000 years of history exist simultaneously, unlike what is unfolding in our perception. So just as the Egyptian exile and the destruction of the two Temples were set from the days of creation, the Holocaust was also a part of it. (I think this idea was popularized by Ariza"l, because I've read it in R' Luria's books)
This approach necessitates the idea of reincarnation of souls and that, in the long run, every soul gets what G-d prepared for it.
Does the prayer of Daniel in the Babylonian Captivity (9:4-19) apply in some way to the Holocaust?
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
Does the Tochacha (Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-68) likewise apply to the Holocaust?
There are several answers to this question. Some are more satisfactory than others, but we can belive what we want.
According to Maimonides, G-d does not do evil; G-d only does good. Thus most evil is self-inflicting. For example, when Hitler decided to expand Germany, killing millions. In a word, humans harm other humans. Maimonides also seemed to say that G-d is not involved in human affairs. For if G-d aided people, where was God when Hitler murdered millions?
However, some say that the Torah states the tragedies the Jews will face when abandoning G-d. Thus, the Shoah endorses the Torah and does not detract. They posit that millions of Jew perished during the holocaust because many were secular and failed to observe the Sabbath. Do you believe that Jews were being punished by G-d whenever they faced difficult times? Did Jews deserve their harsh punishments? With this line of thinking, aren't anti-semites agents of G-d? Or, is this nonsense? If so how do you explain the Holocaust?
Is there a contradiction here? How can G-d punish Jews with the Holocaust and yet merit the reestablishment of Israel?
Some have tried to reconcile this contradiction with the concept of hester panim, “the hiding of (G-d’s) face.” G-d was not involved but only hiding. Unavailable. Orthodox rabbi Eliezer Berkovits liked this notion. He explained that during the Holocaust G-d “hid his face,” hester panim, since G-d wants humans to activate their free will. He felt that the explanation “because of our sins,” was no longer a "satisfactory explanation.” Thus G-d gives humans the ability to choose. If G-d was clearly present free will would be compromised. Thus, “G-d’s silence” enables humanity to be more engaged in the progress of history. "History is man’s responsibility.”