The Holocaust was one of the most horrific and important events in our history. What have rabbis said are lessons we should take from it?

I am looking for lessons that should apply to all Jews, particularly those that should apply to our lives and outlook. References to notable speeches or documents addressing this topic would be a welcome addition to any answers, as I'm looking more for consensus or "generally notable" answers (such as from rabbis of major influence), rather than individual opinions.

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    Hello Beofett, and welcome to Judaism.SE! Is there a specific set of lessons you are looking for when you say "as a people"? Do you mean only those that apply to all Jews? Only those that have an effect on a national bur not individual scale?
    – WAF
    Aug 25, 2011 at 13:32
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    @WAF I am looking for lessons that should apply to all Jews, particularly those that should apply to our lives and outlook. References to notable speeches or documents addressing this topic would be a welcome addition to any answers, as I'm looking more for consensus or "generally notable" answers (if that makes sense), rather than individual opinions. However, I wasn't sure how best to phrase that as part of the question.
    – Beofett
    Aug 25, 2011 at 13:42
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    Thanks for clarifying. You could include all of those motes as helpful elaboration of the question. I look forward to reading the responses.
    – WAF
    Aug 25, 2011 at 13:44
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    I've edited the question to fit better into the format of this site. Note that questions are closed for the following reason, which pretty much applied to the question as formulated earlier: "This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion."
    – msh210
    Aug 25, 2011 at 17:54
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    @msh210 Thanks for the edit. That definitely helps clarify what I was looking for.
    – Beofett
    Aug 25, 2011 at 21:40

6 Answers 6


The Lubavitcher Rebbe said to many survivors that from the Holocaust we see that one cannot rely on human feelings of morality. Until the Holocaust, many thought that the more cultured one was, the more intellectual one was, the more moral one would be. With the Holocaust, the entire Modern Western culture was shown to false. Scientists and Musicians either watched or actively participated in mass murder.


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    Another great point from your link: 'If we allow the pain and despair to dishearten us from raising a new generation of Jews with a strong commitment to their Jewishness, then Hilter's "final solution" will be realized, G-d forbid. But if we rebuild, if we raise a generation proud of and committed to their Jewishness, we will have triumphed.'
    – Beofett
    Aug 26, 2011 at 18:04
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    I don't see how a refutation of a means of training someone to be moral refutes the morals which they were being trained to practice. ie your first sentence doesn't follow from the rest. No downvote because you sourced it (Actually I don't see your claims here in that link, but even the point there I think you are misrepresenting is equally fallacious).
    – Double AA
    Oct 8, 2014 at 9:03
  • 1. What is new from the Greeks and the Romans 2000 years ago? Weren't they the pinnacle of the human culture also? 2. The Nazis didnt murder us "because" of their culture, just as the Torah prescribes wiping other nations to make the world better, they held similar views. In fact, we should take credit for the idea. 3. The last sentence is complete nonsense - there were all kinds of people, just as we can't generalize the gentiles - some murdered and some saved the Jews.
    – Al Berko
    May 1, 2019 at 22:35
  • According to Rabbi Herschel Welcher, "the majority by numbers and structure [rov minyan urov binyan]" of great rabbis concluded, post-Holocaust, that the world is too dangerous a place without a Jewish state.
  • After several national calamities, there have been fervent Messianic hopes/expectations, which happened as well in the late twentieth century (mostly focused on the seventh rebbe of Lubavitch). The late Rabbi Schneurson is quoted as saying that any catastrophes called for before the coming of the Messiah were certainly fulfilled completely. Rabbi Benjamin Blech believes that our current period in history is between and then came the Angel of Death and and then along came G-d, as described in the song Chad Gadya.
  • Many customs that had been specific to particular eastern European towns no longer applied, as those towns were abandoned with no plans to return anytime soon. (As opposed to a discussion several centuries ago of a town in Alsace that evacuated temporarily due to some war between France and Germany; under the balance-of-power system at the time, everyone knew they'd be back in town again soon.)
  • Besides the above practical argument for the establishment of a Jewish State is a Talmudic one: the Talmud speaks of several "oaths" that would be the foundation of how the Jews whould live in the diaspora: one is that the other nations treat the exiled Jews with some semblance of decency; another is that the Jews not force their way back to Israel. Long before 1939 it was argued that the nations hadn't kept their part of the deal (first oath), so the Jews were exempted from theirs; that argument seemed even stronger post-1945.
  • Dr. Haym Soloveichik has famously argued that the value placed on mimetic tradition was broken, and instead, needing something to latch onto, people started following texts, even if in some cases they were far stricter than was the established practice. (For instance, the popularity of Mishna Brurah, written by a dean of a rabbinic academy and saying "the majority of texts say do X"; vs. Aruch HaShulchan, written by a town rabbi and saying "common practice is to do Y, this is supported by many texts.")
  • Questions were raised regarding a rabbi's authority or expertise on political matters. Many Eastern European rabbis had told their communities, c. 1939, that the war would blow over, and there was no need to flee. Those rabbis were working with their best understanding of several centuries of history, but the Holocaust was something far beyond that pattern. Some believe that G-d, for reasons we can't understand, let those rabbis be mistaken. A young Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik, pre-Holocaust, had spoken (in a eulogy for Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grozinski) about the authority of great rabbis on political matters; years after the Holocaust, his speech "Joseph and his Brothers" challenged this to some degree. While it's subject to interpretation by his students (for instance, Rabbi Mordechai Willig believes there is no conflict between Eulogy for Rabbi Chaim Ozer and Joseph and his Brothers), Soloveichik's student and biographer, Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, believes that Soloveichik's faith in rabbinic authority on political matters was shattered by the Holocaust.
  • I'm told there are theologians (non-Jewish, from what I understand) whose understanding of Hell was rethought after seeing Auschwitz.
  • While we have no right to claim that the obligations of Judaism ceased due to the Holocaust, there is a great deal of reluctance to pass judgement on a Jew who has given up observance (or even faith) after the Holocaust.

See here for an article by Howard Shultz, chairman of Starbucks, describing his meeting with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, in which the latter teaches him "the lesson of the Holocaust."

"Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.

"As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.

"After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

"As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, 'Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'"

And Rabbi Finkel says, "It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others."

And with that, he stood up and said, "Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people."


A similar sentiment to Shmuel Brin’s answer. From this interview by Mr. Forst on Rabbi Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl, transcribed here on pages 65-66. He says [Rabbi Forst] the nonreligious Jew questions God, the religious Jew questions man, society.


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Many years ago Rav Kook gave the following speech

Excerpted from the book, "Torat Eretz Yisrael - The Teachings of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook,” compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi David Samson, and Tzvi Fishman.

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook The Holocaust - Why

On Holocaust Memorial Day at Merkaz Harav Yeshiva decades ago, Rabbi Kook approached the question from a perspective which embraces all of Jewish history.

Introduction: Many scholars and philosophers have put forth theories which attempt to explain the Holocaust. One Haredi point of view focuses the blame on the Reform Jews in Germany who broke away from the Torah. Another attitude blames the secular Zionists for having brazenly established a non-religious settlement in the Land of Israel before the Mashiach’s arrival. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook had a different understanding. These theories, he said, failed to embrace the whole sweep of history. The workings of Divine Providence cannot be isolated to any one moment, or group, but must be seen in the context of the “Divine Historical Plan” which spans generations. Accusations that blame this group, or that group, fracture the unity of the Jewish Nation. Just as G-d is One, the Nation of Israel is one. Only from this encompassing perspective, which embraces all of Jewish history, can one hope to fathom the Divine Will in the horror of the Holocaust. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda spoke the following words on Holocaust Memorial Day at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem:

"Everything that happens in the world is a Divine mystery. The understanding of Divine Providence, in all of its complexity, is not revealed to us. Analytical studies of the Holocaust are a juvenile activity. Only with great sensitivity, and with a mature spiritual perspective, is it possible to approach this awesome topic. "First, one must remember that there is a difference between human comprehension and Divine Reckoning. The true understanding of the world, and the true understanding of faith, demand an understanding of the Torah verse, ‘Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations’ (Devarim, 32:5). This sweeping historical perspective includes a deep faith that everything comes from G-d. But along with this, one must remember that, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts; My ways are not your ways, says the L-rd. For My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts’ (Yishayahu, 55:8-9). "A weakness of faith, and a narrow world outlook, causes one to measure Divine Providence according to the yardstick of our understanding, which is limited. Human understanding is finite and cannot grasp the workings of ‘Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom’ (Tehillim, 145:13). Our reckoning is a reckoning of the here and now, whereas the Divine reckoning is an accounting of ages. Sometimes, man forgets that matters are not dependent on, nor begin with him. In truth, events are connected by a Divine Historical Plan. Thus our comprehension of them is dependent upon our ability to elevate ourselves and recognize the overall Divine Reckoning. "Rising to this level is not easy. Therefore, there were people who abandoned their faith on the heels of the Holocaust, because they did not succeed in lifting themselves up to the knowledge of the true G-d. Obviously, one sympathizes with them. As our Sages said about Job, ‘A man is not blamed for what he utters in his agony’ (Baba Batra 16B). There is room to understand errors committed in an hour of suffering. Yet difficulties do not justify abandoning our faith. One must not subject G-d to our reasoning and perception. Only with this understanding is it possible to approach, in fear and awe, a comprehension of a tiny part of the Holocaust. “In our generation, we have seen an awesome new form of destruction (the Holocaust) and an incredible new revival and building (the State of Israel). There are people who don’t agree with this order of Divine Providence. They become confused when they encounter these events. But nothing happens randomly. There is not a thing which transpires that isn’t carried out according to the Providence of the Almighty. Not only the good events, but also the things which appear evil to us, they all happen according to the Divine Plan. "There are no words to describe the shocking, frightening, and horrifying atrocity of the Holocaust. It will remain this way forever. It is impossible to stop the anger one feels against the Nazis, may their names be erased. They not only perpetuated an unspeakable evil against us, they also damaged our psyches, leaving us psychologically scarred. All of our national identity and pride was uprooted by them. This is even more pernicious than the killing and murder. All of the national, social, and political uncertainty we now experience, all of our confusion in our world outlook and lifestyle, follow from this destruction of the Israelite community. The Holocaust caused an upheaval in our attitudes and worldview, and it damaged our faith in G-d. "We are commanded to rise up to a sublime vision, to ‘Contemplate the years of many generations,’ to rise up over trivial explanations, to peer beyond mere superficial perception. One must guard against thinking in a condensed and myopic fashion when clarifying the historic reckonings of Clal Yisrael – the entire Community of Israel, past, present, and future. The Nation of Israel is a single unity which arrives at its wholeness only after a continuum which spans all ages. The whole truthful vision beholds the entire Nation of Israel in all of its generations. It is true that there are many levels in the Nation of Israel, from the completely righteous, to people of average deeds, to doers of evil. However, all of these categories compose one complete entity. Just as ‘The Torah of the L-rd is whole’ (Tehillim, 19:18), so is the Nation of Israel whole. Like the body of a man, that is made up of different organs having various functions and levels of importance, yet which together, each performing its task, constitute the complete man – so is the Nation of Israel, each tribe has its unique value, and all of them together make up the Nation. "A perspective of the Nation of Israel which divides the whole into parts (religious and secular, Zionist and anti-Zionist), without sensitivity to the overall oneness of the Nation, is a narrow-minded perspective that brings many divisions and crises in its wake. All of Israel’s millions are bound together, in one body, in one soul. "This single, complete body of the Nation of Israel is whole only in Eretz Yisrael. In the exile, we are not in our normal national situation, nor in our vibrant state. The return to the Land of Israel is a return to national Israelite normalcy and to health. G-d’s presence among the Jewish People on appears in its true form only in Eretz Yisrael. There is even a difference in the value of a mitzvah which a Jew performs in the Land of Israel, compared to the value of the same precept when performed outside the Land. "The actualization of the Jewish People in all of our wholeness is only in Eretz Yisrael. Outside of the Land, we are not healthy because the national component of Clal Yisrael is shattered, and we exist as solitary individuals, the remnants of Israel. The exile causes a fracturing of G-d’s light on the Nation, and in the world. Galut destroys our National Format, and we remain isolated, lifeless souls, like the Dry Bones of Ezekiel’s prophecy. "However, the bones of Ezekiel’s vision do not disintegrate forever, and we wait the appearance of a new burst of life (Yechezkel, 37:3-5). And now the time has come to return to health. The end of exile has arrived. Everything has stages, and the Redemption does not appear all at once, but gradually, a little at a time (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:1). The Master of the World arranges history in such a way that for a certain time we are confined to exile, and afterwards He brings about historical events which cause the national body of the Jewish People to awaken in a developing process spanning generations. This awakening builds in momentum toward a complete Revival. "There are situations where it is difficult to separate from the exile. However, the time has arrived for our Nation’s revival, and for the redemption of our Land. The Revealed End has come, the time when, ‘You O mountains of Israel shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they will soon be coming’ (Sanhedrin 98A). The time approached for Israel’s return to Zion, and this caused the rebirth of the Land. "But as the time arrives for our departure from the darkness of the exile, situations arise which resemble the Hebrew slave who rejects freedom and says, ‘I loved my master’ (Shemot, 21:5). Jews fell in love with the exile and refused to come back to Israel. But the Diaspora cannot continue forever. The Diaspora is the worse Desecration of G-d that there is, as we find in the words of Ezekiel: ‘And when they came to the nations into which they came, they profaned My holy Name, in that men said of them, these are the people of the L-rd, and they are gone out of His Land’ (Yechezkel, 36:20). "When the time comes for Redemption, complications arise and large portions of the nation are embedded in the tar of the galut (exile). The facts bear witness – multitudes of Jews grew accustomed to the impurity of the Diaspora, and refused to extricate themselves from it. Thus begins a Divine surgery, a deep inner, esoteric purification from this decay, a treatment of amputation and healing. All of Israel’s millions are one single body, an indivisible organism, and when it is delayed from returning to health because of its clinging to a foreign land, then a cruel Divine amputation is needed. "The time came for the Jewish People to return to their Land, but since they refused, there was no way to bring them back other than, ‘He took me by the sidelock of my head’ (Yechezkel, 8:3), in order to bring them against their will to Eretz Yisrael. When the end of exile arrives, and all of Israel fails to recognize it, there is a need for a cruel Divine amputation and severance. We are not speaking here about a Divine Reckoning against this person or that person, since this is a secret matter of G-d, belonging to the secret world of souls. We are speaking of a reckoning that encompasses all of the Nation, which arises from a situation of, ‘They despised the desirable Land’ (Tehillim, 106:24). This is an amputation which causes the Nation as a whole to separate from the Diaspora and return to its life in the Land of Israel." May the memories of the murdered be avenged. (Excerpted from the book, "Torat Eretz Yisrael - The Teachings of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook,” compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi David Samson, and Tzvi Fishman.) © Arutz Sheva


Today is Yom Hashoah here in Israel and here are a couple of important [yet unspoken and unpopular] lessons on this topic:

  1. G-d and the Torah invented and popularized the idea that for the purpose of making the world better some [bad of course] nations must be exterminated in this way or another. The Egyptians, the 7 nations, the Amalekites? The world would be much better without them. Read (my lips) Ester 8.11: לְהַשְׁמִיד וְלַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד אֶת־כָּל־חֵיל עַם וּמְדִינָה הַצָּרִים אֹתָם טַף וְנָשִׁים וּשְׁלָלָם לָבוֹז - sounds familiar?.

  2. The sages should have been much more careful describing our relations with the Gentiles in our sources. Even after the censorship, a lot of insulting statements, interpretations and Halochos remained, like עם הדומה לחמור. Why tease a bear - it can bite one day.

  3. "משנתנה רשות למשחית לחבל אינו מבחין בין צדיק לרשע" - many basic principles of reward and punishment became meaningless when G-d rages - in no ways the Jews were distinguished by their religious piety.

  4. G-d keeps His promises/prophecies, like אם בחקתי תלכו or ראה אנכי נותן לפניכם היום etc. While we hold that negative prophecies G-d isn't obligated to fulfill, He still holds the right to decide.

  5. In the phrase "בכל דר ודר קמים עלינו לכלותנו" Hakab"A not only "מצילנו מידם" but also makes them "קמים עלינו", so we should not focus on the dog that bites us but on its sender (well, in terms of our relations with Him). But we will probably never learn this lesson, keeping blaming the Pharao and Haman and Nebuchadnezzar and Hitler, etc, etc and telling how bad they were, hushing about how bad we were instead.

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