Judaism In Nazi Concentration Camps – “The Holocaust and Halakhah” by Rabbi Irving Rosenbaum

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“The Holocaust and Halakhah” by Rabbi Irving Rosenbaum is a study of the determined efforts of the Jews of Europe to conform to the patterns and norms of Halakhic Judaism during the Holocaust period.

It is based in large part on rabbinic responsa written in Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania from the beginning of the Nazi regime in 1933, until the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945. Included are rabbinic rulings from the ghettos, labor camps, and death camps of the Holocaust. These responsa treat such subjects as the justifiability of suicide, murder, and abortion under the conditions obtaining at the time.

They also discuss the observance of  Passover, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and even Purim in the ghetto of  Kovno and the Auschwitz death camp. Indeed, the range of  subjects covered is as broad as the spectrum of the Halakhah itself. Moreover, the factual circumstances out of which each question arose are cited, and a summary of the legal arguments leading to the decision in the responsa are included.

Holocaust and Halakhah” also incorporates eyewitness and documentary material concerning the obdurate and heroic Jewish adherence to the study of  Torah and the practice of mitzvot during the Holocaust.

Review by Gary Selikow (Amazon)

This book describes the various Halachic questions and rulings on issues relating to the Holocaust. The book deals with questions as to whether it was acceptable according to Halakha for a Jew to try to save his or her life in times of murderous persecution by publicly embracing conversion to a non-Jewish faith.

The permissibility of buying a family member their right to live in exchange for the life of another Jew, and how Jewish observance of law and of fasts and holidays could or should have been observed.

In his forward the editor of the series Norman Lamm reminds us of the findings of  Professor Uriel Tal in suggesting that the Nazis focused on Judaism no less than the Jews as their major enemy.’The theoreticians of of Nazism defined their movement as a “political theology” and as a form of secular messianism diametrically opposed to the religion and messianism of Judaism, which was thus conceived of as essentially anti-Nazi. The confrontation between Jews and Nazis was thus formulated as not only political and racial but also as ideological- indeed theological’.

This similar ideological battle against Judaism has been taken up by such ideologies as Communism, revolutionary leftism and Islamism.

The book recounts an incident where a kapo who is a Communist political prisoner discovers a Jew carrying a tallit katon. The kapo is engaged at the Jews steadfast belief in G-d and beats him murderously.

The book recounts how underground yeshivot were organized in the ghetto and how so many Jews gave up or risked their lives to continue with Jewish observances in the ghettos and concentration camps. The book tells us that saying kaddish for a righteous gentile who saved Jews was certainly permissible, in fact a mitzvah (good deed).

“May He who does loving-kindness to His people Israel, repay with loving kindness the righteous ones of the nations of the world who risked their lives to save the people of  Israel. May the Almighty who blesses His people Israel with peace, bless them with everything good. May they see when G-d returns the captivity of  Zion and the rebuilding of his chosen sanctuary in which we shall once again offer sacrifices in behalf of the seventy nations of the world, speedily and in our days. Amen.”

The book also informs us that Jewish girls who were forced by the Nazis to act as prostitutes for Nazi officers, were exonerated completely and were permitted to their husbands. In fact that tattoo that the Nazis stamped on these girls branding them “Prostitute for the Armies of Hitler’ is a mark of their suffering for the sanctification of G-d’s name and need not even be removed. It is a sign of honor and strength, not of  shame and disgrace.

A fascinating volume on how Jewish Halakah related to the the Jewish people’s greatest catastrophy of  modern times.

About Rabbi Irving Rosenbaum (via Chicago Tribune)

Born in Omaha, Rabbi Rosenbaum moved to Chicago at age 16 to attend the University of  Chicago and Hebrew Theological College in Skokie. His grandfather’s deep religious beliefs sparked his interest in religious studies, and he immersed himself in lessons about the Jewish faith.

After graduating from both institutions in the early 1940s, Rabbi Rosenbaum was named National Director of the Department of Inter-religious Cooperation of the Anti-Defamation League of  B’nai B’rith in 1946.

To help educate Christians about Judaism, Rabbi Rosenbaum produced a film and an accompanying book titled “Your Neighbor Celebrates” (this sentence as published has been corrected in this text). It was the first time Rabbi Rosenbaum turned to different forms of media to educate others about the Jewish faith, his son said.

“He was almost always ahead of his time and very creative at using the media of the day, whether it was print, television or computers to convey a message,” his son said.

In the 1960s, Rabbi Rosenbaum produced educational television shows to teach children about religion and offer Hebrew language lessons to adults, his son said. Later, he taught himself computer-programming languages and he founded the Davka Corp. in 1981, which sells Hebrew and Judaic software. Rabbi Rosenbaum, who did not believe in retiring, stayed with the business until his death.

Along with his passion for religion, Rabbi Rosenbaum enjoyed being a self-taught man. When he wanted to learn a new skill, he would check out a book on the subject at the Chicago Public Library and apply his lessons. It was through this technique that he learned how to be an electrician, carpenter and plumber. At age 45, he used this method to teach himself how to swim, his son said.

“If there was a book on something, he could find it, he could read it and he could learn how to do it,” his son said.

Still, Rabbi Rosenbaum’s main focus was religion, and it was a passion he passed on to his children. His three sons are rabbis, and his daughter married a rabbi.

“It was almost by osmosis,” his son said of following in his father’s footsteps. “If you’re in a family where matters of the mind and the spirit are talked about at the dinner table, you learn by example.”

Throughout his career, Rabbi Rosenbaum held many influential roles in the Jewish community and he continued his efforts to educate people about the faith.

He was named the first executive director of the Chicago Board of  Rabbis in 1960. There, he emphasized Hebrew language instruction and Jewish television programming for children. He was a longtime member of the board of the Jewish Federation of  Chicago, where he spearheaded courses on Jewish history for Jewish leaders.

In 1976, he published “The Holocaust and Halakhah,” a book about how Judaism was practiced in Nazi concentration camps. The book was based on the dissertation he wrote to earn his doctorate from the Hebrew Theological College the previous year.

“Rabbi Rosenbaum was always a person to be admired,” said Rabbi Leonard Matanky, a former student and rabbi for Congregation K.I.N.S. in West Rogers Park. “He was a great writer, speaker, a visionary in many of the things he did.”

Early in his career, Rabbi Rosenbaum promoted tolerance, and it was a lesson he continued throughout his life. “He was a person who was able to cross boundaries that others perceived in order to bring other people closer,” Matanky said.

Rabbi Rosenbaum, 83, died January 28, 2005.

“The Holocaust and Halakhah” by Rabbi Irving Rosenbaum is available on iPhone,  iPod Touch,  iPad with free Amazon app  (download app – here)

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 341 KB
Publisher: Davka Corporation (January 7, 2011)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
Language: English
Price: $10.90  (Buy now)

This book is also available on iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch with free iBooks app (download app – here).

iBooks Edition – $9.99 (Buy now)

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