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How could G-D allow the Holocaust to happen?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus


Library » History » Holocaust | Subscribe | What is RSS?


The Short Answer: 

I don't know. I can't know. And I don't want to know.

Not because the question doesn't bother me, but because if I knew the answer, it wouldn't bother me anymore.

The Askmoses Answer:

Ask The Question 

The question of the holocaust and more broadly the problem of “Why do Bad things happen to Good People?” is something that we’ve been struggling with for ages and is a subject that really requires a book. Indeed many a book has been written with that title.

I get that your question is not an indifferent, clinically detached intellectual question—you’re not doing research for a paper. I sense passion and even a hint of outrage. This is a good thing.

When we are confronted with tragedy we are supposed to respond with outrage and shock—towards G-d. This is how Abraham reacted when G-d threatened to wipe out Sodom (“Shall the Ruler of all the world not deal justly taking out the righteous with the wicked?”1). That’s how Moses reacted when G-d showed him a vision of future events, specifically the barbaric murder of Rabbi Akiba by the Romans ("Is this the reward for [teaching] Torah")2. And that’s how all the great Jewish leaders down to our generation reacted, especially Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who always confronted G-d for His actions.

your question, is based on two assumptions. 1) G-d is good and does only good; 2) G-d is in total control of the world.
(If we respond to tragedy with indifference and justifications there is something seriously wrong with us and we're in need of serious healing.)

Understanding The Question

This outrage, like your question, is based on two assumptions.

1) G-d is good and does only good;

2) G-d is in total control of the world.

So when something like 9/11 occurs, we look up at Him and say, What in heaven’s name is going on?

It is a perfectly legitimate question.

But when we expect to find an answer to the question, we make a third assumption, namely, that we can understand G-d’s ways.

This of course is rather hubristic of us. G-d has given us great brains—we’ve discovered electricity, we know how to split the atom etc — so we expect to understand everything.

This expectation is, to be blunt, absurd.

That’s why all of these leaders—Abraham, Moses, etc.—continued to serve G-d with utmost devotion and love even after their outbursts of bewilderment concerning His actions. Why is this? Why didn’t they leave Him and move on to something that made more sense?


  • 1. Genesis 18:25
  • 2. Talmud tractate Menachot 29b (Rabbi Akiba was one of the “ten martyrs” that we read about on Yom Kippur).


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Posted by: Barry Wicksman, Saipan, MP, USA on Nov 28, 2005

Rabbi Marcus has some interesting insights regarding G-d's silence in the wake of the Holocaust. I am reminded of an incident that occurred in Berlin after a devastating allied bombing of that city. A woman experiencing the devastation cried out, " G-d why do allow this terrible thing to happen?" Her neighbor replied, "G-d doesn't make war, people do." I am also reminded of Eric Fromm's Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament in which he traces the development of G-d communication with man from openly speaking to total silence. Fromm concludes that man is no longer an adolecent but is now an adult , totally free create his destiny. We , not G-d , must take responsiblity for our actions.

Editor's Comment

It is true that man has free choice and is completely responsible for his actions. As such, Nazi Germany is 100% guilty for its murderous crimes against the Jewish people. However, whilst this is true it is not the whole truth. Judaism believes that notwithstanding man's free choice G-d still guides this world. The question thus remains, how could G-d allow the holocaust to happen. For more about Free Choice vs. G-d's involvement see our section on "Free Choice"

The real reason

Posted by: Ariel on May 01, 2006

Of course we can't understand all of G-ds ways and its arrogant to think that we even begin to posses that capability but that doesn't answer the question that was asked. When something happens in this world it is for us to learn from it. Anybody who has actually ever read the torah will see that there are some very horrible curses written in it when when the Jews abandon G-ds commandments, the only way the jews merit divine protection is by clinging to the covenant that we sealed with G-d. For anybody who knows a little history it is obvious that European jewry had never abandoned the torah in the mass quantities in which they did in those times,(not all obviously) jewish assimilation rates where out the roof like never before in history. If we want G-ds protection we must uphold our end of the bargain by clinging to his commandments. Read through all the prophets when did diaster befall Israel? Only when we where arrogant and chose to abandon the Torah but we still haven't learned.

Editor's Comment

This is an incorrect application of Torah philosophy. See "Was the Holocaust a punishment?"

An answer to the editor

Posted by: Ariel on May 02, 2006

The Talmud says "there is no suffering without sin", we see in the books of the prophets equally as horrific suffering as in the holocaust in the periods of the first and second temple when people died of starvation, war and plague and where forced to eat their own children in attempts of survival, millions were massacred things that Nubuchadnezzar did to his captives were equally as horrifying as events which took place in the holocaust. The prophets continually reitierate the fact that all this befell israel due to idol worship, sexual transgressions and other breeches of the covenant. The book of deuteronmy chp 28/16-69 list horrific unimaginable punishments very similar to the holocaust and the reason given for these horrific occurences is given in verse 45 "All these curses will come upon you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed because you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem your G-d to observe his commandments and decrees that he commanded you"

Editor's Comment

The very fact that G-d sent a Prophet to forewarn those tragedies and explicitly caution that the verses of the Torah would be fulfilled in such and such a manner on such and such a day, is indicative that on our own we cannot make the assumption that a particular incident is a result of a particular sin or the fulfillment of a particular verse.

reason for the holocaust

Posted by: Albert, Plainview, NY on Jun 21, 2006

shame on ariel for his view that the holocaust was punishment for the sins of the jews and mass assimilation of european jewry, etc. it's blaming the jews for what befell them and rationalizing a terrible evil. ariel's position plays the blame game against our people instead of directing it toward the evil culprits where it so rightfully belongs. we don't have the answers!


Philosophy » Pain and Suffering » Holocaust

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.