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Aspects of Holocaust Theology: The Theology of Retribution–Part I

Despite being saved by Zionists and secular Jews, Satmar leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum pinpoints the chief cause of the Holocaust–on the Zionists!

Because of our sinfulness we have suffered greatly, suffering as bitter as wormwood, worse than any Israel has know since it became a people…In former times, whenever troubles befell Jacob, the matter was pondered and reasons sought–which sin had brought the troubles about–so that we could make amends and return to the Lord, may He be blessed…But in our generation one need not look far for the sin responsible for our calamity…The heretics have made all kinds of efforts to violate these oaths, to go up by force and to seize sovereignty and freedom by themselves, before the appointed time…[They] have lured the majority of the Jewish people into awful heresy, the like of which as not been seen since the world was created…And so it is no wonder that the Lord has lashed out in anger…And there were also righteous people who perished because of the iniquity of the sinners and corrupters, so great was the [divine] wrath.[1]

Rabbis Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, in 1939, also stated that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was the fault of non-Orthodox Jews.[2] Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch also believed that God punished the Jews for embracing assimilation. According to Rabbi Y.Y., there were two causes why the Holocaust occurred: (1) assimilation, as seen in the wholesale abandonment of Jewish ritual observance (2) Zionism. For the Rebbe of Lubavitch, it was inconceivable that God would work something so miraculous as return to the Land of Israel through secular people who not only failed to observe the traditions, but also scoffed at those who did. Schneersohn writes in his Likutei Dibburim:

“Question: Who is punishing the Jewish people, and why? And every individual must himself arrive at the real answer: The current predicament is the same as it has always been, in every instance in which the Jewish people “did evil in the eyes of G-d.” Each such case was followed by a famine or an epidemic or a wartime crisis — until the people returned to G-d and were saved…

Is it conceivable that people who desecrate Shabbos and eat treifos and so on will overpower (so to speak) the Will of G-d, Who constantly desires that Eretz Yisrael should be a land of Torah and mitzvos, and that Jews in all other lands too should observe Torah and mitzvos? Realize that life and death are in your hands. And we must all keep in mind that “the hearts of kings and states¬ men are in the Hand of G-d.” The Jewish people will be saved not by statesmen nor by presidents nor by kings, but by G-d’s Will, which will act only when we return in teshuvah. It is commonly observed that when a freethinker or even a G-dless individual stands at the bedside of a desperately ill husband or wife or beloved only child, and the doctors say that G-d alone can help, the latent Jewish spark is wakened and this individual too turns to H im in prayer. Jewry is a desperately ill patient in need of great mercy. No Jew in any country can be certain of his life, and of course not certain of his property. American millionaires and bankers and prosperous businessmen would do well to draw a lesson from the current state of the migrants: they,too, were once millionaires and bankers and prosperous businessmen . . .

Fellow Jews! Things are grim. This is the dense and gloomy darkness that precedes the dawning of Jewry’s sun, with a complete Redemption through our righteous Mashiach. In the meantime it is dark. The one ray of hope is teshuvah — observing Shabbos and the laws of Family Purity and the other practical obligations, and bringing up one’s children in kosher Talmud Torah schools and yeshivos. Fellow Jews! Vigilantly observe the laws of Family Purity, and Family Purity  will vigilantly watch over your children.“[3]

Back to the Future

Today, Haredi Orthodox (ultra-Orthodox rabbis) warn that a failure to follow Orthodox interpretations of religious law will cause God to send another Holocaust. In past years, Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Schach, one of the most prestigious leaders of the Lithuanian yeshiva Orthodoxy in Israel until his death in 2001, also made this claim on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War. He stated that there would be a new Holocaust in punishment for the abandonment of religion and “desecration” of Shabbat in Israel.

Shach’s perspective is not at all unique either among today’s Haredi community. On Aug, 6th, 2000,  Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,  the leader of Israel’s biggest ultra-Orthodox political party, said the six million Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners in previous generations. Yosef called the Nazis “evil” and the victims “poor people,” but he concluded that the six million “were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things which should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone.”


[1] Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism (Chicago: UP Chicago, 1996), 124.

[2] See Responsa Achiezer, volume III, Vilna 1939, in the introduction. This is discussed in “Piety & Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism” by Orthodox author David Landau (1993, Hill & Wang).

[3] Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn and Uri Kaploun (trans.), Likkutei Dibburim Vol 5, (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 2000), 317-325.

[4] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheneersohn, Mada Ve’emuna,  (Kfar Chabad: Machon Lubavitc, 1980).



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