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Elul Thoughts from Rabbi Lea Mühlstein

At the beginning of the 18th century, the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz coined the term theodicy meaning “to justify God,” to categorise responses to the question why God permits the good to suffer and the evil to prosper. Over 250 years later, the American scholar Zachary Braiterman creates his own neologism—antitheodicy—to describe a second mode of trying to make sense of the essence of and existence of God when facing tragedy. In contrast to theodicy which attempts to justify God, ‘antitheodicy means refusing to justify, explain or accept that relationship.’[1] Braiterman stresses that while antitheodicy may often border on blasphemy, it does not constitute atheism. Rather ‘the author of a genuine antitheodic statement must believe that an actual relationship subsists between God and evil in order to reject it; and they must love God in order to be offended by that relationship.’[2]

Amongst the many examples of theodicy and antitheodicy which Braiterman discusses, we find many familiar biblical and post-biblical narratives. When we confront the evil that exists in this world, as believers we must call into question what sort of God we believe in. I would argue that while progressive Jewish responses to terror, trauma and tragedy will vary, most can be classified to fall into the mode of antitheodicy; similar to what Braiterman observes to be true for many post-Holocaust Jewish thinkers. We simply refuse to find a reason why someone might “deserve” their cancer diagnosis or their violent death or their falling victim to a terror attack. I will leave it to the readers to confirm my hypothesis when reading the new book “Terror, Trauma and Tragedy.”

[1] Zachary Braiterman (1998) (God) After Auschwitz: Tradition and Change in Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press), p. 4.
[2] Ibid.


Elul Thoughts

Elul is a month given to us to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a month where we try to take account of our lives, so that we might make the most of this powerful time of renewal, regeneration, fresh starts and healing.

This year our daily Elul Thoughts are taken from ‘Terror, Trauma and Tragedy’, edited by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Rabbi David Mitchell. Each is a short extract of a larger piece designed to help us find meaning, comfort or perhaps more questions in the aftermath of horrific events, which have seemed all too frequent this year. The horror of such atrocities can leave us in confusion, depression and fear. As we move into a new year we hope these pieces might variously offer some solace, be a tool of self-reflection, and encourage us to continue working for a better world.

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