The panel discussion on "Haredim and the Holocaust" recently aired on Channel 1 should have included the views of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Chabad's so-called "King Messiah"), Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.
On the subject of the Holocaust, the Rebbe wrote as follows: "It is clear that 'no evil descends from Above,' and buried within torment and suffering is a core of exalted spiritual good. Not all human beings are able to perceive it, but it is very much there. So it is not impossible for the physical destruction of the Holocaust to be spiritually beneficial. On the contrary, it is quite possible that physical affliction is good for the spirit" ("Mada Ve'emuna," Machon Lubavitch, 1980, Kfar Chabad).
Schneerson goes on to compare God to a surgeon who amputates a patient's limb in order to save his life. The limb "is incurably diseased ... The Holy One Blessed Be He, like the professor-surgeon...seeks the good of Israel, and indeed, all He does is done for the good.... In the spiritual sense, no harm was done, because the everlasting spirit of the Jewish people was not destroyed."
The Rebbe's stance, therefore, is clear: The Holocaust was a good thing because it lopped off a disease-ravaged limb of the Jewish people - in other words, the millions who perished in the Holocaust - in order to cleanse the Jewish people of its sins.
There is logic in this theology: If God is indeed omnipotent, knows everything and controls the world ("God presides over the trials of 4 billion people all day long, every day without a moment's rest"), which implies divine supervision on an individual and collective basis, then the Holocaust took place not only with his knowledge, but also with his approval.
Schneerson does not accept the idea of "hester panim," or God's face being turned away, to explain why He was not present when 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered. According to some religious Jews, this hester panim was a consequence of man's sins, and, above all, the sins of the Jewish people. Schneerson says that God was there, and that he wanted the Holocaust to happen. But because it is inconceivable, in his view, for God to commit evil, he portrays the Holocaust as a positive event, all the more so for the Jews.
After this text was published in the summer of 1980, kicking up a storm, Chabad claimed it was based on an inaccurate Hebrew translation of talks that the Rebbe delivered in Yiddish. The Rebbe, they said, had no idea his remarks were being published. It seems hard to believe Schneerson would not go over every word published in his name, let alone a text put out in Hebrew by Machon Lubavitch in Kfar Chabad.
In fact, there is a document written by the Rebbe himself, in Hebrew, which bears his statements about the Holocaust. The late Chaika Grossman, a leader of the underground in the Bialystok ghetto, who survived the war and served as a Knesset member for several terms, published an article in Hamishmar newspaper on August 22, 1980, quoting Schneerson and expressing her profound shock at his words. On August 28, 1980, the Rebbe sent her a reply on his personal stationary. The letter, apparently typewritten, contains a number of corrections in his own handwriting, and is signed by him. In it, the Rebbe confirms everything in the published text.
His remarks, Schneerson explained, were based on the Torah. Hitler was a messenger of God in the same sense that Nebuchadnezzar is called "God's servant" in the Book of Jeremiah (chapter 25). The "surgery" he spoke of was such a massive corrective procedure that the suffering (i.e., the murder of the Jews) was minor compared to its curative effect.
I was invited to take part in this television debate, but my appearance was canceled at the last moment, perhaps because of my opinions on the subject. The truth is, there are no "Haredim." There are Haredi groups and Haredi individuals, and their conduct during and after the Holocaust took different forms. Since the Holocaust, Jews have wrestled with this issue and continue to do so. Rabbi Schneerson's views are one of many.
But Chabad is a large and influential Hasidic dynasty. It has a messiah who lived and died, and many look forward to his resurrection. In this respect, Chabad is a kind of semi-Christian movement. Therefore it is important to know what its leader said. The "King Messiah" did not deny the Holocaust. He justified it.
The author is a Holocaust scholar.