Richard S. Levy
This article addresses the phenomenon of organized antisemitism in the sixty years preceding the “Final Solution,” primarily in Germany but with comparisons to contemporaneous developments elsewhere in Europe. It assesses theories that attempt to account for the appearance of political movements aimed at disempowering Jews, profiles the creators and proponents of antisemitic ideology, identifies the social groups they sought to mobilize, and notes the widespread failure of these movements to achieve their goals prior to 1933. It shows that decades of organized antisemitism prepared the way for the Holocaust chiefly by eroding popular willingness to defend, and indeed to care about, the rights and fates of Jews.
This chapter examines the difficulties the Holocaust posed and continues to raise for Jews, Jewish theology, and specifically Jewish ethics, identifying eight major commitments made by Jews and non-Jews that have since then inspired Jewish and global responses to human-made atrocities such as genocide and crimes against humanity. These are (1) to survive; (2) to perpetuate the memory of what happened; (3) to survive as Jews; (4) to set the moral bar high such that people are expected to be “upstanders,” not bystanders, in the face of evil; (5) to recreate relationships with people of other faiths; (6) to combat discrimination and genocide; (7) to define and demand humane standards for medical research; and (8) to learn how to attain both justice and reconciliation after genocidal atrocities.
John K. Roth
This article argues that without the overriding of moral sensibilities, if not the collapse or collaboration of ethical traditions, the Holocaust could not have happened. Although the Shoah did not pronounce the death of ethics, it showed that ethics is vulnerable, subject to misuse and perversion, and that no simple reaffirmation of pre-Holocaust ethics, as if nothing disastrous had happened, will do any longer. The article explores those realities and focuses on some of the most important issues they contain, stressing that the Holocaust did not have to happen. It emerged from human choices and decisions. Those facts mean that nothing human, natural, or divine guarantees respect for the ethical values and commitments that are most needed in contemporary human existence, but nothing is more important than our commitment to defend them, for they remain as fundamental as they are fragile, as precious as they are endangered. Ethics may not be enough, but failures notwithstanding, it still provides our best post-Holocaust compass.
Notwithstanding almost six decades of scholarship and a fast-swelling stream of publications, the historiography of the Holocaust still remains divided in its initial and traditional clusters: the history of the perpetrators, that of the bystanders, and that of the victims. Most of the historical publications about the Holocaust deal with the perpetrators (the Germans and their collaborators) and their anti-Jewish policies and measures in the Reich and throughout occupied Europe. The history of Nazi policies and measures often tends to be considered as equivalent to the history of the Holocaust as such. The second cluster of monographs examines the attitudes and initiatives of the bystanders, of local authorities in occupied countries, of the European populations, the churches, the neutral countries, and the Allies. The third historiographical cluster deals with the life and death of the victims.
David H. Jones
This article assesses the aftereffects of the Holocaust on human rights law. Addressing the so-called ‘promise of Nuremberg’, which began in 1945 with the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, it argues that the Charter, partly as a response to the evil of the Holocaust, broke dramatically with traditional international law by mandating ‘individual responsibility’ for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed by the leaders of the Axis Powers. The Nuremberg Principles were codified into international law by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide followed in 1948. However, the promise of Nuremberg remains largely unfulfilled. None of these post-World War II documents included mechanisms for executive or judicial enforcement, the UN Security Council was stymied by the power of the veto held by its permanent members, and the UN became a community of bystander states that has allowed numerous genocides and mass killings to occur. Among the possibilities for making the world safer for human rights are reform of the Security Council, creation of an international Rapid Response Force, the spread of democracy, and a reduction of poverty in the underdeveloped world.
Aaron S. Gross
This chapter discusses Jewish animal ethics, describing a central concept, tza'ar ba'alei hayyim, the ban on causing undue pain to animals, and the varying justifications for that ban. Some of these justifications focus on how compassion for animals will benefit human beings, including human moral character, and others assert the inherent value of animals in and of themselves. The chapter also discusses how the prohibition against causing animals pain is balanced in Jewish sources by human need, a balance that affects not only our use of animals but also Jewish rules regarding eating their flesh, with a persistent minority strain which urges vegetarianism. It then turns to two responsibilities that humans have to animals according to the Jewish tradition—to preserve compassion toward them and to guard them from abuse produced by economic motives. In general, Jews are required to provide animals with both a good life and a good death; this goes against many of the methods used in modern factory farming.
This chapter discusses Jewish ethics and war. It first turns to ancient and medieval Jewish sources to describe what they tell us about the ethics of going to war (jus ad bellum) and of waging war (jus in bello)—especially Deuteronomy 20–21 and Maimonides' code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah. Recognizing that until the founding of the modern State of Israel, Jews fought in armies governed by non-Jewish rulers, it then examines a nineteenth-century book intended to instruct Jews about how to act in military service. The overriding principle in that book and in the few other Jewish treatments of the ethics of war during the last two thousand years was “the law of the land is the law,” and that law was determined by the non-Jewish ruler. What happens, though, when Jews determine the law of the land? The chapter examines some Jewish writings published just before and after the establishment of the State of Israel that anticipate this issue. It discusses the doctrine of “purity of arms” that has shaped Israeli military ethics, the role of the military rabbinate, the Code of Ethics which now governs Israel's military actions, the ethics of fighting terrorism, and the ethics of seeking peace.
Laurie L. Levenson
This chapter explores Jewish criminal justice, first discussing the rationales that make punishment moral and not just an exercise of sovereign power. It then addresses capital punishment, decreed for thirty-six different offenses in the Torah but made virtually inoperative by the Rabbis. Next, the chapter turns to what makes a defendant criminally liable, describing the conceptions of causation, joint offenders, criminal intent, and defences in Jewish law; with that as a foundation, it asks whether there is anything like a victimless crime in Jewish law. Finally, it describes the lessons that Western criminal justice can learn from both the content and the processes of Jewish criminal law.
The victorious Allies launched what became a series of postwar judicial proceedings against accused war criminals that continues more than sixty years after World War II ended. This article points out, however, that the most famous postwar trials seldom centred on the Holocaust. Although the indictments of Nazi leaders, followers, bureaucrats, camp guards, lawyers, doctors, and businessmen prompt most people nowadays to think primarily of the ‘Final Solution’, virtually all postwar prosecutions categorized the offenses at issue as war crimes, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, or ordinary murder and manslaughter. The importance of these trials remains, as does that of the sometimes appropriate but often mild punishments meted out. However, recognition of the significance and distinctiveness of the Holocaust mainly came about in other ways.
Ron E. Hassner and Gideon Aran
This chapter reports the traditional violent themes in religious Judaism as they seem in sacred texts, rites, customs, and chronicles, and provides a survey of the components of Jewish religion relating to violence while evaluating and illustrating their development and influence through history. It then describes the violent implications of two religious elements that are distinct and central in the Jewish legacy: Mysticism and Messianism. The case of Jewish violence is especially complicated, since Judaism is characterized by a close relationship and a substantial overlap between religious association and ethno-nationalist ties. The essence of Judaism became the interpretation and application of the Bible to historical realities. The Kabbalah presents historical reality as a mirror and integral component of a larger cosmic drama. A distinct minority of Jews use their own victimhood as a license to inflict violence upon others by way of compensation or revenge.