Religion 275: Winter 2013

Taught by Prof. Marks

God and the Holocaust: Syllabus


Through drama, poetry, theology, memoir, and book-inspired films composed by Holocaust victims and later writers, we explore how Jews have addressed the question, “Where was God during the Holocaust?”  Their answers range from acquiescent faith to angry rejection, and to paradoxical wrestling with an absent God.  We begin with the biblical book of Job and then read a modern interpretation of it by Elie Wiesel called “The Trial of God.”  We study traditional Jewish writings about national catastrophes and the Messiah, including the Book of Lamentations.   We then compare these ancient ideas with our main topic of study: the ideas and experiences of modern Jews confronting the theological problem of the Holocaust.  A discussion-centered course. 


Required Books

The Trial of God, Elie Wiesel

Course-pack in 3 parts [CP]


Course Requirements

Attendance of classes and informed discussion of reading assignments –25 %

Introductions to assigned readings, on dates to be assigned –10 %

Three 5-page papers – 45%

Final 5-page paper, due during exam week – 17%

Personal rewrite of the arguments in Act 3 of “Trial of God” – due April 4, 3%


Meetings and Assignments:



  8        Introduction to the course;  introduction to the Book of Job


Questions and the Traditional Answers

10        Job 1  

                          The Book of Job:  Read the introduction, Chapters 3-14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 31, and all the study notes.   (Analyze the speeches of Eliphaz in

                                            Chapters 4-5, Bildad in 8:2-7, Zophar in Chap. 11.  How do they explain Job's suffering?  There is more than one explanation.

                                            Of what does Job accuse God in Chapters 9, 16, 19, 21:7-34, and 23?  What are the images that Job uses to describe God?) [CP]

                         Read Psalm 73 [CP]  (Compare with the problem and solutions in Book of Job.) 


15        Job 2.  Trial of God, part 1

                         Read: Book of Job  38–42:6 and study notes.   (What parts of the inanimate world appear in the speech of God, and why these things? 

                                        How do the examples of the animals serve as a response to Job's questions? Why does Job “yield and repent”;

                                        what has changed?) [CP]

                        Read: “Answers,” Kushner [CP]

                        Read: Wiesel, Trial of God, Act 1 (Please don’t read the introduction by Brown until you finish.)

                        Read: Purim and Selections from the Book of Esther [CP]


17        Trial 2

                        Read:  Trial of God, Acts 2 and 3.  Compare with the Book of Job.


22        The Traditional Judaic Worldview

                        Selections from the Jewish Prayer Book (2nd. c. C.E.): Sh’ma and Amidah; Aleinu; two prayers of gratitude [CP]

                        Selections from The Way of Torah, Neusner [CP]

                        Bible passages about the covenant [CP]


24        Traditional Biblical and Judaic responses to national catastrophe

                        Book of Lamentations (Chaps. 1, 2, and 5); also read introduction and study notes [CP]

                        Tahanun: prayers of supplication [CP]

                        The Crusade Chronicle of Solomon bar Simeon (11th c.) [CP]


29        Paper 1 due.  Class discussion. 


The Death of God


31        Two atheist memoirs, two poems

                        Primo Levi, excerpts from Survival in Auschwitz [CP]

                        Two poems by Primo Levi: “Shema” “For Adolph Eichmann” [CP]

                        Excerpts from Shattered faith by Leon Weliczker [CP]


  5        View  “Fateless” –based on a novel by Imre Kertész (Nobel Prize winner, Hungary, b.1929), screenplay by Kertész,

                                    directed by Lajos Koltai; Hungarian, 2002, 140 min.  Watch at TMC.

                        Read: Excerpts from the novel by Kertész [CP]


7          Poetry of Denial, 1 [CP]

                        Hirsh Glick (Lithuania, 1922-44): “Silence and…” “Never Say”

                        Simcha Bunim Shayevistch (Poland, 1907-1944): “from Spring 1942”

                        “The Threnodist and the Threnody of the Holocaust” (on Katzenelson)

                        Yitzhak Katenelson (Lithuania, 1886-1944): “from the Song of the Murdered Jewish People”


12        Poetry of Denial, 2 [CP]

                        Jacob Glatstein (Poland/USA, 1896–1971): “God is a sad…” “Without Jews” “Lament for the Souls…”  “Smoke” “Cloud-Jew” “Nightsong”

                        Uri Zvi Greenberg (Galicia/Israel, 1896-1981): “Song to the Earth,” “To the Mound…” “To God in Europe” (I, II, IV)


14        The Death of God in Jewish theology

                        Richard Rubenstein, “The Making of a Rabbi,” “Symposium on Jewish Belief” (1966) [CP]

                        The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, pp. 85-104, 109-118 (atheist responses)


26        View “The Pawnbroker” –based on a novel by Edward Lewis Wallant (1926-62, American), screenplay by Morton Fine,

                                    directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Rod Steiger and Jaime Sánchez, 1965, 110 min.  Watch at TMC

                        Read: Excerpts from The Pawnbroker [CP]


28        Paper 2 due.  Class discussion.


Sparks of Faith


  5        Theology 1

                        Skim: G. Greenberg, “Between Holocaust and Redemption” (Traditional Orthodox interpretations)

                        Read: Martin Buber, “The Dialogue Between Heaven and Earth” (1952)

                        Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Meaning of This Hour” (1967)


  7        Poems of pain and hope

                        Aaron Zeitlin (Poland/USA, 1898-1973), Selected poems

                        Nelly Sachs (Germany/Sweden, 1891-1970), Selected poems


12        Theology 2

                        Eliezer Berkovits, “Faith after the Holocaust” (1973)

                        Irving Greenberg, from “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire” (1977)


19        Four short texts from Elie Wiesel and an interview

                        “The Death of my Father” and “Yom Kippur” and “Stories”

                        “Ani Maamin

                        Berenbaum, on Wiesel’s “Ani Maamin,” from Vision of the Void

                        “Wrestling with God,” an interview


21        Theology 3

                        Harold Kushner, “Answers,” pp. 188-202 [CP-1]

                        Melissa Raphael, from The Female Face of God in Auschwitz (2003)


26        View  “The Quarrel” – screenplay by David Brandes based loosely on a story by Chaim Grade (Lithuania/USA, 1910-82);

                                        Canadian, 1990, 90 min.  View at TMC

                        Read excerpts from the screenplay by David Landes [CP]

                        Read The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, pp. 104-107, 118-125, 212-25 [CP-2]


28        Paper 3 due.  Class discussion.          


  2        Meet with instructor to discuss your final paper. 


  4        “Trial of God” Revisited         

                        Review Trial of God

                        Students present revisions of the trial in class.