Conclusion: The Return of Myth to History

  • Avril Alba
Part of the The Holocaust and its Contexts book series (HOLC)


For millennia, the Jews made sense of their history in light of their theology. In the modern period, they undertook this struggle within the two domains that enlightenment and emancipation offered them — the public (secular) and the private (sacred). In exchange for the fruits of modernity, they tacitly agreed to consign history to the former and theology to the latter. As a result, their foundational ‘myths’ were recast as ‘universal’ ethical imperatives or largely abandoned, only to continue as templates for the recording and understanding of history in the closed communities of the haredim. Outside of ultra-Orthodox domains and systematic theology, the Jewish experience in the modern period, and the Holocaust in particular, was not chronicled through traditional, metahistorical frameworks. History trumped theology.2 Redemption, it seems, was not part of the modern Jewish plan.


Modern Period Traumatic Past Jewish Experience Jewish World Memorial Museum 
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  1. 1.
    Ismar Schorsch, ‘The Holocaust and Jewish Survival’, Midstream (January 1981), p. 42.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For an introduction to the category of redemption in Jewish thought, see Arthur A. Cohen, ‘Redemption’, in Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr(eds), Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements and Beliefs (New York: Free Press, 1988), pp. 761–5.Google Scholar
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    Manachem Kellner, ‘Jews and their Messiahs’, The Jewish Quarterly (Autumn, 1994), pp. 7–13.Google Scholar
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    Michael Berenbaum, ‘Is the Memory of the Holocaust Being Exploited?’, Midstream, 50, no. 3 (April 2004), p. 2.Google Scholar
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    For a critique of these co-options of Holocaust memory, see Alvin H. Rosenfeld, ‘The Assault on Holocaust Memory’, American Jewish Yearbook (2001), pp. 3–20.Google Scholar
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    Amos Goldberg, ‘If This Is the Nature of Human Nature? Re-reading Holocaust Diaries’, Yad Vashem Studies, 33 (2005), pp. 381–429.Google Scholar
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    As found in Alan Mintz, Hurban: Responses to Catastrophe in Hebrew Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 51.Google Scholar
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    Zachary Braiterman, (God) after Auschwitz: Tradition and Change in Post-Holocaust Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 178.Google Scholar
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    Fred Skolnik, Editor In Chief and Michael Berenbaum, Executive Editor, Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 17 (Jerusalem: Thomson Gale, 2007), p. 151.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Avril Alba 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Avril Alba
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneyAustralia

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