Comments about God and the Holocaust made in a sermon 10 years ago by a leading evangelical pastor, John Hagee, have received a great deal of attention. They have led to Sen. John McCain severing ties with the pastor, whose support the presumptive Republican presidential nominee had originally solicited.
Pastor Hagee, a major supporter of the Jewish people and Israel, citing verses from Jeremiah, said: "How did it [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said 'my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.'"
I am a God-believing, Torah-believing, religious (though not Orthodox) Jew, author of a book on Judaism and a book on anti-Semitism who does not agree with this theological explanation of the Holocaust.
But the notion that God willed the Holocaust is neither anti-Jewish nor even un-Jewish. There are, after all, only two possible explanations regarding God and the Holocaust:
1. God allowed it but did not will it.
2. God willed it.
This is simple logic.
Like most other people, I find neither explanation religiously or morally, let alone emotionally, satisfying. But both are Jewishly acceptable. There is a long tradition in Judaism that collective Jewish suffering is often God-willed. On the Jewish holy days, the central prayer (the Amidah) of the Jewish service contains a paragraph beginning: "Because of our sins we were exiled from our land."
The author of the biblical book Lamentations wrote, upon seeing the first destruction of Jerusalem and the accompanying mass slaughter of Jews: "The Lord is like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel… He has multiplied mourning and lamentation" (Lam 2.5). And the Talmud, the holiest Jewish work after the Bible, says that that horrific event occurred because of "gratuitous hatred," i.e., Jews hated one another for no good reason.
As Rabbi Jakob Petuchowski, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the 20th century, wrote: "Much of the national suffering of the people of Israel was explained by the biblical Prophets in terms of punishment meted out by God to a sinful people."
Regarding the Holocaust specifically, Ignaz Maybaum was a major 20th century Jewish theologian who identified "the Holocaust victims as vicarious sacrificial offerings for the redemption of humanity…"
We recoil at the thought of a just, good and loving God willing the mass murder of so many innocent people. But that belief is not necessarily anti-Semitic.