Sunday, November 25, 2012

Interval Four - God is on Trial

So Itzhak declares that God is Dead. He can see no other explanation for what happened.  Indeed, God did not raise His mighty arm to slay those engaged in the wholesale murder of His chosen people. Why didn’t God intercede in the face of such evil?  

The conclusion by Itzhak and many others is that He must be dead.  This was a widely accepted belief in the early post-war years.  But soon we heard the words:  “God is back—and He’s mad!” And the Jews went on believing, despite what had happened. They acknowledge the Holocaust in their services:  their liturgy and hymns speak of “the smoke of the chimneys,” and in their prayers and in the songs of the Cantors, they mourn deeply.  Yet they worship.  It appears that God is indispensable to them. 

Another conclusion is presented in the movie God on Trial, which is reviewed further on in this Interval Four—the conclusion that God exists, but that He no longer has a covenant with the Jews as his chosen people, but  a covenant with  another people, the people of Nazi Germany.   This bitter conclusion is brilliantly examined in the movie God on Trial which we offer to review further on.

Now let’s examine another facet of the Jews—their ability to find humor in their misfortunes, no matter how appalling they may be.  Itzhak told of this, as shown by this excerpt from Episode Three we read last week--

           Itzhak: And do you know what happened when they herded us into that chamber of death? My brother made a joke--he was always joking, my brother. [A flicker of a smile lights his features, but is quickly gone.]
           Rabbi:  Itzhak…
           Itzhak:  They all laughed--laughed in the face of death--laughed! [His voice becomes a thread of sound.] My brother’s joke wasn't a very good joke, not one of his best, something about “complaining to his travel agency.” But they laughed! Was there in all the terrible history of this world ever so gallant a people who could so laugh in the face of death?

   This ability to find humor in misfortune has enabled the Jewish people to survive for over two thousand years. (That, and their belief in God, of course.) Jewish humor is a wry, self-deprecating humor personified by the popular comedians who have made untold millions of us laugh—Zero Mostel, Bert Lahr, Sid Caesar and Jack Benny, to name a few.   To cite a widely known example:  Jack Benny was known for being tight with his money. He is accosted by a robber with a pistol who said: 

 Robber: “Your money or your life.” 

     A prolonged silence

 Robber:  “Well? “  

 Benny: “I’m thinking…I’m thinking.’’

God On Trial

God On Trial is a short motion picture that has become a classic.  Elie Wiesel told of such a trial in his book The Trial of God, and it was converted into a screenplay by television writer Frank Boyce. It first appeared on BBC/WGBH Boston and was shown on PBS—the Public Broadcasting Service. It featured an outstanding cast of English actors, including Antony Sher, Rupert Graves, Jack Shepherd, Stephen Dillane, and Eddie Marsan.   You can see it now on YouTube, and it is well worth a watch. It is briefly reviewed in these Interval Four pages as being so outstanding that it is worthy of it's own interval. (And please, tell us your opinions, too.).The language is a little “rough” in places.  It is controversial, yet also well worthy of deep consideration and comment. That it is controversial there is no doubt, especially in view of the final scene where the Rabbi announces that God—Adonaiis not good. 

God On Trial begins with a view of a tour bus pulling into Auschwitz.  As the passengers leave the bus, a brief flashback shows what they would have experienced 68 years ago if they were Jews—guards yelling at them, vicious dogs barking and straining to get at them.   As the tourists go between exhibits, an elderly Jewish man remarks: “There is a story here that the prisoners held a trial with a court, and they charged the one they held most responsibleGod, and they decide to put him on trial.  The charge:  breach of contract.”  

The tour guide leads them into a long narrow room and describes the use of the room—for the “selection. “ The guide says that the  prisoners are required to run naked toward a “doctor” who decides who is to live—if he gestures to their right, they live to be a slave laborer; if he gestures to their left, and they go to the gas chamber. The reason? The barracks are too full. Space is needed.

Life, or death, awaits the runners
(Women prisoners were similarly selected)

The prisoners now return to their barracks.

The prisoners, most of of whom had been sent “left” and  condemned to death (or, were they?),  considered God—“Adonai”— responsible for their terrible condition, and decide to put Him on trial in absentia. A full complement of able jurists was on hand, including a professor of criminal law who “knows how to run a court,” a lawyer, and many other learned prisoners, to argue the case for or against God.   It was to be a rabbinical form of court, with a senior judge and two other judges. There was also “an inquisitor.”

 Rather than report on the play in any detail at this point, it is best to convey its message by transcribing some of the “lines” of the play, and do it in this Interval, and in Intervals to come.  Obviously, many of the lines are from scripture. Many of the words are inspiring and beautiful—in fact, the whole play has a terrible beauty.  In short, it is a masterpiece.  Here are just a few of the lines of dialog--

Did you go right?
 No. Left.
 It was nice knowing you.

This is a terrible place. But if we help each other, we will endure it. The day of liberation gets closer every day. The war will end, and with God’s help, we will see it. 

(Responding the claim that a trial of God would be blasphemy) In fact it would not be blasphemy. Abraham haggled with God over Sodom.  Jacob wrestled with the angel. The name Israel means “He that striveth with God.”

The judge said:  ‘What is the charge?”  The response:   “What is the charge?  Are you blind?  Murder! Collaboration!  Murder!"

 Suffering is part of God’s plan. If we take happiness from God’s hand. Must we not take sorrow, too? 
So suffering is God’s work! In other words, Mengele is working for God; Hitler is working for God. Is that right?  Answer: It is unpalatable, but it is possible.  If Hitler is doing God’s work, then to stand in Hitler’s way, is to stand in God’s way…to take arms against Hitler is wrong. Now, does anyone here believe that?  Is there any way that that can possibly be true?  Isn’t that insane?     The Judge:  Who are you addressing?  We must keep order here.

 “Adonai should be able to outwit him.  No evil man overcomes Him. I shall crush his enemies   before   him; strike his enemies dead.”   Well…has He kept his promise?  Answer, murmured:   No!

The judge: So God reserves the right to punish the wicked. That is in the Covenant.  The point is:   why did he choose to punish this good man here, and not for instance, Hitler. Does anyone have an answer?  In law, the punishment has to be proportionate to the crime. What crime could justify a punishment like this?  Our children.  There are children in the camp…. What punishment does a little child deserve? 

So, you see:  We must not despair. Our suffering is a privilege if it is a part of God’s plan. We are    fortunate to be purifying the people through our pain. Do not let them take your faith.  If it is strong, it will grow. Small fires are put out by the wind, but great fires only grow greater.  Hitler will die.  The war will end.  The people and the Torah will live!

The Doctor enters and says to a new group of Jews from Poland that has just come in. “This is a well-run place. Yes, there were complications caused by the early arrival of your transport, which is why your induction is not yet completed. (He grins)  My apologies for the inconvenience.  Auschwitz is not a rest home.  You work, or you die.  The choice is yours. 

But perhaps you would like see the play in its entirety.  If now’s the time, just click on the title that follows.   To quote Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar:  If you have tears, prepare to shed them now!

No! No! Oh, NO!
Episode Five of the play A Ball for Genia will be published on Monday, December 3.  

And little Genia is gone—gone from Wachter’s protection.  And remember, Gestapo headquarters are just down at the end of the street where Genia was chasing her yellow ball. So many other children were lost in the Holocuast; little Genia must not be one of them! 

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