Rav Amital on Prayer and the Religious Life

VBM just translated one of the important interviews with Rav Amital. The Hebrew original was done in 2007 for Yad Vashem.

Here are some selections, the full version is here.

Religious Life During the Holocaust and After: An Interview with Rabbi Yehuda Amital

On Yom Kippur eve we received orders to go back..
Meanwhile the shooting was intensifying, to the point where the German soldiers guarding us ran away, because they were afraid that the Russians would capture them. And so we remained behind, and we got to the Jewish Community building, to the building where I had lived with my parents. We entered the cellar on Yom Kippur eve. We prayed on Yom Kippur in the dark. We had one machzor with us; one person read the prayers aloud, and thus we prayed with a minyan.

My whole concept of prayer comes from there. I saw people – fathers of children, men who had wives – they were alone, knowing that their families had been taken, but they didn’t know to where. And I said to myself, “How is it possible to pray?” We knew before then that the foundation of prayer is gratitude towards God. I said, “What gratitude? People are sitting here without parents, without children.” So I reached the conclusion – which I published later on – that service of God cannot be based on gratitude; there is something beyond that. “Though He slays me, I shall trust in Him” (Iyov 13:15). That is a higher level. That understanding was strongly imprinted in me then.

Did you have religious crisis points?

I can’t speak of crisis points. One lives in crises all the time. For me, every festival is problematic. On Simchat Torah, for example, I would speak at the yeshiva about the Holocaust [because it was the day of my liberation]; I couldn’t let Simchat Torah go by without mentioning the Holocaust. I spoke about it all the time. Every eve of Tish’a be-Av I spoke about it at the yeshiva; the subject occupied me.

Did it also affect your attitude towards prayer?
On the contrary – as Rabbi Yehuda ha-Levi said, “I flee from You – to You.” I have no other option. I need God; without that I’m not able to exist at all. Without this faith I lose everything. But it’s not as people think, that when a Jew is religious then all the problems are solved. There’s no such thing. But I need His closeness. Just as a person cannot be alone, he seeks some intimacy, some anchor. For me, faith in God is that strong anchor.

What, as you see it, is the place of the Holocaust in our religious world today?

Sometimes I encounter strange phenomena. They interview a religious person who says, “Why were some children killed there in a traffic accident? Because they didn’t observe Shabbat.” I said to him, “Okay, so you have an explanation for that, but why were millions of Jewish children killed? For that you have no explanation. So why are you trying to give a religious explanation? Be quiet.” It upsets me, but what can I do? Sometimes I keep silent.

Do you believe that we have more of a moral obligation than other nations, in the wake of the Holocaust?
I believe that it demands of us greater morality, greater attention to others.

2 responses to “Rav Amital on Prayer and the Religious Life

  1. Pingback: Rav Ovadia, Deja Vu « …VaAni B'Sof HaMizrach

  2. Rav Amital and Abba Kovner’s exchange and the disinterest in Judaism of their generation as the reason for a failed TV program….now we face something so similar, but as phenomena within the Dati world – not simply the “Jewish” world at large, let alone Israel – in all the spheres; the various Orthoprax, skeptics, etc. Viruses strains of unlearned, dilettante and bitter skepticism, desperation and spiritual desolation have infected all the “Jewish” species, leaving none unaltered. Some years ago, R. Amital had written several times on youth at risk and the commitment crisis, “KhaBaKookniks”, etc. What would be said about the Dati world now?

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