Module 3: Religion & Culture

Post-Holocaust Responses

Following the war, Jewish responses to the Holocaust could develop in light of the tragedy and often tried to make sense of living in a world in which such atrocities had occurred. Responses still centred frequently on faith and reconciling such evil with the existence of a just and righteous God, but Jewish people now had the power of retrospect and could reflect. Responses were also based on people’s needs to process severe trauma and build new lives. Below are some examples of how contemporary Jews have tried to make sense of the Holocaust. Contemporary responses have also come from the descendants of survivors, clergy, and academics among others.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

In this video Rabbi Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and biblical scholar, seeks to answers the question of “Where do you think God was in the Holocaust?” Rabbi Sacks gives two answers. In the first answer, Rabbi Sacks explains that God gave people freedom and even when people do not use that freedom properly, God cannot revoke the freedom he has given. The second answer is found in the stories of Holocaust survivors who found God and kept their faith in the concentration camps. (0:18- 5:11)

Jewish World Population: 1939-2020

In 1939, the global Jewish population stood at 16.5 million. Today, the world Jewish population is estimated to be close to 15 million. This highlights how, in terms of sheer numbers, the Jewish population has not yet recovered from the ravages of the Holocaust. Most countries around the world see a declining or minimally stable Jewish population due to low birth rates, aging, and emigration, as well as shifting identities and intermarriage. The notable exception is Israel which is seeing gains over time. Canadian Jewry is also an exception to this trend, with a small increase mostly due to immigration from Russia, Iran, and Israel. While Israeli growth continues, it will be decades before world population numbers reach pre-war levels.

Della Pergola, Sergio. “World Jewish Population, 2020.” The American Jewish Year Book, 2020, edited by Arnold Dashefsky and Ira M. Sheskin. (Cham: Springer Nature, 2020); 273-370.

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