Finding Meaning in Suffering

Wed, Apr 06

Post-Holocaust theology developed as a way for Jews to understand the Holocaust and live a meaningful life in a world after the terrible tragedy. It is a commitment by Jews to adhere to Jewish values by focusing on advocating for victims of injustice through tikkun olam, a process of repairing the world. There are three primary principles of this theology. First, G-d is hidden, in that human action exiled G-d through sin and pushed him out of humanity, allowing the Holocaust to happen. The sentiment is that G-d does not abandon humanity; rather, humanity abandons G-d. Second, individuals must be a “resisting victim” that do not attempt to rationalize irrational events like the Holocaust, but instead respond through resistance. The hope is to utilize moral repulsion to such unjust acts that it leads to their end. Third, these principles are realized through tikkun olam, which is working towards a just world through good works. It is a communal responsibility of humanity to practice solidarity and work towards ending injustice.

We have three main in-class learning goals.  By the end of lecture today, you will:

  1. Appreciate the concept of “meaning-making,” and its philosophical relationship to phenomena like the problem of evil
  2. Know what “Post-Holocaust” theology is, be able to identify the major figures, themes, concepts, and arguments in it;
  3. Relate it to Jewish philosophy more broadly, and to the philosophers and frameworks we've considered in this class.

Read This:


Interactive Essay: Finding Meaning in Suffering

APPLICATION ARTICLE (Access on "Perusall" via Canvas):

Kronen: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Meaning of Human Suffering

Do This:

Complete these steps before you come to class

  • Consider the following prompts (you may want to write responses to these in your journal or talk about them with a friend):
    • How do the ways that the philosophers considered in today's text compare or contrast with the responses to the problem of evil we've considered in this class so far? Are they simply offering more of the same kinds of argument, or are there deeper or more substantive differences? 
    • Do you think it's possible to reason about vast and unimaginable evils (like the holocaust) in the same way we think about personal suffering (like the suffering we see show up in the application article)? Or does the difference between the scale of suffering in these cases make such comparisons impossible?

After you've finished today's reading, make sure you complete the reading quiz, which you can access through your section's Canvas page.

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