September 18: The 614th Mitsve
Rabbi Emil Ludwig Fackenheim, who created a 614th mitsve to enhance the traditional 613, died on this date in 2003. He formulated his mitsve following the 1967 Six-Day War: “we are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish,” he said. “We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted. To abandon any of these imperatives, in response to Hitler’s victory at Auschwitz, would be to hand him yet other, posthumous victories.” Fackenheim was a German Jew, arrested with thousands of others on Kristallnacht, who fled and spent the war interned in Canada as an enemy alien. After the war, he was ordained as a Reform rabbi and began writing books designed to pave the path to fulfilling his proposed mitsve, including Paths To Jewish Belief: A Systematic Introduction (1960), God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections (1970), The Jewish Return into History: Reflections in the Age of Auschwitz and a New Jerusalem (1978), and What is Judaism? An Interpretation for the Present Age (1988), among many others.
“[A] radical contradiction has appeared in Jewish secularist existence in our time. As secularist the Jewish secularist seeks Jewish normalcy; as Jewish secularist he fragments this normalcy by accepting his singled-out Jewish condition . . .” —Emil L. Fackenheim