For observant European Jews, "the relationship to God was social, intimate, critical" (Howe & Greenberg 9). In other words, religious Jews spoke to God on a personal, one-on-one level, praising and worshipping, but also questioning and complaining. In "Yom Kippur: The Day Without Forgiveness," by Elie Wiesel, this personal relationship with their god, absent in some religions, allows religious Jews to maintain their belief even when there is no evidence that their god is watching.
As the story opens, the characters of Pinhas and the narrator (the young Wiesel) toil in Auschwitz on the day before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Death is all around them, closing in quickly on the middle-aged Pinhas. The narrator reports "I knew that his body would not hold out much longer. His strength was already abandoning him, his movements were becoming more heavy, more chaotic. No doubt he knew it too." (Wiesel 265). As they speak, the narrator experiences "the weird sensation that I was digging a grave. For whom For Pinhas For myself Perhaps for our memories" (Wiesel 266). Yet, in the face of these circumstances, the characters' thoughts are on religion and "death figured only rarely in our conversations" (Wiesel 265). Pinhas is more concerned with the implications of the Yom Kippur fast.
He informs the narrator that he has decided not to observe the fast, not because food is a rarity in the camp, or because he is already dead inside, and not even, as might be suspected, because he has lost his faith. Rather, he explains of God, "If he knows what he is doing, then it is serious; and it is not any less serious if he does not. Therefore, I have decided to tell him: 'It is enough'" (Wiesel 267). Although he is angry with God and feels abandoned, his intimate relationship still gives him the option of making a personal protest against divine policies. He can question God's will in the inexcusable events of the Holocaust. He can plainly state that the Eternal has made a mistake and it needs to be corrected.
This idea that god can be shamed by his followers when he does not uphold his end of the bargain echoes a long history of Jews expressing their anger toward God, as in one Hasidic chant: "What do you have against Your people Israel Why do you afflict Your people Israel" (qtd. Howe and Greenberg 8). The author, Rabbi Levi-Yitzchok uses a device of protest similar to Pinhas's to inform god that things must change: "I shall not stir from here. From this spot I shall not stir, there must be an end to this" (Howe and Greenberg 9). Jews, God's chosen people and Europe's chosen scapegoats, are not afraid to protest this discrepancy.
Wiesel and the characters in his story were all products of this tradition. Wiesel was "one of God's elect. From the time when his conscience first awoke, he lived only for God and had been reared on the Talmud, aspiring to initiation into the cabbala, dedication to the Eternal" (Mauriac viii-ix). For him, the relationship with God was not a matter of belief or disbelief, and the narrator cannot argue with his friend when he himself is unsure how to respond to this apparent betrayal: "Every day I was moving a little further away from the God of my childhood. He had become a stranger to me; sometimes, I even thought he was my enemy" (Wiesel 266). The narrator's world has been turned upside down; the power of life and