The Breaking Point: Intimate Relations with an Unresponsive God

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If ever an event tested the faith of the Jewish people, a group persecuted throughout thousands of years of history, it would be the Holocaust, in which millions of men, women, and children were incarcerated in death camps throughout German-occupied Europe.


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, ...
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