Religious Studies | Emil Fackenheim and the Holocaust
R345 | 21977 | Morgan


Emil L. Fackenheim, who died in 2003, was one of the most important
and influential Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century.  He
was born in Halle, Germany, studied in Berlin, Scotland, and Canada,
and spent 40 years in Toronto, where he taught at the University of
Toronto and then emigrated to Jerusalem, where he taught and wrote
for the remaining 20 years of his life.  Fackenheim is most famous
for his reflections on Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy in
response to the Nazi Holocaust.  In the late 60s, he articulated and
defended what he called “the 614th commandment,” that Jews are
forbidden to give Hitler any posthumous victories.  This statement
became a rallying cry for many Jews who took the Holocaust to be a
decisive feature of their identity as Jews in the modern world.

In this course we shall focus on Fackenheim’s philosophical and
theological response to Auschwitz and the death camps.  This
responses takes shape in the late 60s, is refined, and then enriched
in his essays and books of the 70s and 80s especially.  After
introducing ourselves to his thinking about faith and revelation in
the postwar period, we shall then study carefully his essays of 1967-
68 and his influential book God’s Presence in History.  We will also
consider his book on Hegel, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s
Thought, and the role his study of Hegel plays in his conception of
philosophy and his understanding of the decisive impact of
Auschwitz.  Then, we shall study selected essays from the 1970s and
arrive at his magnum opus, one of the great works of Jewish
philosophy, To Mend the World, published in 1983.  In that work
Fackenheim confronts, for the purpose of arriving at foundations for
future Jewish thought, the work of Spinoza, Rosenzweig, Heidegger,
and others, and he develops a profound set of arguments for
grounding the response to the death camps in Judaism, Christianity,
and philosophy.  We will study To Mend the World in detail, seeking
to understand its subtle dialectic, its central argument for the
uniqueness of the evil of Auschwitz and both the possibility and
necessity of resistance to its horrors, and its special claims for
the importance of the Jewish notion of tikkun olam (to mend the
world) for any responsible post-Holocaust philosophy.

There has never been a course devoted to the philosophy of Emil
Fackenheim taught at Indiana University.  I am excited at the
opportunity to be able to devote a course completely to his work.
It is extraordinarily important for all those – religious or
secular, philosophers or historians or literary critics,
intellectuals or lay-people – who seek to come to grips with the
horrors of Nazism and those atrocities that have followed in its
wake.

The course presumes no prior background in philosophy, Jewish
studies or religious studies.  But Fackenheim’s writings –
beautifully written and rhetorically powerful – are demanding, and
students should be prepared to read and study some difficult
material.  There will be no examinations.  Students will be
evaluated on the basis of several short written assignments, topics
for which will be given in class.  Graduate students are welcome.

This course meets with P305 and carries Culture Studies distribution
credit.