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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Reviewing: “Torah From the Years of Wrath 1939-1943: The Historical Context of the Aish Kodesh” by Henry Abramson. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Paperback. 2017. English. ISBN-13: 978-1975983727. $24.95.

It’s a story that if it were not true, one couldn’t believe it. One of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the past century is martyred in the Holocaust, but leaves his treasured writings in a milk can buried in a devastated city. The can contains a plea to send the manuscripts to the author’s brother in Israel. After the war, the milk can is wondrously discovered in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto and makes its way back to the author’s brother.

In “Torah From the Years of Wrath 1939-1943: The Historical Context of the Aish Kodesh,” author Henry Abramson, dean of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences, takes the texts of the Piasetzna rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, and maps the text to the historical context in which they were written during the war years.

Keeping one’s faith today is for the most part not a trial given the favorable living conditions most people find themselves in. But with starvation, war, the death of some of his family members, Rabbi Shapira still held onto his faith. Even as the darkness was increasing, and any possibility of survival was vanishing, the rebbe was still able to provide his followers with some semblance of hope, and more than that, deep meaning to what was going on.

What Abramson does in this fascinating book is to match the writing and sermons to what the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were experiencing. Rabbi Shapira had to deal not just with his own trauma and suffering, but that of thousands of his followers.

Much of Rabbi Shapira’s writings during those war years were cryptic. Abramson is able to deftly peel the layers off that and give the reader an explanation to the deepness of the messages. He is able to capture the depth of the Rebbe’s emunah at a time of unimaginable suffering.

It’s not clear if the Book of Job is a work of fiction or non-fiction. Job, whether real or imagined, dealt with questions of theodicy. Rabbi Shapira’s writing are perhaps the ultimate work in dealing with theodicy written since the Book of Job, from one who was suffering from the utter depths of destruction and devastation.

By Ben Rothke

 Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology and science.