The Female Face of God in Auschwitz
A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust
Routledge – 2003 – 240 pages
Series: Religion and Gender
The dominant theme of post-Holocaust Jewish theology has been that of the temporary hiddenness of God, interpreted either as a divine mystery or, more commonly, as God's deferral to human freedom. But traditional Judaic obligations of female presence, together with the traditional image of the Shekhinah as a figure of God's 'femaleness' accompanying Israel into exile, seem to contradict such theologies of absence. The Female Face of God in Auschwitz, the first full-length feminist theology of the Holocaust, argues that the patriarchal bias of post-Holocaust theology becomes fully apparent only when women's experiences and priorities are brought into historical light. Building upon the published testimonies of four women imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau - Olga Lengyel, Lucie Adelsberger, Bertha Ferderber-Salz and Sara Nomberg-Przytyk - it considers women's distinct experiences of the holy in relation to God's perceived presence and absence in the camps.
God's face, says Melissa Raphael, was not hidden in Auschwitz, but intimately revealed in the female face turned towards the other as a refractive image of God, especially in the moral protest made visible through material and spiritual care for the assaulted other.
'Raphael has written a bold book that will become an instant classic among those interested in Holocaust studies, as well as feminist and contemporary theology. Her feminist critique of contemporary patriarchal Jewish Holocaust theology and philosophy, as well as her rejection of the 'discourse of ruin' guiding historical approaches to the Holocaust should be mandatory reading for all involved in Holocaust studies. She has written a persuasive defence of faith in the darkest of times and places.' -
'Raphael's vision is braev and daring. The female image of God does not remain a postulate, but is carefully described and convincingly argued … The book is a great gain both for feminist post-holocaust theology and for reflection of an image of God that includes the experiences of women in situations of great suffering.' - Yearbook of the European Society of Women in Theological Research
Introduction 1. Reading Post-Holocaust Theology from a Feminist Perspective 2. The Hiding of God's Face in Auschwitz 3. Feminist Intimations of the Holy in Auschwitz 4. Face to Face (with God) in Auschwitz 5. A Mother/God in Auschwitz 6. The Redemption of God in Auschwitz 7. The Princess and the City of Death: A Feminist Maaseh, after Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Notes. Select Glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish Terms
Melissa Raphael is Principal Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at The University of Gloucestershire. She is the author of Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess (1999), Rudolf Otto and the Concept of Holiness (1997) and Thealogy and Embodiment (1996).