Beyond Holocaust Time

Av. Detail from a calendrical panel painted by the artist Hilde Zadikow in Theresienstadt, where she was forced to paint decorative objects and portraiture for the Nazis, but also produced a number of works of her own accord. In this 1943 painting she overlaid the names of the Jewish months with scenes associated with the season. This depiction of mourning and desolation is especially poignant given the circumstances. Courtesy of Alan Rosen.
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Eli Rubin

On a Monday evening in the spring of 1943 Sophie Loewenstein was en route to Auschwitz. On the Gregorian calendar it was the 19th of April, and the following day would mark the birthday of Adolf Hitler. According to the Jewish calendar, however, the year was 5703 (taf-shin-gimel), and that evening marked the onset of Passover, a holiday designated in the prayer liturgy as “the time of our freedom.”

Remarkably, Loewenstein and her friends had been able to bake matzah before they were transported, and they refused to let their present incarceration prevent them from celebrating the eternal freedom that was their birthright. In his newly published study, The Holocaust’s Jewish Calenders,[1] Alan Rosen frames the episode as illustrating a phenomenon that might be labeled “calendrical resistance”:

The Germans timed the actual deportation to Auschwitz to coincide with their leader’s birthday on April 20. But Sophie and the other deportees … lived according to a different calendar, conducting a Passover seder in the railway car—“an animal wagon,” as she called it, “without windows.”[2]

Rosen’s invocation of the calendar in this passage is not merely a poetic device. His central concern in this book is with concrete artifacts, with actual calendars, painstakingly produced by Jews who audaciously and concretely insisted that the Nazis could not expunge Judaism’s future.

Sophie Loewenstein, born in 1923 and raised in Munich, was one of those Jews. Having received an excellent Jewish education, she possessed both the knowledge and the tenacious bravery to chart a comprehensive Jewish calendar (a lu’ah in Hebrew) while a prisoner in the most notorious of Nazi concentration camps.

For Loewenstein, the celebration of Passover in the cattle car was not simply a last attempt to cling to the vestiges of a Jewish life that she was leaving behind. Rather it heralded her commitment to the continued forecasting of Jewish life in the future, even under the most adverse of conditions.

As Rosh Hashanah approached, Loewenstein drew on school tutorials she had received nearly a decade prior to make a calendar for the new Jewish year, 5704. This calendar was lost, but the calendar that she made for the following year, 5705, survives. Though she had no access to the usual resources relied upon for so challenging a task, Rosen finds that her calendar was accurate in almost all of its details.

Composed in a camp where even the possession of a watch was prohibited, and carried by Loewenstein on a death march from Auschwitz into Germany, this lu’ah preemptively noted the day of its author’s eventual deliverance; alongside the inscription marking the 18th of Iyar, designated as the festive day of Lag ba-Omer, she later added these understated words: “day of liberation.”[3]

Adar. Detail from a calendrical panel painted by the artist Hilde Zadikow in Theresienstadt, where she was forced to paint decorative objects and portraiture for the Nazis, but also produced a number of works of her own accord. In this 1943 painting she overlaid the names of the Jewish months with scenes associated with the season. In this depiction of scenes from the Purim story she daringly uses the swastika to identify Haman and his henchmen with the Nazis. Courtesy of Alan Rosen.

Rupture, Continuity, and Jewish Logos

Many writers and scholars have taken note of the ways that Holocaust victims experienced an assault on their fundamental sense of time. Among the examples noted by Rosen is a trio of temporal distortions delineated by the polish sociologist and Holocaust scholar Barbara Engelking: 1) an exaggerated experience of the present, 2) an exclusion of the future, and 3) a foreshortening of the past.

For Rosen, however, a mere description of the debilitating impositions of Holocaust time is insufficient. His purpose is not to describe the victimization of the Jews, but rather to describe the ways in which Jews used time as a tool of resistance, as a tool by which to transcend the diabolical tyrannies of the present.

In the epilogue to his book, Rosen finds the source of his insight in the archetypal story of Jewish redemption:

The commandment to make a calendar came at a pivotal moment in history. The Jews had been enslaved in Egypt for several hundred years. The oppressor’s grip had been steadily loosened and the people were told how to prepare for their departure. The first step was to fashion a calendar.[4]

Moving beyond the reduction of time and its significance that is emphasized by so many, Rosen recalls Viktor E. Frankl’s insistence that the ability to imagine a future is an existential human imperative, and that without it none of the Nazi’s victims could be inoculated from deathly despair. In Frankl’s words:

Any attempt at fighting the camp’s psychopathological influence on the prisoner by psychotherapeutic or psychohygienic methods had to aim at giving him inner strength by pointing out to him a future goal to which he could look forward … It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future … And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force himself to the task.[5]

Rosen persuasively argues that the craft of calendar making served to inscribe this existential aspiration, this optimistic orientation towards the future, in a form that is not only tangible, but which was also of immediate practical use. Access to a Jewish calendar, he writes, “maintained a continuity with the near and distant past and, more audaciously, projected a seamless future wherein Sabbaths and festivals would predictably arrive at their appointed times.”[6]

This is the fundamental insight that undergirds Rosen’s meticulous examination of some forty Holocaust era calendars: By keeping track of as many particulars of the lu’ah as circumstances allowed, Jews were able to endow these dark days with sacred prescience.

It is not simply that these calendars attest to the resilience of the human spirit in a general way. Rosen repeatedly emphasizes that these are Jewish calendars, and that it was by marking time Jewishly that the authors of these artifacts empowered themselves not merely to resist the foreclosure of time, but also to realize their enduring spiritual freedom.

To chart a Jewish calendar was to resist the shattering rupture that the Holocuast inflicted, anticipating a future that lay beyond it and independent of it. With a lu’ah at hand, rather than a Gregorian calendar, even the worst of times could be rendered as sacred time. Against the erasure of time, Jews marked the Sabbaths and festivals in ways that were small but far from insignificant. Faith in a future, accordingly, was firmly anchored in these faithful inscriptions of the covenantal calendrical bonds between the Jewish people and G-d.

Through Rosen’s eyes, this point of departure can be discerned in what Viktor Frankl himself described as “perhaps the deepest experience I had in the concentration camp.” On arrival in Auschwitz he was forced to surrender his clothing, swapping them for “the worn-out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber.” At that moment, Frankl later recalled:

It did not even seem possible, let alone probable, that the manuscript of my first book, which I had hidden in my coat when I arrived at Auschwitz, would ever be rescued … I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning. Not yet did I notice that an answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me, and that soon thereafter this answer would be given to me …

Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael. How should I have interpreted such a “coincidence” other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?[7]

Frankl himself interprets this rediscovery of meaning and purpose in universalistic terms. But the explicit inspiration for this rediscovery, he admits, is the particular affirmation of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one.” This affirmation anchors the universal divinity that unites the entire world in the particular bond that allows the people of Israel to lay claim to the divine, to say “our G-d.”

While Frankl elsewhere places Christian and Jewish forms of prayer on an equal footing,[8] Rosen underscores the exceptionalism of this anecdote. Here, he writes, Frankl recognized that “the Christian idiom did not and could not serve as the idiom of the Jews (himself included) and for Jewish prayer.” Nevertheless, “when it came to time and tracking its import in the concentration camp, he thought along the lines of a universal idiom,” only referencing the Gregorian calendar. As Rosen himself would be the first to point out, while we often think of the Gregorian calendar as universal it is actually distinctly Christian, and its general adoption in Jewish contexts is a subtle form of assimilation and erasure.

Frankl was not alone in omitting Jewish time from his account of the Holocaust. As Rosen tells us, even scholars who have tried to think about Holocaust time from a Jewish perspective have always fallen back on the Gregorian calendar. Only passing attention has been paid to the Jewish dating system whose distinct contours continued to imprint each day, week, and month with special spiritual significance, even as the Nazis executed their soul-crushing program of extermination.

It is the particularism of Jewish time, and its meaning for the Nazi’s Jewish victims, that Rosen’s scholarship seeks to salvage. Through his keen documentary and interpretive analysis, the inscription of these Holocaust era calendars emerges as a form of logotherapy (defined by Frankl as “a meaning centered psychotherapy”) distinguished both by its embodied concreteness and its deep Jewishness.

Lu’ach katan, anonymously printed and distributed in the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp. The cover plate bears an image of the matriarch Rachel’s burial place; “A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are not.” (Jeremiah, 31:14.) Alan Rosen has marked the anomalous entries for the 9th and 15th of the Hebrew month of Av.

Tragic Times in Historiography and Hermeneutics

The Holocaust’s Jewish Calendars is comprehensive in its scope, and scrupulous in its attention to detail. Not content to describe these calendars only in terms of their general features, Rosen painstakingly notes each nuance, each idiosyncrasy, anomaly and defect.

But perhaps the boldest facet of this work is that Rosen does not register these calendars only as significant Jewish artifacts, rich in detail. He also reads them as significant Jewish texts. As texts, Rosen engages them in a continuing dialogue with the traditional corpus of Torah scholarship, commentary, and meaning-making that accrues with each additional generation in which Judaism lives.

In particular, Rosen closes his acknowledgments with a tribute to the extensive theorization of time found in the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch. These teachings, Rosen writes, “give attention to all facets of the calendar’s bearing on life and death, learning and commemoration, creation and redemption—and, above all, the special meaning of each day, week, month and year … Whatever might be worthy of consideration here grows out of my effort to adapt his extraordinary calendar sensitivity to my own purposes.”[9]

This is a strong programmatic statement. Rosen’s project, and his method of analysis, is not limited to scientific historiography, but also brings a very particular Hasidic hermeneutic of time to bear. Here, however, there is a significant lacuna: While this methodological intervention is put to work on every page, its principles and tools are not delineated or elaborated fully and systematically. How can such an integration of scientific historiography and Hasidic hermeneutics be justified? How can it work?

Rosen has chosen to “show” us, rather than “tell” us, what such integration looks like, and he leaves us readers to deductively grasp the theory that underlies his method. To make that deduction we need to pay closer attention to what distinguishes the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s hermeneutics of time not only from scientific historiography, but also from the wider corpus of traditional Torah approaches to time and its interpretation.

One hermeneutical tool that is not named explicitly by Rosen, but which is applied throughout The Holocuast’s Jewish Calendars, is known in Hebrew as diyuk. Literally translated as “precision,” this refers to a disciplined attentiveness to the intimations of every detail of a text (or artifact), mining every nuance, anomaly, or omission so that they cumulatively yield the kind of fresh insight that casts the whole in new light.

To be sure, scientific historiography also pays intense attention to detail, but it is distinguished by the fundamentally agnostic orientation that is the appropriate hallmark of academic scholarship. While nuances and anomalies must always be noted, the scholar must not be committed to ascribing them with meaning. After all, mishaps, mistakes, ambiguities, imperfections, and indeed contradictions, are all ordinary features of human life. The traditional Torah scholar, by contrast, approaches each nuance and anomaly with a deep-set faith that, ultimately, nothing is amiss. There is always meaning, edification, clarity, and indeed harmony, waiting to be unearthed. More so, every detail is endowed with divine significance.

This principle is perhaps most powerfully expressed in a letter addressed by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson of Dnipropetrovsk, in 5692 / 1932, to his son, the future Lubavitcher Rebbe:

All that is said in the written Torah or the oral Torah, whether in a legal or narrative passage, and in all the books authored by righteous scholars . . . and even the law about which afterwards it is said “it is a falsehood” . . . literally all of them were said by G‑d; exactly in that formulation that they were said . . . G‑d Himself said the law, and He Himself said, “It is a falsehood.”[10]

The degree to which this assumption permeates the corpus of the addressee’s writings and talks cannot be overstated. It is especially accentuated in his application of diyuk to the meaning of time and the dialectic of exile and redemption, tragedy and celebration, that marks the Jewish calendar. It echoes in Rosen’s remark that his attention to calendrical inaccuracies “intends to read the errors as another revelatory dimension of the calendar-making enterprise during the Holocaust.”[11]

Much has already been written about the concept of time in Chabad thought, and in the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe especially.[12] But there are two general distinctions, one qualitative and the other quantitative, that set his approach apart even from other branches of traditional Torah hermeneutics of time, and which illuminate Rosen’s methodological choice:

1) Qualitatively, the Rebbe’s understanding of time is rooted in the concept of the continuous re-creation of the world, and of time itself, as theorized in the second part of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Tanya. As Wojciech Tworek puts it: “While G-d’s energy constantly annihilates and re-creates the world, the re-creation is never an identical copy of what existed beforehand. Rather, the repetition of creation is always a new creation, even though it always refers to G-d’s original creative act, as described in Genesis.”[13]

2) Quantitatively, the frequency and degree to which the Rebbe invokes this concept of time, and applies it in the hermeneutical interpretation of the Jewish calendar, with all its quirks and confluences, rises to a level of seriousness and attention to detail akin to that which traditional Torah hermeneutics applies to the text of the Torah itself.[14]

A single example from the Rebbe’s corpus must suffice in order to illustrate how his method is applied by Rosen in his approach to time and tragedy. It relates to the particular calendrical configuration that we find ourselves in now (in the year 5779 / 2019), according to which Tisha be-Av is “pushed off” (nidhah) from its native date, which falls on Shabbat, and is instead observed on Sunday.

Tisha be-Av marks a series of calamitous tragedies that befell the Jewish nation. As the Mishnah records:

On Tisha be-Av it was decreed that our ancestors should not enter the Land [of Israel]; the Temple was destroyed the first and the second time; Betar was captured; and the city [of Jerusalem] was plowed up. [15]

But the Rebbe turns our attention to two additional statements of the Talmudic sages:

1) A lion arose, that is Nebuchadnezzar, … in the constellation of the lion … the fifth month (Av), and ruined “Ariel, the city where David camped” (Isaiah 29:1), in order that … a lion shall come, that is the Holy One, blessed be He, … in the constellation of the lion, [as it is written] “and I will turn their mourning into joy” (Jeremiah 31:12), and build Ariel, [as it is written] “the Lord is the builder of Jerusalem; He will gather the outcasts of Israel.” (Psalms 147:2)[16]

2) It occurred that a Jew was plowing his field: An Arab passed by and heard the ox bellow, he said … “the Temple has been destroyed.” It bellowed a second time and he said … “the messianic king has been born.”[17]

Read sequentially, these two texts tell us that Av is the month of destruction and rebuilding, and that Tisha be-Av is the day of exile and redemption. From this perspective, the Jewish calendar does not merely provide a system through which to mark the temporal interval or duration that separates destruction and exile, on the one hand, from rebuilding and redemption on the other hand. Rather it provides a paradigm through which that interval can be overcome and collapsed; the time of mourning is itself the time of joy.[18] As Elliot Wolfson has noted in a different context, the Rebbe’s hermeneutical prism elicits “the contradictory duty of living in two time zones, the time of the exilic present and the time of the redemptive future.”[19]

Here, however, we are especially interested in how this dual meaning of Tisha be-Av is accentuated when its date falls on Shabbat, and its observation “pushed off” to Sunday. The following is from a talk delivered and published by the Rebbe in 1991:

We can say that … only the undesirable things are pushed off — the fast, the laws of affliction and mourning etc. But the positive and desirable things — the fact that on this day “the messianic king has been born” — are not pushed off, and not even weakened due to Shabbat. On the contrary: These good aspects stand with greater revelation and strength … There cannot be anything in the world, including a calendrical configuration (kevi’ut b’zman) … that can disturb or weaken a disclosure and revelation of holiness for the Jewish people, including and all the more so vis-à-vis so fundamental a phenomena as the birth of the messiah … To the contrary: The good elements stand with greater revelation and strength on the Shabbat day.[20]

For the Rebbe, this calendrical quirk is not simply a technicality, but draws forth the messianic significance of Tisha be-Av so that it stands in much sharper relief.

This is only the beginning of a very involved discussion, which pays special attention to the messianic significance of Shabbat as reflected in Jewish literature, liturgy, and law, and the way that its calendrical confluence with Tisha be-Av also changes the meaning of how the fast is observed on the following day. The constraints of space do not allow us to unpack all the details of this talk; the quantitative breadth and attentiveness of the analysis is as noteworthy as the qualitative transformation of the meaning of time that is elicited.

Our next task is to see how this heremauntic of time is transposed by Rosen into the realm of Holocaust historiography.

The calendar inscribed by Sophie Loewenstein for the year 5705, while imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Shown are the weeks of Bo and Beshalach. As Rosen notes, the Hebrew month Shvat is misspelled, a reminder that Loewenstein had no access to even the most basic of Jewish resources that would allow her to look up such details.

Tisha be-Av in Holocaust Calendars

During periods such as the Holocaust, in which new tragedies were being inflicted on the Jewish people, one would rightly expect the dark oppressiveness of Tisha be-Av to becomes even more acutely underscored. Yet in Rosen’s telling, our first two encounters with this date mark its absence. The second example is especially anomalous:

A “Small Calendar” (lu’ah katan), anonymously printed and distributed in the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp, is otherwise unusually attentive to the explicit designation of fast days, including minor ones. But the 17th of Tammuz is completely omitted, and Tisha be-Av is registered only by the single digit marking the 9th day of the month.

This is actually the only entry in this calendar in which a date is noted without any indication of its significance. All other days are inscribed in latin script with some appellation (Schabbat, Rosch Chodesch, Pessach, etc.), regular weekdays are not noted at all.

As if to highlight the simultaneous absence and presence of this darkest of all days, it is quickly followed by an equally paradoxical anomaly. Despite the Mishnaic affirmation that “the Jews had no holidays comparable to the 15th of Av,”[21] it’s somewhat enigmatic significance is rarely highlighted in “the fine print” of calendars. In other wartime calendars, Rosen writes, it is either appears “prosaically or not at all.”[22] Yet in the Terezin lu’ah katan this date is boldly singled out with the designation “Freudentag,” a day of joy.

What are we to make of the way these two anomalies play off one another?

For Rosen this historical mystery can be approached through the hermeneutical lens that is inherent to the reading of Jewish texts. He reminds us of the fundamental impermanence with which the mourning of Tisha be-Av is endowed:

The prophet Zechariah first spells out, the Talmud then amplifies, and the Rambam later codifies: “All these [commemorative] fasts will be nullified in the Messianic era and, indeed, ultimately, they will be transformed into holidays and days of rejoicing and celebration.” (Rambam, Hilchot Taanit, 5:19; Cf. Zechariah, 8:19.)[23]

In this light, Rosen allows himself to speculate that the vacant space, where we would expect “Fasttag” or “Tisha be-Av” to have appeared, might have been intended “to evoke the ambivalent character of the day … Rather than being prematurely designated as a fast day” the possibly was left open that “changed circumstances … would warrant filling the space with a different, hopefully joyous designation.”[24]

On this reading, the bold emphasis of the joyous significance of the 15th of Av serves to retroactively underscore what Rosen calls “the momentum of prophetic tradition.” “Together,” he writes, these two calendar entries “staged a startling reversal, whereby the commemoration of tragedy would lead to an upsurge of joy where and when one would least expect it.”[25]

Other instances in which Rosen takes particular note of the marking of Tisha be-Av in Holocaust calendars and diaries are perhaps less mystifying, but no less weighty in their intimations:

In the summer of 5702 / 1942 the Nazis deported some 275,000 Jews, including 50,000 children, from Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp. The deportations began on the eighth day of Av, preceding the onset of Tisha be-Av that evening by mere hours. They continued until another notable fast day, Yom Kippur, several months later. During this period thousands were also murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto itself.[26]

Two diarists of the Warsaw Ghetto, Abraham Lewis and Yitzhak Katzenelson, generally dated their entries according to the Gregorian calendar. In this case, however, both pivot to the Jewish date, calendrically marking the tragic symmetry linking the Holocaust travesties to the Jewish catastrophes of the past. Katzenelson’s chronicle, written one year after the events occurred, makes the correlation explicit:

Today is the eighth [of] Av, no less a day of mourning for all of the Jews, wherever they be, than the ninth of Av … Never will the sun shine upon us again and never will there be any consolation for us on this earth … Tomorrow is the 9th of Av, and it will be a whole year since the killing began in Warsaw itself.[27]

Echoing the lament of the Book of Eikha that is read anew each year, Katzenelson links the temporal event to a larger narrative, indeed an eternal one, according to which tragedy and loss is indelibly inked into the entire span of earthly existence. In a dark paraphrase of Tworek’s formulation regarding the Chabad concept of time, we might say that the repetition of Jewish tragedy is always a new tragedy, yet it always refers back to the original Jewish tragedy, as lamented in Eikha.[28]

In this case there is no ambiguity, no hope held out that an empty space can yet be filled with joy. Nevertheless, Rosen intimates, these calendrical musings embody a tenacious spiritual resistance, a refusal to give up the unique temporal formula by which the Jewish people chart death as well as life.[29]

The final chapter of The Holocaust’s Jewish Calendars returns our focus to Tisha be-Av, this time through a highly innovative reading of what Rosen describes as “the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wartime calendar book,” published in New York, in 5703 / 1943, with the title Hayom Yom. Here Rosen applies the author’s own method of textual and calendrical diyuk to accentuate what he calls an “extraordinary calendrical response to Jewish suffering.”[30]

Resacralizing Holocaust Scholarship

As noted above, Rosen has methodologically merged two scholarly traditions that are usually understood to be incompatible. On the one hand, he locates his work within the larger corpus of academic Holocaust research. On the other hand, he also casts it as an applied adaptation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Torah hermeneutic of temporality.

Appropriately, the academic or scientific method is to scrutinize data and interpret it critically and independently. A vulnerability of this approach, one might suggest, is that it can sometimes create too great a distance between the scholar and the object of their research. The quest for a rigorous scholarly agnosticism can sometimes lead a scholar to overcompensate. Instead of merely escaping a particular set of naive or uncritical commitments, a distinctly secular set of commitments may emerge, leading to the erasure of religious or spiritual dimensions even if they are inherent to the topic at hand.

According to Rosen, the study of the Holocaust, and in particular its chronology, suffers from precisely this sort of overcompensation, unwitting or well intentioned as it may be:

Most academic study of the Holocaust simply filters out the Jewish calendar … which is deemed meaningful only for those conversant in it … too arcane for the non-Jewish scholar or reader, or for the Jewish scholar or reader not schooled in the finer points of Jewish tradition.[31]

Yet consider what is lost. For the Nazi’s Jewish victims, Rosen explains, “the Jewish calendar was eminently consequential, since the very flow of family and social life depended on the exact marking of the weekly Sabbath, the monthly new moon, and the seasonal holidays.”[32] As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “the Jews in Eastern Europe lived more in time than in space.”[33] To filter out the Jewish calendar, accordingly, is to filter out one of the most fundamental elements of Jewish cultural consciousness, thereby erasing the very particular ways in which Jewish victims contended with Holocaust time.

Beyond the particular examples already cited above, it is worth paying attention to a more general point that illustrates the profound shift in orientation elicited by attentiveness to the Jewish calendar:

Following the Gregorian calendar, we tend to think of the Holocaust as something that belongs definitively to the 20th century. We often hear expressions of shock that some outrage has been perpetrated even in the 21st century, as if such evil belongs wholly to an era that is entirely distinct from our own.

Following the Jewish calendar, however, the Holocaust began in the last month of the year 5699, just as a new century was about to begin. It wasn’t till the middle of 5705 that the diabolical program of extermination was brought to an end. Rosen makes the point with particular poignancy: “As I write these lines in the year 5777 (2017), we are, according to the Jewish calendar, still in the century of the Holocaust.”[34]

In short, distance is certainly a necessary criterion of clear eyed scholarship. But too much distance can prevent scholars from coming to know their subject intimately. This can lead to the erasure of indigenous perspectives and their replacement with new narratives that do not derive independently from the data, and are instead colored, narrowed, or distorted by external impositions.

Rosen’s methodological insight is that the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s hermeneutical approach to time is a heightened expression of the indigenous culture of European Jewry. His particular attention, not only to the sacrecy of time, but also to calendrical detail (diyuk), provides an especially sensitive model for the ways in which the experiences of the Nazi’s Jewish victims, and the modes of their resistance, can be more intimately assessed.

The Holocaust’s Jewish Calendars accordingly instantiates a corrective to the tendency of academic Jewish scholarship to engage in explicit and implicit processes of secularization, and of materialistic, or non-Jewish, reductionism. As stated in the book’s subtitle, the project here is one of “keeping time sacred, making time holy.” In addition to the richness of the calendrical artifacts surveyed, Rosen provides an evidence based argument against the erasure of Jewish time. Applying a fresh integration of historiography and hermeneutics, he forges a path that leads beyond Holocaust time by delving into its devastating details.

[1] Alan Rosen, The Holocaust’s Jewish Calendars: Keeping Time Sacred, Making Time Holy (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2019).

[2] Rosen, 133.

[3] Rosen, 139.

[4] Rosen, 227.

[5] Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York, NY: Washington Square Press, 1985), 93-94. See Rosen, 92-96.

[6] Rosen, 226.

[7] Frankl, 137-8.

[8] E.g., ibid., 147.

[9] Rosen, xiv-xv.

[10] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, Likutei Levi Yitzchak – Igrot Kodesh (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 1972), 266. For more on this correspondence and its context see Eli Rubin, “Letters from Yekaterinoslav: Uniting the Facets of Torah – 1933,”,

[11] Rosen, 14.

[12] For a more general introduction to the discourse on temporality in Chabad thought and practice see Wojciech Tworek, Eternity Now: Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady and Temporality (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2019). Also see Elliot R. Wolfson, “Achronic Time, Messianic Expectation, and the Secret of the Leap in Habad,” in Habad Hasidism: History, Thought, Image, edited by Jonatan Meir and Gadi Sagiv (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 2016), 45*-86*. On the Lubavitcher Rebbe especially see idem., Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2009), esp. xi-xii, 22-23, 89, 279-281, 285-288; Eli Rubin, “The Giving of the Torah and the Beginning of Eternity: Reflections of Revelation, Innovation, and the Meaning of History,” June 5, 2019, The Lehrhaus,

[13] Tworek, Eternity Now, 31.

[14] To the best of my knowledge, this is a feature of the Rebbe’s teachings that has yet to be properly noted in the scholarly literature. Rosen accordingly has broken ground in two ways, firstly be drawing attention to it, and secondly by applying it in his own historiographical work, as will be described below.

[15] Taanit, 5:6.

[16] Yalkut Shimoni, Nakh, Remez 259.

[17] Talmud Yerushalmi, Berakhot, 2:4 (17a-b).

[18] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Sefer ha-Sihot 5751, Vol. 2 (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 2003), 721-722.

[19] Wolfson, Open Secret, 285.

[20] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ibid., 722.

[21] Taanit, 4:8.

[22] Rosen, 64.

[23] Rosen, 88, n. 56.

[24] Rosen, 64.

[25] Rosen, 65.

[26] Rosen, 178-179.

[27] See Rosen, 180.

[28] See Tworek, as cited above, note 13.

[29] Rosen, 176-180.

[30] Rosen, 204-224.

[31] Rosen, 4.

[32] Rosen, 3.

[33] Heschel, The Earth is the Lord’s: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Light’s Classic Reprint, 2011), 15.

[34] Rosen, 4.

Eli Rubin is co-author of Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Transformative Paradigm for the World (with Philip Wexler and Michael Wexler, Herder and Herder, July 2019). For more of his writing please visit or follow him on twitter @Eli_Rubin.