Resources on Faith, Ethics and Public Life

Emile Fackenheim

This individual is not a direct affiliate of the Berkley Center.

Emile Fackenheim was a noted Jewish thinker and reformed rabbi who became a controversial figure in modern Judaism. Born in Halle, Germany, he was arrested by Nazis on Kristallnacht in 1938 and was briefly interned at Sachsenhausen. He later escaped to Britain with his younger brother and was sent to a remote camp in Quebec in 1940. After his release, he attended the University of Toronto, where he received a Ph.D. in Philosophy. Fackenheim emerged as a controversial figure because he interpreted the Holocaust (Shoah) as a moral imperative requiring all Jews to “deny Hitler a posthumous victory” and argued that this concept become mitzvoth (commandment) in Talmudic law. This “614th commandment” met with strong opposition from conservative Jews who consider mitzvoth God’s revelation. Others critique Fackenheim’s focus on death during the Shoah instead of life after it. Despite these critiques most people agree that Fackenheim has helped raise Holocaust awareness. He died in 2003.
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