Esposito introducing Bible lecture with Elie Wiesel


This past Tuesday, September 9th, Prof. Michael Zank of the Department of Religion lectured to students in the first-year Humanities about the Hebrew Bible. His talk was introduced with some very moving comments by Prof. Stephen Esposito (Classics), the course coordinator. Prof. Esposito has agreed to let us republish his introduction here on the Core blog, for the benefit of alumni and other readers. Here they are.

In May 1944 a 13-year-old boy from a small town in Romania, along with his parents and 3 sisters, boarded a train to an unknown destination.

Several days later, in the dead of night, they arrived at the end of the line. A handsomely-uniformed man at the station greeted the family with these 8 words: “Men to the left! Women to the right!”

That was the last time the boy ever saw his mother and youngest sister. Soon some other handsomely-uniformed men tattooed a number on the boy’s forearm; A-7713 was his new name.

Fifteen years later, when the boy had grown to be a young man of 28, he wrote in Yiddish an 865 page story about his year-long stay in that large Polish train station. The book’s heart-breaking title was this: And the World Remained Silent. Two years later, in 1958, he rewrote the book in French, reduced its size to one hundred pages, and entitled it simply La Nuit. In the intervening half-century, that book, which many of you read in high school, has sold over ten million copies. It contains the most famous and haunting lines in all of Holocaust literature. I quote:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.

Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never .

[p. 34 of Marion Wiesel’s 2006 translation]

Between 1939 and 1945 the Nazis murdered 6,000,000 of the 9,000,000 Jews who lived in Europe; to its great shame, over the course of this most horrific genocide in human history, the world remained silent.

In our post-Holocaust world, how does one still believe in God, how does one speak to Him, how does one hear Her words, understand Her covenants? For many readers this is one of the biggest challenges of the Hebrew Bible.

Here again is Elie Wiesel, at a climactic moment of Night, reacting to the sight and sound of thousands of inmates at Auschwitz who, during a religious service, blessed God’s name on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year [on Sept., 18, 1944]:

Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled…. He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days?… How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all the nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? …When Adam and Eve deceived You, You chased them from paradise. When You were displeased by Noah’s generation, You brought down the Flood. When Sodom lost Your favor, You caused the heavens to rain down fire and damnation. But look at these men whom You have betrayed, allowing them to be tortured, slaughtered, gassed, and burned, what do they do? They pray before you! They praise Your name!…… In days gone by I knew my sins grieved the Almighty and so I pleaded for forgiveness…. But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused.

[pp. 67-68]

The author of those powerful words will speak here at Boston University in two weeks. Mark your calendar: Monday, Sept. 22, at 7 pm in the GSU.

Today we begin our three-week-long study of Genesis and Exodus. The Torah is an awesome book full of challenging questions. To introduce us to some of the Hebrew Bible’s beauties and complexities it is a tremendous joy and honor to introduce my friend, and Core’s friend, Professor Michael Zank, Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies here at BU. [end]

A full recording of Prof. Zank’s lecture, titled “Hebrew Bible and the Primordial History of Genesis,” has been uploaded to the Core’s “unlisted” YouTube account. It is available for viewing at the following links: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Post a Comment

Your email address is never shared. Required fields are marked *