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Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew


A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:
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Saturday, July 13, 2019



Rabbi Arthur Segal

Shalom: All of us have struggles. As my dear friend Lisa Segal (no relation, but a wonderful Cantor and woman) wrote, "How we respond to our struggles is what truly matters." We have discussed many times that the Torah teaches us to help one another deal with life's hardships. Sometimes, the way to choose life has unfortunately been to choose death. The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer lends us some modern insights.

When Great Britain's retIred Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked, "Which German figure past or present, do you admire most?" he replied, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, who spoke out against the Nazis and died in a concentration camp." Bonhoeffer was one of the few church leaders who stood in courageous opposition to Hitler. His experience under Nazism thrust him into profound conflict with much of his religious tradition. He raised questions that he was unable to resolve before he was killed in Flossenburg on April 9, 1945. Like most Christians of his generation, he believed that God's special destiny for the Jews included their eventual acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.

Jewish and Christian scholars evaluate Bonhoeffer's legacy differently. To Christians, his resistance against the Nazis and his writings offered new ethics to the Protestant church. Some Jewish scholars contend that Bonhoeffer acted out of patriotism on behalf of his church and not for the sake of the Jews.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Breslau, Germany. His mother was university educated and his father was a psychiatrist. He graduated from the Union Seminary of New York. In 1939 he taught theology in Berlin. His church, German Evangelical Protestantism, was shaped by obedience to state authority and by nationalism. Most church leaders welcomed the rise of Nazism as a response to the liberalism and chaos of the Weimar Republic.

A group of German Christians, called Deutsche Christen, was the voice of Nazi ideology within the Protestant Church, and removed the Old Testament from the Bible, claiming that it was "too Jewish." In 1933, when the Nuremberg laws prevented non-Aryans from being in civil service, they also forbade non-Aryans from being ministers or religious teachers. For example, a Protestant, with one Jewish grandparent, could not teach or preach in their "pure Aryan" German church. But they went further. Repudiating Gospel teachings, they said that the non-Aryan Jews were banned from converting to Christianity.

Bonhoeffer's opposition to this Aryan anti-Semitic Deutsche Christen was not based upon disagreement with the Nazi's racial policies, but upon the group's repudiating Church policy as defined in the Gospel. It was a battle of Church independence from Nazism. The church avoided the deeper issue of the rights of German Jews. Many of the church leaders who were against the Deutsche Christen were in favor of the Nazi Aryan policies.

Bonhoeffer opposed the Deutsche Christen, saying that they surrendered Christian precepts to Nazi ideology. He said if non-Aryan Christians could not be in the German Protestant church, he would start a new church, called the "Confessing Church." This church would be free of Nazi influence. This was a minority view. Most German bishops wanted to avoid antagonizing the Nazi regime. As the Nazis became stronger, Bonhoeffer's Confessing Church became paralyzed.

In his essay The Church and the Jewish Question, published in 1933, Bonhoeffer called upon the church to defend the Jews. He did so not because of moral or humanitarian concerns, but because the church needed the Jews to accept Jesus. He says the homecoming of Jesus happens "in the conversion of Israel to Christ." But he also broke new ground in saying that the church must fight political injustice and to help victims of injustice whether they were members of his church or not. His essay became an explicit ethical commitment to all those persecuted by the Nazis. He even drafted a message to Rabbi Stephen Wise, head of the Reform Jewish Movement in the United States.

Theologically, Bonhoeffer still felt the Jewish question would be resolved if all the Jews converted and Judaism no longer existed. This was against the Nazi and Deutsche German view of exterminating anyone with Jewish blood and not accepting their conversion or their grandparents' conversion. Bonhoeffer's struggle became more with his own church than with the Nazis. He enlisted help from churches outside of Germany. He attended the World Alliance Christian ecumenical meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, and convinced the delegates to pass the following resolution in April 1933: "We especially deplore the fact that the State measures against the Jews in Germany had such an effect on public opinion that, in some circles, Jewish race is considered a race of inferior status."

However, when Bonhoeffer's sister asked him to conduct a Christian funeral for her husband's brother who, like her husband, was a converted Jew, Bonhoeffer succumbed to pressure from his church superintendent and refused. By November 1933, he regretted this decision and apologized to his sister. He turned down a parish post in Berlin and moved to London. His church in London became a haven for both Christian and Jewish refugees. In April 1935, he returned to Germany to help his Confessing Church. One of his members, deaconess Marga Meusel, no longer just denounced the church and the Nazis for their treatment of Jews who converted to Christianity. She denounced the Nazis and the church for their treatment against all Jews. Some leaders of Bonhoeffer's own church wanted to dispute Meusel's beliefs and only defend Jews who converted. They actually wanted to go so far as to agree that the Nazis could do what they wished with non-Christian Jews. This would have given sanction to the Nuremberg laws by Bonhoeffer's church. His church's synod met and dismissed Meusel's view and avoided discussions about the Nazi regime. They simply decided to support the baptism of Jews and support non-Aryan Christians.

For the next two years, Bonhoeffer taught quietly at the seminary of his Confessing Church at Finkenwalde. In 1937, the Gestapo declared his school illegal, as it opposed their Jewish blood laws. Twenty-seven of Bonhoeffer's students were arrested. During the next two years, Bonhoeffer traveled around Germany in secret supervising his students who were working illegally in small rural parishes. In 1938, the Gestapo banned him from Berlin and in 1940 forbade him from speaking publicly.

During the period from 1938 to 1940, Bonhoeffer's philosophy changed. For the first time he described Judaism using the same terminology as he used for Christianity. He said that in God's eyes the church and synagogue were equal. He said that Jews were the brothers of Christians, and that Jews were the "children of the covenant." These were radical statements. The regular Protestant movement in Germany just had culminated their 1939 conference on "Researching the Removal of Jewish Influence on the Religious Life of the German People."

After the November 9, 1938 Kristallnacht, Bonhoeffer protested the Church leaders who said that this pogrom was "the curse which has haunted Jews since Jesus' death on the cross." Bonhoeffer rejected this vehemently and said it was sheer violence revealing Nazism's godless face. Bonhoeffer then organized his members. Pastor Heinrich Gruber helped 2000 Jews escape Germany. Confessing Christians who were expelled from Germany worked with their German colleagues. One was Adolf Fruedenberg, who helped from Switzerland. Another was Henry Leiper from the United States, who was an outspoken critic of Nazism and urged a boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He worked with Jewish groups to spread the word about what was really happening in Germany.

In 1939, Bonhoeffer's other brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyl, became a high- ranking member of the German Military Intelligence under Admiral Wilheim Canaris. Secretly, Dohnanyl was a member of the resistance. Dohnanyl told Bonhoeffer that war was imminent. Bonhoeffer left for New York to teach at the Union Seminary in 1939. By the time he arrived in America, he realized that his place was in Germany fighting the Nazis and helping the Jews. He returned to the belly of the beast one month later in July 1939. Reverend Dietrich Bonhoeffer made an important, crucial decision. He joined the resistance.

Bonhoeffer became a double agent for the resistance by working for his brother-in-law at German military intelligence. The Nazis thought Bonhoeffer would use his church connections to help the Reich. Instead, he helped the resistance gain support as he traveled in Italy, Switzerland, and Scandinavia in 1941 and 1942. However, the Allies treated him with distrust, because the German generals against Hitler wanted guarantees of German territorial integrity and their own positions in power after the war. In 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt said that only unconditional surrender of the Nazis would end the war and did not wish to help the German resistance movement of the anti-Hitler Army officers.

When Jewish deportation started on October 15, 1941, Bonhoeffer wrote detailed memos about it that were smuggled out of Germany on October 18th. Dohnanyl and Canaris, while running the German intelligence office, ran Operation Seven. This secret project smuggled 11 converted Jews and 3 Jews to Switzerland. Using Jews in the Intelligence under the Nazis was not unusual. Hitler himself ordered Canaris to use Jews as spies and send them to the United States. Canaris was happy to oblige. The only orders he gave the Jewish spies was to escape as soon as they got out of Germany. The Gestapo discovered this operation by a trail of money leaving Germany to help the refugees. They arrested Dohnanyl and Bonhoeffer in 1943 on charges of corruption. Later they realized they were smuggling Jews.

In July 1944, an attempt by Canaris's group to kill Hitler failed. It was only after the conspirators' arrest that the Nazis learned of Bonhoeffer's true involvement. He was hung at Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945, together with his brother Klaus, Canaris, his brother-in-law Dohnanyl, and others.

In his essay Who Stands Firm, Bonhoeffer wrote, "Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God's question and call."

This parasha says that all of us are "standing today" (Deut. 29:9). Our covenant with God was sealed not just with those standing with Moses circa 3,300 years ago, but "with whoever is not here with us today" (Deut. 29:14). Our covenant is binding upon unborn generations. We have a choice whether to accept Torah's ethical teachings or not. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an example of a man who, after some starts and stops, decided to choose life. He gave up his own life for the greater good.

Let us determine to do our best to choose life-affirming actions. Let us work toward tzedakah (justice) and chesed (kindness). As the prophet Isaiah says, "For Zion's sake, I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be still, until her righteousness shall go forth like a bright light." (Is. 62:01).

Let us begin, or continue, by doing good within our homes, workplaces and synagogues. Let us begin our own Jewish Spiritual Renewal. Let us "beat down the highway, clear it of stone, and raise a banner over all the peoples" (Is. 62:10) that will bring about Tikun Olam (repair of the world) speedily in our days.