Rabbi Herman Schaalman asks, "Where was God?"

Posted: November 22nd, 2013

Personal Reflection Prompts Controversial Question: Where was God?
By Jason Carson Wilson

Speaking his own truth. That's what 97-year-old Rabbi Herman Schaalman did during Chicago Theological Seminary's November 13 chapel service. Schaalman reflected on surviving the world's worst man-made tragedy—the Holocaust—and coming to grips with who heard the cries of the Jewish people.

“I wanted to be confessional,” Schaalman said. “It could happen at Chicago Theological Seminary. This is, in a large measure, my own home.”

Schaalman, of course, is the namesake of the Rabbi Herman Schaalman Chair in Jewish Studies. Rabbi Dr. Rachel Mikva, director of CTS's Center for Jewish, Christian and Islamic Studies, occupies the chair.

The anniversary of Kristallnacht, which had just passed, was heavy on his mind. Two days of widespread violence against Jewish people in Germany began on Nov. 9, 1938, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

“In two days, over 250 synagogues were burned, over 7,000 Jewish businesses were trashed and looted, dozens of Jewish people were killed, and Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes were looted while police and fire brigades stood by,” the museum's Web site said.

Schaalman described Kristallnacht and the Holocaust as the “most horrendous and unprecedented pain in [our] 4,000-year history.” Contemplating those terrible events prompted him to ask a controversial question: Where was God?

          Enjoy the full video of our November 13 chapel service with Rabbi Schaalman

“Millions of prayers were said,” Schaalman said. “None was answered. None seem to have been heard.”

While reality was painful for him, Schaalman said it should present a problem for those listening to him. After all, God is known as our protector and redeemer.

“I'm studying the wreckage of living 70 years as a rabbi and nearly 90 years as a Jew,” he said. “I've had to come to the conclusion that all humans [aren't] capable of saying anything true about God.”