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Jewish philosopher rabbi Emil Fackenheim dies at 87

Sunday, September 21, 2003

(09-21) 05:56 PDT JERUSALEM (AP) --

Rabbi Emil Fackenheim, a leading Jewish philosopher who explored the essence of Judaism in the aftermath of the Holocaust, has died. He was 87.

Fackenheim died in Jerusalem on Friday, Hebrew University philosophy lecturer Yehoyada Amir, a family friend, said Saturday.

Fackenheim's many books explored the relationship between the Jewish people and God following the killing of more than 6 million Jews by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

"Genocide is horrible yet human when motivated by xenophobia or greed for money, power or territory ... The killing of the Jews was ideological murder of its own sake. Torture and murder became ends in themselves," Fackenheim said in a 1979 interview, according to information compiled by John Slater, a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Toronto.

Born in Halle, Germany, on June 22, 1916, Fackenheim came of age in the 1930s when the Nazis began limiting the civil rights of Jews, restricting them from schools and professions.

He was arrested by the Nazis on the night of Nov. 9, 1938 -- known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass -- a nationwide assault on Jewish businesses and synagogues, and was briefly held at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, said Slater, a longtime colleague.

Released in early 1939, Fackenheim was soon after ordained as a rabbi and then fled Germany for Britain, where his parents later joined him, Slater said. An older brother who refused to leave Germany was killed in the Holocaust.

Fackenheim was held in Britain as an enemy alien after the outbreak of World War II and eventually was sent to Canada, Slater said.

He received a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, where he served as a professor of philosophy for 36 years, Slater said.

Fackenheim's works argued that the Holocaust must be understood as an imperative requiring Jews to carry on Jewish existence.

"He was always saying that continuing Jewish life and denying Hitler a posthumous victory was the 614th law," Amir said, referring to the 613 laws given to the Jews in the Bible.

Fackenheim was the author of numerous books on Jewish philosophy and the Holocaust, most notably "God's presence in History" and "To Mend the World, " considered a seminal work in post-Holocaust Jewish philosophy.

In 1984, after retiring, Fackenheim moved to Israel, where he lived until his death. Fackenheim is survived by four children and was to be buried Sunday in Jerusalem.

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