Judaism Research Paper

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Judaism, a religion of ethical monotheism in the class of Christianity and Islam, encompasses diverse, but kindred religious systems (‘Judaisms’) that in common exhibit these indicative traits: (a) they maintain that God is unique and made manifest in self-revelation, set forth to Moses at Sinai in the Torah; (b) they privilege the Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses, aka the Torah) among the Israelite Scriptures; and (c) they regard the Jews, or some Jews, at later times and in other places as the continuation of Scripture’s ‘Israel’ in the Land of Israel. All Judaic religious systems—cogent theories of the social order, grounded in the Pentateuch, comprised by a way of life, a world view, and an account of who and what is ‘Israel’—exhibit those three indicative traits. In antiquity a number of Judaic religious systems flourished, one represented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, another by the Elephantine Papyri, a third by the writings of Philo of Alexandria. The most influential and enduring is called Rabbinic Judaism (after the title of its principal authority, the rabbi), or Talmudic Judaism (for its principal document beyond Scripture), or classical or normative Judaism (for its paramount status). Rabbinic Judaism attained normative status in ancient times and retained a paramount position until the nineteenth century, when competing Judaisms took shape.

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1. Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism in the fourth and fifth centuries AD responded to the crisis of the Christianization of the Roman Empire. With the triumph of Christianity through the conversion of Constantine in 312, Christianity’s explicit claims, now validated in world-shaking events of the age, demanded a reply. The sages of the Talmud of the Land of Israel provided it. At those very specific points at which the Christian challenge met head-on old Israel’s world-view, sages’ doctrines responded. The response took three forms. The Torah (‘Judaism’) was defined in the doctrine, first, of the status, as oral and memorized revelation, of the Mishnah, and, by implication, of other rabbinical writings. The Torah, moreover, was presented as the encompassing symbol of Israel’s salvation. The Torah, finally, was embodied in the person of the Messiah who would be a rabbi. The Torah in all three modes confronted the cross, with its doctrine of the triumphant Christ, Messiah and king, ruler now of earth as of heaven. Judaism in the rabbis’ statement did endure in the Christian West, imparting to Israel the secure conviction of constituting that Israel after the flesh to which the Torah continued to speak. When Islam gained its victory, Christianity throughout the Middle East and North Africa gave way, Judaism in those same vast territories retained the loyalty and conviction of the people of the Torah.

1.1 From Israel, The Nation Dwelling Alone To, The Jews, An Ethnic Group Of Individual Citizens Of The Nation State

A drastic shift in the political circumstance of a Judaism in the West, represented by the American Constitution of 1787 and the French Revolution of 1789, affected Jews’ thought about perennial questions. From the end of the eighteenth century the secularization of political life and institutions defined a question not easily answered by Rabbinic Judaism. Earlier modes of organizing matters had recognized as political entities groups and guilds and classes, and, among them, the Jews found a place. In the hierarchical scheme, with church and monarchy and aristocracy in their proper alignment, other political entities could likewise find their location. With church disestablished, monarchy rejected, and aristocracy no longer dominant in politics, the political unit became the (theoretically) undifferentiated individual, making up the nation state. Within that theory was no room for a collectivity such as ‘Israel,’ the holy community, viewed as a political unit. But, political theory held, there might be room for the Jewish individual, in rightful place alongside other undifferentiated individuals. The individuation of politics produced a considerable crisis for the Rabbinic Judaism.

1.2 Modern And Contemporary Judaisms In The Context Of Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism encompassed the whole of the existence of the Jews, who found its truth self-evident, its definition of life ineluctable. In the way of life of that system a Jew was not always a Jew, he or she was only a Jew. The other Judaisms acknowledged the former. Jews never stopped being Jews. The world would not let them, even if they wanted to. But Rabbinic Judaism made slight provision for Jews to be anything but Jews: the holy people had no other vocation, no alternative, to its holiness. Its history as a people different in kind from other peoples, its destiny at the end of time; these matched its distinctive holy way of life in the here and now. So Israel was always Israel and only Israel. But in modern times Israel became one of several things that Jews would be: also Americans, also workers, also Israelis, among the twentieth-century Judaisms, but never only Israel, God’s people. And that theory of Israel matches in social terms the conception of the individual person as well. For in the received Torah, Israel—the Jew—lived out life in the rhythm of sanctification of the here and now, realizing in concrete deeds the Torah’s words, once more, not only always but also Israel. It was not a romance, it was a marriage.

2. Emancipation

A process called ‘emancipation,’ part of a larger movement of emancipation of serfs, women, slaves, Catholics (in Protestant countries, for instance, England and Ireland), also encompassed the Jews. Benzion Dinur defines this process of emancipation as follows:

Jewish emancipation denotes the abolition of disabilities and inequities applied specially to Jews, the recognition of Jews as equal to other citizens, and the formal granting of the rights and duties of citizenship. Essentially the legal act of emancipation should have been simply the expression of the diminution of social hostility and psychological aversion toward Jews in the host nation … but the antipathy was not obliterated and constantly hampered the realization of equality even after it had been proclaimed by the state and included in the law (Dinur, in: ‘Emancipation,’ Encyclopaedia Judaica 6: 696–718).

The political changes that fall into the process of the Jews’ emancipation began in the eighteenth century, and, in a half-century affected the long-term stability that had characterized the Jews’ social and political life from Constantine onward. These political changes raised questions not previously found urgent, and, it follows, also precipitated reflection on problems formerly neglected. The answers to the questions flowed logically and necessarily from the character of the questions themselves.

Dinur traces three periods in the history of the Jews’ emancipation, from 1740 to 1789, ending with the French revolution; then from 1789 to 1878, from the French revolution to the Congress of Berlin; and from 1878 to 1933, from the Congress of Berlin to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany. The adoption of the American Constitution in 1787 confirmed the US position on the matter. Jewish males enjoyed the rights of citizens, along with all other whites. The first period marks the point at which the emancipation of the Jews first came under discussion, the second marked the period in which Western and Central European states accorded to the Jews the rights of citizens, and the third brought to the fore a period of new racism that in the end annihilated the Jews of Europe.

In the first period advocates of the Jews’ emancipation maintained that religious intolerance accounted for the low caste status assigned to the Jews. Liberating the Jews would mark another stage in overcoming religious intolerance. During this first period the original ideas of Reform Judaism came to expression, although the important changes in religious doctrine and practice were realized only in the earlier part of the nineteenth century.

In the second period, the French revolution brought Jews political rights in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As Germany and Italy attained unification and Hungary independence, the Jews were accorded the rights and duties of citizenship. Dinur explains: ‘It was stressed that keeping the Jews in a politically limited and socially inferior status was incompatible with the principle of civic equality … it is the objective of every political organization to protect the natural rights of man, [hence] all citizens have the right to all the liberties and advantages of citizens, without exception.’ Jews at that time entered the political and cultural life of the Western nations, including their overseas empires (hence Algerian Jews received French citizenship). During this second period Reform Judaism reached its first stage of development, beginning in Germany. It made it possible for Jews to hold together the two things they deemed inseparable: their desire to remain Jewish, and their wish also to be one with their ‘fellow citizens.’ By the middle of the nineteenth century, Reform had reached full expression and had won the support of a sizable part of German Jewry. In reaction against Reform (‘the excesses of …’), Orthodoxy came into existence. Orthodoxy no less than Reform asked how ‘Judaism’ could coexist with ‘Germanness,’ meaning citizenship in an undifferentiated republic of citizens. A centrist position, mediating between Reform and/orthodoxy, was worked out by theologians in what was then called the Historical School, and what, in twentieth-century America, took the name of Conservative Judaism. The period from the French Revolution to the Congress of Berlin therefore saw the full efflorescence of all of the Judaisms of political modernization. All of these Judaisms characterized the Jews of Western Europe, and, later on, America. But in America Reform, Orthodoxy, and the Historical School or Conservative Judaism radically changed in character, responding to the urgent issues of a different circumstance, producing self-evidently valid answers of a character not compatible with the nineteenth-century statements of those same systems.

In the third period, anti-Semitism as a political and social movement attained power. Jews began to realize that, in Dinur’s words, ‘the state’s legal recognition of Jewish civic and political equality does not automatically bring social recognition of this equality.’ The Jews continued to form a separate group; they were racially ‘inferior.’ The impact of the new racism would be felt in the twentieth century. Judaisms of the twentieth century raised the questions of political repression and economic dislocation, as these faced the Jews of Eastern Europe and America.

3. The Nineteenth Century Judaisms And The Political Question

Reform, Orthodoxy, and Conservative carried forward Rabbinic Judaism, each in its own claim forming the natural and legitimate next step in the ongoing life of that Judaism. All make explicit their claim to stand in a linear, unitary, harmonious relationship with the dual Torah of Sinai, to form the necessary development of the Torah. Each of these three Judaisms negotiated issues of secularity, on the one side, and social and cultural and political change, on the other. None affirmed an essentially secular view, nor did any one of them formulate its systemic statement outside the framework of the dual Torah. The three main Judaisms born in the aftermath of the advent of modern politics have now to be specified. All of them continued the Torah as set forth in Rabbinic Judaism and adopted the Torah as their generative symbol and myth, its law as their norms, its theology as their touchstone. Between 1800 and 1850 all had taken shape.

Chronologically first is Reform Judaism, coming to expression in the early part of the nineteenth century and making changes in liturgy, then in doctrine and in way of life of the received Judaism of the dual Torah. Reform Judaism recognized the legitimacy of making changes and regarded change as reform, yielding Reform. Second was the reaction to Reform Judaism, called Orthodox Judaism, which in many ways was continuous with the Judaism of the dual Torah, but in some ways as selective of elements of that Judaism as was Reform Judaism. Orthodox Judaism reached its first systematic expression in the middle of the nineteenth century. Orthodox Judaism addressed the same issue, that of change, and held that Judaism lies beyond history; it is the work of God; it constitutes a set of facts of the same order as the facts of nature. Hence change is not reform, and Reform Judaism is not Judaism—so Orthodoxy. Third in line, and somewhat after Orthodox Judaism, was positive Historical Judaism, known in America as Conservative Judaism, which occupied the center between the two other Judaisms of continuation of the dual Torah. This Judaism maintained that change could become reform, but only in accord with the principles by which legitimate change may be separated from illegitimate change. Conservative Judaism would discover those principles through historical study. In an age in which historical facts were taken to represent theological truths, the historicism of Conservative Judaism bore compelling weight.

Each of these Judaic systems exhibited three characteristic traits: (a) each asked how one could be both Jewish and something else, that is, also a citizen, a member of a nation; (b) it defined ‘Judaism’ (that is, its system) as a religion, so leaving ample space for that something else, namely, nationality; (c) it appealed to history to prove the continuity between its system and the received Judaism of the dual Torah. The resort to historical fact, the claim that the system at hand formed the linear development of the past, the natural increment of the entire ‘history’ of Israel, the Jewish people, from the beginning to the new day—that essentially factual claim masked a profound conviction concerning selfevidence. The urgent question at hand—the political one—produced a selfevidently correct answer out of the history of politics constituted by historical narrative.

That appeal to history, particularly historical fact, characterizes all three Judaisms. The Reformers stated explicitly that theirs would be a Judaism built on fact. The facts of history, in particular, would guide Jews to the definition of what was essential and what could be dropped. History then formed the court of appeal— but also the necessary link, the critical point of continuity. The Historical School took the same position, but reached different conclusions. History would show how change could be effected, and the principles of historical change would then govern. Orthodoxy met the issue in a different way, maintaining that ‘Judaism’ was above history, not a historical fact at all. But the Orthodox position would also appeal most forcefully to the past in its claim that Orthodoxy constituted the natural and complete continuation of ‘Judaism’ in its true form. The importance of history in the theological thought of the nineteenth-century Judaisms derives from the intellectual heritage of the age, with its stress on the nation state as the definitive unit of society, and on history as the mode of defining the culture and character of the nation state. History as an instrument of reform, further, had served the Protestant Reformation, with its appeal to Scripture as against (mere) tradition, its claim that it would restore Christianity to its (historical) purity. Finally and most important, the supernaturalism of the inherited Judaism of the dual Torah, its emphasis upon God’s active intervention in history, on miracles, on a perpetual concern for the natural implications of the supernatural will and covenant—that supernaturalism contradicted the rationalism of the age. The one thing the Jewish thinkers wished to accomplish was to show the rationalism, the reason—the normality—of the Judaisms they constructed. Appealing to (mere) facts of history, as against the unbelievable claims of a Scripture placed upon a positive and this-worldly foundation that religious view of the world that, in the received system of the dual Torah, rested upon a completely supernatural view of reality.

Just as the questions before all three important Judaisms of the nineteenth century were the same, the answers of the three systems remarkably congruent to one another. The three Judaisms of continuity exhibit striking traits in common. All looked backward, at the received system of the dual Torah. All sought justification in precedent out of a holy and paradigmatic past. All viewed the documents of that system as canonical, differing, of course, on the relative merit of the several components. They concurred that texts to prove propositions deemed true should derive from those canonical writings (or from some of them). All took for granted the enduring, God-given authority of those writings. None doubted that God had revealed the (written) Torah at Sinai. All looked for validating precedent in the received canon. Differing on issues important to both world view and way of life, all three Judaisms concurred on the importance of literacy in the received writings, on the lasting relevance of the symbolic system at hand, on the pertinence of the way of life (in some, if not in every detail), on the power of the received Judaism of the dual Torah to stand in judgment on whatever, later, would serve to continue that Judaism.

True, the differences among the three Judaisms impressed their framers and with good reason. The Reformers rejected important components of Rabbinic Judaism and said so. Written Torah, yes, Oral Torah, no. The Orthodox explicitly denied the validity of changing anything, insisting on the facticity, the givenness, of the whole. The Conservatives, in appealing to historical precedent, shifted the premise of justification entirely. Written Torah, yes, Oral Torah, maybe. They sought what the Orthodox thought pointless and the Reform inconsequential, namely, justification for making some few changes in the present in continuation of the processes that had effected development in the past. None of these points of important difference proved trivial. But all of them, all together, should not obscure the powerful points of similarity that mark all three Judaisms as continuators of the Judaism of the dual Torah. The points at which each Judaism took its leave from the received system do not match. In the case of Reform, the break proved explicit: change carried out by articulate, conscious decision, thus change as a matter of policy, enjoys full legitimacy. And as for the positive Historical School and of its continuators in Conservative Judaism, the gulf between faith and fact took the measure of the difference between the received system of the dual Torah and the statement of mere historical facts that, for the Historical School, served to document the faith. In saying that ‘things have changed in the past, and we can change them too,’ Reform established its primary position. It pointed to precedent, and took as implicitly conceded the power of the received system to stand in judgment. All the more so did the Orthodox and Conservative theologians affirm that same power and place themselves under the judgment of the Judaism of the dual Torah. All three established a firm position within the continuation of that Judaism. Each claimed to take priority as the next step in the linear and incremental history of Judaism.

4. The Twentieth Century And Its Mythic Ideologies

Three Judaisms were born in the twentieth century, two in 1897, one in 1967. The first was Jewish Socialism and Yiddishism; the second, Zionism; and the third, three generations later, the American Judaic system of Holocaust and Redemption. Jewish Socialism took shape in the Bund, a Jewish union organized in Poland in 1897. Zionism was founded in the World Zionist Organization, created in Basel in 1897. American Judaism—‘the Judaism of Holocaust and Redemption,’ explaining in ethnic and political terms why and where one should be Jewish in the formulation under discussion—came to powerful expression in the aftermath of the 1967 war in the Middle East. All three Judaic systems answered profoundly political questions. Their agenda attended to the status of the Jews as a group (Zionism, American Judaism), the definition of the Jews in the context of larger political and social change (Jewish Socialism, Zionism). It follows that the urgent questions addressed by the twentieth-century Judaisms differed in kind from those found acute in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, powerful forces for social and economic change took political form, in movements meant to shape government to the interests of particular classes or groups, the working classes or racial or ethnic entities, for instance. The Judaic systems of the century responded in kind.

Jewish Socialism presented a Jewish-ethnic system congruent to the political task of economic reform through state action. The Jews would form unions and engage in mass activity of an economic, and ultimately, therefore, of a political character. In that same century the definition of citizenship, encompassing ethnic and genealogical traits, presented the Jews with the problem of how they were to find a place in a nation state that understood itself in an exclusionary and exclusive, racist way—whether Nazi Germany, nationalist Poland, Hungary, Romania or France. Zionism declared the Jews ‘a people, one people,’ and proposed as its purpose the creation of the Jewish State. Later on, shifting currents in American politics, a renewed ethnicism and emphasis on intrinsic traits of birth, rather than extrinsic ones of ability, called into question the Jews’ identification with the democratic system of America as that system defined permissible difference. A Jewish ethnicism, counterpart to the search for roots among diverse ethnic groups, responded with a tale of Jewish ‘uniqueness’—unique suffering—and unique Jewish ethnic salvation, redemption in the Jewish State. So three powerful and attractive movements, Jewish Socialism, Zionism, and American Judaism, presented answers to critical issues confronting groups of Jews. All of these movements addressed political questions and responded with essentially political programs. Zionism wanted to create a Jewish state, American Judaism wanted the Jews to form an active political community on their own, and Jewish Socialism in its day framed the Jews into political, as much as economic, organizations, seeing the two as one, a single and inseparable mode of defining economic activity and public policy.

5. Comparing The Nineteenth- And The Twentieth- Century Judaisms

On the surface the three Judaic systems of the twentieth century took up political, social, economic, but not theological questions. While the nineteenth- century Judaisms addressed issues particular to Jews, the matters of public policy of the twentieth-century Judaic systems concerned everyone, not only Jews. All of the new Judaisms intersected with comparable systems—like in character, unlike in content—among other Europeans and Americans. Socialism then is the genus, Jewish Socialism the species; American ethnic assertion the genus, American Judaism the species. The issues addressed by the Judaisms of the twentieth century, the crises that made those issues urgent, did not affect Jews alone or mainly. The crises in common derived from economic dislocation, which generated socialism, and also Jewish Socialism; the reorganization of political entities, which formed the foundation of nationalism, and also Zionism; and the reconsideration of the theory of American society, which produced, alongside the total homogenization of American life, renewed interest in ethnic origins, and also American Judaism.

The nineteenth-century Judaisms made constant reference to the received system of the dual Torah, its writings, its values, its requirements, its viewpoints, its way of life. The twentieth-century Judaisms did not. True, each Judaism born in the nineteenth century faced the task of validating change that all of the nascent Judaisms in one way or another affirmed. But all of the new Judaisms articulated a principle of change guiding relationships with the received system, which continued to define the agenda of law and theology alike, and to which, in diverse ways, all the Judaisms recognized themselves as answerable. We cannot point to a similar relationship between the new Judaisms of the twentieth century and the received Judaism of the dual Torah. For none of them made much use of the intellectual resources of that system, found important issues deemed urgent within that system, or even regarded itself as answerable to the Judaism of the dual Torah.

For the twentieth-century systems birth came about within another matrix altogether: the larger world of socialism and linguistic nationalism, for Jewish Socialism and Yiddishism; the realm of the nationalisms of the smaller peoples of Europe, rejecting the government of the international empires of Central and Eastern Europe, for Zionism; the reframing, in American culture, of the policy governing social and ethnic difference, for American Judaism. None of these Judaic systems of believing and behaving drew extensively on the received Judaic system of the dual Torah, and all of them for a time vastly overshadowed in acceptance among the Jewish group the Judaisms that did. So the passage of time, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, produced a radical attenuation of the bonds that joined the Jews to the Judaism of the dual Torah. Our interest concerns not explaining the social change at hand, nor even in invoking the political explanation that seems to me paramount, but only in reviewing the simple program with which we began.

The Judaisms of the nineteenth century attained a high measure of self-consciousness because they had before their eyes the image of the innocent faith of their predecessors, and many in their own time as well. The Judaisms of the twentieth century, abandoning all pretense at a connection to the received Judaism, lost also the awareness that change took place, people made choices, and, in all, a dimension of decisionmaking took the measure of their Judaisms. So they entered a new phase of selfevidence, appealing now for vindication not to received texts but the obvious facts of the everyday world. So history now proved propositions for the new Judaisms, and the text of those Judaisms was the world out there. Proof texts derived from headlines in newspapers. The continuators of Rabbinic Judaism developed systems of belief and behavior that invariably fell into the category of religions, in our setting, Judaisms. Whether or not the twentieth-century successor systems constitute religions, Judaisms, presents a question bearing only slight consequence. Clearly, Jewish Socialism and Zionism provided the deep meaning for the lives of millions of Jews, so, defining ways of life and world views and the Israel subject to realize both, they functioned entirely as did the religions, the Judaisms, of the nineteenth century and of the twentieth as well. But Socialism–Yiddishism and Zionism differ from the continuator-Judaisms, because neither invoked a supernatural God, revelation of God’s will in the Torah, belief in Providence, or any other indicator of the presence of the family of closely-related religions, the Judaisms; and, moreover, their framers and founders did not claim otherwise. Had the framers alleged that theirs was a continuator-Judaism, we should have to introduce that fact into our analysis and interpretation, but none did. The Socialists took a position actively hostile to religion in all forms, and the Zionists compromised with the religious Judaisms of the day but in no way conceded that theirs was a competing Judaism. As to American Judaism, in its contemporary form, in its appeal the salvific myth of Holocaust and Redemption, it crosses the border between a genuinely religious and an entirely secular system addressed to an ethnic group, the Jews, not a religious community, ‘Israel.’

5.1 Influence Of Twentieth-Century Systems

No Judaic religious systems of broad influence took shape in the twentieth century. Three factors explain why.

5.1.1 The Holocaust. First let us consider the demographic factor. The most productive sector of world Jewry perished, and the social and political and cultural conditions that put forth the great systemic creations vanished with the six million who died. Judaic systems in all their variety emerged in Europe, not in America or in what was then Palestine and is now the State of Israel, and, within Europe, they came from Central and Eastern European Jewry. We may account for the systemopoia of Central and Eastern European Jews in two ways: (a) the Jews in the East, in particular, formed a vast and coherent population, with enormous learning and diverse interests; (b) the systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries arose out of a vast population living in self-aware circumstances, not scattered and individual but composed and bonded. The Jews who perished formed enormous and self-conscious communities of vast intellectual riches.

5.1.2 The Demise Of Intellect. The second explanation for the end of systemopoia is the as yet unappreciated factor of sheer ignorance, the collapse of the system of cultural transmission of Judaism. That second factor is constituted by the utter loss of access to that permanent treasury of the human experience of Jewry preserved and handed on in the canonical Torah. The Judaisms that survive—political and ethnic in the main—do provide ready access to emotional or political encounters, readily available to all by definition. But they offer none of that confrontation of taste and judgment, intellect and reflection, that takes place in traditional cultures and with tradition. The twentieth-century systems resort mainly to the immediately accessible experiences of emotions and of politics. The repertoire of human experience in Rabbinic Judaism presents as human options the experience of the ages. By contrast Israeli nationalism and American Judaism—the two most influential systems that move Jews to action in the world today— scarcely concern themselves with that Judaism. They work with the raw materials made available by contemporary experience: emotions on the one side, politics on the other. Access to realms beyond requires learning in literature, the only resource for human experience beyond the immediate. But the Judaic systems of the twentieth century do not resort to the reading of books as a principal act of their way of life, in the way in which Rabbinic Judaism and its continuators did and do. The consequence is a strikingly abbreviated agenda of issues, a remarkably one-dimensional program of urgent questions.

5.1.3 The Triumph Of Large-Scale Organization. Third and distinct from the other two is the bureaucratization of Jewry in consequence of the political tasks it rightly has identified as urgent. Jews have had to work through very large organizations and institutions. The contemporary class structure of Jewry therefore places in positions of influence those Jews who place slight value on matters of intellect and learning, and that same system accords no sustained hearing to Jews who strive to reflect. The exemplary experiences of those who exercise influence derives from politics, through law, from economic activity, through business and industry, from institutional careers, through government, politics and law. As the gifts of establishing routine take precedence over the endowments of charisma of an intellectual order, the experiences people know and understand— politics, emotions of ready access—serve, also, for the raw materials of Judaic system-building. The great war conducted against the Jews, beginning not in 1933 but with the organization of political anti-Semitism joined to economic exclusion, from the 1880s onward, effected the change. In a profound sense the type of structure now characteristic of Jewry represents one of the uncounted costs of the Holocaust.


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