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Kiddush Ha-Ḥayyim

KIDDUSH HA-ḤAYYIM ("sanctification of life"), term first attributed to Rabbi Isaac *Nissenbaum, a Zionist rabbi in the Warsaw ghetto, which sought to differentiate between the classical response of Jewish martyrdom, *kiddush ha-Shem, the sanctification of the Divine Name, and the imperative of the hour, to spiritually resist the Nazis and their intention of annihilating the Jewish people by remaining alive. Nissenbaum wrote: "In the past our enemies demanded our soul and the Jew sacrificed his body in sanctifying God's name. Now the enemy demands the body of the Jew. That makes it imperative for the Jew to defend it and protect it."

Primo *Levi, the great Italian Jewish writer and survivor of Auschwitz, argued that had the lagers lasted longer they would have had to invent a vocabulary of their own, new words to describe an unprecedented situation. "Our language lacks words to express this offense, the demolition of a man." That was true not only for life inside the camps but for the unprecedented circumstances of Jews in German-occupied Europe during the time when the "Final Solution" was the operative German policy. Literary students of the Holocaust Lawrence Langer and Terrence Des Pres invented new words to describe what the perpetrators did to their victims. For Langer, the term was "choiceless choices" and for Des Pres "excremental assault." These were the circumstances in which Jews were placed by the killers. But how were Jews to respond?

Two such concepts developed by which the Jews described their own behavior, their own choice of response. Iberleben, the determination to outlive the enemy, to survive and to endure and to deny the Nazis the victory of one more Jew's demise. For Nissenbaum, the language he chose was religious. He understood that the circumstances were unprecedented and therefore the response required was also unprecedented. It demanded a language all its own. Other rabbis pushed for the same response, but saw it in continuity with the previous tradition of kiddush ha-Shem. Thus, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Goldberg of Zelichowo admonished his Jews: "every Jew that remains alive sanctifies the name of God among many [ba-rabbim ]." Nissenbaum chose a new language, in part to stress the uniqueness of the Nazi's murderous intention. They did not want the conversion of the Jews nor their expulsion, but their annihilation and thus life itself was a form of defiance of their ultimate wish. Israeli Holocaust scholar Shaul Esh termed this "The Dignity of the Destroyed" in an article of that title.


S. Esh, "The Dignity of the Destroyed: Toward a Definition of the Period of the Holocaust," in: Judaism (Spring 1962); J. Rudavsky, To Live with Hope, to Die with Dignity (1987); P. Schindler, "Kiddush ha-Hayyim," in: Y. Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.