614th Commandment

In July 1993, my graduate school program had a three-week seminar in Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) and Israel to learn more about Jewish communal service around the world. It was an incredible experience, especially being so close to the end of the Former Soviet Union.

While in Israel, we had the opportunity to spend our Shabbat with family or friends.  One of my classmates invited me to join her – she was going to spend the afternoon with a close family friend, Emil Fackenheim, a philosophy professor at Hebrew University. I must admit I had no clue who he was at the time, but he made an indelible impression on me. (How we spent our Shabbat together is a story for another day.)

Emil Fackenheim, who died in 2003, was a noted Jewish philosopher and rabbi. Dr. Fackenheim was born in Halle, Germany. He later moved to Berlin where he entered rabbinical school and began a degree in philosophy at the University of Halle. On the night of November 9, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, he was arrested by the Nazis. After several months at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, he was able to flee to Aberdeen, Scotland, where his parents later joined him. In 1940, Dr. Fackenheim left for Canada where he received a PhD at the University of Toronto and became a longstanding professor of Philosophy.

Dr. Fackenheim focused his research on the relationship between Jews and God, believing that the Holocaust must be understood as an imperative requiring Jews to carry on a Jewish existence.

Dr. Fackenheim wrote many books but he is best known for a single phrase, a new commandment. He taught and believed that in addition to the 613 commandments in Jewish tradition, Jews should observe a 614th – do not grant Hitler a posthumous victory.

Dr. Fackenheim wrote, “We are commanded, first, to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, second, to remember our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted.”

For some, this sounds like a very negative reason to be Jewish. Yet, I do not believe that was his intention. Rather, he saw the education of each Jewish child as a victory over forgetting and over darkness. The ideal in his eyes is the triumph over despair, hatred and indifference. That is what the 614th commandment is all about, and what I believe the Jewish people seek to teach the world.

This Sunday, our community will come together for its annual Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration. The event, to be held at 4:00 pm at the Rose Schnitzer Manor, is open to all adults and youth in middle school and high school and is sponsored by the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center and the Oregon Board of Rabbis.

On Monday, Portland will join with hundreds of Jewish communities around the world to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Holocaust through the program, Unto Every Person There is a Name, a public recitation of Holocaust victims’ names, ages and birthplaces. The Oregon Area Jewish Committee and the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center invite you to this special program at Pioneer Courthouse Square from 10:00 am - 5:30 pm.

As the brave Holocaust survivors age and pass on, it is imperative that we continue to educate the world and never forget! Let’s live up to Dr. Fackenheim’s 614th commandment.


It is hard to believe that the Food for Thought Festival is only two short weeks away. An incredible line-up and smorgasbord of events, programs and speakers in our community April 18-21. Don’t miss an evening about serious issues with a touch of humor with the Wisdom of Davids…a 40-year celebration of Israeli dancing in Portland…and a day of learning with an eclectic group of national and local leaders at Limmud PDX. We have multiple authors, distinguished speakers at various synagogues (a wonderful opportunity to visit synagogues which you may not be familiar with), and even a walking tour of Portland’s famous food carts. We are also partnering with OHSU on a nutrition program, Good Food for Good Health, emphasizing how choices in early childhood can ward off disease later in life (a great program for young parents – if your children are under age 13, tickets are only $5 - use code JFGP5).

There is so much to the Festival – choose the programs you wish to attend! Click here or on the Food for Thought Festival box at the end of this post to see the full range of programs - and please register so we know you will be coming.

In addition, click here to see a wonderful TV spot produced by one of our media sponsors, KGW.

The Food for Thought Festival is a “friendraising” event for the entire Greater Portland community. This is not a fundraising event – all we ask is that you please bring a food donation for the Oregon Food Bank to each program you attend. Almost all the costs for the events are covered through the generosity of our tremendous sponsors, making many of the events free of charge or for a very low fee.

Join us…share in our community…see the wonders of Jewish life…and learn while helping others. I know Dr. Fackenheim would want to attend.

Shabbat shalom.



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