How do the prisoners in Eliezer's block service the New Year's selection in Night?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The prisoners get together to worship and celebrate Rosh Hashanah, but Eliezer is angry at God for forsaking them.

The prisoners celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, by gathering in their own religious service.  Eliezer describes the meal, and the anticipation of the New Year.

The evening meal was distributed, an especially thick soup, but nobody touched it. We wanted to wait until after prayer.  On the Appelplatz, surrounded by electrified barbed wire, thousands of Jews, anguish on their faces, gathered in silence. (Section 5, p. 66)

Eliezer says that some ten thousand men gather.  He becomes more and more angry.  How can they pray, when God has turned his back on them?  How can they wish each other happy New Year, when they may not live through the night? 

Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled.  Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? (Section 5, p. 67)

As he listens to the service, given by an inmate who is clearly overtaken by emotion, Eliezer reflects on the role religion in general, and Rosh Hashanah in particular, has played in his life.  He has been deeply devout, and these are holidays that have been meaningful to him.  Rosh Hashanah used to mean rebirth in God.  Now he sees only death.  He is experiencing a crisis of faith of the highest order.

The scene during the Rosh Hashanah service is one of the most powerful in the book, as we see Eliezer’s musing’s on God juxtaposed with the inmate rabbi’s service.  One of them has maintained his faith, and is trying to help Eliezer and the others do so.  Eliezer is losing his, and we see his struggle as an almost physical pain. 

To see a young man so devout lose his faith in God is hard.  The Nazis took so much more than could be seen.  For Eliezer, the struggle for faith was just as important as the struggle for food, or shelter.  It was a struggle for inner strength.

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