How does The Seder's four questions, Reb Boruch, Commandant Breur and bearing witness relate to the story  Devils Arithmetic?

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carolinasimon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novel begins poignantly on the first night of Passover. The Passover meal is called a Seder. Passover is the Jewish holiday when Jews remember having been enslaved for 400 years and thank God for liberating them and making them a free people. During the Seder, the youngest child at the table asks four questions regarding Passover, primarily why this night is different from other nights, why there is no leaven bread, etc. The oldest person at the table then responds to each question.

The Four questions and the concept of bearing witness are almost two sides of the same coin. Hannah states that all Jewish holidays are about remembering and she is tired of it.

Bearing witness is the act of remembering for those who can not remember for themselves because they are no longer alive."Hannah tells the man who tattoos her that she cannot remember anything; he tells her that she must try, for life cannot exist without memory".


Reb Boruch is the son of teh previous Rabbi and among Hassidic communities the title of Reb or Rebbi is a term of endearment meaning more or less, dear Rabbi. The Rabbi (Reb Boruch) is the communities most beloved religious leader and the Jews of the town trust him completely. His person in the novel not only serves to ground the story in historical truths (he was an actual person), but also to ground the story from Hannah's reality in modern times to her bizarre existence in the Holocaust.It allows her to better understand her own religious beliefs and feelings, not just her cultural connections to Judaism.

And finally Commandant Breur, much like the Rabbi who was in charge of the Hasidic communities spiritual lives, he is in charge of their physical lives while in the concentration camp. Once his character comes into play, the leaders of the Jewish community have either physically dies or spiritually died.Therefore, implying what so many Jews felt at the time, that God was dead or nor present and that men like Breur who used the Devil's logic (arithmetic) were devils themselves.

All four categories are important to the story because they assist the reader in understanding the story's theme that The Devil’s Arithmetic is about the importance and power of memory.