Whitewashing History

Friar Yid writes on Hirhurim: How can we claim to have an intellectual tradition that values knowledge if we deliberately lie about its history to advance propaganda? Doesn’t this show a tremendous lack of faith in Judaism’s intellectual merits on behalf of the Orthodox? Why can it not stand on its own? And if the only way Judaism and Jewish history can be perpetuated is as an uncorrupted, idyllic past (which young people can neither relate to nor live up to), exactly what good is it?

it seems to me that many people today like to criticize Gedolim of today as being unlike the greatness of the previous generation, while a few decades ago that generation was under fire from similar quarters.

But isn’t this a vicious cycle that has been perpetuated by the gedolim and those controlling the history and public memory? If you deify previous generations, of course you (the present leaders) will never be able to measure up– and you will also encourage suspicion and skepticism since even yeshiva bochurs know that people are imperfect. Covering up flaws, struggles, or miscellaneous information that doesn’t follow the gadol script makes it impossible for regular people to connect with them. What’s wrong with having Jewish heroes be, I don’t know, moderately interesting?

Gedolim who struggled to balance their interest, priorities, or even temptations in life are not compromised or precluded from being role models, rather, they are role models because they were able to overcome these issues. That should be the message being sent to young Jews, not a false history where everything was perfect, no Jews ever fought and the only thing we had to worry about were Cossacks.

YEHUDA POSTS: 1) Many things depend on the age of the person. Kids need not know everything.

2) Even adults need not know everything. As much as I value truth (and I really do), there are certain facts I know about my parents that I G-d willing will never tell my kids about. Perhaps we can apply this to history as well in certain circumstances?

3) I don’t buy the argument that you won’t/can’t strive to be like a great person unless it is clear that he struggled with many flaws. In my personal experience it is the exact opposite.

4) I don’t think every great man strggled with tremendous flaws. I believe in the existence of extraordinary men.

ANONYMOUS POSTS: I think the real issue is that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, so it’s an almost irrelevant question. I’m not saying the internet changes everything forever, but just to give a tiny example. Pop the phrase "chaim berlin" into Google and the 4th and 5th links detail in excruciating, if not necessarily exactly fair or entirely accurate detail, scandals that seemed to have been dead and buried more than 25 years ago. I’m sure 8th grade Chaim Berliners aren’t supposed to go online, but I’m sure some do (even though most of them are probably looking up baseball scores and pictures of babes).

It may be that there is a reasonable and fair Chaim Berlin response to the Shlomo Carlebach thing, but the point is that it is no longer buried. Either they’ll respond or not, but how can that history be whitewashed now? This is but one example of literally thousands of possible things about the past which it would be inspiring to change or rewrite.

ARI POSTS: I would find it hard to believe that the internet did not increase the incidence of infidelity.

The internet reduced the cost of infidelity in terms of effort.

Most certainly, people have always had straying hearts. If the cost of infidelity was zero (attractive sex partners virtually throwing themselves you every day, easy ways not to get caught, little consequences if you do get caught, etc). then he incidence of infidelity would be at a maximum. If the cost is high, the incidence would be low.

Any communications technology reduces the cost of infidelity be it telephones, inexpensive paper (along with increased literacy).

Gil, how much did time did they take to mention that Reb Yaakov Emden wrote and said publicly that Reb Yehonasan Eybeschutz prostituted his daughter with his talmidim?

I’m not saying knowing this will kill Orthodoxy, but it’s certainly not great news for frum people, especially impressionable young ones, and it is getting a little tough to keep it out of inquiring minds. I know that Rabbi J.J. Schacter publicly said that he no longer has plans to translate Megillas Sefer, perhaps for the reason that he personally would rather not add fuel to this fire (it’s obviously no chiyuv for him to translate it). Well, what happens if some folks decide to create a Megillas Sefer wiki? Maybe Josh Waxman can translate it in installments for fun, like he did with the Vikuach on the Zohar.

> Why is it that we have to go to Christians for your theological justifications (in the broadest sense obviously)? Where are the spokesmen from our own people?

Because "Faith" is a Christian concept, not a Jewish one. "Emunah" isn’t faith. When the Torah talks about emunah, it means trust in God, not belief that God exists. The Torah takes it for granted that of course God (or Gods) exist. It’s only recently that Jewish Thinkers, mostly stealing from Christians, have started to emphasise faith. In fact the Torah is very evidence based, for example the parshah a few weeks ago talking about what the bnei yisrael saw and heard at Sinai. Why do you think that everytime Gil posts on this topic he’s quoting some Christian thinker? Or he’s quoting some modern Jewish THinker (e.g. Sacks) who in turn is quoting from a Christian. Where are Chazal on "Faith"? Nowhere.

Rebbe Nachman’s view of this (Sichot Haran #235):

"Don’t follow excessive stringencies in your practice of the Torah. “God does not rule over His creatures with tyranny” ( Avodah Zarah 3a) – “The Torah was not given to ministering angels” ( Berachot 25b) .

Our rabbis have taught that it is proper for each person to choose for himself one mitzvah to observe with particular care in all its fine details ( Shabbat 118b ). Yet even with your chosen mitzvah, you should not be excessively strict to the point of folly. Don’t let it make you depressed. Simply try to keep the mitzvah carefully in all its finer points, but without excessive punctiliousness.

As for the other mitzvot, simply follow the essential laws without adding extra stringencies. If only we could keep all the mitzvot of the Torah according to the simple interpretation of the law without seeking to go beyond it!

There is no need to look for extra stringencies: this is foolish and confusing. The essence of serving God is simplicity and sincerity. Pray much, study much Torah and carry out many good deeds without seeking out or inventing unnecessary restrictions. Simply follow the path of our forefathers. “The Torah was not given to ministering angels.”

There is nothing that you absolutely must do or else… If you can, you can. But if you cannot: “God exempts a person under duress” ( Bava Kama 28b)" .

CHARLIE HALL POSTS: I was once at a Shabat mean on Shabat Hagadol. Everyone went around the table and shared their nutty Pesach chumrot, each one nuttier than the next. When they came to me I explained that I didn’t really observe any Pesach chumrot, that the holiday was difficult enough as it was. Then I added as an afterthought that I don’t sell chametz but either eat it all before Pesach or give it away.

Everyone else at the table thought that *I* had the nuttiest chumrah!

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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