Sunday, June 10, 2007

A History of Lies: The Show Must Go On. Or Must It?


    WIZARD
    Elphaba, where I'm from, we believe all sorts of
    things that aren't true. We call it - "history."

    A man's called a traitor - or liberator
    A rich man's a thief - or philanthropist
    Is one a crusader - or ruthless invader?
    It's all in which label
    Is able to persist

    ~"Wonderful" from the musical Wicked

    ~

      Upon the advice of my friend, I spent Shabbos mulling over Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy." There is much to say about the different aspects of the article; I therefore choose to limit my thoughts to the part that intrigued me most.

      This part has to do with the creation of our history, an idealized revisionist version of Jewish history. As R' Haym explains:

        So alongside of the new genre of secondary works in Halakhah, there has appeared, in the past generation, a second genre, equally unfamiliar to their fathers, that of "history," written accounts of bygone events and biographies of great Torah scholars of the recent past, images of a nation's heritage that once would have been imparted by the vibrant voices of home and street, but now must be conveyed, like so much else in the "new world," by means of book and formal instruction.62

        These works wear the guise of history, replete with names and dates and footnotes, but their purpose is that of memory, namely, to sustain and nurture, to inform in such a way as to ease the task of coping. As rupture is unsettling, especially to the traditional, these writings celebrate identity rather than difference. Postulating a national essence which is seen as immutable, this historiography weaves features and values of the present with real and supposed events of the past. It is also hagiographic, as sacred history often is. Doubly so now, as it must also provide the new text culture with its heroes and its educators with their exemplars of conduct.

        Didactic and ideological, this "history" filters untoward facts and glosses over the darker aspects of the past. Indeed, it often portrays events as they did not happen.63 So does memory; memory, however, transmutes unconsciously, whereas the writing of history is a conscious act.

        [...]

        So alongside of its chiaroscuro portrait of the past the unremitting struggle between the sons of Light and Darkness common to all sacred history, comes the distinctive haredi depiction of the society of yesteryear, the world of their fathers, as a model of text-based religiosity, of which their own is only a faithful extension.

        The past is cast in the mold of the present, and the current text-society emerges not as a product of the twin ruptures of migration and acculturation, but as simply an ongoing reflection of the unchanging essence of Jewish history.

        ~pages 16-17

      This passage illuminates a lot of things that I have heretofore found troubling. The completely illogical adoration and hero-worship reserved for all sages and Rabbis makes sense in light of it. Various Artscroll biographies of gedolim which clearly rewrite the past in an attempt to force it to become luminous, beautiful and romantic make sense as well.

      For why is history rewritten, and when? Precisely given the events that R' Haym claims sparked this rewriting, a catastrophe of such magnitude that there was nothing left and people had to start anew. Under such circumstances, people are in the unique position of being able to create a history as they so wish, because the vast majority of those who could oppose them are dead. But why and when is history rewritten? That's always interesting to study. In his account, R' Haym puts it down to the "rupture," the catastrophe, the Holocaust.

      Tangentially connected, I had an excellent history teacher. He was excellent for more reasons than I can list within the time constraints of a tangent. Suffice it to say that he opened our eyes to quite a lot of ideas we had formerly not considered; we had simply not realized we could consider such ideas. I remember it shocked me to discover that Abraham Lincoln was in fact not an abolitionist. But the Civil War! He freed the slaves! My history teacher explained the difference between the real and the mythological. After Abraham Lincoln's assassination, he was turned into an awe-inspiring mythological figure of grand proportions; America still remembers him as "the man who freed the slaves." If you look at the actual texts, however (my teacher was a stickler for primary texts) and the events, you will find that Abraham Lincoln was not an abolitionist. Far from it! His first and primary concern was to hold the Union together; he was forced into a position where this meant reluctantly granting freedom to slaves as well. His much-lauded Emancipation Proclamation had no real effect for slaves at the time; these were mere words that did not translate into any firm support.

      Enough about Abraham Lincoln. You don't need a history teacher of my teacher's caliber to tell you that it is plausible to state that events create opportunities and opportunities create the kind of men or people who would profit based on them. The most obvious example is Hitler. Most see World War II as an extension of the horrible treaty created at World War I, where we smashed Germany and forced them to pay money they didn't have which meant ravaging their country further. Morale is low; nationalism is low. (Obviously, this is overly-simplistic for the sake of an example.) Along comes Hitler. Who is Hitler? A man who would have been ignored at any other juncture in history. A nobody. But the opportunity was ripe for a master orator, for someone who could instill and imbue the people with a sense of nationalism, who could bind them together in a common sense of purpose by allowing them all to agree on the one thing they hated. Hitler is alleged to have said, "If Jews didn't exist, we'd have to create them." It doesn't matter whether or not he said it; the actual concept is true.

      I find it fascinating that the same ideas that worked in my AP US or Euro classes apply in Jewish History. Of course- why wouldn't they? It's simply that I don't think about my own past or my own people's past in that way. Now that R' Haym expresses it, I look on in wonder. Of course! That explains so much! Now I can understand a culture that has created its heroes based on a past that never existed, who has foregone the authority that is "broadly distributed among father and mother, elders and teachers" for the authority that belongs only to the Rabbi, the sage, the interpreter of texts. And what's more, I can understand how they have rewritten history so as to award these Rabbis and sages this power even in the past, even during times where tradition was prominent and more important than the law.

      At the same time that I find this fascinating, I am disturbed by R' Haym's defense of these revisionists. He explains:
        But this intentional disregard of fact in ideological history is no different from what takes place generally in moral education, as most such instruction seems to entail a misrepresentation of a harsh reality. We teach a child, for example, that crime does not pay. Were this in fact so, theodicy would be no problem. Yet we do not feel that we are lying, for when values are being inculcated, the facts of experience-empirical truth appears, somehow, to cease to be "true."

        For if a value is to win widespread acceptance, to evoke an answering echo of assent in the minds of many, it must be experienced by them not simply as a higher calling, but as a demand that emerges from the nature of things.64 When we state that honesty is 'good,' what we are also saying is that, ultimately, this is what is best for man, what we call, at times, "true felicity," to distinguish it from mere "happiness." We believe that were we to know all there is to know of the inner life of a Mafia don and that of an honest cobbler, we would see that honesty is, indeed, the best policy. The moral life makes claim to be the wise life, and, the moral call, to most, is a summons to realism, to live one's life in accord with the deeper reality.65 A statement of value is, in this way, a statement of fact, a pronouncement about the true nature of things.

        When we say that crime doesn't pay, we are not lying; we are teaching the child the underlying reality that we believe in or intuit, rather than the distorted one of our fragmentary experience. Just as moral instruction imparts the lessons of a reality deeper than the one actually perceived, so too must sacred history reflect, to the believer, the underlying realities of the past, rather than the distortions arising from the contingencies of experience coupled with the haphazardness of documentation.

        ~page 18

      The problem with all these examples, for me, is that perhaps you might use them on a child, which is indeed the subject of R' Haym's thought, but would you use them on an adult? Suppose you tell your child that "crime doesn't pay." When they grow up and see that there are corrupt men who live in mansions, not committing a crime becomes a different sort of choice. It isn't that crime doesn't pay. It's that crime does pay (at least in material possessions, if you can pull it off and refrain from being caught) but I choose not to do it. Why do I choose not to do it? Perhaps because my morality does not allow me to act that way in good conscience. But in the end, as in all things, it comes down to the fact that one follows the laws of the Torah, sensible or not, and this is what dictates choice.

      R' Haym posits that using revisionist histories to support a way of life nowadays is an attempt on the part of the authors to uncover the "deeper reality" which is why they do not feel that they are lying. This is a kindness on his part because it allows for those who compose these histories to feel as though they are doing the right thing; this judgement allows R' Haym to look at people in a kind way. The problem with this approach has to do with where one draws the line. If treated too simply, it appears that people may lie if they are trying to accomplish an end goal that they see as good; "the ends justify the means." Do we really want to allow for such a belief within our society? I would find the allowance of this belief troubling.

      This is exactly what the Wizard does in the musical Wicked. He justifies his actions and his lies by explaining that they are all generously meant for the people. The people in Oz "needed someone to believe in" and that's what the Wizard gave them. Elphaba calls him on it and damningly states, "So you lied to them." The Wizard's response? "There are precious few at ease/ With moral ambiguities/ So we act as though they don't exist."

      What if we don't want to be lied to?

      What if we don't care that these lies are for a higher purpose, that they'll allow us to see the "deeper reality" behind the fragmented view of the world?

      What if we don't want to be eased into this acceptance of heroes and educators and exemplars of conduct by being told that in the past, this is how it always was?

      Well, I suppose in that case, we have recourse to Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik's article. But is that enough?

      I don't like being lied to. I don't care what the purpose is. You and I both know, of course, that we are lied to all the time. Politicians lie to us, the newspaper lies to us, the media lies to us, we lie to ourselves. "Everybody lies," as Dr. House says. So we may dismiss the lies as well-nigh impossible to be rid of, that is true. That all having been said and understood, I still don't like to be lied to.

      Is it moral behavior on the part of our leaders to create a history woven of lies in an attempt to force us to submit our will to authorities who in the past had no such authority? Is it moral to lie in order to achieve a certain result, to lie in order to unveil a "hidden truth" that one is afraid the masses would not grasp if one gave over the true version of Jewish history, unflattering as it may potentially be? Is any of that moral? Who gave you the right? Do the ends justify the means? Does creating a society that you can control by ceding all power to Rabbis and sages justify lying to that society in order to control them?

      R' Haym grants a kind of validity to this concept. I wouldn't say he supports it so much as understands it and therefore has the ability to explain it.

      Personally, I hate the idea.

      It may simply be because I am young, naive and an idealist that I hate it so much. It may also be my emotional response to hearing gedolim equated to gods so many times, to having been taught (and knowing it was wrong) that Da'as Torah is some kind of direct telephone line between a Rabbi and God, to having been told by believers that Rabbis have some kind of insight and ruach hakodesh that I don't possess and therefore have the ability and the right to make life decisions for me even if they don't know me from Adam. It may be the fact that I do not like the idea of others being in control of my life or of a society's life, that I am modern and rational and far prefer the idea that each man has a reasonable grasp on judgment so that he does not need to be mislead in order to be good.

      It may be all these things and I freely admit that to you.

      I still hate it.

      I see no validity in an ideological history of our people; I understand that it fills a need and was created in order to allow for nationalism and a form of identity to take root amongst our people. Surely now, however, when that need has been filled, we need perpetrate the fraud no longer? Indeed, within Modern Orthodox segments of society we do not. The Making of a Godol was banned because it revealed that this deception was just that, a deception. It told the truth about sages of yore, revealed them as being people with all the complex and complicated emotions that people possess, with knowledge, both secular and Judaic. I am sure that many of you have a copy proudly displayed in your library; I only hope that you troubled to read that copy or at least to use it as a reference rather than buying it simply to show that you rebel.

      I would like to think that we in the Modern Orthodox community do not like lies.

      I would like to think that we can create a strong society based on truth, even if that may be a disappointing or unrewarding truth.

      I believe that we have already begun.

      38 comments:

      Ezzie said...

      Excellent post, but I think I'm probably more like R' Soloveitchik on this one.

      Not sure where to start, so I'll jump to a few scattered points.

      I'm not sure it's possible to teach history without revision, without inserting our own morals onto the stories and events... whether they're true or not. What is history if not to learn from it? A record of the past? What purpose does that serve? Should we teach history, should we give over lessons as they are rather than as we think they should be, what type of future would that give our children - that if you're smart enough, you can get away with any crime? That if you merely crush the opposition enough, you will be viewed as a saint, as a victor, as a savior?

      I understand that it fills a need and was created in order to allow for nationalism and a form of identity to take root amongst our people. Surely now, however, when that need has been filled, we need perpetrate the fraud no longer?

      Why do you assume that that need has been filled? I don't know if that's ever the case - without an ongoing sense of nationalism, there is much to be lost. Moreover, to expose a way of life as a fraud (if one agrees that it in fact is one) would only result in a greater need for that very nationalism. If anything, the only way to go about correcting such a 'fraud' is to do so subtly, slowly, over time. Direct confrontation would only result in strife and harbor no success.

      ~

      Finally, I hate lying more than just about anything, in all forms: Actual lies, exaggeration, purposeful deception, even plagiarism, as it presents a false image. On the other hand, I recognize the need to hold back aspects of the truth, to give a more pleasant perception of that which has happened. The key is finding the proper balance, and that balance is not usually going to be to one extreme or the other.

      Anyway, you know a lot of what I think about this stuff. :) We'll talk, surely.

      DAG said...

      Ezz...the problem is when that created history is used as evidence to disprove or delegitimize other opinions. I have often said, my embrace of "Modern Orthodoxy" was an intellectual decision that fundamentally rejected the history, Haskafa and Halacha I was taught throughout school.

      I find it insulting to be told my rejection of those beliefs are an outgrowth of a negative experience I must have had, or as a means to reject practice I do not wish to follow, as opposed to the product of genuine inquiry. I see my choices as the ultimate embracing of the Mesorah, not the rejection of it.

      Ezzie said...

      DAG - Agreed. As you know, we have had similar paths. :)

      Jewish Atheist said...

      I see no validity in an ideological history of our people; I understand that it fills a need and was created in order to allow for nationalism and a form of identity to take root amongst our people.

      Careful, that's exactly how a lot of us see the stories in the chumash. :-)

      DAG said...

      That begs the question EZZ...did our school have anything to do with that?

      Larry Lennhoff said...

      An interesting discussion on Torah attitudes towards critical legal theory was published in edah

      Chana said...

      Jewish Atheist,

      Your point doesn't work. The Torah documents the creation of the nation/people rather than allowing for an ideological pleasure-inducing nationalistic approach.

      Indeed, if you look at Tanakh, it's anything but pleasing in its depiction of our people. We're termed stiff-necked, we sin frequently(the entire book of Judges), we stone/torture/otherwise punish our prophets, we commit idol worship, murder and many other sins.

      To consider the Tanakh a book of revisionist history is to miss the whole point of the work. Were the Tanakh to have been written as "ideological history" the Jews would have been an excellent people who never sinned, were liked by all the nations (or who were hated but conquered them all) and who had all the blessings in the world. Clearly not the case.

      Ezzie,

      You know I don't like holding back the truth. What is the purpose of history? Why, to teach the truth of what happened, not what we would have liked to have happened. If someone tried to teach you that the Holocaust didn't happen, wouldn't you find that ludicrous? And yet, wouldn't that be a far more pleasing message? Oh, Hitler was defeated; he never came to power, all the Jews are still alive. Oh, you don't think that's true? Well, that's because you're looking at the "fragmented picture" rather than the whole one. That's exactly what this is like, albeit on a lesser scale. Let's teach you lots of pleasant lies in order to allow for nationalism.

      History is learning from what really happened, our real mistakes. We don't learn lessons from what "ought" to have happened but from what did happen. I would think you would agree with me on this.

      "I'm not sure it's possible to teach history without revision, without inserting our own morals onto the stories and events...whether they're true or not."

      Meet my brilliant history teacher. That's exactly how he taught history. Not, as you might think, in a horribly dull manner where he simply stated the bleak facts. But in a fascinating manner, where he brought up every single opinion, every single theory, where we analyzed them all and had to argue our positions on the matter. For any one event in history, there are many legitimate (or illegitimate) theories upon the matter. What allowed for this nation to win this battle? Which principles are more important, economics or ideals?

      Rather than simply giving over your particular opinion or "moral," one must analyze the events and try to figure out which theory makes the most sense- or perhaps, if they are equally valid, one can defend them all.

      There can be many interpretations of history, but they have to begin with history. What really happened, or what you can believe happened based on primary sources. Now, of course you can make your case or argue your point, and that's what the DBQ on the AP test is. You can't write a DBQ essay by making up facts, however, by writing a revised version of history that's full of lies, of events that never occurred.

      And that's what it appears they've done here. Despite the fact that the authority was not vested in sages or leaders, Jewish authors have reinvented history and claimed it was. It's not a matter for debate; it's simply untrue.

      As for the matter of nationalism- our identity has to come from within. Basing it on lies and a "pretend" history is ridiculous. It defeats the purpose of Tanakh, in fact. Why do we know that our great kings, prophets and leaders sinned? To show that they were human and they struggled. To create a pretend history where nobody sins is laughable.

      Chana said...

      Larry,

      Just read the paper- thank you so much for bringing it to my attention!

      Good to know that I'm in good company. And amusing to note that everything I have to say was already said in 2002.

      Ah well, what can I do?

      Perhaps one day I'll find my "original idea," to quote John Nash ala Russell Crowe.

      DAG said...

      Chana..it is not possible to teach EVERY opinion. There is much to be said about the context of events, no historical events occur in a vacuum.

      However, how WE read original sources is decidedly colored by our biases. I used to ask my H/S history students a question that always stunned them. I asked, very simply, if you were a wealthy aristocratic southerner in the 1790's would you have owned slaves?

      Ezzie said...

      DAG - Actually, I think our school was pretty fair. But I'd rather not discuss that on this thread, particularly because it's Chana's. :)

      Chana - I don't think that's an accurate interpretation of what they've done, save a few nuts on the extreme who are... well, nuts.

      What they have done is present a very focused version which idealizes certain smaller subsections and made those out to be the center, to be the examples to follow - and they have strong, albeit arguable, reasons for doing so. You're calling it dishonest when it's not really; MO is equally dishonest in its representation of the past if you really look at it. So are the Reform and Conservative, though they may be more honest but suggesting that the past doesn't apply to us.

      Nobody is arguing why history is important, and I agree that clouding mistakes and pretending people were perfect is simply foolish... but does the MO world not idealize R' Soloveitchik just as much? Do they not make him essentially flawless? I think they do, but it's less noticeably so if only because it's not little short stories that are unbelievable like Artscroll puts out.

      I also agree with DAG's last comment, and think that it's important - and I'll note that it is truly impossible to teach every opinion and viewpoint, or even more than one or two main ones, on a given subject. There's also the great bias involved in any historical account.

      Look at how people are rewriting history in just 40 years: (Not so) suddenly, the 1967 war was completely unnecessary and Israel is at fault for everything because they attacked... when at the time, it was clearly recognized exactly what happened and why. In just 40 years! And when we actually have records that are accessible! Imagine then how easy it is to rewrite and mistake history a few hundred or a thousand years ago.

      DAG said...

      EZZ. History that is still within memory is decidedly different than ancient history. Recollections change, etc. It takes a lifetime at least to attain full historical perspective on events.

      How we record history will HAVE to change as well. There is so much data...and so many thoughts and opinions easily accessible to everyone on every current issue, that how we digest and interpret them must evolve.

      I believe that blogging will force a sense of democracy on the historical record. But I do not envy the scholars who will have to read blog entry after blog entry trying to determine what the prevailing thoughts and ideas of the time were..

      Chana said...

      Dag,

      Not sure why that question is so difficult- the answer is obviously yes. We can't impose our modern values upon theirs; in that time period, one would absolutely own slaves if one had the means to do so and the teaching that suggests doing so is all right.

      Ezzie,

      That's precisely why I dislike the idolization and hero-worship of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and made that point in my post about "The Lonely Man of Faith" movie. If you look at the actual writings of the Rav, he's the first to demonstrate, over and over again, how very human he is. Modern Orthodoxy does not advocate for lies if you look at the primary sources (such as the Rav's words.) No one has written a revisionist history that states the Rav was a perfect man who never sinned (just check out The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik to see that that is not the case.) People incorrectly assume things but no one in the Modern Orthodox camp, to my knowledge, has deliberately mislead others in this regard.

      Your loving friend said...

      "The seal of God is Truth" - Rabbi Hanina, Sanhedrin 64a

      DAG said...

      Chana...the answer is easy....the realization it forces is one students try to avoid

      Chana said...

      Dag,

      Care to clarify that? What realization is it that said students want to avoid?

      Also, is it fair to say this realization is one "students" try to avoid? What kind of students? Is your class gender-separated? Do you teach religious Jews? How have they been brought up, within or outside of the bubble? Or do you teach in public schools? "Students" is pretty vague, especially as the point you're making doesn't prove true within my experience.

      Larry Lennhoff said...

      The best course I ever took in college was Main Currents in American Historical Thought. We went over the same 20 years of American history several times, seeing how people living at the time saw it, how people saw it during the Reconstruction, how people saw it during the 1920s, etc. It was clear how, without actually making up events, each generation learned lessons relevant to their own times by analyzing the past.

      And Chana, coming to the same concluysions as a full Professor of Judaic studies is nothing to be chagrined about.

      DAG said...

      Chana...I meant to write "MY students"

      The realization is that it is easy to look back at history with a sense of righteousness and indignation. The question is meant to force my students to see that they themselves would likely have made the same choices they summarily dismiss today, under the circumstances of the time...I usually tried to tie this in with a conversation about some of the things we do TODAY that may be viewed with disdain in the future.

      smoo said...

      Chana,
      Your reply to Jewish Atheist defends Tanakh on the basis of it not being an ideological document and thus more valid. If you dissect the different parts and recognize different authorships, you will find that the writer of the E version in the Northern provinces of Israel would promote the ideas and agendas of the North while at the same time degrading the traditions of the South. So some parts will degrade Aaron (of south) and promote Moses (of the north). Competing parts will ascribe negative actions to Moses while others would attach Aaron to the miracle. In essence, there are idealizations of a particular group or sector that get intertwined with competing versions and the end result is that it looks like it is so honest because fallibility of national heroes are presented. I wish I could do more justice to this but see Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote The Bible and Israel Finkelstein’s David and Solomon.

      I’m sure that at the time of the Bible there concept of pure history did not exist and that this a more modern construct. History was written and rewritten to serve the needs and goals of the prevailing rulers of the time.

      Even so, I do agree wholeheartedly that history should be just that and interpretations and lessons properly derived.

      Oh, by the way a great book to learn about lessons to learn from history pertaining to use and abuse of the environment is Jared Diamond’s Collapse. He is an author worthy to follow.

      Chana said...

      Dag,

      Right, we're in agreement on that, then.

      Hence my love for Prof Weidhorn, who begins his English class by stating, "Kindly don't impose your Western ideals or Orthodox Jewish morals upon the characters of the works we are going to read."

      :)

      smoo said...

      I just stumbled across a post directly related to this topic. It discusses the deification of gedolim. See http://amksheoref.blogspot.com/2007/06/more-on-subject-of-apologetics-and.html

      G said...

      Well put.

      "I would like to think that we in the Modern Orthodox community do not like lies."

      Sigh. Not neccessary.

      Ezzie said...

      Modern Orthodoxy does not advocate for lies if you look at the primary sources (such as the Rav's words.)

      Of course not. And neither does the Charedi world.

      No one has written a revisionist history that states the Rav was a perfect man who never sinned

      I don't think that anyone claims that any gadol was "perfect" or "never sinned"; but both idealize greatly just how close each was and/or excuse the mistakes that the person made.

      G said...

      "No one has written a revisionist history that states the Rav was a perfect man who never sinned... but no one in the Modern Orthodox camp, to my knowledge, has deliberately mislead others in this regard."

      Perhaps, but there are other types of revision. It is not simply about painting a certain person as flawless.
      There are many who believe that the Rav's words have been hijacked to promote and advance ideas that he himself might never have approved of.

      Again, as Ez stated, this is something that is done across the broad.

      Chana said...

      Ezzie,

      Yes, the Chareidi world does. They're the ones who penned the histories.

      "I don't think that anyone claims that any gadol was "perfect" or "never sinned"; but both idealize greatly just how close each was and/or excuse the mistakes that the person made."

      You're wrong.

      G,

      "There are many who believe that the Rav's words have been hijacked to promote and advance ideas that he himself might never have approved of."

      The problem there is interpretation, isn't it? Nobody is lying and creating a world that didn't exist. People are taking words the Rav himself wrote or penned and reinterpreting them. But the words exist, don't they?

      On the other hand, the problem I have advanced is one where something simply didn't exist- the society the Haredi people wish to believe existed in the Old Country did not exist. They created it in their history books. It's not a question of interpretation; it's a question of truth.

      More importantly, what's your point? So hurrah. The Modern Orthodox world also has problem with idolization of the Rav and/or fighting about what he meant. They're still the ones who're reading Making of a Godol. They're still the ones who don't make Rabbis out to be infallible, who don't pretend Chazal knew everything about science, who are reading Rabbi Slifkin's books, the ones who it appears are attempting to find the truth rather than hide from it or lie about it to feel better.

      Even more importantly, let's pretend I agreed that the Haredi world and the Modern Orthodox world both face variations of this problem. Fine. The Haredi world completely recreates history; the Modern Orthodox world reinterprets the Rav (which I still find much less problematic. Loads of scholars have been reinterpreted; that's part of scholarship.) If there are lies involved, I still don't want to be lied to, and I still want the problem to be fixed. Who cares who the guilty party is, in the end? If it's both of us then let's both stop lying. Don't just say, "Hey, it's happening in both camps; we're doomed."

      Ezzie said...

      Yes, the Chareidi world does. They're the ones who penned the histories.

      Huh? I've never seen flawless, no sin claims. They idealize stories and the like and it bothers me to no end, but I've never seen it taken that far.

      You're wrong.

      Sorry, no dice.

      The problem there is interpretation, isn't it? Nobody is lying and creating a world that didn't exist. People are taking words the Rav himself wrote or penned and reinterpreting them. But the words exist, don't they?

      That's not true. People are constantly creating an image of the Rav, his statements, or his beliefs that are not true, but they simply call it 'interpretation' and gloss it over. The difference between the Charedim and the Rav's followers on this are simply that the former don't put it under the sophisticated guise of interpretation so it's more clear to us that it's wrong. One can argue (and many do, which is one of the implied issues people have with YU in general) that the latter is more dangerous.

      On the other hand, the problem I have advanced is one where something simply didn't exist- the society the Haredi people wish to believe existed in the Old Country did not exist.

      That's not true! It DID exist, but not to the extent that is claimed nor should that be the ideal. What part of what they say 'did not exist'!? You're making claims with no substance here - give examples.

      They're still the ones who're reading Making of a Godol.

      Whoopie? Are they reading it because they're truly interested or because it was banned (as you allude to in the post)?

      They're still the ones who don't make Rabbis out to be infallible, who don't pretend Chazal knew everything about science, who are reading Rabbi Slifkin's books, the ones who it appears are attempting to find the truth rather than hide from it or lie about it to feel better.

      ...and while you or I might think that all of these are wonderful, it is naive to think that most are doing it with such pure intentions. Many prefer that rabbis remain fallible because it allows them to discount their words when convenient, and R' Slifkin's books - while surely wonderful - are not flawless either.

      If it's both of us then let's both stop lying. Don't just say, "Hey, it's happening in both camps; we're doomed."

      Agreed. But one of the primary issues is that each side spends their time pointing fingers at the other and blaming them for all the problems. It's important to recognize that the side a person is on is (at least almost) as equally guilty of the same sins.

      Your last paragraph is very disingenuous: Either it doesn't matter who is guilty, or it's important to qualify that what people do with the Rav "isn't as bad".

      If you were trying to say above that one side idealizes the past, I would merely note that both do, and one should not ignore that. If you were trying to say that one side 'recreates history', I'd question where you created that idea yourself and ask that you give examples. If you mean interpretation of events to fit into one's world view, I could easily give examples where either side does so.

      Chana said...

      Ezzie,

      "Huh? I've never seen flawless, no sin claims. They idealize stories and the like and it bothers me to no end, but I've never seen it taken that far."

      All right, you've never seen them. Doesn't mean they don't exist; more importantly, I've seen them (and read the books that claim it's so.)

      "That's not true. People are constantly creating an image of the Rav, his statements, or his beliefs that are not true..."

      Vague statement. While we're at it, doesn't everyone create God in their own image as well?

      "What part of what they say 'did not exist'!? You're making claims with no substance here - give examples."

      I suggest you read my post; I gave examples and don't particularly want to type them all out again.

      Valid point re motives.

      "Agreed. But one of the primary issues is that each side spends their time pointing fingers at the other and blaming them for all the problems. It's important to recognize that the side a person is on is (at least almost) as equally guilty of the same sins."

      The Modern Orthodox side is not guilty of the specific sin of creating an ideological history aimed at allowing the sages to reign supreme. They are not guilty of writing 'Triumph of Survival' or banning 'My Uncle, the Netziv.' In your opinion, and yours alone for the purpose of this discussion, the Modern Orthodox are guilty of twisting R' Soloveitchik's words. Maybe so. That's not the same as operating a propaganda machine, in my opinion.

      "If you were trying to say that one side 'recreates history', I'd question where you created that idea yourself and ask that you give examples."

      Maybe "Rupture and Reconstruction," which I quoted?

      You don't appear to mind the creation of misleading facts or lies in order to dictate a certain attitude in society. You don't appear to mind a propaganda machine that bans books that threaten its propaganda. For the purposes of the people, you don't mind being lied to. That's fine. You're entitled to your opinion.

      Just don't expect me to agree with you.

      G said...

      "The problem there is interpretation, isn't it? Nobody is lying and creating a world that didn't exist. People are taking words the Rav himself wrote or penned and reinterpreting them. But the words exist, don't they?"

      I'll simply go w/ what the Ez responded on this.

      "On the other hand, the problem I have advanced is one where something simply didn't exist...They created it in their history books. It's not a question of interpretation; it's a question of truth."

      Yes and no. What has been statated as "history" did exhist, but other parts have been left out. You call this revision, some might say it is mearly intepretation.
      Also, it is important to note that the very people who put out these types of books do not do so in the name of "history'. I don't know that they are meant to be seen as all inclusive biographies or historically complete. That may be disingenuous in the "c'mon who are we kidding" sense, but nevertheless that is the reality.

      As you imply, they are advancing an image, nothing more and nothing less. Do I think that it is misleading, yes I do. Is it lying, I honestly don't know.

      G said...

      mearly? oy :(

      G said...

      You may want to check out http://haemtza.blogspot.com/, same type of topic up for discussion.
      --w/ quotes from R' Nosson Scherman on why Artscroll leaves out info from their books--

      Rodrigo said...

      Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

      Ezzie said...

      Mishmar has a good post on the subject, too.

      I suggest you read my post; I gave examples and don't particularly want to type them all out again.

      You did not give examples of this. The closest you have is R' Haym's comment which sums up what I was getting at and what G said: Didactic and ideological, this "history" filters untoward facts and glosses over the darker aspects of the past. Indeed, it often portrays events as they did not happen.

      All right, you've never seen them. Doesn't mean they don't exist; more importantly, I've seen them (and read the books that claim it's so.)

      Again, I'd like examples, and again, R' Haym seems to be saying the same as G and I on this: Not a false "creation of history" as you claim, but a conscious glossing over of the darker aspects of actual history, which results in a portrayal of history that is different from what happened.

      You don't appear to mind the creation of misleading facts or lies in order to dictate a certain attitude in society. You don't appear to mind a propaganda machine that bans books that threaten its propaganda. For the purposes of the people, you don't mind being lied to. That's fine. You're entitled to your opinion.

      Just don't expect me to agree with you.


      That's a bunch of garbage and you well know that. You're resorting to ad hominem attacks. I'm merely noting the other side and pointing out the unfair parts of your attacks. On this at least I expect better of you.

      Chana said...

      Ezzie,

      No, the closest section is this one:

      this historiography weaves features and values of the present with real and supposed events of the past.

      The operative word is "supposed." As in, this events did not happen. They are suppositions; "supposed" to have happened. Made-up, in other words.

      You want an example of "righteous-person-who-never-sinned?" Check out Artscroll's biography on the Chazon Ish.

      "That's a bunch of garbage and you well know that. You're resorting to ad hominem attacks. I'm merely noting the other side and pointing out the unfair parts of your attacks. On this at least I expect better of you."

      Wrong. Ad hominem attacks would be attacking you. At the moment, I'm attacking what you believe. I think you're a lovely person who believes it's okay to do things that I believe not to be okay.

      Your expectations of me don't factor into this discussion. Firstly, you have no right to expect anything from me; secondly, even if you did, I have no obligation to fulfill them.

      More importantly, you're trying to guilt-trip me? You of all people?

      G said...

      "The operative word is "supposed." As in, this events did not happen. They are suppositions; "supposed" to have happened. Made-up, in other words.

      You want an example of "righteous-person-who-never-sinned?" Check out Artscroll's biography on the Chazon Ish."

      A)Do you honestly believe that any "supposed events" put forth in a modern biographical book were created from whole cloth? I hope not. Also, most times these types of things are stated it is with the preface "they say about so-and so that" or "there is a story that", these are all kind of like midrashim in that they are all obviously not true nor are they all false.

      B)Regarding the Artscroll bio of the Chazon Ish, yes I have read it. What is your thought in connection to this discussion.
      -Please refer to the quotes from R'Scherman on the haemtza blog, Artscroll is not prtetending to write complete biographies only inspirational ones that they hope will sell.

      --Again, in no way do I defend the practice of misleading people but it does not ring true to categorize this a "lies". More along the lines of preaching to your choir.

      Chana said...

      I have a choir?

      Well, there's an accomplishment.

      Perhaps we all ought to choose sections. You know, you can be the tenors and they'll be baritones and she'll be a soprano and they'll be the chorus.

      Care to all choose sections of the choir?

      And does this mean I get to be choirmaster?

      :-)

      DAG said...

      I don't know how much is an intentional distortion of fact and how much is a slective reading given the biases of the authors

      G said...

      I have a choir?

      Well I was referring to Artscroll having a choir.

      Your's is more like a house band at this point ;)

      Ariella said...

      Of course, the study of history deals with interpretations and attempt to impose a view of cause and effect on events that is likely influenced by individual biases. But a deliberate obliteration of facts is something else.

      People are all to quick to modify truth with an excuse like "meshane mifney haShalom," but deviation from truth should not be taken lightly. That was demonstrated by the father who prevented his son from changing his dinner requests around so that his mother would unwittingly prepare what her husband actually wanted.

      haKiruv said...

      "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"