web analytics
May 28, 2015 / 10 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Airbrushing The Past Creates Problems In The Present

Rabbi Berel Wein

Rabbi Berel Wein

There is an old rabbinic anecdote about a rabbi who was called on to deliver a eulogy for someone who had no redeeming social value whatsoever. The rabbi was hard pressed to think of anything positive to say about this person. So when he spoke he solemnly pronounced: “No matter how evil the deceased truly was, he was still a far better person than was his brother!”

Halacha allows for exaggeration in delivering a eulogy. But when this is liberally and untruthfully applied to Jewish history it becomes a dangerous threat to normative Jewish life. One of the great problems that plague religious Jewish life in our times is that a fantasy world – a completely inaccurate picture of European Jewish life before World War II – has been propagated and hallowed.

Because of this distorted picture of the past, a distorted view of present Jewish society has taken hold. And it is this distorted view that is responsible for much of the current dysfunction in religious Jewish societies the world over.

There have been attempts to somehow correct our hindsight but, in the main, they have failed because of the determined opposition of zealots who perpetuate inaccuracies and constantly create new fantasy stories to buttress their ideologically driven view of past Jewish life.

I am not in favor of exposing all the flaws of European Jewry and I am also willing to accommodate the many exaggerations about the truly positive aspects of that pre-World War II society. But without a balanced and somewhat accurate portrayal of what that society really looked like, it will be difficult for our society to move forward in a positive and constructive fashion.

There was a time when people believed pictures never lied and that one picture was worth a thousand words.That unfortunately is no longer true. Computers, airbrushing and other modern means of altering photographs have made pictures from the past suspect.

There is a famous photograph of the Chofetz Chaim sitting outside of his house talking to his eldest son, Rabbi Aharon Leib Poupko. In the original photograph the wife and daughter of the Chofetz Chaim are standing directly behind him. This picture has been reproduced in a new and completely hagiographic biography of the Chofetz Chaim – except that the women in the picture have disappeared completely from the scene.

This premeditated inaccuracy was mandated by the desire to make the past somehow resemble the imagined world of the guardians of current political correctness in our religious world. Once, many years ago in Monsey, my congregation’s sisterhood sponsored the sale and distribution of a generic vegetarian cookbook of exotic recipes. The cookbook contained an illustration of a young boy who was bareheaded. The ladies spent the entire night covering the boy’s head with a magic marker yarmulke.

I am also reminded of pictures of famous Eastern European rabbis who were forced to take passport or other official photos in a bareheaded pose. Those photos were later retouched (not very artfully at that) to make them conform to present accepted piety. This probably falls between acceptable exaggeration and unacceptable inaccuracy but it is indicative of the spirit of our times.

The inaccuracies and fantasy portrayals of the Jewish past are but one of the many symptoms of what I feel to be the major underlying malaise in much of religious Jewish society. That underlying problem is the insecurity of religious Jewish society in facing the new Jewish world that now exists.

This world is one of modernity gone rampant, of communication that is instant and all-inclusive, of a Jewish state with all of the social, political, theological and religious challenges that such a state entails, and of a completely different economic and professional work environment than existed a century ago.

Frightened by these immense challenges, unaccustomed to being a distinct minority in the Jewish world itself, and having been forced on the defensive by the attacks of the secularists, the traditional Jewish world has been loath to engage these problems. It prefers to repaint and revisit the past instead of facing the present. It is frightened and regressive instead of being confident and optimistic.

This is truly ironic, for today’s Jewish society and its demographics have once again proven, seemingly against all odds, the resilience of Torah and tradition in all sections and climes of the Jewish world. As such our education should be geared toward self-pride and optimism, reality and how to cope in our current world. There should be less emphasis on denigrating others and fearing their ideas and less trepidation of technological advancements.

Rabbi Berel Wein is an internationally acclaimed scholar, lecturer and writer whose audiotapes on Torah and other Jewish subjects have garnered a wide following, as have his books, which include a four-volume series on Jewish history. A pulpit rabbi for decades, he founded Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland in 1977 and moved to Israel in 1997.

About the Author: Rabbi Berel Wein is an internationally acclaimed scholar, lecturer and writer whose audiotapes on Torah and other Jewish subjects have garnered a wide following, as have his books, which include a four-volume series on Jewish history. Formerly an executive vice president of the Orthodox Union and rabbinic administrator of the OU’s kashrus division, he founded Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland in 1977 and moved to Israel in 1997.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Airbrushing The Past Creates Problems In The Present”

  1. Fantastic as always from Rabbi Wein!

  2. Peter H Nichols says:

    "I am not in favor of exposing all the flaws of European Jewry" quoth the Rabbi, sitting comfortably back in north America.

    Might I respectfully remind the reverend gentleman that people who live in glass houses should NEVER throw rocks?

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Former FIFA vice president Jack Warner.
One of Indicted FIFA Officials Blamed ‘Zionism’ for 2011 Bribe Charge
Latest Indepth Stories
Robert Wistrich (z"l)

Prof. Wistrich, was THE foremost historian of anti-Semitism; committed spokesman & advocate of Jewry

J-Street

Jewish Voices for Peace’s 2015 Haggadah is a blatant anti-Israel screed crying, “L’chayim to BDS!”

Rabbi Lichtenstein (z"l).

On his shloshim, I want to discuss a term I’ve heard countless times about Rav Aharon: Gedol HaDor

Abbas and Obama

After obsequious claims of devotion to Israel, Obama took to criticizing Israel on peace process

Mr. Obama, Israeli voters have democratically chosen to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea&Samaria

Netanyahu so disdains Shaked’s appointment he completely ignored her after the swearing-in ceremony

Ronen Shamir’s just the latest tenured Leftist convicted of sexual misconduct with his own student

NY Times precious front page ink is only reserved for portrayals of Israel as the aggressor.

Although I loved law school, I doubted myself: Who would come to me, a chassidish woman lawyer?

American Jews who go gaga for Obama are first and foremost “Liberals of the Mosaic Persuasion”

“Illinois is the first state to take concrete, legally binding action against the BDS campaign”

Many books have supported the preferability- not to be confused with desirability- of the status quo

Consider the Pope’s desperation, reading daily reports of the slaughter of Christians by Muslims

The contrast between a Dem pretending to love Israel & a Dem who truly loves Israel is CRYSTAL CLEAR

Pentecost, derived from the Greek word for 50, is celebrated 50 days after Easter.

U.S and European demands for the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank is world hypocrisy.

More Articles from Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”

Wein-010215

Perfidious and hypocritical as it is, Europe claims the high moral ground for itself

10th of Tevet marks the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia

This book is more than just a biography of one of the leading figures in the Jewish world of the past century.

My primary interest was in providing for my community, both spiritually and physically.

“When we landed in Beijing, a Chinese army captain and soldier, weapons drawn, boarded the plane and swiftly collected all passports. Since we had no entry visas to China, we were summarily hauled off the plane and marched to the terminal…”

The Holocaust and the rise of Israel occupy no space or time in many Orthodox schools.

There is an old rabbinic anecdote about a rabbi who was called on to deliver a eulogy for someone who had no redeeming social value whatsoever. The rabbi was hard pressed to think of anything positive to say about this person. So when he spoke he solemnly pronounced: “No matter how evil the deceased truly was, he was still a far better person than was his brother!”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/airbrushing-the-past-creates-problems-in-the-present/2012/07/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: