Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rabbi Shimon Schwab & Historic Truth

What ethical purpose is served by preserving a realistic historic picture? Nothing but the satisfaction of curiosity. We should tell ourselves and our children the good memories of the good people, their unshakable faith, their staunch defense of tradition, their life of truth, their impeccable honesty, their boundless charity and their great reverence for Torah and Torah sages. What is gained by pointing out their inadequacies and their contradictions? We want to be inspired by their example and learn from their experience... Rather than write the history of our forebears, every generation has to put a veil over the human failings of its elders and glorify all the rest which is great and beautiful. That means we have to do without a real history book. We can do without. We do not need realism, we need inspiration from our forefathers in order to pass it onto posterity.
Selected Writings (Lakewood, 1988)

This powerful and revealing quote by R. Schwab doesn't get publicized as often as it should, even on the various Jewish skeptic blogs. So bear with me while I mention it here.

You can find this potent quote in Rabbi J.J. Schacter's article, Facing the Truths of History. Lots more goodies therein - grab it while it is still available (it doesn't seem to be accessible via a search on Edah). Meanwhile, I'll leave you with another quote, this one from Abraham Lincoln:

History is not history unless it is the truth.


Anonymous said...

You're so right. I find it profoundly troubling. Suddenly a religion that used to pride itself on truth is reduced to intellectual dishonesty of the highest order. That's what charedi Judaism has become. Thank God for Abe Lincoln. At least he had some scruples and integrity.
There is nothing more inspiring than the pursuit of truth. To the extent he disagrees, it's a whole other religion he's espousing.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more

menachem rephun said...

"There is a vast difference between history and storytelling. History must be truthful, otherwise it does not deserve its name. A book of history must report the bad with the good, the ugly with the beautiful, the difficulties and the victories, the guilt and the virtue. Since it is supposed to be truthful, it cannot spare the righteous if he fails, and it cannot skip the virtues of the villain. For such is truth, all is told the way it happened. Only a Navi mandated by his Divine calling has the ability to report history as it really happened, unbiased and without prejudice.

Suppose one of us today would want to write a history of Orthodox Jewish life in pre-holocaust Germany. There is much to report but not everything is complimentary. Not all of the important people were flawless as one would like to believe and not all the mores and lifestyles of this bygone generation were beyond criticism. An historian has no right to take sides. He must report the stark truth and nothing but the truth. Now, if an historian would report truthfully what he witnessed, it would make a lot of people rightfully angry. He would violate the prohibition against spreading Loshon Horah which does not only apply to the living, but also to those who sleep in the dust and cannot defend themselves any more."