Tuesday, 27 June 2017

History vs. Inspiration

From RRW
Rabbi Shimon Schwab (Z"L) wrote: 

" 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 on to posterity.‎"

Selected Writings (Selected Writings, Lakewood, 1988, p. 234)

The passage is quoted on p. 233 of  R. Jacob J. Schacter’s well-known article about the truths of history in the 1998-99 issue of The Torah U-Madda Journal (vol. 8, pp. 200-276) available at
Comments and observations:
I accept a  a statement like this:

"We can tell neither Sheker nor Lashon Horo in our history books. If history somehow requires Loshon Horo, then mayb‎e we are better off without it."

‎On the other Hand, coloring or misrepresenting history IMHO is not an acceptable alternat‎ive to LH either. It seems to be both a form of G'neivas Da'as and will tend to compromise our credibility.

1 comment:

Micha Berger said...

Two problems with a whitewashed history:

1- It lowers credibility among the cynical or those on the fence. Rather than inspire, it provides a strawman to attack and excuse to think "it's all baloney".

2- More significantly, hagiography provides a shallower inspiration than a more honest history would. If little Yisrael Meir Kagan was already a unique individual in the crib, then he stops being an example I can follow. Nice stories, but notion to do with my life. If I knew more of the struggles it took to become the Chafeitz Chaim, I have inspiration to pull me through my own dark times.