Volume 47 Number 69
                    Produced: Tue Apr 19  6:23:01 EDT 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Artscroll and "truth"
         [ben katz]
History and story-telling
         [Norman Miller]
R. Schwab (2)
         [Shayna Kravetz, Akiva Miller]
R. Shimon Schwab on Jewish History
         [Emmanuel Ifrah]
Rabbi Schwab
         [Bill Bernstein]
Rav Schwab zt'l on "Yekkes" and History
         [Bill Bernstein]


From: ben katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2005 13:23:03 -0500
Subject: Re: Artscroll and "truth"

>From: Shayna Kravetz <skravetz@...>
>If language is to have any meaning at all, then it must mean something
>commonly understood.  Calling a lie "emet" or truth "sheqer" can
>undermine the whole function of these words.  One may have a halachic
>obligation to tell a lie, but shouldn't delude oneself into thinking
>that it's the truth.  Indeed, this reasoning could have very negative
>results, in that we all hesitate to tell a lie whereas, if we can
>convince ourselves that lies are truths, we will stop considering the
>halachic questions behind them.

         I don't usually defend ArtScroll, and probably won't now, but
the Greeks made the mistake of always equating truth with goodness.  we
know this is not the case, eg the white lies we tell for social
purposes; even God Himself "lied" when He told Abraham that Sarah
laughed saying "SHE was too old to have a child" (and not "My husband is
too old").  In medicine, I will not always tell a distraught mother that
she gave a disease to her baby, even if it is true; certainly not right

         So, we get into the notion of the motive of the "liar".  I
suppose ArtScroll and the like are trying to mold Jews a certain way.  I
and some others on this list see this as setting up unrealistic
expectations and trying to bolster current practises with inauthentic
historical veracity.

         hag kasher vesameach to all

Ben Z. Katz, M.D.
Children's Memorial Hospital, Division of Infectious Diseases
2300 Children's Plaza, Box # 20, Chicago, IL 60614
e-mail: <bkatz@...>


From: Norman Miller <nm1921@...>
Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 12:57:46 -0400
Subject: History and story-telling

I thank Eli Friedwald for his succinct account of R. Schwab's views on
Jewish history.

Many years ago I recall talking with my sergeant, a young man who had
just graduated from Fordham or Georgetown with a degree in history.  I
was dumbfounded to learn that he had never so much as heard of the
Spanish Inquisition -- or of any inquisition at all.  Clearly, the
church at that time didn't think Catholics needed that kind of
information; it would only serve --as R. Schwab apparently also
thought--to 'satisfy curiosity'.

In truth, as a Jew I feel humiliated when I have to face the fact that
there are still Jews (in the 21st century!) who can accept the notion
that the truth isn't such a big deal, that it's more important to make
people feel good about themselves by promoting myths.  That, to my way
of thinking, is the way _they_ behave.  I prefer the tradition of those
who gave us our Tanakh.  Jewish history, as Clemenceau once said of war,
is too important to leave it for the rabbis (or the church) to have the
final word.

Noyekh Miller


From: Shayna Kravetz <skravetz@...>
Date: Thu, 14 Apr 2005 22:36:58 -0500
Subject: Re: R. Schwab

My thanks to Eli Friedwald <eli@...> for taking the
time to summarize in detail the essay by Rabbi Schwab on "Jewish
History."  His summary attributes to R. Schwab the following (among
other thoughts):

>There is a vast difference between history and storytelling. History
>must be truthful, not sparing the failures of the righteous and the
>virtues of the villain. Only a genuine navi (Prophet) mandated by his
>Divine calling, has the ability to report history as it really
>happened, unbiased and without prejudice. A realistic history of
>Orthodox Jewish life in pre-war Germany would report failings of
>important people and criticism of the community. This would violate the
>prohibition against Lashon Horah (slander), which applies not only to
>the living, but also to the dead - who cannot defend themselves.

I appreciate the point made here but then what is being provided is not
'history' as that word is commonly understood in English.  Call it
'inspirational stories' or 'parables' but don't call it 'history' with
the claim to objective truth implied in that word.  Of course, no
history has ever attained true objectivity but it remains /a goal/ of
history to eliminate bias as far as possible and to strive to provide an
accurate picture of a particular time and place.  If objective truth is
no longer a goal -- no matter how unattainable -- of an account, then
that account should not be calling itself a 'history'.

Eli Friedwald also summarized further:
>There would be nothing to be gained by publishing history of this sort,
>other than the satisfaction of curiosity.

Oy!  I certainly hope there are some historians out there who can
respond to this better than I can.  The purposes of accurate history are
manifold but not least, it lets us see how cultures and societies
develop.  To understand, for example, the historical and social currents
that led to the development of the Reform movement and, even perhaps
more interestingly, to look for parallels between that and the
development of Chassidism is to grasp important points about how
Judaism's implementation at the hand of its adherents and leaders
sometimes falls short in responsiveness to the needs of the tzibbur.
That is a lesson of great significance to our own time, I would think.
But that is a lesson that R. Schwab seems to think that we ought not
learn because the portrayal of yiddishkeit in those periods may not be
flattering to our fellow yiddn.

Further from the summary:
>Rather, we should tell our children stories about the good people,
>their unshakeable faith and their great reverence for Torah sages. What
>is gained by pointing out their inadequacies ? We want to be inspired
>by their example. That means we have to do without a real history
>book. Every generation has to put a veil over the failings of its'
>elders and glorify all the rest which is great and beautiful. We do not
>need realism, we need inspiration to pass on to posterity. This is the
>role of the ' Torah-true historian'.

This is, of course, the same dispute that exists with respect to our
understanding of the stories recounted in the torah concerning the great
figures of our history.  Did Avraham ask Sarah to lie?  Was Yitzkhak a
failure as a father?  Did Rivka and Ya'akov perpetrate a fraud on
Yitzkhak?  Was Reuven doing something improper with his father's bed?
Was Moshe a failure as a husband? Did Miriam and Aaron show him
disrespect and argue with him?  And if we answer yes to these questions,
does this make these giants less inspirational because of their flaws or
more so?  It seems based on this summary that R. Schwab would say
/less/, but there are certainly authorities who argue the other side and
say that these flaws make the struggle to succeed seem /more/
attainable, precisely because we know that the great figures of our past
struggled similarly.

The summary again:
>Here we are speaking only of Jewish history. When it comes to secular
>world history, accurate reporting will help to manifest the workings of
>divine Hashgocho and serve to strengthen our emunah.

And here's where I lose my understanding of this position altogether!
Why is the truth about non-Jews inspiring but the truth about Jews
disspiriting?  Don't we see divine hashgachah in individual Jews'
struggle to overcome their own defects and deficits along with the
historical disadvantages they may face?  Why doesn't their initial
flawed human status emphasize and intensify our admiration for their
success?  To refer to inyana d'yoma, why don't we apply the Pesach
principle of "matkhil bi-g'nut, m'sayeim b'shevakh" (we begin with
matters to their discredit and end with their praise)?

Kol tuv, shabbat shalom, and pesach kasheir v'sameiach.

Shayna in Toronto

From: Akiva Miller <kennethgmiller@...>
Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 21:19:01 GMT
Subject: Re: R. Schwab

Eli Friedwald suggested: <<< Rather, we should tell our children stories
about the good people, their unshakeable faith and their great reverence
for Torah sages. What is gained by pointing out their inadequacies?
... We do not need realism, we need inspiration to pass on to
posterity. >>>

I'll try to answer these questions, at least as they relate to me ---
Others will relate differently.

I agree that good stories about good people are a good thing. But it
paints an incomplete picture. If we do not see their inadequacies, then
it teaches me nothing about how I must deal with my inadequacies.

I am not inspired by stories of a child who loved learning and knew Shas
by his bar mitzvah. Big deal! He enjoyed learning gemara, so he knew it
as thoroughly as other children know their baseball cards and video
games. I'd much rather read a story of a child who worked hard at his
learning, especially if it shows what it was that motivated him.

Or take someone who became a gadol later in life, and tell me a story of
how he grew. Tell me stories of how he dealt with the less-observant
members of his family, or how he dealt with the public school that he
attended. THAT'S inspiring!

Akiva Miller


From: Emmanuel Ifrah <emmanuel_ifrah@...>
Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2005 12:44:27 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: R. Shimon Schwab on Jewish History

R. Schwab's 'theory' appears in an article entitled "Jewish History". It
was first published in the periodical "Mitteilungen" (Dec. 1984-March
1985). It was included in R. Schwab's "Selected Writings. A Collection
of Addresses and Essays of Hashkafah, Jewish History and Contemporary
Issues" (Lakewood, NJ: CIS Publications, 1988), pp. 232-235.

I will try to summarize R. Schwab's "mahalach" for those who do have
access to this text and to try and avoid do discuss over an "alleged

The starting point is that Chazal paid little attention to history. The
book of Maccabees, e.g., is not part of the Jewish Bible. We have no
comprehensive record of the Churban except from Josephus, who was a

How come Chazal did not write history as we have an obligation to do so
("Zekhor yemot 'olam...")?

R. Schwab then goes on making a distinction between history and
storytelling: "History must be truthful, otherwise it does not deserve
its name... it cannot spare the righteous if he fails, and it cannot
skip the virtues of the villain... Only a Navi [prophet] mandated by his
divine calling has the ability to report history as it really happened,
unbiased and without prejudice."

The problem is that if someone would today want to write unbiased
truthful history, "he would violate the prohibition of Loshon Horah
[evil speech]".  This is the turning point in the article. For R.
Schwab, nothing can justify Loshon Horah, not even the sake of
history. Moreover, "what ethical purpose is served by preserving a
realistic picture? Nothing but the satisfaction of curiosity."

Clearly, to R. Schwab, historical knowledge has no value as such, either
scientific, political or even religious. This is why, according to him,
only the "good part" should be recorded.  "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

However, R. Schwab acknowledges that all this "means we have to do
without a real history book".

The two exceptions to this rule are: (i) world history, as all that was
said is related to Jewish history only; (ii) biblical history that we
have the obligation to learn but only with the commentaries of our

Emmanuel Ifrah


From: Bill Bernstein <billbernstein@...>
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2005 13:16:38 -0500
Subject: Re: Rabbi Schwab

I think I remember the article that Mr. Steiner mentioned in #66 of MJ.
In either that one or a different one R' Schwab zt'l speaks against
those who characterize their ancestors as "yekkes" and tell funny
stories about them as denigrating their ancestors.

But one sub-thread in this discussion has been R' Schwab as a Torah im
derekh eretz leader, following in Rabbiner Hirsch's path.  I think this
is mostly untrue.  From what I have read I have the impression that R'
Schwab was much more influenced by his experience in Lithuanian yeshivas
than by his upbringing in Germany.  This is especially so when one looks
at the well-known incident where R' Schwab went to different authorities
in eastern Europe and asked about learning secular subjects.  Whatever
answers were given were very different from practice in Germany.  There,
an advanced university degree was actually required for smicha from the
seminaries that granted it.  So whatever R' Schwab's position on truth
and history, I suspect it has little to do with either Rabbiner Hirsch
or Torah im Derekh Eretz.

Bill Bernstein
Nashville TN


From: Bill Bernstein <billbernstein@...>
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2005 13:26:35 -0500
Subject: Re: Rav Schwab zt'l on "Yekkes" and History

I had mentioned in another submission remembering Rav Schwab's comments
somewhere against those who denigrated their German ancestors as
"Yekkes" and made fun of them.  This was in light of not pointing out
faults they had.

I wonder whether some of his concern stems from the very different
stances that halakha took in pre-war Germany.  I recently looked at a
teshuva in the Melamed L'Hoil of Rav Hoffmann zt'l, the foremost
halakhic authority in Germany until his death in the 1920s.  He answers
a question about swearing an oath in a non-Jewish court with head
uncovered.  He mentions first that the rabbis in Hungary are very
particular about this, but cites a Gra on Shulchan Oruch that this is a
middas chassidus.  Then he mentions how the first time he went to see
Rabbiner Hirsch he kept his hat on.  Hirsch informed him that "derekh
eretz" there required removing the hat in the presence of an important
person.  Rav Hoffmann adds that in both the school founded by Hirsch and
in the Talmud Torah Shule in Hamburg the practice was for children to
learn secular subjects with uncovered heads but to cover their heads for
religious subjects (presumably also for meals and davvening).  This
accords with what I saw my father in law a'h, who came from Hamburg, do.
(the short answer to the sheyla was that the Jew should ask whether he
could cover his head for the oath but if the answer was no then he
should swear the oath and not risk even a fine.)

Bill Bernstein


End of Volume 47 Issue 69