The Dangers of Historical Revisionism

I can’t say that I am surprised over the reactions to my recent article in the St. Louis Jewish Light rebutting a local rabbi’s remarks about Moses.  In retrospect, I should have realized that many readers would misinterpret my passion as personal or as politically motivated.  I regret that, by not taking a softer tone, I left many unable to coolly evaluate the substance of my argument. 

I should clarify that I was writing as an individual, not as a representative of or in coordination with any other authority or institution.  I should clarify further that, as I believe my students will attest, one of my major themes as a classroom teacher is the primacy of respect for all people who aspire to uphold standards of ethics and morality and for all beliefs that set such standards.  If, by expressing my indignation at a public demonstration of disrespect, I crossed over the boundaries of respectfulness myself, that only proves that I still have much to learn, even from my own lessons.

Having said that, I must also reiterate my distress that the same objections to my criticism were not raised in response to my colleague’s denigration of Moses.  Why the double standard?  Why is one verbal attack so much less tolerable than the other?

A broader investigation of the topic can be found here.

  1. #1 by bvw on March 17, 2010 - 4:49 pm

    It’s like the way there came to be a “President’s Day”. Real American great men Lincoln and Washington were first made trivial, hollow images used to sell cars. Hollowed out, it was easy to drag their image into the easy ‘now’, to make them the currency of marketing and the drums struck by salesman to draw the bypassers into a shop.

    Once the ideals of those great men where cut out of the belly of History, aborted, then gutted of all content, in the present generations they are used to draw whatever spirits of the moment may pass. The easy now.

    American law makes a mistake when it allows the dead to be slandered.

  2. #2 by Commonsense on March 18, 2010 - 12:08 am

    I am not sure if one can draw an analogy between Moshe on one hand and Abraham Lincoln and George Washington on the other.

    Lincoln and Washington were not saints; neither were they demons. Both had a number of accomplishments, yet they also had important shortcomings. In the case of Lincoln and Washington, one should be able to tell their real life stories, giving praise when praise is due and criticizing when it is appropriate.

  3. #3 by torahideals on March 18, 2010 - 6:51 am

    Commonsense, you make an apt distinction contrasting Moshe as a saint vs. Washington and Lincoln. However, as I mentioned in my original article, even our saints were human beings, with their own imperfections and struggles.

    Moses was not born a saint; he became one. We have to appreciate his humanness, otherwise we sell ourselves short in the saintly potential that resides within every one of us.

    The danger, of course, is that we seek out imaginary criticisms in an effort to topple our saints from their pedestals. Ironically, in this we are also seeking to exempt ourselves from the effort of striving for perfection.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. #4 by Norm on March 19, 2010 - 8:58 am

    Lincoln and Washington were historical figures. While you may beleive that Moses was a real person many Jews believe he is a mythical character created by the Priesthood in the 7th to 9th Century before the common era.

  5. #5 by torahideals on March 20, 2010 - 9:30 pm

    This, of course, is precisely the point. If you don’t believe in Jewish tradition, then anything goes. There is no reality, no morality, and no accountability.

    Is this what we want to hear from our spiritual leaders?

    In 2001, David Wolpe, a Los Angeles rabbi, posed the question in his Passover sermon, “Why do we continue to commemorate the exodus from Egypt if it didn’t really happen?”

    The question is self-contradictory: We celebrate the exodus for no reason other than because it did happen; and if we don’t believe it happened, we have no reason to celebrate.

    If the Torah is nothing more than a book of fables or inspired literature, then certainly any Bible critic is entitled to his own interpretations, as any critic of literature is entitled his own interpretation of Shakespeare or Milton. But if that is what we believe, then the foundations of Judaism have already disintegrated and we have no hope of restoring them.

    Conversely, there is ample evidence supporting the truth of Torah and its historical record for anyone who wants to seek out historical truth. The overwhelming majority of those who dismiss the Torah as myth have made no effort whatsoever to discover otherwise. It’s difficult to take seriously the opinion of anyone who hasn’t bothered to understand the opposing point of view.

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