Sunday, July 01, 2007

New Blog

For those of you who still check up over here, I am now blogging at Big Head, No Brains. We'll see where it goes, I hope you enjoy.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Something to chew on....

Excersizing my gift for stating the obvious, it's been quite a while since I've posted. I'm going to restart this thing, but for now, in lieu of actual content, I'm going to post an essay a friend of mine wrote. Enjoy....

Friday, February 03, 2006


Valid point.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mmmmm.... Baked Goods

Treppenwitz has a little photo essay in praise of מגדנית פאר, which is, in my humble opinion, the best bakery, bar none, in Jerusalem. I reccomend that anybody who can, check it out.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Holocaust and History: A response

[Note: This post began as a comment to this post on my friend Rebecca's blog. It has since spiraled out of control, so I gave it its own post. Read her first, and then read me.]

While I am not so familiar with work done on Eastern Europe, the Holocaust actually had the effect of correcting Whiggish historiography of German Jewry. As the Jewish Enlightenment was rooted in Germany, and the German Wissenschaft outlook in general, Jewish historiography was rooted in the same context. Jewish historians were aware of this, and consequently painted the Jewish experience in Imperial German as a positive one. Starting with Graetz, the picture was one of increasing freedom and tolerance for Jews in Germany, and though the process was not quite complete, it was getting there. The Holocaust quite powerfully demonstrated how false that particular narrative was. The subsequent reevaluation of German-Jewish history was much more realistic.

Rebecca seems to be making two distinct points in her post (well, more than that, but I'm only going to address the two). One is that "the Holocaust... gave rise to a slew of bad histories of Jews in Eastern Europe and the perpetuation of what eventually crystallized as the "Fiddler on the Roof" image of Eastern European Jewish life." The other is "
Much Jewish history of Jews in Europe that was done after the Holocaust is of the basic plan connotated by the phrase "Whig History" if instead the inevitable end result being the glorious Pax Britannica, you substitute the devastating and complete destruction of most of Europe's Jewry and all of European Jewish life.
I'm not exactly sure how these are connected, but if they were, the argument would look something like this: The "Fiddler on the Roof" type Jews which are portrayed in post-Holocaust historiography somehow naturally lead into, or create, their own Holocaust. This does not match up with anything I've ever read, and in the end, I don't really think it's what Rebecca meant to say.

Treating the two points separately then, the first one seems more than valid to me. Painting an artificially nostalgic picture is not a historian's job. However, the second is far more problematic. The Whigs saw Luther (or Calvin, or Cromwell, it doesn't especially matter) as early liberals, who created the liberty which we enjoy today, and all Catholics as evil tyrants, which they were clearly not. However, to look for the causes of the Holocaust in the societies in which it occurred isn't necessarily Whiggish. It is simply what historians do. I think that it's a tough sell to complain that historians of European Jewry focus too much on the Holocaust. It is the seminal event in the history of Modern European Jews, and understanding its causes is essential to understanding the overall narrative of the Jews and where they fit into the European narrative. Grappling with these issues, contextualizing the Holocaust, is exactly what historians should be doing, not ignoring it as irrelevant.

I even think that Rebecca's example from her Yiddish class of a way that Jews have distanced themselves from the Holocaust in fact demonstrates the opposite. Most of the large scale massacres in Jewish history are traditionally referred to as Gezairot, evil decrees. The first crusade is "Gezairat Tatnav," The Decree of 1096. The Chelmniecki Massacres are "Gezairot Tach v'Tat," The Decrees of 1648. Only three events in Jewish History are referred to as Churban. The respective destructions of the Temples, and the Holocaust. By referring to the Holocaust as Di Churban, traditional Yiddish speaking Jews put the Holocaust in context as one of the three greatest tragedies in Jewish History. To a secular Yidishist, for whom the destruction of the Temple is in fact distant, and who believes that messianic hope is a myth, this might seem like an attempt to hide from the horror of the Holocaust. But as a piece of traditional iconography, it does the opposite, especially for those who were not there. It puts the Holocaust where it belongs, as one of the greatest tragedies in Jewish history.

Rebecca, if I've misunderstood you, please feel free to correct me, as I know you will.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Required reading

Interesting review of Artscroll translations In the YU Commentator.

(Hat tip to Prof. Jim Davila)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Heh Heh

Maritime Humor... Of a sort.