Wednesday, May 13, 2009
[studying the Talmud, but not history]
One thing which has always puzzled me is the lack of Jewish historical records.
The Hebrew Bible covers history from the creation of Adam up until just before the Greek invasion of Palestine – a period of about 3,500 years. After that, however, most Orthodox Jews have only a very vague idea of Jewish history. In the last twenty years or so a number of books have been published and I think some Orthodox girls’ schools teach Jewish history classes, however traditionally this topic has been pretty much ignored.
Jewish genealogy is also very sparsely documented. Some Jews can trace there lineage back to Rashi, however that’s as far back as anyone can go. Very few Jews know much about their ancestors beyond living memory – the past century perhaps. This is surprising considering that Jews have always been literate. One of my hobbies is genealogy and I know that many people, especially from Protestant families, can find quite a bit of information going back centuries.
I recently heard a tape by Rabbi Avigdor Miller obm. He says in tape #92 that Jews never recorded their remarkable history because they knew that doing so was unnecessary. They knew that God was recording everything; nothing is going to be forgotten. Imagine that a digital video camera is recording everything you do and say and even everything you think and it’s all being archived on YouTube forever. No other records are necessary.
I also have an impression that the immense emphasis placed by Jews on studying the Talmud meant that any other type of literature, including history, was basically considered to be an unnecessary distraction. If I remember correctly, the Steipler obm once said that as a child he realized that studying the Talmud was more important than reading inspirational stories about great rabbis.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:14 AM