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July 18, 1975 - Image 20

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1975-07-18

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20 Friday, July 18, 1975


Uses and Abuses in History Detailed in Lewis Book







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sian state by Cyrus. He de
dares that modern cultura 1
and political needs hav e
caused the Jews and Irani
ans to revive these forgotten
events and transform them
into symbols of great signif-
icance. Lewis questions the
value placed by Jews on Is-
raeli heroism, as "embodied
in the refurbished cult of


The' uses and abuses of
history in the social process
are detailed by Prof. Ber-
nard Lewis of Princeton
University in his brief book,
"History — Remembered,
Recovered, In ven t e d."
(Princeton University
Drawing from his exten-
sive knowledge of the his-
tory of the Middle East and
the Western World, the au-
thor considers the events
from the past as they are re-
called, rediscovered and al-
tered to fit modern pur-
poses. He cites examples
from the past ranging from
the Homeric epics, to the
work of Soviet historians.
He focuses on the pre-
sent-day commemoration of
the ancient battle of Masada
and the founding of the Per-





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For the Jews, their an-
cient history is of funda-
mental importance and
remains so until the de-
struction of the First Tem-
ple. Until then, the major
events are recorded in the
Books of the Old Testa-
ment. All the versions
stress the importance of
"knowing the Rock
whence you are hewn, and
the hole of the pit whence
you are digged."

The auth-or writes that
the period of the Second
Temple brings a marked
change. The Old Testament
records the restoration of
the Jews frem the Babylon-
ian captivity to the building
of the new Temple, but tells
us very little of historical
There is no narrative of
political and military events
like that of the earlier per-
iod, and there are only two
historical festivals men-
tioned, both minor, Purim
and Hanuka. Only Purim
rates a book in the Old Tes-
tament and Hanuka is not
represented at all.
"The rabbis seem to have
made a conscious effort to
depoliticize and demilitarize
Hanuka, laying their main
stress on its purely religious
aspect, the miracle of the
lights and paying little at-
tention to the Maccabees
and their military victories.

Prof. Lewis says the rea-
son for downgrading the
Maccabees was to legitim-
ize the authority of the
rabbis. He quotes from
Pirke Avot, "Moses re-
ceived the Torah on Sinai
and transmitted it to
Joshua, Joshua to the eld-
ers, and the elders to the
prophets, and the prophets
to the men of the great
synagogue . . ."



all their relatives and friends here and in Flor-

The situation in Persia
and other Middle Eastern
countries was radically dif-
ferent from that of the
Jews, according to Prof.
Lewis. He writes:
"The conversion of these
peoples to Islam brought
radical change, and above

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all discontinuity. Muslim
conquest brought a new reli-
gion. Islam created its own
state, the Caliphate, and
brought its own language,
Arabic, and its own scrip-
ture, the Koran. The old
states were destroyed, the
old languages and even the
old scripts were forgotten."
The restoration of the
ancient past was the work
of the 19th and 20th Centu-
ries and was accomplished
by Europeans and Ameri-
cans. At the beginning of
the 19th Century all that
the world know of the Mid-
dle East was preserved in
Greek and Hebrew. It was
known to Christedom and
Judaism but not to Muslims
for Muslims read neither
the Bible nor the classics.

The name of Cyrus was
well known in medieval
Europe and even in the
sagas of Iceland. It does
not appear in Islam, not
even in Persia, where the
pre-Islamic past was re-
jected and buried.

The process began in
Egypt with the decipher-
ment of the Rosetta Stone
by scholars who accompa-
nied Napoleon. It was not
until 1868 that a history of
Egypt covering the period of
the pharaches, the Ptole-
mies and the Byzantines,
was made available to the
Egyptians. In the Koranic
version of the Exodus story,
Pharaoh appears as the op-
pressor and the "Banu Isra
il," the Children of Israel,
under their leader and pro-
phet Moses, Musa, are the
heroes and more than the
heroes — the favored of
The difference between
the Koranic version and the
recovered Pharaonic past
set up a tension in the Egyp-
tian self-image, which even
now is not reconciled . . . In
Egypt there has been a
marked revival of Egyptian,
as distinct from Arab,
The Arabs have been
stressing the Crusades as a

prefigurement of the Bal-
four Declaration and of Is-
rael — an attempt to create
an alien enclave, sustained
from the West, in the heart
of the Arab world.
But. Dr. Lewis points out
that "the arrival of the Cru-
saders in Palestine, and the
loss of Jerusalem seem to
have meant no more to con-
temporaries than the loss of
any other province or any.
other provincial city . . .
After the final defeat and
withdrawal of the Crusad-
ers the whole affair was for-
gotten and it was only in
modern times, and once
again drawing from Euro-
pean sources, that Muslim
interest revived."

This is a brilliant book,
throught-provoking and in-
sightful. In its brief pages
Prof. Lewig raises many
questions and reveals, with
vast scholarship, that em-
braces the knowledge of
millinia, the distortions of

Prohibitions Against Suicide

The duty of preserving li-

times, the . Encyclopaedia

fe, including one's own, is Judaica says, were laws re-

of their execution in order to
cheat the hangman, was
justified in analogy to Saul.
In Jewish law a person de-
stroying himself is pre-
sumed to do so without the
necessary premeditation —
whether from pathological
depression and not being in
possession of his mental fac-
ulties or from "duress".

one of the paramount in- garding suicide formulated.
junctions of Judaism. The No rites are to he performed
prohibition against suicide • in honor of the dead, but
is a natural corollary to this; everything which apper-
and yet, the Encyclopaedia tains to respect for the
Judaica reports, it is no- mourners is permitted.
where explicitly forbidden
A distinction -is made
in the Talmud.
between suicide while of
Post talmudic authori
sound mind to which they
ties, however, considered. do not apply. Thus the sui-
Duress includes not only
suicide a most heinous sin, cide of a minor is not re-
compulsion such as the
even worse than murder. It garded as culpable.
necessity to kill oneself
was thought to be a denial
Apart from exceptional rather than surrender to
of the doctrines of circumstances, such as dui-- the enemy or violate God's
reward and punishment, the ing the Nazi persecution, laws, but also the (subjec-
world to come, and the soy- the incidence of suicides tively) reasonable despair
eriegnty of God, and the among Jews has been small. of life or the identification
opinion was expressed that The mass suicides during with a person who just
an individual's suicide for- the Middle Ages to avoid died.
feits his portion in the world forcible baptism are gener-
The scope of duress being
to come.
ally regarded as martyr- as wideas it is, the law will
There is a differeece, dom.
presume that a man found
however, between active sui-
The self-immolation of dead from his own hand
cide and letting oneself be Meir Feinstein and Moshe took his life involuntarily
killed. Suicide is also Barazani who blew them- and without premeditation
sharply to be differentiated .selves to death in prison in until the contrary is proved,
from martyrdom. Jerusalem in 1947 on the eve concludes the Judaica.



Four definite suicides
are recorded in the Bible:
Samson, (Judg. 16:30)
Saul and his armbearer,
(1. Sam. 31: 4-5) and
Ahithophel (LL Sam.
17:23). The first three are
regarded as "suicide un-
der mitigated circumst-
ances," so to speak.

Voting Rights Are Sought
for Israelis Living Abroad

JERUSALEM (JTA) — voting rights for Israelis liv-
The Knesset passed on first ing abroad in the next gen-
reading a bill that would eral elections due to be held
The most famous act of permit Israelis living abroad in 1977.
suicide in Jewish history is for fixed periods of timg.to
the mass self-immolation of vote by absentee ballot in
the garrison of Masada in 73 national elections.
CE as reported by Josephs
At present, that privilege
(Wars, 7:320 ff.).
is extended only to Israeli Disabled Pupils
It has been suggested that seamen whose jobs require
they acted in accordance them to be away from home
estimated 400 children with
with their interpretation of for long periods of time.
the halakha which included
The measure was intro- learning disabilities in 11
slavery and subjection to a duced by Dr. Boaz Moav, congregational elementary
foreign power as one of MK of the recently formed schools in the Greater New
those principles concerning Yaad faction and was re- York area received special-
which one was enjoined "to ferred to committee despite ized help in their Jewish
he killed rather than trans-. opposition from Interior studies during the current
school year in a pilot project
gross". Minister Yosef Burg.
Other cases of suicide —
The bill is required to developed by the Board of
such as the mass suicide in pass two more Knesset Jewish Education.
York in 1190 — which were readings before it cah be-
The BJE Special Educa-
motivated by either the de- come law.
tion Program was funded
sire to avoid forced conver-
It was reported that the with a grant of $3300 from
sion or fear, are considered Foreign Ministry will pro- the program development
to he acts of martyrdom.
pose a similar measure that fund of the Federation of
Only in late post-talmudic would increase prospectg of Jewish Philanthropies.

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