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Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory Format Kindle
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|Longueur : 196 pages||Composition améliorée: Activé||Page Flip: Activé|
|Langue : Anglais|
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That being said, one might assume that Jews and Judaism naturally place a great emphasis on the history of the Jewish people. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in his work Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, however, argues that what has been understood as history in Jewish circles from the Biblical era until fairly recent times is considerably different that what the modern reader might expect in light of the importance of and emphasis placed on memory. Until recently as Yerushalmi notes, a general lack of interest in historical events that were disconnected to the theological concerns of the Jewish community existed, so much so that an interest in history was as Solomon Ibn Verga writing in the Middles Ages, seen as a "Christian" custom.
The seeming disconnect between memory, history, and histiography according to Yerushalmi is surprising given the fact that beginning with the Tanakh, an emphasis, or better said a command to remember is given. For Yerushalmi, the principal goal of Zakhor is to understand the relationship of Jews to their past and the place of the historian in that relationship. What Jews remembered, or chose to remember is the subject of Yerushalmi's quest. As he notes correctly, the actual recording of historical events has been anything but the primary vehicle through which the Jewish people have preserved their collective memory. Yerushalmi highlights the distinction between Jewish memory and Jewish histiography.
Herein lays one of the weaknesses of Zakhor. Yerushalmi does not sufficiently compare the nature of non-Jewish histiography during the various periods he addresses. While it is sufficiently clear from Yerushalmi's review of Jewish attitudes and the apologetically natured tone of many "Jewish historians" when introducing their works that general history was at best something interesting, but of little real value, the manner in which "general" history was perceived by non-Jews is a much needed comparison. He does not provide a view of how Frenchman, Spaniards, Italian, etc. understood their own sense of history.
Yerushalmi divides his study of Jewish history into four broad eras. The first is the Biblical and Rabbinic eras reaching until the early medieval period. The sources here include Biblical texts and selections from rabbinic literature through the redaction of the Talmud. Yerushalmi points to a variety of Biblical texts (e.g. Deuteronomy 25:5-9; Deuteronomy 6:10-12; Joshua 4:6-7, etc.) to note that while the Biblical texts are focused on remembering the "historic" acts of G-d's providence on behalf of Israel, they are nevertheless often connected to the lives of individuals in all of their fullness.
This reflects a seeming contradiction of the Biblical text and of a Biblical worldview and supports Yerushalmi's assertion that Jewish memory is selective, where kings and great events do not necessarily merit attention. This stands simultaneously with so much of the Biblical text that focuses on none other than great events and great individuals presented in historical narratives.
For Yerushalmi, the nature of Judaism's uneasy relationship with history is further seen by an almost wholesale dismissal of historical works after the writing of Josephus' Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities at the end of the 1st century of the Common Era. Yet here Yerushalmi does not address the very process of canon formation which in part might explain the paucity of certain historical events being retained among the sacred texts of Israel.
While he briefly mentions the three Jewish rebellions against Rome, he does not I believe sufficiently address the trauma these unsuccessful bids for freedom produced. Yerushalmi notes the almost wholesale dismissal of "the comings and goings of Roman procurators, the dynastic affairs of Roman emperors...even the convolutions of the Hasmonean dynasty...were largely ignored." The intensity and ramifications of the destruction of the Temple and in particular Bar Cochba's failed revolt surely dictated the manner in which many events were to be understood and remembered, out of a political necessity if nothing else. Here the significance of the events that Yerushalmi notes as being ignored may instead reflect pressures stemming from issues internal to the Jewish community as well as concerns stemming from Roman hegemony. He does not sufficiently address the fact that the "dismissal" of these events may lay instead in an agenda to place at a distance any memories such as the Maccabean struggle (where Yerushalmi notes, the Talmud places emphasis on the miracle in contrast to the battles) and other events of Jewish history that might lead to future disastrous consequences. Neither is the possible concern of Roman oversight of such documents mentioned.
The second era is primarily focused on the Middle Ages. The source material here largely consists of penitential prayers, fasts, the observance of "Second Purims," and memorial books. What follows in the realm of "Jewish history" until the early Middle Ages are largely composed of various works attempting to establish the legitimacy of the chain of tradition dating back to Sinai, or the challenge of "striving to interpret it [the history bequeathed to them] in terms of their own later generations." Here again, the lack of comparison with other contemporary non-Jewish attitudes on history are insufficient.
The third era of concern is that following the Expulsion from Spain and a flurry of texts written on Jewish history, many of which were influenced by the hope of messianic redemption. The last deals with Modern era from its roots in the Haskalah and more importantly in the rise of the "Scientific" study of Judaism beginning in Germany and spreading throughout academia. It is perhaps the last section which stands out as one of the most meaningful of Yerushalmi's book. In short, for Yerushalmi, the scientific study of Judaism and Jewish history has seen history replace Scripture as the arbiter of Jewish ideologies.
To understand the reason for the disconnect between history and memory, Yerushalmi contends that part of this may lie, in the complicated nature of history as drawn from none other than the Greeks, with Herodotus credited as the father of history. Yet the Greeks themselves appear to have failed to achieve a sense of the meaning of history as a whole. Herein lays, according to Yerushalmi, the great contribution of Jews to the subject of histiography.
The meaning of Jewish history, then, is Yerushalmi's principal concern. Yerushalmi argues for the inextricable nature of Jewish religion with memory, and yet its simultaneous selectiveness in what events it records. Yerushalmi argues for the delineation between meaning in history, memory of the past, and the writing of history. In contrast to the Greeks who were inspired to "know" if for nothing else out of curiosity, the sacred text of Israel establishes the religious imperative of remembering to the entire Jewish community. This I believe is the most important contribution of Yerushalmi's work. It is perhaps a simple statement, but reinforces the difference between "Athens and Jerusalem" on yet another point.
In the second phase, the Middle Ages Yerushalmi outlines the major division which dominates the work, between processes of collective memorization through ritual and religious practice which are not connected with everyday historical happening- and between the writing of history which is connected with historical happening. Yerushalmi says that from the time of the fall of the Second Temple and most especially in this period of the Middle Ages, the Jews remember without remembering historical events. The 'collective Zakhor' or command to collective remembrance ( which he says distinguishes the Jewish Religion) is done without writing the history of the people. The history of the people is avoided. The writing of history is considered by Rambam a low form of intellectual endeavor. The process of collective remembering is done through the living of the Jewish holidays each of which connects up with some historical memory. It is done through Memorbuchs of communities which have suffered in the Crusades.
In the third period which comes immediately after the expulsion from Spain i.e. in the beginning of the sixteenth century there is somehow a return to looking at the actual events of contemporary history but this by framing them in world- historical narratives.
The last period Yerushalmi writes about is the modern one in which there is a return to attending to the events of Jewish history. Here the writing of history, what he calls 'historiography' becomes once again a subject of Jewish interest. And this as certain other processes of collective memorization are breaking down i.e. as the Jews are moving away from being a 'faith- community' in the fullest sense of the word.
Yerushalmi here does not go into the question of conflicting narratives of Jewish history. And the very interesting question of the way different kinds of Jews today construct different kinds of narratives of Jewish history as a whole.
This work has a brilliant introduction by Harold Bloom.
The work itself is recognized as a classic of modern Jewish scholarship.
I conclude with one small piece of Yerushalmi 's writing.
"When I spoke earlier of the coincidence of the rise of modern Jewish histiography and the decay of Jewish memory, I had in mind the specific kind of memory of the past, that of Jewish tradition. But hardly any Jew today is without some Jewish past. Total amnesia: is still relatively rare. The choices for Jews , as for non- Jewsis not whether or not to have a past, but rather-what kind of past shall one have."
The author identifies himself as a professional historian. (p. 81). He alludes to the J, or Yahwist, writer (p. xxv), which implies that he accepts the JEPD hypothesis and its rejection of the historicity and the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. On the other hand, he takes a middle view of the Bible between that of it being "factual" in the modern sense or "fictional" in the modern sense. (p. 13). He stresses the fact that later Bible authors did not rewrite earlier portions of the Bible to fit the realities of the more recent epochs. (p. 13).
In medieval Jewish thinking, Christianity became Esau, and Islam became Ishmael. (p. 36). The author touches on the form of Jewish martyrdom during the 1st Crusade, "Confronted with the intolerable--the gruesome scenes of Jewish mass suicide in the Rhineland, which which, by mutual consent, compassionate fathers took the slaughterer's knife to their children and wives and then to themselves rather than accept baptism--the chronicles of the Crusades turn repeatedly to the image of Abraham, ready to slaughter Isaac at Mount Moriah." (p. 38). For more on this martyrdom, please click on Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and read the detailed Peczkis review.
Yerushalmi occasionally mentions the Talmud. He cites the tractate NIDDAH, which mentions the fetus in the womb knowing the entire Torah, only to lose this knowledge at the moment of birth owing to the actions of an angel. The child is thus forced to learn the Torah anew while growing up. (p. 108). [How does this square with Jews being among the strongest champions of abortion rights, which, of course, implicitly or explicitly reject any humanity of the fetus?]
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