Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
line can be drawn between “good” history and “bad” history.
The line is rather a relative one drawn between arbitrary sub­
jectivity and a general “subjective” perspective; between incor­
rect, fuzzy use of or non-familiarity with existing sources, and
the careful utilization of available materials; between undiffer­
entiated quotation of any statement without regard for its pos­
sible truth element, and application of external and internal crit­
icism in order to clarify the credibility of the author of the state­
ment. For instance, no statement made by a proven anti-Semitic
author about the behavior of Jews in his time can be taken at
face value; nor can a “witness’s” (Jew or non-Jew) statement be
uncritically accepted if it is clear from the context that he is
talking from hearsay. (Some such cases are indicated in the Notes
of the book.)
Let me now mention that so far as the past is concerned it
makes no difference whether the historian is right or wrong.
The past is dead, nothing can alter that. But the historian can
influence our historical consciousness, our comprehension of
the past, and our viewpoint, or that of future generations. But
here, too, some of the historian’s “wrongdoings”—I do not mean
simple mistakes, for we are all human and make mistakes—may
remain socially harmless and have little impact on historical
consciousness. For instance, in a recent issue of the
American
Historical Review,
a reviewer, discussing a new history book
about French Jewry, mages the statement: “Rashi, the great elev­
enth century Jewish scholar, wrote most of his commentaries
in French as there were few Jews, even learned Jews, who had
mastered Hebrew.”1 Tha t reviewer (and/or the author) is, of
course, totally wrong. (He may have heard something about
French glosses, some 300 among probably a million words and
mainly for realia, in Rashi’s writings and identified these glosses
with Rashi’s writings generally.) The sentence, though sheer
nonsense,
am-haaratzut
(illiteracy), is not socially harmful (pro­
vided other historians do not quote the statement in later years
as the “truth”).2
1 Review by Leon J . Apt of Roger Berg
et al, Histoire des Juives en France,
edited by Bernhard Blumenkranz (Toulouse, 1972).
American Historical R e­
view,
vol. 79, no. 1 (Feb. 1974), pp. 157-158.
2 Historians have a tendency to quote written or printed statements as the
“whole truth,” often without checking their veracity. A classical case may
be the “story” of a Hebrew manuscript of a book by “Samuel of Russia,”