The history of mankind is made up of our stories. Jewish history is no exception; our collective narrative is comprised of a great meddling of stories, from the histories of Philo of Alexandria to the folk tales of Chelm. The stories we were told as children, the stories we tell others, the stories we pass on- each and everyone of these will continue to add another layer to the great historical stratigraphy of the Jewish People.
Historians are storytellers; storytellers create history. The tales of the famous yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem about Tevye the Milkman and his five daughters, the precursor to Fiddler the Roof, have left an undeniable imprint consciousness of the Modern American Jew. When the Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius recorded the story of the last stand of the Jewish Sicarii rebels at Masada in the Great Revolt, he crafted a tale that still holds power over Zionist perceptions of Jewish strength and bravery in the State of Israel. Although the historical veracity of Josephus’s account of Masada has been called into question, a careful historian can see a story as more than just true or false; the impact of a story, maybe even on a culture centuries down the road, defies such simple measures.
In this issue we delve into the power of these stories and of the power of history in general. Dr. Steven Fine, Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, shares his reflections as a Jewish historian on one our greatest pictorial stories – the relief on the Arch of Titus of the Temple vessels paraded through Rome. Yaakov Schiff and Israel Ben-Porat both ponder the value of studying Jewish history, in the abstract of Jewish philosophy and in normative practice. Aryeh Sklar reflects on our greatest stories as a people – those of the Bible. Chani Grossman investigates the way the Abarbanel’s personal story impacted his work through the lens of his Haggadah. Aryeh Helfgot delves into the stories told by both secular historians and our Sages, and what the divergences in these stories can teach us.
Just like a good story, these articles are meant to shared and discussed with enthusiasm.
We hope this edition of Kol Hamevaser will give you pause to think.