THE HALLOWING OF HISTORY

[Originally posted in 2014.  “Hallowing” has nothing to do with “Halloween” except for the word “hallow” which means to “honor as holy or make holy; consecrate”. A bit of trivia since this is being posted on . . . er . . .coincidentally Halloween 2013: “ORIGIN late 18th cent.: contraction of All Hallow Even (Even —the end of the day; evening).  

 

That clear, the topic of this post is WHO is the author of the idea of History? Well of course, who else?  The people whose Scriptures are also their History and whose history begins from the beginning of earthly time.

 

This is from our ‘hallowed’ reliable resource of the best of Jewish minds, put together in one book by ed. Rabbi/Dr. J.H. Hertz, Pentateuch and Haftorahs; reformatting and highlights added.–Admin1].

 

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THE HALLOWING OF HISTORY 

 

Israel is the author of the idea of History.  

 

The Egyptians and Babylonians left behind them annals of events, chronicles of dynasties, and boastful inscriptions of victories; but nothing that can be dignified by the name of historical writing.  It is only in Israel that the whole human scene on earth was conceived as a unity, from its very beginning to the end of time.  Thus Scripture does not begin with the Exodus, or even with the Call of Abraham, but with the Creation of the world and the birth of man.

 

We are, of course, dogmatically told that ‘the writing of history begins, like so many other things, with the Greeks’.  But this is part of the Hellenic myth dominant in academic quarters.  The Greeks could not rise to the concept of universal History without the belief in the unity of mankind; a conception they only learned centuries later through the Septuagint Version of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Furthermore, the universe to the Greeks was not the creation of one supreme Mind, but the confused inter-play of blind natural forces going on forever in a vain, endless recurrence, leading nowhither.  Hence, they could not see any higher meaning in the story of man.  Such also has ever been the opinion of those who share the Greek view of God and the universe, as did the free-thinkers of the eighteenth century.  To them, ‘history is little more than a register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind’ (Gibbon).

 

Not so the Teachers in Israel.  They conceived of God as a Moral Power, and saw Him at work in the world.  They traced the line of Divine action in the lives of men and nations.  They saw in history a continuous revelation of Divine thought and purpose across the abyss of time. In clarion tones they proclaimed that Right was irresistible; and that what ought to be must be and will be.  

 

They taught men to see the vision of ‘the kingdom of God’ — human society based on righteousness—as the Messianic goal of history.  Schiller’s profound utterance, Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weligericht (‘History is the long Day of Judgment’), which would have been unintelligible to a Greek or Roman, is but a striking epitome of Hebrew thought.  And no view of the course of history is worth anything that is not essentially one with the Biblical position.  Froude has eloquently restated it in the noble words: ‘History is a voice for ever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong.  Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity. For every false word or unrighteous deed, for cruelty and oppression, for lust or vanity, the price has to be paid at last; not always by the chief offenders, but paid by someone.  Justice and truth alone endure and live.

 

Image from mjbhajewishcultureprogram.wordpress.com

II

Israel, moreover, was the first to conceive of history as a guide to the generations of men, as is done throughout Deuteronomy, and to grasp its vital importance in the education of the individual as of the human group.  

 

A recent historian of British civilization has well put it:

‘The past does not die; so long as spiritual continuity is maintained, the present life of a community is its whole accumulated past; and only by understanding that past can it understand itself or determine its future.  A people unconscious of its history is like a man smitten with loss of memory, who wanders aimlessly, till he comes to grief’ (Wingfield-Stratford).  It is history that preserves men and nations from loss of memory, from loss of spiritual identity.  ‘Man is made man by history.  The Jew is what he is by the history of his fathers, and he would be losing his better self were he to lose hold of his past history.’ (J. Jacobs).

 

 

The field of Jewish history is immeasurably vast; the Jew is met with everywhere, and his story opens very near the beginning of human civilization. And that story has, as no other, left its mark on the souls of men.

‘The first part of Jewish history, the Biblical part, is a source from which, for many centuries, millions of human beings have derived instruction, solace and inspiration.  Its heroes have long ago become types, incarnations, of great ideals.  The events it relates serve as living ethical formulae.  But a time will come—perhaps it is not very far off—when the second half of Jewish history, that when the second half of Jewish history, that people’s life after the Biblical period, will be accorded the same treatment.  The thousand years’ martyrdom of the Jewish People, its unbroken pilgrimage, its tragic fate, its teachers of religion, its martyrs, philosophers, champions—this whole epic will, in days to come, sink deep into the memory of men.  It will speak to the heart and conscience of men, and secure respect for the silvery hair of the Jewish People (Dubnow).

 

III

 

Even a brief history of Jewish history, i.e. a critical estimate of Jewish historians, ancient medieval and modern—cannot here be attempted.  A few words might, however, be added on the task of the Jewish historian at the present day.

 

His primary aim should be neither to lament the past, nor to denounce, nor to idealize it; but to understand it.  He is, therefore, no longer to confine himself to the martyrdoms of the Jewish People, as the medieval chroniclers did; or even exclusively to the strivings of the Jewish spirit in the world of thought—which so largely claimed the attention of Graetz.  Both the story of the martyrdoms and the spiritual strivings are, of course, basic.  But, in addition, the historian today must seek to explain the position of the Jews in the national history of the countries where they dwelt.  This calls, on the one hand, for a detailed study of Jewish communities—their institutions, cultural values, and religious endeavour; and, on the other hand, for a knowledge of the Jew’s social, economic, and political relations to the general population.  In this way alone can we in time hope to understand the ‘cross-fertilization’ of Jewish and non-Jewish ideas and influences in literature, folklore and life.  The truth will then dawn upon the student that Judaism, in addition to being a body of doctrine and faith, a way of life and salvation, is also a civilization, a civilization that has made distinct contributions in every sphere of human life, human thought, and human achievement.

 

IV

‘The history of Israel is the great living proof other working of Divine Providence in the affairs of the world.  Alone among the nations, Israel has shared in all great movements since mankind became conscious of their destinies.  If there is no Divine purpose in the long travail of Israel, it is vain to seek for any such purpose in man’s life.  In the reflected light of that purpose, each Jew should lead his life with an added dignity’ (J.Jacobs).

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