Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nostalgia as History

Dr. Yoel Finkelman has a fascinating article about Charedi manipulation of history: "Nostalgia, Inspiration, Ambivalence: Eastern Europe, Immigration, and the Construction of Collective Memory in Contemporary American Haredi Historiography" in Jewish History: link. While Dr. Finkelman implicitly challenges this view of history, he offers reasons for why they take this approach.

He makes the following observations about the general genre of Charedi history:

    Regarding Europe
  1. Exaggerates purity of yeshiva student bodies.
  2. Overstates piety of small-town laity.
  3. Downplays non-observant Jews and their ideologies.
  4. Ignoring observant Jews who do not fit into Charedi categories.
Click here to read more
    Regarding America
  1. Portrays American culture extremely negatively.
  2. Attributes decline in religious observance of immigrants to America rather than the immigrant experience.
  3. Underrepresents the rabbis who immigrated to America pre-1924.
  4. Ignores the cultural change during the 1950s and 1960s that supported institutional religion.
  5. Portrays continuity with Europe and ignores significant cultural changes.
  6. Focuses on biographies and memoirs rather than larger trends. Similarly, relies heavily on interviews and avoids archival materials.
Overall, the literature attempts to inspire readers to greater religious devotion through nostalgia for Europe, the example of overachieving immigrants and attempted isolation from American culture.

As an excursus, Dr. Finkelman deals with the revisionism regarding the goals and accomplishments of R. Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, who no longer fits into the Charedi vision of history.

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