Monday, August 08, 2005

Buying tzoah shel-sora

Stories, anecdotes, help us understand celebrated personalities better. There is a vast genre of Great Rabbi Stories. The provenance of some are better than others.

But is there a way to test if an anecdote might be true without really knowing the facts?

Biblical scholars looking to find the historical Jesus buried within the Greek Testament realize that most of the material just lionizes him and is only useful in telling us what people who esteemed him thought about him. But the rule they use is that details in the text that jump at us because it seems so out of character provide clues that are likely to be authentic. Thus, if he is said to be a carpenter than he probably was, after all the people who elevated a man into a god weren't likely to have invented a humble profession for him. If the text has him saying something harsh, something that doesn't seem very sar shalom-like, then he probably said it too.

I don't know how useful that really is, but there you have it.

Recently someone mentioned of the Klauzenberger Rebbe z"l the following:
The kloisenberger rebbe went through many incomprehensibly painfull years in the consentration camp. The 1st thing he did when freed was jump into a river, to be toivel the first time in years. To the people who started straying after they where freed, he said , if this is how you act, better you would have been killed in the camps.
That someone put those words into the mouth of the holy rebbe of Klauzenberg blew my mind. That statement is very cruel. The rebbe was not only not a cruel person, on the contrary!--he was a paragon of righteousness and is known specifically for being a comfort and source of strength to survivors in the immediate aftermath of the war--even as he lost a wife and ten children. To me it is inconceivable that he'd have said the thing attributed to him. I do not accept it, and not only because it is yet another one of the unreliable stories about rabbis that float around. It would really distress me if in 1900 years from now scholars would take the statement attributed to him as true precisely because it is uncharacteristic of him, but I digress.

It's a strange thing, in any case, that a person would believe that he said it and not only believe that he said it but agree with it because he said it. How could a person not see that to say this thing is cruel? The answer is as follows: some people do not think critically and they work bckwards. If such-and-such is known to be a tzaddik then it doesn't matter what anyone has the tzaddik doing. If he acts inappropriately, if he even acts with cruelty then by definition the action is still blameless and no one should question it. This is exactly why certain rabbinic personalities of recent decades who said really terrible things about people they opposed got away with it.

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