Sunday, March 22, 2009

The history books of R. Berel Wein, I: lack of appreciation for predecessors

A while back I promised a post about the popular Jewish history books of R. Berel Wein. First of all, let me make clear that whether he is a "historian" or not is immaterial. I say this because I have seen him dismissed because he is an amateur history buff. Well, so am I.

It's hard to know where to begin, so let's just begin in the middle of things. One bone I have to pick is R. Wein's very negative attitude toward his predecessors who essentially created the field of Jewish history. Three or four or ten chronicles over a millenium are not why R. Berel Wein has an abundance of historical materials and libraries full of journals and books to learn about the Jewish past. It is because of the determination of scholars, Jewish and non-Jewish, to uncover the Jewish past using modern research methods.

I will get back to that point, and show specifically how he shows no appreciation for the pioneering work of those who came before him, but in the meantime, I want to mention that his books constantly cite "neutral" scholarly historical works about the time periods he discusses. The scholars who wrote those books and studies use the same modern research and the same critical methodology as the Jewish scholars whom he disapproves of. Furthermore, although he is very dismissive of the early generations of Jewish historians and scholars who created and worked in Wissenschaft des Judentums, many of their successors of the second and third generation after the pioneers are cited by him as authoritative sources. I'm not sure why the work of Abraham Berliner, H.J. Zimmels, Cecil Roth, Irving Agus and Jacob Katz are reliable, but not Zunz and others. Yes, I am aware of the flaws and biases that could be found in the early works, but the later work also contains them, and rely on the earlier ones, and most importantly, use the same methods and consider them valid. 150 years removed from the Zeitschrifts it might be easy to pretend that they are not a layer in the foundation of which he works, but they are there.

One sort of criticism I find that R. Wein engages in is against the skepticism regarding legends that were assumed to be true in traditional sources. Thus, in Herald of Destiny (covering the years 750 to 1650), pg. 26, we encounter the legend--yes, he calls it "Jewish legend"--that Spanish kings were allies of Nebuchadnezzer who actually participated in the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple. "Spain's influence was known in ancient Israel as well," he writes. In n. 1 we find the following:

The legend is first recorded in Shevet Yehudah, a historical work written by Shlomo ibn Verga at the turn of the 16th century. Modern secular scholars, as is their wont, disregard the account as fiction.

Now, the problem with the legend is that--according to Wein--it first appears in writing 500 years ago. This, in a discussion of events of two thousand years earlier. "As is their wont"? Is it disrespectful to view a report from 1500 CE regarding the political situation in 500 BCE as simply not admissable as a historical source? Incredible.

Incredible, I say, because R. Wein reserves the right to be skeptical and dismiss things which were traditionally believed to be historical as legendary. See pg. 64 n.11:

There is no basis, except for the love of Rashi shared by all of Israel, and their wish somehow to be identified with him, for the legend that Rashi visited all the major communities of the Jewish world. Neither is there any basis to the legend that Rashi met Rambam in Egypt. Rashi died in 1105 and the Rambam was born in 1135.

Okay, the last bit is just impossible, but what of the first part?

Getting back to the legend (Spain fighting in Jerusalem), on the very next page (pg. 27 n. 2) there is a footnote which clarifies that the biblical Hebrew place 'Sepharad' is 'Spain' according to Rashi following Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, "However, many Biblical commentators describe Tzorfas and Sepharad as names of Phoenician or Elamite cities. Nevertheless, in the early Middle Ages, and from then onward, the words came to mean France and Spain exclusively."

Thus, we see just how tenuous a legend this is, yet "Spain's influence was known in ancient Israel" and the skepticism of "modern secular scholars" about the historicity of a legend appearing 2000 years after the fact is sneer-worthy?

More posts to follow, including praise of R. Wein's work that I feel is due him.


  1. > "More posts to follow, including praise of R. Wein's work that I feel is due him. "

    Nu? It's been a year...

  2. More posts to follow, including praise of R. Wein's work that I feel is due him.

    So, anything in the works? I'm interested in reading your further thoughts on R. Wein's work...

  3. His description of the rise of the karaites was completely editorialized and non-objective. after all he is a 'frumma'...

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on alkalic.
    Here is my web-site Seating

  5. Pretty portion of content. I just stumbled upon your web
    site and in accession capital to assert that I acquire
    actually enjoyed account your weblog posts. Anyway I will be subscribing to your augment or
    even I achievement you access persistently rapidly.
    my website > bass fishing shirts

  6. I was able to find good advice from your blog articles.
    Take a look at my web-site Teamspeak and Shoutcast Servers

  7. My spouse and I stumbled over here different website and thought
    I might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you.

    Look forward to looking into your web page repeatedly.
    Feel free to surf my web blog herbal medicine

  8. Hi there! This post could not be written any better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He constantly kept preaching about this. I am going to forward this information to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a very good read. Many thanks for sharing!
    my webpage:

  9. No matter if some one searches for his necessary thing, so he/she desires to be available that in detail, so that thing is maintained over here.
    Here is my web page :: denim

  10. Good day I am so grateful I found your web site, I really
    found you by accident, while I was researching on Google for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a tremendous post and a
    all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have
    time to look over it all at the moment but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be
    back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the great b.
    Also see my site:

  11. Hello to every single one, it's really a nice for me to pay a visit this web site, it includes valuable Information.

    Here is my webpage:

  12. Woah! I'm really loving the template/theme of this website. It's simple, yet
    effective. A lot of times it's tough to get that "perfect balance" between superb usability and appearance. I must say that you've done a superb job
    with this. Additionally, the blog loads extremely quick for
    me on Chrome. Outstanding Blog!

    My blog post: electric furnace repair

  13. Does your site have a contact page? I'm having problems locating it but, I'd like to send you
    an e-mail. I've got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it grow over time.

    Also visit my page: raleigh home repair

  14. Hello there just happened upon your blog via Bing after I typed in, "Blogger: On the Main Line" or something similar (can't quite remember exactly). In any case, I'm delighted I found it because
    your subject material is exactly what I'm looking for (writing a university paper) and I hope you don't
    mind if I collect some material from here and I will of course credit
    you as the source. Thank you very much.

    Have a look at my web site: gas furnace high efficiency

  15. Heya are using Wordpress for your blog platform?
    I'm new to the blog world but I'm trying to get started and create my own.
    Do you require any html coding knowledge to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    my page ... gas furnace heating systems

  16. I am starting a new internet blog directory and was wondering if I can submit your blog?
    I'm hoping to grow my directory gradually by hand so that it retains good quality. I will make sure and put your blog in the appropriate category and I'll also
    use, "Blogger: On the Main Line" as your anchor text. Be sure to let me know
    if this is okay with you by mailing me at: allanworsham@yahoo.
    de. Thankyou

    Also visit my homepage: furnace repair learn

  17. Heya superb blog! Does running a blog such as this require a great deal of work?
    I've very little expertise in coding however I was hoping to start my own blog in the near future. Anyway, should you have any suggestions or techniques for new blog owners please share. I understand this is off subject but I just had to ask. Appreciate it!

    Here is my website: girls gymnastics clothing

  18. Have you ever considered writing an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss
    and would really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my readers would value your work. If you're even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

    My webpage :: black ballet shoes for infants
    my page > very fine dance shoes reviews

  19. First off I would like to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question in which I'd like to ask if you don't
    mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head before
    writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my
    thoughts out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted simply
    just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or
    tips? Thank you!

    Here is my blog post luxury vacation rentals in orlando

  20. Hey there! Quick question that's entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when viewing from my iphone. I'm trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to fix this problem.
    If you have any recommendations, please share. Thank you!

    my web blog ... corporate housing dallas fort worth

  21. Heya superb website! Does running a blog such as this require a lot of work?
    I have very little knowledge of programming however I
    had been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyway, should
    you have any ideas or techniques for new blog owners please share.
    I know this is off subject nevertheless I just needed to ask.
    Many thanks!

    Feel free to surf to my web page:

  22. I'm not sure exactly why but this website is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end? I'll check back later on and see if the
    problem still exists.

    Feel free to surf to my web blog :: Short game classes

  23. Hi to every single one, it's really a nice for me to visit this site, it includes useful Information.

    my weblog; sushi making supplies uk

  24. Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss and
    would love to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my audience would appreciate your work.
    If you're even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

    My site ...

  25. I'm starting a new internet website directory and was wondering if I can submit your site? I'm
    hoping to grow my directory little by little by hand so that it retains good quality.

    I'll make sure and put your blog in the correct category and I'll also use, "Blogger: On the Main Line" as your anchor
    text. Please let me know if this is okay with you by e-mailing me at: Thank you

    Feel free to visit my webpage high tech high school lincroft nj

  26. Greetings! I was interested to know if setting up a site such your own:
    is difficult to do for unskilled people? I have been
    hoping to develop my own website for a while now but have been turned off
    mainly because I've always believed it demanded tons of work. What do you think? Bless you

    Check out my page :: how to start a appliance repair business

  27. Fantastic blog you have here but I was curious about if you
    knew of any discussion boards that cover
    the same topics discussed here? I'd really like to be a part of group where I can get suggestions from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks a lot!

    Here is my web blog ... middle back pain relief

  28. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to “return the favor”.

    I'm attempting to find things to enhance my web site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

    Here is my web blog - St Cloud Florist

  29. What's up to every one, the contents existing at this web site are genuinely awesome for people experience, well, keep up the good work fellows.

    My blog; sports medicine bags

  30. Hello! I could have sworn I've visited this website before but after going through many of the articles I realized it's new to me.
    Nonetheless, I'm certainly delighted I stumbled upon it and I'll be bookmarking it and checking back often!

    My page; LED Lighting

  31. My brother suggested I may like this web site. He was once entirely right.
    This publish truly made my day. You can not imagine just how so
    much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

    Also visit my homepage golf Schools in florida west Palm beach

  32. I visited multiple sites however the audio quality for
    audio songs existing at this web site is in fact fabulous.

    Look at my blog :: upper back spasms pinched nerve

  33. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I'll bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I will learn many new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

    Here is my site ... physical therapist salary By state

  34. It's great that you are getting ideas from this article as well as from our dialogue made at this time.

    Here is my webpage :: chicago restaurant week 2012

  35. We're a gaggle of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with helpful information to work on. You've performed
    a formidable task and our whole group can be thankful to you.

    Feel free to visit my blog :: Chiropractor

  36. I've read a few good stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much attempt you put to create one of these great informative website.

    my web-site

  37. Simply desire to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in
    your post is just excellent and i could assume you are
    an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission
    allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with
    forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

    My web site ... herniated disc support

  38. It's a pity you don't have a donate button! I'd most certainly donate to this brilliant blog! I suppose for now i'll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to fresh updates and will share this blog
    with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

    My homepage; Las Vegas Golf Lessons

  39. I enjoy what you guys are up too. Such clever work and coverage!
    Keep up the very good works guys I've incorporated you guys to blogroll.

    Here is my web page: Subluxation Chiropractic



Related Posts with Thumbnails