Thursday, July 21, 2011


Parshat Pinchas
11 Tammuz 5771,
July 13, 2011

“When the historian tries to depict the spirit of bygone times, it is usually his own spirit that makes itself heard.” - Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History

     I was once in a lecture by Doreen Seidler-Feller, a psychologist and expert on sex therapy, about marriage and relationships among contemporary Jews. In the middle of her talk, a participant made suggestion that raised my eyebrows: “we should go back to the way of the shtetl,” she said, “You know, arranged marriage - things were simpler then.”
    Now, it wasn’t the suggestion of arranged marriage that shocked me -- I’ve heard that one before - but rather the idea that things were easier back in shtetl days.
    I’ve encountered many Jews who invoke the “Fiddler on the Roof” effect. It seems that dancing milkmen and seamstresses are waiting in the alleyways of our minds, just waiting to burst to into song.
    The truth of shtetl life, despite its beautiful glow, was much harsher and immobile than our cultural memory tells us. What this women was remembering, as so many of us do, was not true history.
    I believe Hegel is right: what we see in the past is most often the reflection of our present longing. The answers to our problems are not to be found in a longing for past times which per force distorts what truly happened, but in the invigoration of our present.
Prisca iuvent alios: ego me nunc denique natum gratulor.
Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.
-Ovid, Ars Amatoria III  

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