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Jewish Role in History

01/23/2019 09:23:08 AM


Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

I’m always wary of Jewish books that promote what I like to call the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” version of history. By this, I mean books that purport to promote a "new and previously unrecognized/significant historical role" that Jews played in a major historical event: as if to say that without Jews, the event would have never happened.
This is of course, surely not the way history is meant to be read nor understood. I remember taking a Jewish history class with Dr. Seth Schwartz, at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in which began with a quote from a Roman historian writing about the cataclysmic years of the Jewish revolt leading into the moment the Second Temple was destroyed. “All is quiet in the empire," he wrote.
“Quiet?!” We all shouted. “That couldn’t be possible!” we all argued. It turns out, pointed out Dr. Schwartz, that what was quite significant for Jews living in the period was not so significant to the rest of the world. Just like that, we were encouraged to think about life in a greater context.
This week, I finished reading a book called Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom--and Revenge. The book itself possesses fascinating, untold stories about Jews (especially conversos), some of whom dabbled in piracy. However, as I read through the book, I couldn’t help but think that the author wanted me to believe that the Jews of this era were so significant to this narrative that there would have been no pirates or Carribean without Jews. I am exaggerating, of course, a little: but you get the idea. I suspect that we'd still be swooning over Johnny Depp had Jews not been in the picture.
As we go into Shabbat, I believe there is a valuable lesson to be seen here about the way in which each of us perceives ourselves. On some level, we possess an overvalued sense of our own importance when it comes to the space we occupy. We say, “there could be no social group without me,” or, “there would be no X without my presence.”
For some, this may be accurate. But for the rest of us, I suspect, if we were to ask someone else about how they viewed "us," we would expect to get something entirely different. We are indeed the sum of many, collective, snapshots of us.
As we receive the Ten Commandments, may this Shabbat be one of both humility and reflection as we ponder our role in God’s world.
Wed, July 17 2019 14 Tammuz 5779