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From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel) Date: Wed, 24 Sep 1997 19:38:58 -0400 Subject: Truth and History Both Meir Shinar and Chana Luntz raise interesting points in Vol27n1 on whether history should be given in full detail or have deliberate omissions and coverups--the main purpose being avoidance of Leshon Harah. I would like to supplement this discussion with 3 halachic categories which may give a framework into which these comments fit: * The Biblical commandment(s) against LaShon Harah (Bad Talk, Slander) are well known (e.g. Deut 24:9, Lev19:16). By contrast there is no explicit Biblical commandment against lying EXCEPT in Judicial matters (e.g. Ex 20:7, Ex 23:1, Ex 23:7, Ex 23:8). True there is a commandment to IMITATE G-D--just as he is truthful so should we be--but the real Biblical emphasis is on avoiding slander not on telling truth. Indeed, the Talmud notes that G-d Himself 'lied' to avoid hurting someone elses feelings( Cf Gen 15: 12 vs 13---G-d omitted Sarah's statement 'He (My husband) is old..how can we have children'). In fact I once heard the Rav, Rabbi Soloveitchick, contrast Judaic values with Kantian ones: "In philosophy, truth is THE ideal. By contrast Judiasm has a concept of lying for the sake of Peace" Indeed Peace is one of G-d's names while Truth is only his seal. So my first point is that Peace and avoiding slander are the important moral norms to us not Truth. * My second point is that there is one place where Truth is important.. in Judicial process. I once heard Rabbi Berman ask the Rav after a Gemarrah Shiur, "But Rabbi Solveitchick, if most Jewish court cases are settled by compromise then why should we emphasize the Code of Law (The shulchan Aruch)." The Rav Responded, "Because a judge shouldn't effect a compromise till he knows the true verdict--the compromise must be built around truth". * My third point is that based on Ex 20:3, there are many prohibitions (one can find them in the Idolatry Laws in Rambam) prohibiting praising idolaters or giving them credit or allowing them to think that their god has done something for them. The above three principles now suggest a convenient approach to history: * PERSONAL INCIDENTS: If I go to a wedding I must say the bride is beautiful (even if she isn't). Similarly if I record the wedding in a history book I should so record it. Truth in this instance has no value in halacha. Shinar and Luntz might retort, "Well why include them in the history" and that is fine but I have no objection to putting them in * IDOLATROUS INCIDENTS: The application of the prohibition of praising idolaters to modern times depends of course on whether any legal authority considers people today idolators. All I am saying is that if they are idolators, don't praise them--if we don't consider them idolaters we should not take away credit from them * JUDICIAL PROCESS: This seems very specific. But I have in mind here ANY concept over which there is DISPUTE. Take Chana's example of learning secular studies (and the citations about "My Uncle--the Netziv"). Well in this case "secular studies in the Yeshiva" is an issue of dispute. It is not personal and it is not idolatrous ( I mean really...those who oppose it have to admit there are two sides). So my position would be that history must be completely accurate here. I believe this three fold approach: Lying for personal----hiding achievements of idolators----and being completely accurate in matters of legitimate dispute may help our understanding of all the controversies related so far Russell Jay Hendel; Ph.d.;ASA; RHendel @ mcs drexel edu