Don't erase the past, change the future!

This post has nothing to do with technology, so if you follow my blog for that purpose only - feel free click away.

This post is based on the original article in hebrew by Rabbi Chaim Navon.

Tonight is the commemoration of Tisha B’av, a horrible day in Jewish history, mostly remembered because it was the day that the first and second Temple were destroyed. It is part of my history. It is part of my nation’s history. Part of my religion's history.

We now live in troubled times. Demonstrators in the United States have attacked statues of Columbus, Washington and Teddy Roosevelt and many others. Toppled them, burned them, dismantled them, defaced them, destroyed them. Students at the University of Wisconsin also demanded the removal of a statue of Lincoln from their campus. “For him to be at the top of Bascom as a powerful placement on our campus, it's a single-handed symbol of white supremacy.”

In London, the statue of Churchill, which had been vandalized by rioters, had to be protected with iron partitions. Princeton University has announced that it will remove the name of progressive President Woodrow Wilson from all buildings on campus. Wilson was president of Princeton before he ran for the US presidency. When asked why he left the academic world, he said: I'm tired from trying to engage in politics all.

Do you know what is wrong with the current offensive actually against western history? The rioters and and those calling for these actions, single out unpleasant quotes from these heroes of history, usually quotes or actions against people of color, Muslims or Indians.

And if they said what they said, or did what they did, why shouldn't we expunge them from our gallery of heroes?

There are two common answers to this question, and neither of them are ideal.

The first, that victims of the past should forget history and move on. But as a Jew, I know that the past should never be forgotten. We still fast and mourn the destruction of the Temple, and we still loath those who persecuted the Jewish people throughout history.

We remember that we were slaves in Egypt, every year.

We teach this to our children, every year.

We remember that the Greeks and the Romans destroyed the temple, that they and many other nations tried to eradicate Judaism throughout history.

Every. Single. Year.

The second answer is, that we assume that people should not be judged by the moral standards of our time, but by the standards of their time, which were lower.

There are two assumptions that are wrong with this answer.

First, it assumes moral relativism, i.e. that there is no absolute morality, rather our norms depend on the times we live in.

Second, this answer assumes that our period is morally superior to other periods in history, and even this assumption seems to be debatable. There are quite a few 21st century norms, for example in the field of sexual morality and family relations, which would have aroused astonishment, anxiety and shock in our ancestors - and in my opinion will arouse astonishment, anxiety and shock in our great-grandchildren as well.

Why is the retroactive attack on heroes of history not just?

“For there is not one good man on earth who does what is best and doesn’t err” (Kohelet 7:20). This is true even of the heroes of the bible. The bible adores King David, but does not hide his sin in the case of Uriah the Hittite. King David was a great man, and a single sin does not overshadow his greatness.

The puritans of the 21st century attack the heroes of history on the basis of one and only one sin: racism against “people of color.” But there are so many other sins you could think of.

For example, if every great person who was guilty of anti-Semitism was to be erased from the collective memory, we would have to remove Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and many others from libraries around the world.

Quite a few cultural American heroes have also also guilty of anti-Semitism, including Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson, who complained that New York is a Jewish city, and in his words: “Hymie-Town.” And unlike Churchill, they cannot be credited with saving the world, when you actually weigh the influence they had on the humanity and its history.

I have no room for sympathy for mass murderers throughout history.

Nebuchadnezzar and Hadrian, Torquemada and Khmelnytsky, Hitler, Stalin and Mao, are all abominable people who have killed tens of thousands or millions of people, and here I have no qualms about erasing any sort of positive attitude towards them or their legacy.

But this is not the way to treat good people, people have occasionally failed with their actions or in their speech. Even if Lincoln and Churchill were not as righteous as King David, they were great people, who brought a huge amount of good to the world. Apparently they, too, sometimes did bad things, and sometimes spoke inappropriately about others. They were not perfect. They were humans, just like everyone else. Just like me, just like you.

Behind the current brutal attack on western history is the belief, that without changing history, it is not possible to change the present. That minorities will not be able to succeed as long as society glorifies historical figures who have not sufficiently valued these minorities.

I as a Jew think differently. Shakespeare was a great man, despite the fact that he wrote The Merchant of Venice. He provides the world with an abundance of literature and culture, that helped build our society.

How can we deal with the antisemitic stereotype promoted by Shakespeare and the likes throughout history?

Simple.

We don’t burn books. We don’t destroy statues.

We just prove them wrong.

We prove them wrong by standing up for what is right, by accepting our fellow man, and foremost, by learning from our past - how not to do things the wrong way.

We don’t erase it from history.

Removing symbols and icons, will not change the past.

Learning from the past and doing things differently from now on..

That WILL change the future.