Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

By Peter Y. Medding | Go to book overview

Zionism, Israel and the Middle East
Nachman Ben-Yehuda, The Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in
Israel
. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. xxi + 401 pp.

Societies are held together, in part, by common myths about the nature of their origins and important events in their past. Myths are not necessarily false, although they aren't necessarily true. They are a selective recounting of a real or putative history. They are unlikely to integrate a society or to transmit a message of social consequence if they are believed to be false, but by paying too much attention to their factual veracity one loses sight of their significance. Indeed, important myths themselves undergo changes as the society or even segments of the society reinterpret their meanings and transform their narratives in tandem with other social changes.

In periods of nation-building, myths are especially important. The cultural elite dedicated to the task of nation-building is likely to be especially active in their creation. Among some nations, the basic myth around which festivals, rituals and ceremonials are organized is almost entirely the product of a few imaginative and creative minds (Finland, which created its national myth around the work of one scholar who collected, rewrote, added to and adapted folk poetry, is an example); in other societies, the basic myths involve highly selective and distorted renditions of historical occurrences (Australia is one such example). Some societies rely on materials that are closer to historical realities. Jacob Katz has made much the same point in the context of Jewish history, Shmuel Almog and Yisrael Bartal in their discussions of Zionist historiography, Anthony Smith in the context of the debate over the origin of nationalism. However close or distant these myths may be from historical truth, they are likely to be challenged by scholars in the generation following the nation-building period. These scholars are no longer constrained by their predecessors' ideology. In addition, destroying myths may be quite helpful in establishing scholarly reputations.

Nachman Ben-Yehuda reports discovering in 1987 that the Masada myth seriously distorted existing historical evidence—evidence which itself lacked a firm foundation. This was something that was already well known to historians. In volume four of the semi-popular, semi-scholarly ten-volume series The History of Eretz-Yisrael, published in 1984, an article by Yisrael Levine (which Ben-Yehuda inaccurately attributes to Menachem Stern) provides a very brief and accurate image of what historians know about the fall of Masada. Levine, relying on previously published articles, devoted less than three full pages to the story of Masada, suggesting how unimportant the incident had already become in the eyes of Israeli scholars. Unfortunately, Ben-Yehuda, professor of sociology at the Hebrew University, only learnt of this a

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Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Studies in Contemporary Jewry *
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Symposium - Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century *
  • The Place of Ethnic Identity in the Development of Personal Identity: A Challenge for the Jewish Family 3
  • Notes *
  • Marriage, Americanization and American Jewish Culture, 1900–1920 27
  • Notes *
  • Making Fragmentation Familiar: Barry Levinson's Avalon 49
  • Notes *
  • The Economics of Contemporary American Jewish Family Life 65
  • Notes *
  • Children of Intermarriage: How “jewish”? 81
  • Notes *
  • What Happened to the Extended Jewish Family? Jewish Homes for the Aged in Eastern Europe 128
  • Notes *
  • Cohesion and Rupture: the Jewish Family in East European Ghettos During the Holocaust 143
  • Notes *
  • The “family-Community” Model in Haredi Society 166
  • Notes *
  • We Are All One Bereaved Family: Personal Loss and Collective Mourning in Israeli Society 178
  • Notes *
  • Essays *
  • Evangelists in a Strange Land: American Missionaries in Israel, 1948–1967 195
  • Notes *
  • Balfour's Mission to Palestine: Science, Strategy and Vision in the Inauguration of the Hebrew University 214
  • Notes 228
  • Review Essays *
  • Vichy and the Jews: A Past That is Not Past 235
  • Notes *
  • Mastering the Middle East: Israel in a Regional Context 250
  • Examining the Oslo Process: A First Cut 256
  • Notes *
  • Book Reviews *
  • Antisemitism, Holocaust and Genocide 265
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • History and the Social Sciences 281
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Language, Literature and the Arts 307
  • Notes 309
  • Notes *
  • Religion, Thought and Education 325
  • Notes *
  • Zionism, Israel and the Middle East 339
  • Notes 349
  • Recently Completed Doctoral Dissertations 351
  • Studies in Comtemporary Jewry XV 360
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