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April 07, 2010

The Great Deceit: How The Baal Teshuva Movement Was Spurred On By Lies

Vishniac Polish Rabbi How a fabricated history woven by one of the world's greatest photographers tricked hundreds of secular Jews into becoming haredi.

Vishniac Polish Rabbi

Roman Vishniac was one of the world's greatest photographers.

His pictures of pre-Holocaust Eastern European Jewish life (like the one posted above) were published as two books, the most well known of which, A Vanished World, helped spur the conversion of hundreds of young secular Jews to haredism.

But Vishniac lied.

It turns out those pictures were taken as a fundraising project for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which was trying to raise money to feed poor Polish Jews. Most of the poorest Polish Jews were hasidic, and Vishniac's job was to take pictures of the poorest of them, along with pictures of elderly rabbis with flowing white beards.

The Joint wanted to tug on American Jews' heartstrings, and Vishniac delivered.

But Vishniac also took many other pictures while on that mission, pictures that show Jewish stores loaded with goods for sale, including oranges from Palestine, and Jews dressed in European finery, without traces of beards or sheitls.

Vishniac also lied about the circumstances of the pictures he allowed to be published – lies that made some of the subjects appear poor when they were not, and haredi when they were not.

And Vishniac himself was secular.

Alana Newhouse wrote an important piece in the New York Times Magazine on this and on the upcoming exhibition of Vishniac's work – an exhibition that will for the first time include pictures Vishniac censored.

Here are a few quotes:

The curator:

“The picture of the world I had recreated in my mind — the world my whole family came from — was actually from a commission to document only the poor and the Orthodox.” 
 
“It’s as if we took pictures of homeless people in New York and then the city fell into the sea, and 50 years from now people looked at those photos and thought, That’s what New York was.”

“What’s interesting to me is less Vishniac’s tendency toward mythology than the Jewish need to have those mythologies and the attachment they have to them, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Why are people so attached to the other story? The real story is so much better.”

Vishniac's editor:

“In the course of many hours working with Vishniac, it began to seem that he had become a mythmaker of his past — telling stories that were better than what really happened.”

Leon Wieseltier:

“Jews should be absolutely elated — and not at all surprised — to discover that Jewish life in Poland was like human society anywhere, in that it contained all the human types and all of the human experiences. Will they resent being deprived by the full historical record of the holy beards and the mystical sparks, or will they have the wisdom to say, ‘Good, they were blessedly like all of us’?”

Vishniac remains a seminal photographer. But his lies unintentionally lured and ensnared many Jews – including me – in the worst haredism has to offer.

I don't think God will forgive him for that.

The entire New York Times article as a pdf file:

Comments

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So let me get this straight. Your premise is that secular Jews became Orthodox mainly due to a bunch of photographs?

ROTFLMAO. Please tell me this is a belated April Fool's joke.

"Vishniac remains a seminal photographer. But his lies unintentionally lured and ensnared many Jews – including me – in the worst haredism has to offer."

So you were lured into haredism by some pictures?! Are you really that gullible? And if so, how could any rational person trust a word you say now?

Please read the article. People were lured by emotion. Since when is emotion always rational. Thank you Shmarya for an interesting link.

Shmaryahu,this confirms it you are criminaly insane,do you realy believe for one moment that someone became a bal tshuvah just by looking at his pictures?
Shmaryahu,please pack it up and have yourself commited,and make sure you take your pills everyday

rabbi yaacov, you should read the article. The article is about Vishniac's subterfuge in publishing his pictures, nothing about the baal tshuvah movement. The stuff about Vishniac being responsible for hundreds of seculars becoming haredim is simply crap the Scotty dreamed up. I suspect that the only person who became a haredi because of Vishniac's pictures is Scotty himself. What is even more hillarious (or should I say sad) is that Scotty is not embarrassed to admit that.

I cannot imagine how people would look at photos of pre-Holocaust Poland and the USSR and become born-again ("Ba'al Tshuvah") Jews.

People tend to wax nostalgic about the "good old days" but very few would like to relive them, especially Poland, 1938, when even those Jews who were comfortable financially were always looking over their shoulder at the highly anti-Semitic Polish government.

I'd need verification of this revisionism before I'd label Roman Vishniac a liar.

His son, Wolf, was my microbiology professor at the University of Rochester, not Yale, back in the 1960's. He gave me an A when an A was truly a mark of achievement in the days before grade inflation. So I tend to regard the Vishniacs in high esteem.

The whole haredi world is about lies and deception. Well done Shmarya for highlighting just another one of the many lies which comprise that world. Everything that haredim do involves smoke and mirrors - their fancy dress, your money is good enough to support their yeshivot, but they will separate their children from yours if their skin pigment varies. It is absolutely amazing how they con people all the time. I recently saw in one of our local jewish newspapers in south africa that the local chabad school, torah academy, organized a cycle race with kids from a black school - there they were patting each other on the back - I know the characters personally and what a bunch of f--king racists they are - never mind the trash that is written in their tanya - but anything to raise money. If only those innocent and well meaning black folk that were conned into that event knew how they were being used - disgraceful.....

I understand Shmarya's sentiments and his right to express them.

Shmarya, in my book you are a solid 700 batter. Notwithstanding the grief you get, the blog is more than relevant.

That said, you struck out with this post. Real and sincere religious 'conversions' about are substance and not about style or images.

I am well acquainted with the main organisations here in the UK involved in Kiruv, never once have I ever encountered any lecture shiur or presentation refer to Vishniacs work!! Torah, as truth, sells itself, if presented authentically, without recourse to hysteria or histrionics! Get a grip, man!

I can easily relate to Shmarya's statements about many secular Jews being influenced by the pictures of the "lost world" and felt that they have to do something to replace it.

The joke crackers like Hayim, Successful Messiah ... sound like fools and without any insight on human psychology.

There is no doubt that these pictures influenced many idealistic young Jews towards Haredism.

i would love to see all the photos he took. It's probably interesting to look at.
I can guess people can feel nostalgic when looking at poor bearded fellows and have some sort of revelation that they need to be more religious and ultimately end up like that old man who looks so content in his rags.
But not everyone would think like that, especially if people knew more about their own ancestors.

Next article:

how thousand's of teenage male hareidim were lured -away- from Hareidism by photographers at Playboy and their "unrealistic" portrayal of secular women.

I am now scared to gaze upon the images of this book. I am clean shaven and don't wear a hat - will reading this book prompt me to grow a beard and put on a streimel? Maybe a disclaimer in the opening pages of this book is in order.

I looked at some of the images from the book via Google images and noticed that my fingers were making involuntary motion near my ear as if it was twirling an imaginary payos (ear lock). Scary stuff!

Only Shmarya could make this Great Leap Forward, from photos which were allegedly taken for fund-raising purposes to photos which turned ordinary secular Jews like myself into ranting, raving religious nuts.

Of course, Shmarya will never miss an opportunity, no matter how tenuous the relationship, to throw brickbats at Haredim.

The Haredim throw enough brickbats at themselves. They don't need Shmarya as a cheerleader for Haredi hating.

The reality, kiruvman, is that these books are ubiquitous in committed *American* Jewish homes (the main source of BTs and the money) - frummies, secular, everyone. It is part of the very fabric of American Jewish life that these are on coffee tables and on shelves next to either Feldheim books, Uris novels or Yiddish folktales. It builds up a pining for what WAS NOT - even in GERMAN Jewish homes, where Omma and Oppa looked and lived NOTHING like the AusJuden in the pictures. and here's a fine sample of UK Kiruv revisionism;

"...rabbi [Rosenblatt] blames rising intermarriage squarely on the Reform and Liberal synagogues, which have reinterpreted traditional Orthodox values for the modern world. 'Up to 150, 200 years ago, you had no secular Jews,' he says. 'I don't know when the rot started, but the Enlightenment brought in this concept of humanism, telling Jews they could live secular lives. The floodgates opened. And all these hitherto-Orthodox kids just ran.'
http://www.davidrowan.com/2005/02/sunday-times-magazine-jewish.html

The truth any Jewish history book, aside from Kiruv, will teach is that the sages wrestled with non-Observant THROUGHOUT Jewish history - alllll the way back to Tanach. That was a part of the greatness - that they lived and dealt with reality, not story picture books.

While I, too, dislike the blatant lies and deceptions propagated by kiruv workers, I simply don't agree that Vishniac's photos contributed in any way to their cause. Also found Shmarya's statement "I don't think God will forgive him for that." to be quite absurd.

a fine essay by a fine AND modern frum scholar, R. Yoel Finkelman on just this nostalgia;

http://www.springerlink.com/content/7716306l0wx474k5/

his reviews and coverage elsewhere on the net are worth hunting for.

I did not think of the baal tshuva movement when I read this post. I thought about the chumras that are propogated in the name of the published Vishniac photographs that the chareidim pass off as authentic and Torah-true. No doubt many of today's fashionable chumras were not observed in Europe. More Jews refrain from gebroks than ever before. Also, I really doubt that shtetl dwellers in the old country sold the chametz dissolved in their pots to nonJews. (They didn't sell their pots; and if they did, they weren't smart enough to realize that they would have to tovel their pots once they bought them back. Today's chareidim sure are clever!)

Pierre, your point is well-made, though, slightly flawed. There's a quantum leap from a coffee-table book, depicting an apparently exclusively frum pre-war society ( which any intelligent person knows was simply not true) to attributing the underlying methodology of the kiruv movement as being essentially fraudulent, or sold on a false historical premise. The Rosenblatt quote is indeed historically inaccurate. No coincidence that he is very much on the fringes of the movement, without wishing to belittle his work in any way. Truth has to be the paramount value in selling Toras Emes.

shmarya,

So you became a baal tshuva only cause of pictures you saw?

HOW STUPID ARE YOU?!!!!

Scot,

That's one hell of a blunder you made!!!!!

I likewise do not agree with Shamarya's characterization, since Aish no more distributes Vishniac books than they do needlework of dancing Chassidim that adorn said committed jews walls (nebach, even Sephardim!....). He IS accurate insofar as it is a style of revisionism and make nostalgic appeals shared by kiruv and the AMERICAN Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, and many other groups that tug on human heart strings for money and neshamot.

Aish is definitely mainstream in the UK, they work in the schools and there have even been Masorti lay-led 'counter-missionary' efforts in response to them;

http://www.miriamshaviv.com/jfs.php

Aish in Israel and Eyat have VERY strong UK presence (Eyat is 80%), as a result of Aish branches and rabbis. this is not news.

Also that rabbis historical statement is a very common formulation in kiruv circles; claiming people in your family close enough in time were religious makes a decision to be so that much easier - even if they actually drove to shul to help make minyan (and went to S-P hashgacha london restaurants at best ;-)).

The true horror of this is that the truth will never be public knowledge in the haredi world. Once sucked into that world, there is a terrific absence of news other than what the rabbis deem important. This qualifies as counter-productive and therefore forbidden.

If someone was so confused that entering a Jewish fairy-tale was their salvation, they were gravely misled and are now lost to the secular world. The Chareidim now hold these souls based on lies and falsehood.

As Yogi Berra once said, "The olden days ain't what they used to be".

Those of us of a certain age may remember a master photographer and documentary film-maker named Irv Rusinow, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rusinow's photos of hard times during the Great Depression did not inspire me to set up residence on Walton Mountain.

Shmarya has been strangely silent...

This is the second of two serious strikes against you and the stories you have exaggerated beyond logic. The first was the poorly reported story about the Zaka guys in Haiti, where you condemned them for taking time to daven on Shabbos while rescue efforts were under way. You made is sound as if they took 5 hour naps while people were screaming from under the rubble. Even Harry Maryles took you to task for exaggerating their time for prayer and the way you criticized them. Those guys were heros, and no one believed they did anything but work around the clock to save lives.

Now this...I'm a baal teshuva. And I'm very fortunate to have visited an actual exhibit of Vishniac's photographs that were on tour. I saw them in San Diego in about 1983, along with others by Dorothea Lange. I was an avid lover of photography and a huge admirer of Vishniac at that time...long before I became religious.

Sorry, but his images- no matter what their origin- did not inspire me to become frum. In my travels, I've never ever met anyone influenced to embrace Yiddishkeit simply by viewing a group of photographs, no matter who held the camera. In fact, If I DID meet someone like this, my presumption would be that they were mentally unstable.

The byline of this story and the argument you use to support it is razor thin and fallacious. I love your web site, but I wish you would be less reflexive in looking for obscure ways to criticize hareidim...it's easy enough to do so without grasping for straws.

God will not forgive him?

The God depicted by the Judaism I believe in is certainly more forgiving than the one you currently do.

Shmarya has forgotten one of the 10 Commandments, namely the one forbidding a mortal to take the name of God in vain.

I guess Shmarya thinks he's the Pope, with a direct pipeline to God. I got news for him: The Pope doesn't have a direct pipeline to God, and neither does anyone else.

Mr. Apikoros: No direct pipeline to God? Sorry to hear it. Do you have God's email address? Perhaps you you can Twitter or friend him/her on Facebook...

I am a lapsed BT and I stand behind Shmarya on this one. Books like this (which I bought in the early stages of my teshuva) and.. even Fiddler on the Roof (really!) had a profound emotional impact on me that led to my wishing to embrace what seemed to be a social utopia of a caring, if sometimes poor, close community. So Shmarya, you are right, at least in this one case.

Isha, Shmarya,

Please.

Adam, Eve, the Serphent, the Garden of Eden and a 5,000 year old Universe - that was all plausible and rational to you.

But the puctures! Why, how could they possibly try to betray your trust with staged pictures of Pre-War Europe???

Grow up and take responsibility for your decisions. You weren't born into it. You chose it - for better or for worse. Don't blame it all on a coffee table book.

Isha-

It pains me that you are a "lapsed BT", but with all due respect, is it the fault of books and music you referred to ? Isn't that a rather tenuous connection to build upon? It's like assuming you have the aptitude necessary to become an astrophysicist after scoring a 98 on your first algebra exam. If Vishniac's book- along with Fiddler on the Roof were both that potent, I would imagine there would be loads of non-Jews who would have converted as well! To the best of my knowledge, that has not been the case...

Bill, no one can deny the story of Adam, Eve, the Serpent, etc. I have an illustrated bible with pictures to prove it. So you can't blame Scotty for falling for the picture of the serpent and Eve. But the Vishniac pictures, those were frauds. Those Vishniac pictures seduced Scotty to become a messianic member of chabad for much of his adult life. It was only after he saw some ancient Christian iconography depicting Moses with horns that he finally woke up and saw the light.
Thank god for the statue of Moses with horns sculpted by Michelangelo. Without it, Scott may never have found his way back home.

Heck, I don't know of many orthodox Rabbis that would endorse watching Fiddler on the Roof, much less using it as a tool to lure in prospective ba'alei teshuva.

I must say that I think this one is a swing and a miss. Go 4 for 5 the next couple of days, and your average can get up to 770.

On a side note, my family is from Ostrovitz, Poland. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in 1921. My grandfather despised his native Poland till the end, bitter from the constant anti-semitism he and his family faced.

Dear Fred from Clifton,
The composite image of the frum world that I got from Vishniac's book, Fiddler on the Roof (itchie, there's a whole long story of how a girl raised virtually as a non-jew in middle america is affected by Fiddler on the Roof--in this I was quite blind at the time to the brutal reality depicted in the film that a girl with no money in her family does not get a good shidduch), and from Chabad all contributed to a kind of ecstatic, no-questions-asked embrace of what I expected to be a utopian life where all Jews loved and cared for one another in a tight-knit community--something that does exist in some frum communities but is sadly lacking in most of the modern world. That is what drove me to attempt to join this community, and to commit to what I understood to be Torah and mitzvot. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm and lack of family were exploited by unscrupulous "frum" individuals, and I ended up the victim of domestic violence, financial abuse, and outrageous traumatization in the hands of the bet din system and social work system, with nary a kiruv or chabad rav to help me. I ended up relying on a renegade rabbi who is widely reviled in the press and even on this blog, but who anyway was extremely kind to me during my travails. So the rosy pictures that led me into this seem to be promoted by the kiruv organizations and chabad, but they are not there for you if you later get into trouble. I had to construct a completely different social safety net for myself from outside of that world. It included everyone from haredi to secular. Kind, caring Chabad response and support is finally now arriving after five or ten years of this type of suffering, but I suspect it is mainly because they want my children for themselves--the jury is still out on the issue of whether they care about me as a human being or just about my children. I am still open to the prospect that they can redeem themselves, we will see.

Most human beings can be swayed by charm, lies, deceit and spin. False media is very powerful to those with a corrupted frame of reference. Eventually everyone will submit to truth.

As a wise sage once said...

"It doesn't matter what you think we will all know the truth and what is correct in the end".

The "end" mentioned here is obviously the Messianic Era. We are in the early days of such times.

The claim by Shmarya that Vishniacs pictures of poor Orthodox Jews in Eastern Europe somehow "snared" secular Jews into becoming Orthodox is almost as absurd as the "blood for matzos" libel.
Additionally, anyone with a very basic knowledge of history knows that not all Jews were poor or dressed in Hasidic dress.A large number was Hasidic and poverty was widespread amongst Eastern European Jews.
C'mon this blog can raise the level of its maturity and be a bit more sane!

Shmarya, you are starting to rant like Glenn Beck (who I respect on most things but not all). Not everything is a Hareidi conspiracy.
I have not seen those pictures at Kiruv seminars. Even if they were do you really think that the rabbis at Ohr Sameach or where ever knew actually background of those pictures? Well we know now.

How many people do you think became because of a bunch of fiddler on the roof pictures. Come on! you can do better then that....

This is getting monotonous; accusations are made, commentors clarify...critics don't seems to read the accumulated commments and criticisms and continue the accusations like their criticisms are new...I think these comments should be frozen, nothing new is going on here.

Every critic of Shmarya here are of practical down to Earth type of mind. Shmarya and Isha are talking about the idealistic young and not so young people who are not driven by practicalities. These types are driven to action by Vishniak and Fiddler. Practical minds can not understand it. That is Ok. Just stop your pointless sarcasm which is totally off the point.

Maybe Zero Mostel is burning in Hell for creating Haredim out of secular Jews.

I'll bet lots more people saw "Fiddler on the Roof," either on Broadway or in the movies, than looked at Roman Vishniac's photos, so if Shmarya's thesis is correct, then one can blame Zero Mostel for turning pragmatic secular Jews into crazy Hasidic ideologues who would obey a schmuck like Rabbi Elyashiv when he tells them not to buy bread from Christians after Passover.

There are many genres of photography. One should not confuse photography as fine art with photojournalism. Vishniac was a photographic artist. His photographs were meant to be aesthetic.
His photographs are no more lies than a renaissance painting of a biblical scene with European models dressed in the finest Italian renaissance style, on a Tuscan background is a lie.

You are right Barry. Unfortunately Vishniak presented his photos as documentary, not fine art. Therefore people did take them as documental portrayal of life in the pre-war Europe.

We just found out it is not documentary, but as you have said - fine art with no more commonality to reality then a spider man movie.

Presenting art as documentary is a deceit Shmarya is talking about.

The Great Depression still had its grip
on the world at that time. While there were
Jews in Poland who were financially affluent,assimilated,Poland was also the
heart of the Orthodox world of that time.
Conditions for many Jews/nonJews were
trying to say the least.
Regarding a book of pictures of Fruim Orthodox jews in Pre-World War Poland making
Jews in America observant,born again Jews
is quite a leap of fantasy.

Huh? I know of no BT who became observant out of nostalgia for any lost world whatsoever. The frum magazines and books I've glanced at over the years have been full of accounts of kiruv via Shabbos meals, singing, personal miracles, intermarriage busting, acts of kindliness, and so on and so on.

Shtetl nostalgia? I don't even know of anyone who owns the Roman Vishniac books in question. Our generation is barely aware of the Holocaust even, let alone of what went on before.

Mr. Apikoros,

"...crazy Hasidic ideologues who would obey a schmuck like Rabbi Elyashiv when he tells them not to buy bread from Christians after Passover..."

Hasidic ideologues don't follow Elyashiv, Lithuanian (i.e. Misnagdish) ideologues do. And the Elyshiv is saying not to buy bread from non-observant Jews after Passover; the last people he'd ban the purchase of bread from after Passover are Christians.

You don't understand the issue at hand, and you don't seem to understand much of what is discussed on this blog. You are so entirely clueless you should just shut it.

My bad, I meant to write non-religious Jews.

You can take you pilpul, asshole, and shove it. You're as big a putz as Elyashiv. But you don't have the excuse of being 99 years of age.

I got the book after I became interested in religion. I just took it as a beautiful portrayal of impoverished ultra-Orthodox Jews. It didn't make me want to be one. But honestly, Fiddler did have an effect on me. I just came to realize early on that there is more than one path to authenticity. The clothing of Polish nobility do not make the man. Maybe Fiddler inspired me subliminally to become a song parodist.

And you know what, putz, it's even stupider for this idiot rabbi to tell his followers not to purchase bread from Jews than it would be to tell him not to purchase bread from non-Jews. On a scale from 1 to 10, ten being the most idiotic, the latter is a 10, and the former is an 11. By your reasoning, and I presume the rabbi's, it's EVEN WORSE to drink non-kosher wine grown by a non-observant Jew than wine grown by a Christian. It sure says a lot about the degree of tolerance of other Jews within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish religion.

Remember, putz, it's always post-Passover. Every day of the year.

Fiddler on the Roof Cast - If I Were a Rich Man Lyrics


[Roman V.]
"Dear God, you made many, many photographers.
I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be a photog.
But it's no great honor either!
So, what would have been so terrible if my book made a small fortune?"

If I were a photog,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd photograph the bums.
If I were a shutter bug.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I had an account at B&H,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

I'd shoot a big tall book with pages by the dozen,
Right in the middle of the town.
A fine sewn binding with real cloth covers, you know.
There would be one long shot of a sad eyed rabbi,
And one even longer of a kid,
And one more about nowhere, just for show.

I'd fill my book with Yids and maidlach and scholars
For the town to see and admire.
Looking as pathetic as they can.
With each "cheap shot" Jews shed a tear
Which lands like a dollar in my pushka,
As if to say "Here lives a wealthy author."

If I were a photog,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a shutter bug.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

I see my agent, Herbie, looking like a rich man's flack
With a proper double-chin.
Supervising contracts to his heart's delight.
I see him putting on airs and setting up signings
Oy, what a happy mood he's in.
Screaming at the publishers, day and night.

The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them,
Like a Shmarya the Wise.
"If you please, Roman V..."
"Pardon me, Roman V ..."
Posing problems that would cross a paparazzi's eyes!

And it won't make one bit of difference if i answer right or wrong.
When you're on the bestseller list, they think you really know!

If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and shoot [pictures].
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I'd discuss the picture shoots with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.

If I were a photog,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a shutter bug.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

Lord who mad the blogger and the rabbi,
You decreed I shouldn't have an alibi.
Would it spoil some vast eternal photography?
If I were a wealthy man.

Interesting to see how one of the posters here who admits not observing shabbos married a non-jew(shiksa) has a whole say on what rabbi Elyashiv said or any other religious issue.what a joke

That's right. I admit I'm not particularly learned in Talmud nor in Torah. My formal Jewish education ended on June 9th, 1959, the day of my Bar Mitzvah.

I actually got a real education, with an advanced professional degree, and used it for purposes other than bobbing my head up and down while facing a wall and arguing over minutae.

One doesn't need to be educated in Torah to be able to identify a bigoted, intolerant, racist fool such as yourself.

You Haredim need to get a life.

I don't see the point as being that people were inspired to become BT's by looking at pictures. People become inspired for many reasons and once they become inspired they wish to aspire to what they perecive as a return to their roots. Hence, they look to nostalgia and external expressions of religion.

Many BT's and FFB's place an extreme emphasis on outward appearances which is, in my opinion, a travesty. People have lost focus on what it means to raise a child as a decent, caring and most importantly a produtive human being. What becomes more important is the facial hair of our children. We judge the piousness of our fellow by his external appearances, while we ignore, justify, excuse and spin his behavior.

The pictures in Vishniac and Fiddler seemed to portray a humanity that had become lost in the rat race of the techno-modern world. Nostalgia sets in, inside the soul, and imagines those people as been truly kind to one another. Aren't we all looking for love and lovingkindness and honesty? I could not see those things prevailing in the places I was--corporate America, the suburban sprawl, the computer age--the tender sweetness of humans living simple lives and caring about one another was a very rosy picture, and very attractive. That was art. It was not reality. I learned the hard way that--mostly--the reality of the frum world does not match those images. On the other hand, it is indisputable that there are individuals who live in the frum world who do sincerely embody those ideals.
I am disgusted by the tone of the discussion here. I wish you all would grow up and discuss issues with mutual respect.

Mr.A, you need to stop swearing and look at the issue at hand. Maskil's points to your mistakes and instead of learning you go on the insane attack. What for?

The issue at hand is who the hell is this rabbi to tell people whom to buy their bread from. What college of Jewish cardinals elected him Pope?

Yeah, I made a mistake and admitted it. But this putz (Maskil) told me to shut up. Let him come to my house in NJ and tell me that, to my face, if he has the cojones.

Why would anyone want to "relive" the holocaust? We should attempt to grow from our past, not relive it. I can't understand why someone would become religious based on pictures of shtetl Jews from 50- 100 years ago. But it says a lot about the mindset of the blog author. And dare I say instability.

In any case, please point us to links to see the pictures if possible.

The Rebirth of many of those souls that perished in the Shoa in secular homes and the strong desire to Torah Obsarvance led the strong BT movement,

and perhaps the visual of prewar Shtetl life did uncusciously have an affect on their souls and yearnings.

Yochanan Lavie -

GREAT Fiddler on the Roof parody song!! I got a good laugh!

:D

15-20 years ago Yeshiva Sh'or Yashuv gave out the book "A Vanished World" by Vishniac, (with the picture above on the cover), to those who contributed money to the Yeshiva. I know because they gave one to my father with a label pasted on the inside saying it's from them. I still have this book, because it was my father’s.

Whereas most Jewish books by secular authors do not make it into Orthodox Judaica/Book stores, Vishniac's picture books always have.

There is a large segment of ba'alei teshuva that are motivated to become religious based mostly on emotions. For them, books like Vishniac's make a huge difference. It may not be THE reason why someone becomes religious, but it certainly takes it's place among the many romantic reasons that propel some to religiosity.

And where it deceives in this case is the idea that in order to be "authentic" religious Jews, they need to join a religious group that dresses mostly like their ancestors did, as even a secular photographer showed through his pictures of "authentic Jews" of pre-WWII Europe. Vishniac wrote (and lied) about his tours of Jewish neighborhoods in Europe, saying that he worked on capturing images of Jews with his hidden camera. His stories tug on heartstrings, and why WOULDN'T someone who doesn't know any better, think that ALL practicing religious Jews of Pre-War Europe looked like that?

And for someone who is becoming religious, if that is the heritage of "authentic" religious Jews, then it would make a lot of sense to be moved by this. Especially since the Nazis destroyed 6-million of our ancestors and thus destroyed all this “beautiful” culture!

Anyway, I understand what Shmarya is saying.

Roman Vishniac's books tugged on my own heartstrings, and certainly made me believe that that was what all of Authentic Religious European Jewery looked like before World War II.

Roman Vishniac's lies can take their place on a long list of others who set out to make a buck on the backs of the poor and downtrodden. He had a chance to present history as it was, and chose instead to present it as lies that would earn him a lot more money than the truth.

Btw - I highly recommend the original NY Times article - it is excellent.

Those who say that Vishniac couldn't have used a hidden camera are mistaken.

Minox (a German company) made miniature cameras back then. Plus, you could buy extremely fast black and white film. You still can, of course.

These weren't lies. Most Polish Jews in the 1930's were quite poor, as were most people in the USA and in Europe.

Abra, Isha, "who knows?" and others:

How is telling someone that they are "chosen" by God, that there is an Old Man upstairs who looks after them 24/7, that they are a special (i.e. better) people, or telling a child that he or she is making God "happy" or "proud" of them -not- manipulative?

It's all manipulation. It's all "tugging at the heartstrings."

Look, I am really sorry for all those people who got suckered into becoming "BT." But give yourself credit for extricating yourself from it to one degree or another, and hold the story, the frail human condition itself, responsible - not the story book.

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