Egregious Mistakes Regarding Jewish Practice from National Geographic
by: C. Breisch
Two elderly Jews were sitting on a bench in Hester Street Park on the lower east-side, fiercely debating one of the important issues perpetually debated on those benches. As the debate turned fiercer and fiercer, one exasperated Jew turned to the other and yelled, “I am not telling you a bubbe maaseh from chumash, it is the forvetz [forward] that I am quoting!”
Readers of this blog have had their rabbinic emunas chachamim tested on many occasions. But at least we have our “forvetz”s to trust and place our emunas chachamim in. But I am afraid that this may too be shaken.
They don’t come more trustworthy than the stolid National Geographic. Month after month photographers travel to the ends of the earth to teach us the pure unadulterated emes. In line with this wonderful trust, I bought their all-discipline reference work “The Knowledge Book: everything you need to know to get by in the 21st century”. It is compiled by over twenty researchers and over twenty academic consultants of the top universities worldwide [i.e. Dr Frick is the consultant for chemistry].
Out of curiosity I browsed through the two pages on Judaism [230-233].
Here are some chiddushim:
1] “According to orthodox Judaism ten adult males must be present during sermon”. [halavi!]
2] “Today, the Hebrew Torah is commonly recited within a sermon held in the local language.” [meturgamun?]
3] “In orthodox Judaism, a tefillin [prayer belt and jacket], …..are worn during prayer”. [what about a hat?]
4] page 232 has a picture of the first blatt of masechet chagiga, and is captioned: “This page of Talmud concerns genesis”
Kidding aside, this raises many troubling issues about the veracity of the more obscure historical facts presented to us. Very few people have the time and grit to double check a “scholarly work” presented by a man with impressive credentials. Much of history can only be reasonable conjecture built around a few tangible bits of evidence. If a person claiming to be one of the world’s experts on Judaism, obviously never stepped foot in a shul, reviewed by august editors, and receiving the chosamo shel National Geographic, can present such drivel, how does one trust the work of a lesser mortal?
I am reminded of the chazal about Shlomo Hamelech walking with Ashmedai, and they passed by a magician showing off. Ashmedai burst out laughing. When Shlomo asked him why, he replied, “This “magician” is telling everyone about his visions of treasures in faraway lands….whilst under his feet lays a great treasure!”
The National Geographic claims month after month to tell me about faraway lands and events billions of years ago. A twenty minute walk from their august headquarters sits an orthodox shul [Kesher Israel] and boy did they get it wrong.