Article in English

From the Editor

Nira Nachaliel

Did it occur or did it not? “Were you there, or was it all a dream?” (to quote the poet Rachel). So we will ask ourselves in amazement after the period of lockdown and quarantine for COVID-19. And we are used to asking about myths, which are foundational stories in different cultures, including our own. But maybe that is not the right question, for if things really did happen just as the story tells, they are history and not myth. So what makes something a myth? Does it have to be a story, a legend, not actual and true? Or does our belief in the tale and having repeated it again and again convert it from history to myth? This issue offers a close look at myths in our culture—Zionist Jewish culture—asking what their meaning is for us today. Do we want to question their validity with sober and rational inquiry, or instead return to them and understand their function as directing us toward a unifying vision, toward meaning and toward proper actions that are reliant on the values that they reflect and imbue in us? The articles in this issue also ask what we should do when we see a gap between those values and our values today. When we chose this theme for the present issue of Mitzpe, we were joining in on the observance of the centennial of one of Zionism’s strongest myths, the story of Tel Hai and Trumpeldor’s statement, “It is good to die for our country,” the myth that has been shattered again and again. We never imagined that we would be plunged into the struggle against the new coronavirus, a plague that echoes, for us, events on a mythic scale. COVID-19 is actually happening. It is no myth, but we may yet see myths created around it, starting with myths about its vast scope and its powerful worldwide repercussions and ending with “tales of heroism” about mutual assistance, connections with elderly parents, violations of orders, perhaps even martyrdom by such acts as prayer with a minyan even when it was banned, and so on.

At times like these, we again ask to what extent science and rational inquiry provide a response to our needs, especially in times of crisis, and how to decide what should be done and what should not be done. The Mishnah, in Tractace Ta‘anit, addresses the topic of proper behavior during various and sundry times of trouble, from droughts to epidemics. It sets out rules for when one must issue a warning, and when one must declare a fast, and it describes a situation of curtaining social and economic life in their myriad aspects. In the wake of the Mishnah, the Talmud cites this statement: “When the community is in trouble let not a man say, ‘I will go to my house and I will eat and drink and all will be well with me’” (b. Ta‘anit 11a). During this coronavirus pandemic, withdrawal from contact with one’s community is precisely what is needed, with presence in public spaces considered a lack of consideration for others.

Everything has been turned upside down. Even so, we seek not to distance ourselves from our community, from you. The topic of myth too we hope to shake out and turn upside down in this issue – from myth, through examining and shattering it, to the search for it today.

Enjoy your reading!

Nira Nachaliel is the Coordinator of pedagogy and writing at Hannaton Educational Center

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