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Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites its History

When the censors altered the truth

    Marc Shapiro
    Littman Library, £24.95

    This scholarly work is another significant accomplishment for Professor Shapiro, veteran author of several celebrated works on conflict between traditional Jewish and academic approaches to matters of truth and belief. It offers two ideas-based chapters circumscribing a fascinating - and for Shapiro, typically exhaustive - presentation of literary, photographic and political examples of self- censorship within the Orthodox world.

    Examples include the now-infamous disappearance of Hillary Clinton from a photo; the censoring of a view attributing to Maimonides a non-literal understanding of the binding of Isaac; and the erasure from a halachic work the view ascribed to the Vilna Gaon, that halachic decisors must maintain their independence even if that involves opposing a ruling of the Shulchan Aruch.

    Shapiro is not the first to evaluate this phenomenon, but his work is unique in that it offers a comprehensive, structured compilation of examples side-by-side with an evaluation of underlying motivations. This is a welcome development from his previous works, which offered less analysis. Shapiro's excellent analysis of whether historical truth is actually a value within certain religious frameworks will surprise many readers. Yet this introduces the work's dominant theme, explored in great detail in the final chapter - the deployment of historical material and classic texts to promote a religious narrative, effectively a redefinition of truth to some degree, across the Orthodox spectrum.

    Changing the Immutable is a fascinating and readable work, a touch polemical in places, yet a worthy addition to a modern Jewish library.

    Shapiro's analysis of whether truth is a value will surprise many readers

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