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    The historian’s lament – Tol’dot

    The title of the sidra is Tol’dot, which means “generations” or “history”.

    It is one of my favourite sections of the Scriptures, not necessarily because of the story but because if there were a Historian’s Day on the model of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, this would be the date I would choose.

    I am a historian – not, perhaps, a professional, but a serious amateur. Unlike Henry Ford, I do not airily brush aside the subject of history and call it “just bunk”.

    Ford knew as little about history as I know about cars – no, even less, since despite not being a motor mechanic I have a licence that says I am qualified to drive cars.

    But it’s not because of Henry Ford that I called this little essay “The Historian’s Lament”. It’s because of computers, the Internet and social media.

    Once upon a time life was easier for historians. They had ready access to so many sources of historical material.

    An ancient coin, a 19th century laundry bill, a faded photograph, a wad of lawyers’ letters tied up with pink string, a brittle old newspaper, a much altered family tree on the fly leaf of a Bible, a diary fragment in spindly handwriting, a collection of old pamphlets on a long forgotten controversy, and books, books, books: they could send a historian into raptures.

    However, nobody keeps these things any longer. Communications are almost always electronic and generally get moved into a person’s trash box without delay or ceremony.

    The print media are declining, books are deemed irrelevant and are often too expensive and bulky anyhow, and we historians don’t know how where to go for raw material when we want to trace, record and interpret events, movements or ideas.

    Maybe one day we will find a solution to our problem, but in the meantime please spare a thought for us.

    If you began by nominating a Shabbat in our honour it would already be such an encouragement!

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