I believe that you learn a lot about a culture from its heroes. If you need evidence that the European High Middle Ages were murderous, brutal and primitive, look at the heroes of the age — they were warriors, not scientists, and so murderous that a healthy dose of historical revisionism is needed to maintain their positive image.
The Crusaders, for example, are celebrated, while the trail of Jewish blood they left across Europe is relegated to a footnote. To this day, statues in Ukraine celebrate Chmielnicki the Cossack, while modern historians engage in downward revisions of the appalling number of Jews murdered during the uprising he led.
At least we can say that today, butchers are no longer celebrated — at least not in the Western world. Nonetheless, the news headlines have been filled this week with the passing of three famous Americans, all from the entertainment industry. These are today’s heroes: actors, musicians, sports stars — people whose contribution to society is to give others something to think about other than their own lives. And meanwhile, entertainment figures are hardly good models when it comes to stable marriages, lack of drug use and other conduct.
Would the passing of a Nobel-prize-winning scientist be the topic of headlines for days? Would his death be memorialized with a moment of silence in the U.S. House of Representatives? Are these the examples we should be holding up for the next generation?
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org