Thursday, August 23, 2007

Embellishing A Story About The Degel Machaneh Ephraim?

Rabbi Tal Zwecker recently brought to my attention that Yair Weinstock's book "Tales for the Soul - Volume 5" includes a curious story about the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. The first page of Yair Weinstock's story "En Route to the Chupah" claims that the Baal Shem Tov attended the Degel's wedding, that the wedding was held in Sudilkov, and that the Toldos Yaakov Yosef acted as the mesader kiddushin.

While I was initially amazed at all these details, I quickly consulted my research about the Degel's life and decided that Weinstock's details were simply embellishments in the same vein as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's story "Moishele the Ganev II".

The Baal Shem Tov passed away in 1760 when the Degel was 12 years old. The 1763 census of Polish Jewry notes that the Degel, then 15 years-old, was married and living with his wife Yetel in Mezhibuz. And, it was not until 1780, when the Degel was 32 years-old, when he moved to Sudilkov.

While it was certainly possible that the Toldos Yaakov Yosef acted as the mesader kiddushin at the Degel's wedding, this is appears to be an unsubstantiated claim since I have never come across such information in all the sources and stories I have seen about the Degel's life.

I would curious to contact Yair Weinstock to find out more about the source of his information for his story "En Route to the Chupah". According to my information, Sudilkov most famous wedding occurred when the Meor Einayim traveled to the shtetl to attend the wedding of his grandson to Degel's granddaughter.


At August 23, 2007 at 10:25:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

I have a general comment that may not apply to this case:

Some old and new stories of this type (or details within stories) that come down to us really are urban or rural...legends! We often hear disclaimers like "it could have been true based on that person's ways" or "it has a message for us anyway", but we should still try our best to distinguish historical truth from fiction.

The legends (presented in books, magazines, papers, newspapers, talks, Shabbatons...) often appeal to us in the Orthodox community even if we know about their fictional aspects.

However, today there is a large group of other Jews ripe for kiruv that are greatly offended when we push feel-good stories that have no credibility. When details of a legendary story are discredited, there is a whole wrecking crew of skeptics or worse out there who gleefully tell the potential kiruvees the news. Such activity is a mainstay of many easily accessible blogs. So we all have very good reason to check the facts to the best of our ability before taking a story public.

At August 23, 2007 at 10:28:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Excellent point, Bob.

At August 23, 2007 at 11:08:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

then, there are different levels of stories...if a story has meaning for you, if it helps you, if it resonates in your soul, your spirit, then there is a validity, personally for you that you must know how they say: never let the 'facts' get in the way of a good story. we can understand this also on different levels. whose facts? toward what end?
different levels of perception, meaning and doesn't have to be only one approach.

At August 23, 2007 at 11:14:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

I was not not talking about fiction with a moral that represents itself as such.

At August 23, 2007 at 11:15:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Too many "nots"!

I meant ...was not talking...

At August 23, 2007 at 1:34:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if it's the same Weinstock, but there is a series of story books compiled by a guy named Weinstock, and he accepted any chassidic legend as printable. I recall that many stories were based in origin in Kherson geneiza and other similarly dubious sources.

At August 23, 2007 at 2:58:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's my point: we must have an awareness of various levels of understanding stories. it's not a distinction between fiction etc. sometimes, yes, we must strive for historical accuracy; but, we can also value the meaning a story has for us.


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