Friday, August 5, 2016

A Traditional British Soldier

Which one of the following British soldiers is the most traditional?

Let's start with this guy, who is wearing a large dead animal on his head:


He's wearing the traditional bearskin hat and red jacket of the Queen's Guard. And his rifle has a bayonet! That all certainly seems very traditional.

But on the other hand, such an outfit only dates back to the grenadiers of the 18th century, who innovated such huge hats and bright jackets in order to inflict shock and awe upon their opponents. The earlier medieval British soldiers did not look anything like that. They looked like this:


That's much more traditional! He has the metal armor and the battle ax!

But, on the other hand, that was the optimal gear for fighting at that time. Traditionally, soldiers used the clothing and gear that would make them the most successful fighters. If you're fighting enemies with axes, then metal armor is great. But if you're fighting enemies with guns, you need more mobility. You also need weapons that can function at a longer range than an ax. And so perhaps the person following the tradition of British soldiers is the one who looks like this:


So which of these three is the traditional British soldier? Vote below!

Which of these three knights is the most traditional?
 
pollcode.com free polls

28 comments:

  1. I think you have, at the very least, demonstrated that the answer to this question -- what constitutes "traditional" -- is not a simple one.

    The other question is how important "tradition" is. For some people, it's everything. For people like Rav David Bar Hayyim (who derives his halachic and haskkafic opinions directly from Tanach and Gemara), it's almost nothing. The rest of us give it some weight -- some of us more, some of us less. It's a tricky issue.

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  2. One of my favorite books ever is "The Invention of Tradition by Eric Hobsbawn which takes a few 'ancient' traditions and shows how they are actually very new. (e.g. English Royal pomp and ceremony, Scottish Kilts, etc).. The book is serious, historical, academic and great fun. For years I have wished someone would write a book "The Invention of Jewish Tradition" * Because it would blow up some of our thinking about things that we think of as traditional, but clearly are quite new. But that too would miss the point, I think.

    The problem isn't, I think, what acts are or are not 'Traditional' so much as why we believe certain things are or aren't traditional. Why has our view of what is 'traditional' developed in this particular way, so that we think of things that are traditional that are not? and even more importantly: How is that we don't have a clear tradition of what is important to our tradition? How is it that our understanding of what makes up 'the tradition' can change so much? It's disturbing.




    * Yes, I know about Rabbi Sperber's Minhagei Yisrael. That's great, but there is so much more to do. And I'm hoping that Roni Weinstein's book about how Kabbala spread out from small groups to take over the whole Jewish world in the 16th and 17th Century (soon to be translated into English by Littman Library) will also be a part of this puzzle... but again - there's so much to do. And again, they only focus on acts, and not the absence of a clarity about what the tradition is. All we have (to paraphrase Rabbi Sacks) is an argument about what the tradition is about.. which is both good and bad..

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  3. I will argue for the Queen's Guard choice.

    Tradition refers to maintaining an earlier period's means, in contrast to more modern or more practical acts that fulfill the same goal more effectively or more efficiently. The word "tradition" is never used in the sense that you use in your description of the Contemporary Soldier - i.e., undertaking an entirely different action to fulfill the same end goal. The word is only applied to cultural norms that would not be maintained if we acted on the basis of pure practicality. Being theoretically "outdated" or "not modern" is essential to the definition:

    Traditional medicine: Outdated medicinal beliefs that do not work as well as modern medicine.
    Traditional clothing production: hand-sewn, not machine-made.
    Traditional values: Those that stand in opposition to newer values created by more "modern" people.

    Note that "traditional" does not necessarily carry a negative connotation, depending on context. Many consider standing up for traditional values to be laudable; traditional clothing production is often considered of higher quality, rarity, or desirability.

    Traditional is therefore partially defined by what it is not: Newer, more practical, more efficient, more explicitly suited to the goal. We don't "traditionally" breathe oxygen or drink water, because no theoretically-better alternative has arisen with which that tradition can be contrasted. (One of my favorite dad-jokes is answering "I'm hungry" with "In my family, we have a tradition called 'eating'".)

    The Contemporary Soldier cannot therefore be considered traditional because his means are radically different from the original, even if his end goal is the same.

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    As for the Medieval Knight: In my definition of "traditional" earlier I used the word "maintaining". There are no modern knights, and nobody enters combat dressed as one anymore. Most people who dress as knights in other contexts are wearing cliched costumes, not period-accurate armor that would protect them from a real attack.

    People who dress up as knights in the SCA, who are sticklers for period accuracy, can be accurately called traditional in their dress. But they are not going into actual combat as knights, while the Queen's Guard are still fulfilling the same function that their predecessors fulfilled (I refer to previous Queen's Guards, not other soldiers who wore that dress). So the knight is missing the half of the formula that the modern soldier fulfills, and vice versa: modern people dressed as knights use the same means, but do not achieve anything like the same goal. If there are people dressed as knights standing guard at important locations in the employ of the British government (there probably are) they are no less traditional than the Queen's Guard.

    Another point against the knights is continuity of tradition, which is important though not strictly required. People sometimes refer to "reviving an ancient tradition", but that tradition will necessarily be of lower quality (and accuracy, due to the difficulty in perfectly recreating ancient practices) than traditions that have not died and required revival. We don't speak "traditional" Hebrew in Israel, we speak modern Hebrew, even if speaking Hebrew at all can be described as "traditional". Which circles nicely back to my earlier point about traditions needing something more modern to oppose in order to be considered traditional.

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    Now, to bring the subject back to your previous post about charedim and traditional Judaism. Creating a new tradition in the same century as the Queen's Guard doesn't make it not a tradition. But while I said earlier that tradition is not necessarily a bad thing, it's not necessarily a good thing either.

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    1. ******************August 5, 2016 at 5:12 PM

      Yes, exactly. It's all about function.

      Although there was no tradition on kollel, I firmly believe that as people of the book there was a strong tradition of, excuse the language "stuffing ones head with as much torah as possible.". Whatever philosophy this blog espouses about whether practice or learning is preferred, facts on the ground every father and mother hoped that his child will be a talmid chochom or talmida chachomo (until of course standards started to slip). The Friday night candle lighting tefilla which prays for that (as well as massim tovim, I should add) is very old.

      It so happens that nowadays for economic or whatever reasons, kollel can perform that function in a way that was never dreamt of 100 years ago. And many more people are able to know torah in a way that was not possible 50 years ago.

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    2. You "firmly believe"? Most Jews were struggling to survive.

      And no one had hopes of their daughter becoming a "talmida chachama." The idea just didn't exist. That's your modern point of view creeping in there, as if it hadn't already.

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    3. I don't think he meant talmidei chachama. I think it's a typo and he meant aidele maidele

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  4. ******************August 5, 2016 at 11:42 AM

    All they have changed, in essence, is their uniform and their weapons. I am not sure why you are considering uniform and weapons as being related to tradition at all.

    You need to be a little less superficial. Traditions go far deeper than that. I do not have the time to google "values and beliefs of the British Army" but I suspect those will not have changed over the last few hundred years as radically as you would like.

    Chareidim and others that you bash have never claimed that they are traditional merely because of clothing. That is not what Rav Avrohom Gordimer meant and you know it. He knows full well that the chareidim of today do not wear the same cloths as earlier generations. You are distorting his meaning to demolish it. Big deal.

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  5. All they have changed, in essence, is their uniform and their weapons. I am not sure why you are considering uniform and weapons as being related to tradition at all.

    You need to be a little less superficial. Traditions go far deeper than that. I do not have the time to google "values and beliefs of the British Army" but I suspect those will not have changed over the last few hundred years as radically as you would like.

    Chareidim and others that you bash have never claimed that they are traditional merely because of clothing. That is not what Rav Avrohom Gordimer meant and you know it. He knows full well that the chareidim of today do not wear the same cloths as earlier generations. You are distorting his meaning to demolish it. Big deal.

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  6. You forgot the truly traditional Briton running around in a loin cloth trying to fight Roman soldiers with a spear.

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  7. "Traditional" all depends on your political viewpoint. For the CC gang, "mesorah" means Judaism the way they practice it now is how it has always been. Rashi learned from a Vilna Shas (only it was missing an inner column which he helpfully filled in). Rabbi Yehuda haNasi wore a black gartel over his suit jacket. Moshe Rabeinu wore his best shtreimel to Har Sinai. For this group the only way to justify the current external demands of clothing, behaviour and hashkafah for their followers is to pretend that these demands have always been the same. Otherwise you get the annoying question: "It's 35 degrees (centigrade) outside. Why do I have to wear three black layers and a black fur hat?"

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  8. ok ok ok. You made your point. The bottom line is "Traditional Judaism" refers to those who adhered to the 613 (or more) Mitzvos and in their own minds at least felt that they were 'observant'.

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  9. R. Dr.Slifkin,
    R.Gorblimey is irrelevant to you(and me).
    Why bother? I don't.

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    1. I don't think R' Slifkin is considering only himself.

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  10. There were no "British" soldiers (in the national sense) in the medieval times nor a "British" army. In fact the whole idea of Great Britain as a nation state is not exactly "traditional". Which might just be evidence enough that the term "traditional" is fairly meaningless and totally subjective.

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  11. > such an outfit only dates back to the grenadiers of the 18th century, who innovated such huge hats and bright jackets in order to inflict shock and awe upon their opponents.

    IIRC, the hats were granted to the grenadiers as an honor after they defeated Russian soldiers who wore similar hats. The bright colors were a way to distinguish friend from foe on 18th and 19th century battlefields covered in smoke from black powder weapons. Red uniforms date from the early modern period and Oliver Cromwell's roundheads.

    You're asking whether the tradition is the exact form, or the principles behind it. I think the exact forms evoke nostalgia and in-group pride, and is what people usually mean when they say something is "traditional." But so what? Trying to fight a modern war in plate armor wielding a battle axe is ridiculous. And even the guard, dressed to evoke nostalgia, is holding a modern weapon.

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  12. Reminds me of a Penn and Teller episode where they remark that those people who recreate Hudini's escapes are not the true prodigies of Hudini. Hudini never recreated escapes. Its the guy who escaped from a washing machine who's really following in the footsteps of Hudini. In the same way it's the modern British soldier who can be truly said to be emulating previous generations of soldiers. If they were around today they would not dress like the Queens guard.

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  13. By the way, what was the uniform of the king's ceremonial guard outside westminster or kensington castle?

    That would be the correct poll question.
    The photo you show is probably the battle uniform in certain circumstances.

    The soldiers who captured the empire probably didn't wear the pictured helmet and ax. Maybe occasionally to maintain the empire, under certain circumstances.

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  14. The only usefulness of this question is that the Queen's Guard is not the correct answer. I hope this was the intention of this poll.

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  15. I heard someone quote Rav Schachter years ago as saying, "Don't do what your grandfather did. Do what your grandfather would've done if he were alive today."

    I often think about this line.

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  16. BTW: The guard at Buck House may be wearing a bearskin hat and red jacket, but his rifle (even with bayonet) is an SA-80, state of the art assault weapon - so should we conclude that we should throw out whichever part of "traditional" ceases to work?

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    1. Does that rifle actually work? I thought that the Buckingham Palace guards were purely ceremonial (just like the Queen's position itself is purely ceremonial).

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    2. Oh, it works. And they're very real guards, although I imagine there are all sorts of others present- regular soldiers, police, private guards, plainclothes people, etc. Sometimes units from other Commonwealth nations- Canada, Australia, etc.- step in, and their uniforms are not nearly as elaborate. The ceremonial guard is the Yeomen of the Guard (not to be confused, as Gilbert as Sullivan did, with the similar Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London) who are retired military people who are given the honor of walking alongside the monarch as an honorary guard. Those don't carry weapons, at least not modern ones, and wear uniforms that are (or purport to be) centuries older than even these.

      A better analogy are the Swiss Guard in the Vatican, who are very well trained, carry actual modern weapons (alongside some vintage ones), and wear uniforms that supposedly go back to Michelangelo but were actually designed in the early 1900's.

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  17. This does bring to mind the point that it's very easy to argue with charedim making this argument, as there's always someone a little more "traditional" than them. On charedism's own terms, chassidim have a much more solid claim to "tradition" than yeshivish people. (Not to mention English yekkes.) Much, much more. No one was wearing fedoras (which began life as a female hat) in Eastern Europe. At least some people were wearing a sort of shtreimel.

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    1. But Chassidism was an innovation in its own right. For example, why should Ashkenazi Jews all of a sudden start praying נוסח ספרד? And many other arguments that the מתנגדים had at the beginning of the Chassidic movement.

      There is a story that the Ba'al HaTanya was accosted by a מתנגד. The misnaged asked, "By what right did the Chassidim take for themselves such a lofty title as Chassidim?" (In many contexts we see that a "chassid" is someone who goes beyond the letter of the law, even more than a Tzaddik.)

      The Ba'al HaTanya replied: "The Chassidim didn't take that name for themselves. The misnagdim called them that, as a form of derision. If anything, they should have called the Chassidim "misnagdim", since the Chassidim were going against what was traditional in Eastern Europe. But they were given an inkling of ruach ha-kodesh (נצנצה בהם רוח הקודש) and they called the Chassidim, "Chassidim" and themselves, "misnagdim"."

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    2. Oh, of course. But the charedi world today is such that yeshivish people don't know, or won't admit, that Chassidism is an innovation.

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  18. As others have noted, the tradition is to adapt.

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  19. http://twi-ny.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/monty-python-and-the-holy-grail.jpg

    Now here is nice group of traditional British Knights!!!

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  20. typical israeli, obsessed with clothing

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