July 27, 2011
A Make-Over for the Mad Monk
Almost every day, I am privileged to hear from authors who call my attention to their newly-published books. But none of them claimed my attention quite as forcefully as Delin Colón, author of “Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History.”
First, she is the great-great-grandniece of Aron Simanovitch, a Jewish man who served as the secretary to Grigory Rasputin himself. Second, she makes the audacious argument that the so-called “Mad Monk” was, in fact, “a healer, humanitarian, equal rights activist and man of God” as well as a benefactor of the Jewish people and a champion of oppressed women.
The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Rasputin, the priest who was spiritual advisor to the last tsar and tsarina of Russia, was a charismatic seducer who exercised an uncanny and unwholesome influence on the monarchs. He is commonly depicted as an illiterate who loved to imbibe and refused to bathe, a compulsive ruiner of virgins who used his hypnotic powers and the privileges of the priesthood to carry out his seductions.
His moral crimes aside, however, it was his reputed interference in matters of state that prompted a gang of Russian aristocrats to murder him. Rasputin was famously hard to kill — he survived a massive dose of poison, several gunshots, and a brutal beating before finally drowning when his battered body was sunk in the Neva, or so goes the stories that have long been told about him.
Colón rejects “the outrageous rumors perpetrated by a bigoted, small-minded, self-absorbed society,” including the “debauchery, sins, or crimes” that were commonly charged against him. She is wholly uninterested in the Grand Guignol that accompanied his murder. She is more interested in what Rasputin did in life.
“The people Rasputin helped – the underdogs of society, the Jews, peasants, and poverty-stricken were not in a position to speak up or even to be believed,” she insists. “The long perpetuated image of Rasputin is of a man who committed evil for the sake of evil alone. Naturally, the largely anti-Semitic aristocracy would think it evil to champion the cause of the oppressed Russian peasants and especially the Jews.”
Among her sources is the memoir of her own distant relative, Rasputin’s personal secretary, and she concedes that his account has been impugned by historians “due to the inclusion in his memoirs of bizarre court gossip and exaggeration of his own importance in the court.” But she insists that his regard for Rasputin is supported by the historical record, and she makes an earnest and plausible case in the pages of her book that he was not the monster that his enemies made him out to be.
Russian history provides us with enough real monsters to make even the storybook version of Rasputin seem like nothing more than a villain out of melodrama. According to Colón, however, he was not even that.
Copies of “Rasputin and the Jews” are available for purchase at Amazon.com
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve.