Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Don't know much 'bout history" - Anatomy of an educational program

Do American Jews care about the Civil War? In a recent article in The Forward Jonathan Sarna says that they do not, and that they should. In the mid-19th century they certainly cared. The New York Times reports that Rabbinic leaders came out with public pronouncements about slavery, and their interpretation of the Torah's view on that subject.

But what does an educator do if he wants to teach this material to his students?

When Shlomo Horwitz, director of Jewish Crossroads, wanted to develop a program on this topic, he turned to his virtual colleagues on the Lookjed list, asking them for sources on Civil War era slavery as well as how Judaism perceives the institution of slavery in the Messianic era.

Answers came in quickly. From Bar-Ilan University, Adam Ferziger, associate director of the Graduate Program in Contemporary Jewry suggested Marc Saperstein's work, which led to an off-list email correspondence with Professor Saperstein (who both recommended his own Jewish Preaching in Times of War, 1800-2001 and offered links to various sermons, like this one).

Regarding slavery in Messianic times, Shalom Carmy recommended reading Rav Kook's letters on the subject and Elli Fischer pointed to a series of Virtual Bet Midrash lectures that focused on these letters.

Ultimately, Shlomo Horwitz put these - and other - suggested resources together to create an educational program. He also developed a short podcast where he shared some of this material.


1 comment:

  1. I certainly commend and celebrate a discussion of slavery based on Jewish sources. I think that ought to go without saying.

    I would like to note, however, that the Civil War was not about slavery, per se. The South seceded over slavery, yes, but Lincoln himself, in his letter to Horace Greeley, said that the Civil War was not about the slavery that inspired the secession, but was rather about the secession itself. Lincoln's reports to Congress indicate much the same. By contrast, Thomas Jefferson's Kentucky Resolutions and James Madison's Virgina Resolution and Report of 1800, all collectively known as the Principles of '98, present a view of the Constitution diametrically opposed to Lincoln's. According to the principles of Jefferson and Madison, the Civil War was an unconstitutional act by Lincoln and was an unjust war of aggression. Personally, I believe a truly Jewish view would be similar to the view of James H. Thornwell (a southern Presbyterian minister) in his "A Sermon on National Sins." There, Thornwell summarizes the "Principles of '98"-type interpretation of the Constitution, and the Biblical laws of being honest and truthful and keeping one's oaths and contracts, and says that these Biblical laws condemn the Union's violation of the Constitution and justify secession.