Adopted January 14, 2021
Confederate monuments have re-emerged in our time as staging grounds and rallying points for white nationalists’ intent: strengthening and normalizing white supremacy in the twenty-first century. In 2017, for example, a Robert E. Lee memorial in Charlottesville was used as a stage for hateful and racist rhetoric that resulted in chaos and violence. The manner in which these divisive symbols are idolized also conflicts with Jewish values. When symbols are viewed as more important than human lives, we have crossed into the practice of idolatry. Torah teaches opposition to avodah zarah, idol worship, and holds idolatry as an extraordinary sin.
In the case of Confederate Monuments, these idols are inextricably intertwined with historical efforts to promote and protect white supremacy. Most of them were not erected immediately after the Civil War, but in the 1890s and early decades of the twentieth century. Often placed on courthouse lawns and other highly visible public areas, they were part of a larger effort to strip African Americans of power through lynching, disenfranchisement, and segregation. Organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy worked with segregationists in Congress and state legislatures to fill the American landscape with monuments honoring the “Lost Cause” and memorializing soldiers who defended the “Anglo-Saxon civilization of the South.” Proponents intended the monuments to send a clear and powerful message about the subordinate role that, in their view, African Americans were supposed to play in American society. Another wave of Confederate memorializing came in the 1950s and 1960s as part of what white Southerners called their “massive resistance” to the Civil Rights Movement, largely through the Confederate Battle Flag.
Our Jewish community includes Black and brown people who are directly targeted by such hateful symbols. We have also long condemned symbols of oppression in any context. In in our 2005 Resolution Concerning the Confederate Battle Flag, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) affirmed that, “The Jewish people know all too well the sting of bigotry, oppression, and slavery triggered by powerful symbols of hate. We will always feel a spiritual kinship to those who suffer under the yoke of oppression and persecution, and together we will work to see that justice is served for all God’s children.” We, as a Central Conference, called for the removal of these symbols. Our understanding of this affirmation is grounded in the ethics learned from Jewish enslavement in Egypt. In Exodus 22:20, we read, “You shall not wrong nor oppress the stranger in your midst, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Protests against racial injustice are flaring again, as the nation continually fails to reckon with the impacts of historic and ongoing systemic racism. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated, “Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings.” Heschel reminds us that we cannot afford to stand by as vulnerable voices are constantly overwhelmed by fear, prejudice, and animosity. We can no longer allow the idolization and defense of Confederate monuments to prevent the necessary steps towards a national reckoning with ongoing racial injustice.
Fulfilling this commitment also requires us to acknowledge how we as rabbis can teach and embrace the complexities of history with accuracy and compassion. Removing hurtful and hateful symbolism from our lives is not an effort to erase history. Rather, it is to see that painful history in all its complexity. As rabbis, we should embrace all affected by this issue and address the traumas of the past and present, so that healing can occur in the future.
Therefore, the Central Conference of American Rabbis:
- Reaffirms our 2005 call to oppose the display of the Confederate Battle Flag on public property.
- Urges the removal of public monuments to the Confederacy, and recognizes that these were built as markers supporting the practice of slavery and ideologies of white supremacy.
- Resolves to educate our membership and the communities we serve on the history surrounding these monuments, their relationship to white supremacy, and the proper place for these monuments in continuing education about slavery and white supremacy.
- Commits to ongoing assessment and evaluation to strengthen our own institutions’ efforts to combat implicit and explicit bias and promote racial equity.
CCAR Resolutions Committee
Rabbi Rachel Greengrass, Chair
Rabbi Mona Alfi
Rabbi Kenneth Carr
Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi
Rabbi Debra Landsberg
Rabbi Bradley Levenberg
Rabbi Joseph Rosen
Rabbi David Widzer
Rabbi Asher Knight, Adjunct
 Southern Poverty Law Center, “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy,” April 21, 2016 https://www.splcenter.org/data-projects/whose-heritage#words
 “I’ve studied the history of Confederate memorials. Here’s what to do about them.” By W. Fitzhugh Brundage Aug 18, 2017, 9:40am EDT
 Researching the veracity of Eugene Robinson Stated on June 21, 2015 in comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: The Confederate battle flag in South Carolina was first flown at the statehouse in 1961. “It was flown as a symbol of massive resistance to racial desegregation.” As covered by Politifact. By Anna Bruzgulis, June 22, 2015. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2015/jun/22/eugene-robinson/confederate-flag-wasnt-flown-south-carolina-state-/