Central Conference of American Rabbis Resolution on Censoring American History

February 15, 2024


We are a people for whom history endures. As students of history, we recognize that the past shapes our identity and our values. Looking back, we celebrate joyful moments, but do not hesitate to grapple with the dark and painful ones. As a Jewish people, we have lived in many different places throughout history—in the Land of Israel and in diaspora. We have both impacted and been influenced by each place and era in which we have lived. Like the Israelites carrying the shards of the broken tablets alongside the unbroken tablets of the commandments,[1] we carry the difficult and even shameful moments of our history and the histories of the lands in which we dwell with us as we journey into the future.

Torah is the foundational story of the Jewish people. We see our destiny in Torah, and we embrace an obligation to honor and remember the whole story. We include our triumphs and failures, blessings and curses, finding wisdom in each episode. Our ritual of reading through the entire Torah each year encourages us to face difficult memories of our past and how they have contributed to defining the Jewish—and, more broadly, the human—experience.

This honest confrontation with our history is clearest when facing our people’s gravest sins. The Book of Lamentations teaches that our people suffered the destruction of the First Temple as a punishment for departing from God’s way. Nevertheless, Lamentations concludes with optimism. Acts of t’shuvah, repentance, lead us back to a life of conviction, wherein we can reconnect with our heritage and God to feel as empowered as we were when at the height of our spiritual strength.[2] The Book of Lamentations invokes a harsh lesson of failure to hasten reflection and repair.

Our rabbinic sages also emphasize the imperative to learn from our failures in their recollection of the Bar Kochba revolt against Roman rule in second century Judea. The Rabbis portray Bar Kochba, the self-proclaimed messiah, as being destructive and irrational, falling victim to delusions of grandeur and paranoia. Although he attains praise for his strength and bravery, improper judgment leads to his downfall, and ultimately, brings about great suffering to the Jewish people.[3] 

These purposeful teachings are at the forefront of our thoughts as we confront contemporary attitudes toward American history and how we empower future generations to ensure the well-being of our country.

In 2022, the College Board proposed a multidisciplinary Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum. The Florida Department of Education subsequently rejected the proposed curriculum. The College Board then resubmitted its curriculum, stripping certain materials from qualified authors and academics who teach subjects such as the Movement for Black Lives, reparations theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism.

This approach is not unique to Florida, as other states and communities contemplate similar avenues to discard crucial historical milestones and perspectives. We find the attitudes behind this censorship discriminatory, contrary to our values of fully comprehending our nation’s history. Those who make these objections to the curriculum in this manner claim to be removing incidents that draw shame upon our country. However, the omission of these stories is an erasure of painful moments of the past from which we can learn to shape a better and more just future.

Often, voices lifting these painful moments come from members of marginalized communities who have had to fight for human dignity in our nation. Facing embarrassing periods of injustice and cruelty—whether mass murder and dispossession of Native American Indians, slavery and Jim Crow, quotas limiting minority students in higher education, gender inequality, or discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans—grants us opportunities to appreciate the fullness of the American story. We acknowledge a great deal of discomfort in this confrontation with history. The American journey has included grievous sins, some of which leave scars that have yet to heal and wounds that repeatedly reopen in a divisive political atmosphere. Appreciating the truth of the American experience can build our resilience as citizens concerned for our nation’s future. Exposure to moments of shame ensures continuity for the American experiment, proof of our attention to the past, as well as our commitment to build a better future.

WHEREAS some American political leaders and their supporters are deeply engaged in an effort to suppress voices of members of marginalized communities who seek to share the truth that they have had to fight for human dignity in our nation; and

WHEREAS no person, nor any nation, is unblemished; and

WHEREAS the study of history is a core Jewish value (zachor, remembrance); and

WHEREAS public education should allow students to engage vulnerable and historically oppressed peoples from a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, primarily from their own voice;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

Supports access to a variety of public-school instruction without politically motivated governmental intrusion; and

  1. Calls upon governmental entities to cease attempting to indoctrinate students by erasing or downplaying some of America’s greatest flaws; and
  2. Demands that American history be taught in its fullness, with attention given to the work of qualified academics and historians, significantly including members of historically marginalized communities.

[1] Bava Batra 14b.

[2] Lamentations 5:21.

[3] Richard G. Marks, The Image of Bar Kokhba in Traditional Jewish Literature: False Messiah and National Hero (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 35.