Jewish leaders see corrosive effects in slavery curriculum debate
stock image via Adobe.

The state curriculum making the case that some slaves may have later benefited from skills developed during their enslavement undermines the lesson of chattel slavery, rabbis say.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is fundraising on his fight with Vice President Kamala Harris over a new curriculum asserting that the enslaved benefited from skills developed during slavery — but Jewish leaders see an attempt to rob education of its core value.

The state Board of Education adopted a 216-page set of new state social studies guidelines last month that lit a national furor, amplified by DeSantis’ run for the White House.

The Underground Railroad and some slaves’ efforts to escape their condition is on the list of topics the curriculum calls for. But the line in the curriculum that requires teaching “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit” has two members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), concerned that Florida education officials are seeking to obscure history’s greatest lessons for the next generation.

“I find that absurd,” Rabbi Daniel Levin said of the notion that slaves were able to capitalize on the experience. “It would be like saying, ‘Well, you know the Holocaust wasn’t so bad. I mean, after all, Jews learned a lot of factory skills.’”

In the view of Levin, the senior rabbi at Boca Raton’s Temple Beth El, and Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz, the leader of Miami Beach’s Temple Beth Sholom, the state’s new approach as reflected in this guideline subverts the whole point of learning history.

It also confirms the fears these two members of the oldest and largest North American rabbinical organization had when the 2022 Legislature passed a law that prohibited instruction that makes people feel ashamed or guilty based on their race or ethnicity. The so-called “Stop WOKE Act” (HB 7) is now in litigation and under an injunction from enforcement in the state’s higher education institutions.

“My understanding of what the Governor and Legislature has set out to do is to eliminate the idea that anyone should feel bad about anything or responsible or guilty for anything that has happened in the past,” Pomerantz said. “And, you know, as a Jewish educator and as a rabbi, that is clearly not how we teach about responsibility and accountability.”

Student instruction and awareness of history’s greatest atrocities — without sweetening — is critical, Levin said. It’s so that future generations don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, just like Winston Churchill warned when he wrote about those who don’t know history, Levin argued.

Studies have shown that Holocaust education reduces incidents of antisemitism, Levin pointed out.

Similarly, presenting slavery’s unvarnished truth, Levin said, “is designed to make people appreciate the capacity of humanity’s inhumanity and to ensure that when we grow into our lives, we guard against the tendency to diminish the humanity of the other and to dehumanize the other.”

Pomerantz said there are plenty of reasons for students to know and appreciate the full horror of what happened for 400 years on American soil as they go into the world.

“All of us live with the notion that we are a country that benefits from slave labor and that there are people who are still marginalized in our country because of that history,” Pomerantz said.

“I think removing accountability, or responsibility or shame or whatever, from learning about these horrible events in the past is missing the point because as a parent as a rabbi, I want to raise children who feel a sense of responsibility for other people in the world.”

​​The lessons of slavery have a particular resonance for the Jewish people, Pomerantz said.

“Thirty-six times in the Torah, we are reminded that we were slaves in the land of Egypt,” Pomerantz said. “Therefore, we should really feel what it feels like to be an enslaved people. Not just for the sake of saying it, but for the sake of doing something about it, which is making sure that we take our history and channel it into something positive in the world.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Josh Green

    August 7, 2023 at 1:00 pm

    “The Holocaust was a good thing! A lot of those people needed showers and they lost some weight too!”
    – Ron DeSantis (probably)

  • rbruce

    August 7, 2023 at 1:19 pm

    Two out of a couple thousand CCAR members objecting to a false analysis of the new course material is not news.

    • TJC

      August 7, 2023 at 2:49 pm

      It’s not a fake analysis. The Governor himself has acknowledged that the lesson regarding slaves “benefitting” from enslavement is indeed in the new guidelines. Apparently you can’t handle the truth.

  • Earl Pitts American

    August 7, 2023 at 2:05 pm

    Oh look America,
    It would seem American Jews want to weigh-in on Black slavery issues in America.
    Are these the same American Jews which 100% vote against the Middle Eastern Nation of Isreal time and time again by voting Democrat?
    Why yes I believe they are.
    Oppurtunity to weigh-in dismissed.
    Opinion deemed ir-relevant.

    • Earl Pitts is a Pedophile

      August 7, 2023 at 2:25 pm

      Hang yourself.

    • TJC

      August 7, 2023 at 2:50 pm

      Earl, you are showing your ignorant ass again.

  • eva

    August 7, 2023 at 2:57 pm

    Monetary emergencies is a major danger of the century which influences truly, intellectually and monetarily/To conquer these troubles and take full vs04 advantage of this prisoner period and make internet procuring. For more details

    visit this article====================)>>>>>>

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn