What is the difference between Jewish memory and Jewish history? Jewish history is the story of what happened and how; Jewish memory is the story of how Jews talk and feel about their national past. In this online course, Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter will survey some of the worst tragedies of Jewish history, paying close attention not just to what happened, but how Jews have remembered those tragedies as a collective—through liturgy, fasts, and days of mourning—and how they’ve used them to strengthen Jewish faith.
This course is
Drs. Tammy and Hillel Bryk
In honor of
Drs. Miriam and
In memory of
Dr. David and Doris Bryk
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Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter is University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and senior scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University. From 2000 to 2005, he served as dean of the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute in Boston, and from 1981 to 2000, he served as rabbi of The Jewish Center in Manhattan. Rabbi Schacter holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages from Harvard University and received rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Torah Vodaath. He was a teaching fellow at Harvard from 1978-1980, director of Yeshiva University’s Torah u Madda Project from 1986-1997, and an adjunct assistant professor at the Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University from 1993-1999. He is the co-author of A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community: Mordecai M. Kaplan, Orthodoxy, and American Judaism (with Jeffrey Gurock, 1996) and the editor of Jewish Tradition and the Nontraditional Jew (1992) and Judaism’s Encounter with other Cultures: Rejection or Integration? </em (1997). He has published numerous articles and reviews in Hebrew and English and is the founding editor of the Torah u-Madda Journal.
In our first lecture, Rabbi Schacter discusses the foundational question of this course: how can a person remember an event that he never experienced? He goes on to discuss the difference between individual and collective memory; what makes Jewish memory distinct; and why understanding how Jews remember tragic events can help explain Jewish endurance.
Memory, Collective Memory, and Memory of Trauma—Understanding Parts of Jewish History | 33:56
Tisha b'Av—the ninth of the Jewish month of Av—is the saddest day of the Jewish year. It is the day that Jewish tradition commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples—but that's not all that happened on it. As Rabbi Schacter explains in this lecture, the rabbis of the Talmud believed that bad things always happened on this day, so they subsumed a variety of Jewish tragedies into it. He also explores how Tisha b'Av developed its particular character, the theological meaning of a fast, and how the Holocaust fits into the day.
In 1096, Pope Urban II urged Christians across Europe to go to the Middle East and recapture the Holy Land from Islamic rule. On the way to Jerusalem, Christians perpetrated brutal pogroms against Jewish communities in Germany, in particular against those in Mainz, Speyer, and Worms. In this lecture, Rabbi Schacter tells their story and surveys how Jewish communities have remembered what happened, focusing specifically on the debate over whether to establish a completely new fast day, or to subsume that remembrance into Tisha b’Av.
In 1171, roughly 30 Jews were burned alive in the French city of Blois. Accusations of ritual murder had occurred in England in recent years, and this was the first time this anti-Semitic calumny came to continental Europe. Jews in France then had a debate: how should we remember what happened to our neighbors? Ultimately, in contrast to what happened after the Crusades, Jews across Europe chose to commemorate the Jews of Blois in a national fast day on the 20th of Sivan.
1171—The Killings in Blois and Their Aftermath | 43:57
In this lecture, Rabbi Schacter covers several other notable instances of persecution against Jews during the Middle Ages: the massacre of the Jews of York in 1190, the mass burning of the Talmud and other Jewish texts in 1242, the Black Death massacres, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Each of these events were remembered differently. Some were folded into the Ninth of Av, while others were given their own particular fast days. Rabbi Schacter explains what happened, and how and why those choices were made.
Other Medieval Persecutions and Their Commemorations | 54:36
In the mid-17th century, Bogdan Chmielnicki led a Cossack and peasant uprising in Ukraine. His followers destroyed countless Jewish communities across Ukraine, seeking to eliminate all Jews from it. The remaining Jews of Europe sought to remember the massacres through a fast day, but they didn't know which day to choose. Ultimately, they decided to subsume the massacres under the 20th of Sivan, the day that the Jews of Blois were murdered. Thousands of Jews fasted on this day, every year, into the 20th century.
1648-1650—The Chmielnicki Massacres and Their Aftermath | 33:37
As horrible as many of the events covered in previous lectures were, none compare to the Holocaust. In this lecture, Rabbi Schacter probes how Yom HaShoah, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day, was established. He pays special attention to the competing persuasions that animated Israeli society at the time, including adherence and opposition to religious tradition, the strong feeling of embarrassment over Jewish powerlessness during the Holocaust, and the need to recognize small moments of heroism throughout that terrible period.
The Holocaust, Part One—The Establishment of Yom HaShoah | 59:30
In his final lecture, Rabbi Schacter asks: why did the most highly regarded rabbis of the 20th century oppose a special fast day for the Holocaust, and instead favor subsuming it under the Ninth of Av? He argues that this allows traditional Jews to maintain the links between historical tragedies, and to avoid the massive theological rupture that the Holocaust could represent. Finally, Rabbi Schacter concludes that Jewish memory is ultimately about survival, and that for communities to survive, they must primarily focus on the good and the pure.
The Holocaust, Part Two—Other Holocaust Commemorations: Issues and Complexities | 44:20