The Hebrew Bible’s role in American history is not well known. And yet at a time when America’s political scene, as pundits are so keen to proclaim, hasn’t been this fractured since the Civil War, it is a unifying narrative that Americans need more than ever.
The Jewish story helped shape America’s moral language of liberty and articulate its highest national ideals. While the American project undoubtedly remains imperfect, we can reclaim a unifying framework by restoring the American story’s biblically inspired ideals to national prominence.
Yeshiva University, in a historic collaboration across multiple organizations and multiple faiths, is convening a conference called “Restoring the American Story” for high school educators on its Wilf campus in New York City on March 19. YU’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, which has published volumes on foundational American documents inspired by the Hebrew Bible and tracing the Purim story’s role in American politics has partnered with YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration to assemble the Jack Miller Center, Tikvah Fund, Prizmah, Civic Spirit, Religious Freedom Institute, Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy, the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, BibLit, Ashbrook Center and OpenDor Media.
Together, over the course of the full-day conference, participants from these organizations and their networks of educators will discuss key themes including why the study of American history is important in religious schools, how the books of Psalms inspired the American founding, John Milton’s impact on American political thought, the usage of the Hebrew Bible in the modern presidency, and how the Bible might be a source of reconciliation in America during divided times.
The proceedings will be chaired by YU’s Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Wilfred McClay and feature preeminent American Jewish historian Dr. Jonathan Sarna, Dr. Elizabeth Busch, Dr. Tevi Troy, Dr. Shaina Trapedo and Dr. Dov Lerner and other scholars. Rabbi Soloveichik, who received his doctorate in religion from Princeton University, is one of the world’s preeminent Jewish thinkers and educators, and one of America’s most influential religious leaders. Director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, he is also the rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York.
Dr. McClay holds the Victor Davis Hanson Chair in Classical History and Western Civilization at Hillsdale College, and is the author of “Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story” (Encounter, 2019) and “The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America” (University of North Carolina, 1994), which won the Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history.
The March conference follows a summer 2022 week-long seminar for high school educators, in which Drs. Soloveichik and McClay were joined by Dr. Diana Schaub, professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland and Dr. Daniel Dreisbach, professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., to think together on how the participants could use material pertaining to the Hebrew Bible and America in their classrooms.
The summer cohort studied texts from John Winthrop, William Penn, John Adams, Thomas Paine, Ezra Stiles (an 18th-century polymath and the President of Yale University who was a deeply devoted student of Hebrew texts), abolitionist Angelina Grimké, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and others.
The seminars from the summer, as well as the presentations from the upcoming conference, will be collected in a book to be edited by Dr. McClay, which will also contain sample lesson plans for classrooms.
The goal of the conference is to give dozens of teachers the tools to bring the story of the Hebraic voice of America to their students and colleagues. To register for the conference, visit https://www.yu.edu/straus/restoring-american-story.