April 20, 2024
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Rabbi Pruzansky Completes Shiur Series on ‘The Presidents and the Jews’

Reviewing: “The Presidents and the Jews,” by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky (http://tinyurl.com/y89gnnrl)

During the school year there are multiple opportunities for students to satisfy their intellectual curiosity and challenge their brain cells. With the summer often comes an excess of free time for students and people at other stages in life as well, often with less clear opportunity for intellectual activities. Although Bergen County does have many live shiurim available, for those who want to learn at specific times and learn specific topics, many websites make learning easily available and accessible, at any convenient time about almost any fascinating topic.

One example is a just-completed series of shiurim on YUTorah.org, given by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. This series combines the delights of American history, Jewish history, primary sources and Torah all in one. The series, “The Presidents and the Jews,” begins with the first Jews coming to the Americas and ends with the relationship between the Jews and Barack Obama (though the election of Donald Trump is also mentioned in the latest shiur, released on June 12, 2017).

Rabbi Pruzansky’s shiurim are filled with extensive information about each president’s background, and he gives a full view of the historical context of each presidency, independent of the Jews. Rabbi Pruzansky frequently reads from primary sources, quoting the presidents themselves, Jews of the time, Jewish politicians who dealt with the presidents and Israeli prime ministers as well as the Torah itself, weaving these sources together to create a historically accurate view of the experience of Jews in the Unites States up until today.

Some presidents had more to do with the Jews than others, yet every shiur is filled with rich detail. Even when a given president has very little contact or involvement with the Jews, Rabbi Pruzansky is still able to connect his life back to Jewish values and mussar. Rabbi Pruzansky uses Torah sources to draw out important lessons from the moral character of certain presidents, and explains how they either fit with or contradict certain values in the Torah. For example, our first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, were both men who exemplified the virtue of modesty in their behavior and political life. In fact, John Adams’ modesty, as Rabbi Pruzansky argues, is what “made him a flawed politician,” because politicians must blow their own horns, sometimes loudly.

Each shiur is delivered in smooth, clear and captivating language. Listeners will learn about

why Alexander Hamilton was educated in a Jewish elementary school

the underappreciated Haym Solomon who laid out his own money to allow George Washington’s financially insolvent army to continue fighting

how well the Founding Fathers’ ideas and the Constitution fit with Torah concepts, and how much of America’s founding documents are actually based on the Bible

how happy the Jews were to hear the first president of the United States utter these important words: “Every American is protected in worshipping the deity according to the dictates of his own conscience”

the “code” Jonas Phillips used when sending information so that the British could not decipher it.

the Quaker who converted to Judaism and moved to the Holy Land

the opinions of 19th century rabbis on the contemporary issues of their time, such as slavery

why Isaac Mirwis said, “No Jew should vote for Grant”

what Teddy Roosevelt’s reaction to the Kishinev massacre in 1903 was, and why FDR wasn’t more active in saving the Jews during the Holocaust

Harry Truman’s seemingly contradictory views and policies regarding Jews

every president’s relationship with Israel and how they helped or hurt the Jewish state from Harry Truman on

These highlights and many more are found in this 46-part series of shiurim on YUTorah.

Visit (http://tinyurl.com/y89gnnrl) for the complete series.

By Sara Schapiro

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