Wednesday, June 17

Broken Strings + Religious Persecution

As the Fourth of July approaches, and Americans take the time to reflect upon their freedoms, it's important to remember that throughout history, all around the world, many have been denied those freedoms simply based upon their beliefs...
I am in the right, and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me; for it is your duty to tolerate truth. But when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you; for it is my duty to persecute error.  —Thomas Babington Macaulay
Religious persecution is the violence or discrimination of religious minorities, aimed at either forcing them to assimilate or to leave.  The victims are dehumanized and often treated as second-class citizens.  While there are many instances of religious persecution throughout history, we are focusing on the three major religions with an emphasis on anti-Semitism (as it is a Jewish-themed unit).

Early Christians were discriminated against in Ancient Rome.  The Romans were polytheistic, believing in many gods, and they did not like the monotheism (or rule by someone other than the emperor) of this new religion.  When faced with fire, famine, or other difficulties, the Roman emperors would blame it on the Christians, turning the people against them.  It was common practice for these early converts to be fed to the lions at the Colosseum for entertainment!  (a la Beric the Briton)

The Spanish Inquisition was started by the Catholic church to punish heretics…and pretty much anyone who refused to convert to Catholicism. Beginning in the 12th century, and lasting hundreds of years, the inquisition led to the execution of over 32,000 Muslims and Jews. Inquisitors came to a town, gave citizens a chance to admit to heresy, and then doled out punishment to those who confessed and (if not already) converted to Catholicism. Many citizens were expelled from their country, or fled in advance.

Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years. The history of anti-Semitism, from ancient days to the modern world, is the story of how a group of people can become the scapegoat for the world’s fear and anxiety. The Jewish people were enslaved by the ancient Egyptians, targeted by the Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition, and executed for witchcraft throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. From the 18th to 20th century, Jews were blamed for many disasters that befell countries across Europe, particularly economic ones.

By the Russian Revolution and World War I, pogroms were occurring across the soviet region, targeting Jews and gypsies. In post-war Germany, a scapegoat was needed to accept the blame for losing the war. The events and anti-Semitism of the previous eight centuries came together in one tragic event – the Holocaust – which was the most documented and well-known case of religious persecution. As a global people, we hope to remember this tragedy so that it never occurs – to any people – again.

Learn more about the Holocaust in the Yom Ha'Shoah unit.

For this unit, we are using Broken Strings as our spine read.

Access the complete unit study in the Jewish Holidays in Literature Bundle!

Each of the ten unit studies in this year-long bundle centers around a book for middle school level and includes videos, cooking projects, hands-on activities, writing assignments, and more.  There are also resources for younger children in eight of the ten units (not in *).

  • Introduction to Judaism
  • Solomon and the Trees + Tu B’Shevat unit
  • The Queen of Persia + Purim unit study (sample)
  • Devil’s Arithmetic + Passover unit study
  • The Secret Shofar of Barcelona + Rosh Hashana unit study
  • The Yom Kippur Shortstop + Yom Kippur unit study
  • The Mysterious Guests + Sukkot unit study
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Hannukah + Chanukah unit study
  • Broken Strings + Fiddler on the Roof + Persecution unit study*
  • The Golem & the Jinni + Kabbalah unit*

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