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How knowledgeable are you about the history of Judaism?

Hi. Here in Israel we (those of us who are under the secular education system, like myself – I don’t know what those under the state-religious and Haredi education systems are taught) have mandatory Tanakh classes starting in grade 2 up until the last year of high school. I assume that different generations are taught differently, and people who grow up today probably learn different stuff than what I was taught back in high school, but on average most Israelis get at least a partial grasp on the basics when it comes to the Tanakh. Add to that history classes which include a bunch of Jewish history, which mostly contextualizes Zionism and what was happening in Europe from the end of the 19th century up until the end of the Holocaust, and also the transition of the British Mandate into the state of Israel. So mostly Jewish history from the Israeli state lens. It should be pretty obvious to you there’s about 2,000 years of Jewish history missing here. I’ve noticed too.

Now, I was always mildly curious about our history, so I think I might have a better grasp of Jewish history than the average Israeli simply because I’ve read and watched a bunch about it, but that’s not saying much, because I know how much I really don’t know.

Getting back to my original question – I know the Holocaust is included in American education, but are you taught anything else about us? If not, is there a different apparatus for American Jews to learn about our history, aside from learning about it yourselves? Is it common for American Jews to be knowledgeable about Jewish history? I’m talking about the above the surface stuff – not why we eat oily foods in Hannukah, rather different religious movements and their contexts, linguistical and geographical changes, events like the Expulsion from Spain, the genesis of the Ashkenazic Jews and Yiddish, who the Masoretes where, Sabbetai Tzvi, the context of the creation of Christianity, the Ghettos of Italy, why European Jews became involved in usury… How knowledgeable would you say you are about these things? Are these things common knowledge among American Jews? Or rather, is it common for American Jews to be interested and learning about them? Is it more of a hobbyist thing for history diehards?

I’ll return to myself for a sec – here in Israel different groups have differing levels of knowledge, for example, when it comes to the religion itself I basically know nothing. I don’t know what the Talmud is, or the Mishnah, or the Shulchan Aruch, etc. I just know them by name. I couldn’t tell you what Havdalah is or what Chabad believe. Some Haredi groups don’t have a single clue about the history of this country, and I’ve seen interviews with people who have left Haredi life admit that growing up they didn’t know who Hitler was or what the Holocaust was. If I can generalize, I think we Israelis are mostly knowledgeable about ourselves and the history of Israel, and as you go back in time the knowledge becomes more and more limited, until you reach the Biblical era which as I mentioned we are taught about in school. So, it varies. And it obviously varies among the millions of American Jews and the groups you are divided into, so I know these questions can’t really be answered definitvely, but I’m still interested in what you think if you’re willing to share. Thanks for reading.

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