The Matzav Shmoooze: Teaching About JFK


jfk-grassy-knollDear Editor,

As a rebbi, I took the opportunity to discuss with my class the Kennedy assassination. I was amazed by how much I was able to teach my students and how they drank it all up, wanting to hear more and more.

I shared the hashkafic aspects of the story, in addition to the myriad historic details of what happened, such as the Grassy Knoll, Lee Harvey Oswald, the conspiracies, and what this country felt like when we learned the news of Kennedy’s death.

I saw it as a unique opportunity to reflect on history from a Torah perspective, no different than some rebbi may do in 40 years when discussing the 9/11 tragedy.

What do parents out there feel? Would you want your son’s rebbi to address these sorts of matters, or would you prefer if rabbeim like myself simply stick to teaching our curriculum rather than branching out to discuss current events during our morning hours?

Respectfully yours,

A Rebbi

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  1. The main thing is, what are the true lessons learned? People of differing social or political orientations have drawn contrasting conclusions from the often-confusing data and analyses. JFK in office did some good things for Israel, but he was a lowlife in certain ways.

  2. Depends on the age and hashkafah of the school. High School kids OK.

    I would also ask the Menahel before doing it. The last thing you need is parents calling the menahel complaining.

  3. What a shame! Today they google Kennedy, tomorrow we will have mixed dancing. As a parent, I say, keep the kids no higher than a fourth grade level. They are so much easier to control.

  4. According to mori verebi, Harav Berel Wein, shlit”a, his first rebbe in yeshiva in Chicago knew no English. Rav Mendel Kaplan, zt”l, had just arrived from the churban in Europe to Skokie yeshiva and he made a deal with the boys: if they would bring in a newspaper, he would let them read it to him.

    “That way,” he said, “you will teach me English, and I will teach you how to read a newspaper.” The news became a mussar sefer. Rav Kaplan explained all current events through the lens of Torah. It had a profound impact.

  5. The sad thing is that you even have to pose this ad a question. A rebbies job is and always has been to teach his talmidim how to understand the world around him within the Torah context.

  6. That’s brilliant!
    except that you haven’t provided ANY details to support your brilliance.

    what if any were your chiddushim vis a vis the regularly taught history?

    what specific hashkafic aspects of the story did you find so compelling?

    In essence: thanks for nothing!

  7. as a parent bh
    I have would have no problem with what you did
    in fact I would encourage it

    once in a while veering of course and teaching world history etc is great
    I remember that the rebeim that I had who did this
    were the best rebeeim
    commanded the most respect and had the most positive influence

  8. Our Torah HaKdosha teaches us that as Hashem is the Creator and Master of the world, everything that happens in the world, is because HE makes it happen. HE is the One Who makes everything happen in the world. So when HE does something, HE obviously has a reason for doing it.

    Of course, what we do know of Hashem’s reasons is infinitely extremely little. But that does not take away one iota from the fact that there actually are infinitely big reasons for whatever happens.

    When a tremendously major event happens, like the assasination of the president — who is really serving in the role like the “king” of the country — of the very major world country of the United States, there are obviously tremendous reasons why Hashem does it. There are numerous important — Torah — lessons that we can learn from it. So it definately is a Torahdike item that we need to contemplate.

    So I definately do give you “Mr. Rebbe” a huge commendation for you attempt to do this with your Talmidim. I further give you B’racha for Hatzlacha that you should continue to do it correctly.

  9. Dear Rebbi,

    Would you care to share with us some of the highlights of “the hashkafic aspects of the story” “from a Torah perspective”?

  10. As a mother, I would appreciate the fact that Torah and the outside world are not kept separate but that history/ current events are taught through the lens of the Torah. In my personal opinion, this session may have had a more profound impression on the hashkafic solidity of the students than a month’s worth of gemara classes. It’s not about (or shouldn’t be about) the curriculum and producing lamdanim, but about teaching the students and showing them how the Torah affects and beautifies our every day life.

  11. I like the idea. There is always terrific hashkafa to learn from every situation. However, I once heard a good vort: When ever a Gadol passes away, as time goes on, we hear more and more stories of his gadlus. Lehavdil when the secular “gedolim” pass on, we hear more and more of how bad they were. Please don’t make Kennedy into a special person. He was an incredible menuvel.

  12. I commend you for going out of the box and having this discussion with your talmidim. I would also like to raise a point. The question you asked.. “Should I have this discussion or should I stick to the curriculum. As far as I am concerned the “curriculum” of a good Rebbi is to engage the Bachurim in whatever way possible. If only more Rebbeim would be doing what you do there would certainly be less kids at risk! Shkoyach!

  13. OF COURSE, I want my children and teens to learn history, accurate and with a Torah perspective.

    History and current events have been neglected since the 1990s,, and children have no idea what is happening around them. Why, Why?

  14. Kennedy was an overrated president .

    His opponents in the primary considered him shallow
    His was one of them most stolen of elections.

    Nixon(putting aside whatever happened later) deserved to be pres. and would have been so much better.

    His first year with the Berlin Wall,Bay of Pigs was rated by George Will as possibly the worst first year of any president.

    His second year was immensely better,but only because the american public `Better dead than Red“ forced him to go to the edge with USSR.
    (HE privately admitted he would have allowed Russia to win,but he was more terrified of impeachment that could follow.)

    (If you only taught the regular info ,better off to skip)

    If you were aware of all this,you should surely be teaching it and hashkafa that is to be derived.

  15. honestly- the comments and agenda of this website are archaic.
    EVERY kid in America should know about Kennedy( as well as the other presidents). This has nothing to do with being religious, just about being an american.

  16. To matzav: why did you chop off the firs part of my comment where I explained that Kennedy’s death was no loss as he was no rightous person and didn’t deserve the presidency.

  17. Larry – we do learn about Kennedy, and every president – In American HIstory. The question here was should it be taught by a Rebbe, whose given curriculum includes Torah subjects- Chumash, Gemara etc. Should he divert from his given curriculum to teach history/ current events when the opportunity arises. I’m not sure what agenda you are referring to and I’m not sure why you are so disgusted from people just trying to do the right thing in life

  18. I want my kids knowing about JFK and history in general, and they do- my husband and I discussed the event and what our parents told us about “where they were when—” and things like that.
    In school, however, I’d prefer that a history teacher, who is (hopefully) knowledgeable and qualified (though in my experience that has many times been too much to ask) and who knows that the best way to teach history is without negios one way or the other, handle speaking about it. While bringing in a Torah hashkafa is fine, I find that “torah hashkafa” actually ends up being “daas rebbe” and that’s honestly NOT necessarily daas Torah. My son’s rebbe last year gave the boys his personal perspective on many events that happened that honestly made me cringe, peppering his commentary with many racist jokes. My son took seriously everything he heard from this rebbe. I have no problem with the rebbe having his own opinions, but as his mom, I’d rather my son get his knowledge from me, and what the rebbe thinks should stay what the rebbe thinks.
    Perhaps if beforehand, the teacher were to give out a sheet saying what he/she would be telling the kids, I’d be fine with it. But then the parents may as well say it themselves.
    Honestly, I know that even regular history teachers have their own opinions that they air in class, but at least, in theory, they’re supposed to be relatively impartial. This is just really not the rebbe’s role- ignorance of current events is a huge problem that it is not the rebbe’s job to solve.