Episode 1 Exodus, the Presidential Seal, and the Civil War

About the Course

Journey back in history with Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik in his fascinating exploration of the role of Jews and Jewish ideas in America’s Civil War. As we ponder what it meant to be a Jew during this harrowing conflict, we will walk with the Jews expelled from Tennessee by General Grant, delve into the speeches and writings of Abraham Lincoln, and come to see how Lincoln learned from Hebraic sources to become the theologian of the American idea.

Course Resources

Explore Rabbi Soloveichik's other online courses!

Click here to view all of Rabbi Soloveichik's full-length audio and video courses.

The Jewish Story of America’s Most Harrowing Struggle

Discover what biblical and Jewish ideas have to do with the Civil War, and how Jews experienced one of the most perilous moments in American history.

Email Icon

Share with a friend or family member!

Share with a Friend


In this opening lecture, Rabbi Soloveichik tells the fascinating stories of Jews who fought in the Civil War and sets the stage for his exploration of how the larger story of Jews in America fits into America’s titanic struggle to vindicate its founding creed.

In 1862, President Lincoln was visited by a group of Christian clergymen, who delivered an earnest sermon citing the Book of Esther to urge the president to free the slaves. Several days later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Is there a connection between these two episodes?

A day after the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, the abolitionist rabbi, Sabato Morais, delivered a sermon that may have impacted Lincoln's famous speech about that battle.

On the way to his inauguration, Abraham Lincoln described America in a way that no one else had before—as ”an almost chosen people.” Understanding this marvelous phrase allows us to better understand the nature of Lincoln's relationship with the Jews, and his philosophical and religious understanding of America itself.

The most anti-Semitic act ever committed by a high-level American official was General Grant’s expulsion of all the Jews in the Tennessee territory. Why did Grant do it and how did Grant himself evolve, eventually becoming a president whose death was mourned by the American Jewish community?

On the day after General Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Jews in America began their celebration of Passover. Several days later, on the Shabbat of the festival, synagogues were filled with worshippers when the horrifying news broke of the assassination of President Lincoln. What happened next among American Jews tells us a great deal about Passover, Lincoln's political and moral legacy, and the spirit of America.

Lincoln's Second Inaugural, like the words of the biblical prophets, seeks to explain the designs of Providence in producing so much death and destruction. What lessons can we draw from Lincoln's analysis, and why have so many today forgotten his insights?

Upon Lincoln's assassination, the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher compared Lincoln to the greatest Israelite in history: Moses. In this final lecture, we will examine what Moses meant to American history in general, and to Jews and Christians during the Civil War in particular.

Back to Top