Review of Exodus and Emancipation: Biblical and African-American Slavery

Exodus and Emancipation

Exodus and Emancipation

by Dov Peretz Elkins

EXODUS AND EMANCIPATION: Biblical and African-American Slavery
by Kenneth Chelst
Hardcover, 446 pages (includes a dozen pages of b/w photos and an index)
Urim Publications (
ISBN 13: 978-965-524-020-7

In Exodus and Emancipation: Biblical and African-American Slavery, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Chelst presents a new perspective on the saga of the Jewish people’s enslavement and departure from Egypt by comparing it with the African-American slave experience in the United States, their emancipation and subsequent fight for dignity and equality. The comparison is designed to enrich the reader’s understanding of both experiences. Both peoples suffered centuries-long oppression, with the African-American slave population at the time of emancipation in the 1860s roughly double that of the Israelites at the biblical Exodus.

Whatever the setting, slavery takes a terrible toll on the individual as well as the community. Chelst dives deeply into the Biblical narrative, using classical and modern commentaries to explore the social, psychological, religious, and philosophical dimensions of the slave experience and mentality. He draws on slave narratives, published letters, eyewitness accounts, recorded interviews of former slaves, together with historical, sociological, economic and political analyses of this era. He explores the five major needs of every long-term victim, and journeys through these five stages with the Israelite and the African-American slaves towards physical and psychological freedom. He weaves the two sets of narratives into a rich multi-dimensional collage of parallel and contrasting experiences.

The linkage between the slavery of the Israelites and that of the African Americans is not new. Simply recall the powerful black spiritual, “Go Down, Moses.” African American spokesmen began to identify publicly with Israelite history towards the end of the eighteenth century. William E. Channing made the equation explicit: “For ages Jews were thought to have forfeited the rights of men as much as the African race at the South, and were insulted, spoiled and slain.” As a result, when we study exodus and emancipation side by side, each enriches the other with its perspective of a common national destiny that moves from slavery to freedom.

Kenneth R. Chelst is professor of operations research in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He received the B.A. degree from Yeshiva University, the M.S. in operations research from New York University and the Ph.D. degree in operations research from M.I.T. He received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University where he studied with Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein. He is author of Kaddish: The Unanswered Cry and co-author of Does This Line Ever Move: Real-World Applications of Operations Research. Dr. Chelst is an internationally recognized leader in applying operations research to emergency service management and was designated as a 2000 Edelman Prize Laureate for a major project with Ford. Dr. Chelst co-directs Project MINDSET, a multi-million dollar NSF funded project designed to bring real-world contexts to high school mathematics.

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