by Dr. Yaffa Weisman
Chelst, Kenneth. Exodus and Emancipation: Biblical and African-American Slavery. Jerusalem; New York: Urim Publications, 2009. 446 p. $34.95 (ISBN 978-9-65524-020-7).
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Chelst received his academic degrees in engineering, and his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. Chelst is a nationally recognized researcher in the application of mathematical models to the management of police, fire and EMS. He has taught adult Bible classes for more than two decades. Exodus and Emancipation is clearly the product of his expertise in these disciplines.
The book is based on the author’s knowledge of victimization studies in the field of criminal justice and classical texts of American slavery, and on his knowledge of biblical texts and their commentaries. Comparing the biblical descriptions of the Israelite experience prior to and during the Exodus to the African American slave experience, Rabbi Chelst draws methodical and systematic parallels that “enrich the reader’s understanding of both experiences.” The author discusses the social and psychological implications of a past rooted in slavery and of oppression on two peoples’ roads to freedom and emancipation. The epilogue offers the author’s reflections on the continuing struggle of African-Americans to achieve full equality. The parallels drawn in the book illustrate in detail a certainty that goes back to the days of the Civil Rights Movement: that Jews and descendants of African American slaves have much in common, and that one group’s experience can be an inspiration to the other.
As to the place of the book in an academic library—it clearly belongs in institutes teaching the historical and anthropological aspects of the story of Exodus. My only ambivalence about it is the target audience, which is perhaps reflected in the Library of Congress decision to classify the book in the area of sociology rather than in biblical studies.