Inquiring readers have a treat waiting for them in the current issue of The Jewish Press, the Brooklyn-based weekly that’s hands-down the most widely read Jewish periodical in the Orthodox community. I’m speaking of a front-page article defending the cause of the Confederacy and attacking Abraham Lincoln as a bigot.
No, I’m not kidding. Read what the author has to say:
The history of the Confederacy is full of long-forgotten tales of Jewish heroes, warriors, and leaders. This is a story little known today, absent from history books and an embarrassment to liberal Jewish historians ashamed of the prominent role played by Jews in supporting, defending and fighting for the Confederacy. It is a government about which they know little except for its association with slavery. They find the truth about the war incompatible with their idolization of Abraham Lincoln and his administration - an administration in which anti-Jewish sentiment was rampant, at one point even becoming official government policy and resulting in the worst official act of anti-Semitism in the nation’s history.
The writer, Lewis Regenstein, is an Atlanta native who contributes regularly to conservative publications, especially on the topic of honor of the Confederacy. He’s an occasional contributor to The Jewish Press. (Find his JP archive here.) He regularly insists he’s not a defender of slavery. In his current Jewish Press article he acknowledges that it was a “cruel and evil institution” and he concedes that there were some people around who actually cared about it, such as plantation owners and Northern abolitionists. (Pop quiz: Can you think of any other people back then who might have cared about slavery?) It’s not that Regenstein is insensitive. It’s just that he thinks the topic of slavery is a distraction from the real issues in the Civil War, like the North’s oppression and exploitation of the South.
Slavery was an important political issue before and during the Civil War, especially to the large plantation holders in the South and the abolitionists in the North. But while the war is often portrayed as primarily a fight over slavery, much more important were the issues of preservation of the Union for the North and the over-taxation of the South in the form of exorbitant tariffs.
Weirdly enough, another recurring theme in Regenstein’s writing is Holocaust denial, which he is against. He’s written a number of pieces about it, including this 2005 column in The Jewish Press. The idea seems to be that historic atrocities with continuing resonance must never be belittled, unless they distract from something else that’s more important to you. Holocaust Denial bad, Slavery Denial O.K.
This isn’t the first time The Jewish Press has disseminated Slavery Denial. A full-page 1991 piece by longtime (and still featured) columnist Arnold Fine, published shortly after the Crown Heights rioting, described slavery at length as a result of bungling on the part of blacks brought here as indentured servants and too incompetent to regain their freedom. A Jewish Press spokesman dismissed the Fine piece in a 1997 interview with New York magazine (click here, go to page 18) as “a very unfortunate piece,” one of those “things” that “slip through sometimes.”
Another one of those unfortunate things slipped through in the early 2000s, when the paper accidentally devoted an enormous amount of space over a period of many months to serializing a 483-page novel, “Every Man a Slave,” depicting the loving relationship between a loyal, obedient black slave and his kindly Orthodox Jewish master in South Carolina before the Yankees invaded. The novel, by Sender Zeyv, now a Maryland state judge, was published in book form in 2002 by TMS Publishing, a Baltimore outfit that describes itself as “an avant guarde [sic] Jewish publishing company, not afraid to publish high-level literature that conforms 100% to Torah outlook.”
Check it out. Zeyv’s book can be ordered from TMS. But why wait? Regenstein’s stirring defense of the honor of the Confederacy is available right now, on newsstands from coast to coast and around the world, wherever Torah outlook is conformed to, or something.
The news hook for Regenstein’s Jewish Press piece, by the way, is the four-month old controversy over Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s declaration of April as Confederate History Month, which predictably came under attack by those politically correct, herd-like liberals.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).