Jewish group mostly pleased with curriculum committees edits

Jewish advocacy groups can breath a sigh of relief.

Any culpability for the crucifixion of Jesus will not be mentioned in the textbooks read by California middle-schoolers following a meeting Monday, Oct. 31, of an advisory body to the State Board of Education in Sacramento.

The ad-hoc committee of the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, at the behest of the expert on early Christianity serving as a consultant, opted to strike all references to Jewish culpability. Also adopted were most, though not all, of the suggestions put forth by a Jewish advocacy group.

“We’ve gotten most of what we asked for. We feel we have succeeded to a large extent,” said Susan Mogull, policy analyst for the Institute for Curriculum Services, which is affiliated with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

The committee’s suggestions will be passed along at a full meeting of the curriculum commission on Wednesday, Nov. 9, where they will likely be adopted.

If approved, the history and social science textbooks will be used by the state’s middle-school students for the next seven years.

The ad hoc committee meeting was an affair of byzantine complexity that at times left onlookers, advocacy groups and even committee members confused as to exactly which changes were adopted, which were scratched and what, bluntly, was going on. A great deal of the confusion stemmed from volumes of materials dropped on committee members’ desks just that morning combined with lists of edits returned only recently by expert consultants.

And to top it off, the expert consultants’ suggestions often overlapped. For example, Professor David Nystrom, an expert in early Christianity, inveighed that all references to Jewish culpability in the death of Jesus be stricken. But Professor Naomi Janowitz, a specialist in Jewish religious history, felt simply placing an “according to the Gospels” before such claims was sufficient.

The panel went with Nystrom’s suggestion. A text snippet offering numerous rationales for Pilate’s ordering of the crucifixion now leaves out “Jesus made enemies among the Jews because he … had ideas that were different from traditional Jewish teachings [and] was taking students away from other teachers.”

That was just one of scores of edits that pleased Mogull and Jackie Berman, the ICS’ education specialist.

One of the most notable changes concerned a passage in a study guide on ancient history, implying Israel was conquered by the Assyrians because of low morality and failure to heed a prophet’s warning.

Janowitz, a religious studies professor at U.C. Davis, took issue with the snippet: “According to the Bible, prophets such as Ahijah warned Israel that they must obey God’s word or face punishment. Not long after, Israel was invaded and captured by Assyria …”

She noted in her correction that Ahijah’s warning was actually 200 years before the Assyrian conquest, hardly “not long after,” and irrelevant to the Israelites’ battlefield defeat in any case.

Janowitz also couldn’t help but weigh in on proposed classroom activities such as “Reenact a Biblical battle in your class” or “Bring your family Bible to school.” Such lesson plans were dismissed with a curt, “Out of my area of expertise, but I do think this is a very poorly designed exercise.”

Jewish groups were far from the only ones petitioning the committee. The meeting was taken up in large part with rather contentious debate about whether or not Aryans invaded Northern India thousands of years ago.

The proposed texts say yes. The committee’s expert consultant, Professor Shiva Bajpai, says no. He was backed up vociferously by the Cupertino-based Hindu Education Foundation. Hindu Education Foundation.

Berman noted that she was still concerned with the texts’ treatment of King Solomon and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, which she described, respectively, as overly harsh and overly trite.

She brought these complaints directly to the publisher, Harcourt, which subsequently assured her changes would be made.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.