Righteous Gentiles: Non-Israelites Who Saved and Shaped the Jewish People (55+)

Holocaust memorials around the world include a section honouring the "righteous gentiles"—those who stood up to Nazi aggressors and refused to betray their Jewish neighbours. The Shoah was not the first time in Jewish history when non-Jews helped save the Jewish people. Righteous gentiles have a long history, with deep biblical roots, from the Pharaoh's daughter, who rescued the future prophet Moses from the Nile, to the likes of Irena Sendler, Kate Lipner, Lois Gunden and others who hid Jewish children from the Nazis.

We will explore non-Israelites in Hebrew biblical stories who helped rescue ancient Israelites, and in so doing shaped the Jewish people. We'll also consider righteous gentiles of more recent history.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Righteous Gentiles?

Who are the righteous gentiles? What does this concept mean in Jewish tradition? We begin our exploration with a look at some ancient Hebrew allies, and at the role various countries played in the rescue of Jews from the Nazis.

Week 2: The Child Rescuers: Shifrah, Puah and the Pharaoh’s Daughter.

The Hebrew midwives refused to comply with the Pharaoh’s order to kill Hebrew male infants at birth. His own daughter rescued the future prophet, Moses, from the Nile and took him into the palace to be raised under the protection of his people’s enemy. What do these women have in common with the likes of Irena Sendler, Kate Lipner, Lois Gunden and others who hid Jewish children from the Nazis?

Week 3: Family Ties: Jethro and Tzipporah, Moses’ Midianite Family

Jethro was a priest of Midian and Moses’ loyal and wise father-in-law. Advisor, confidante and friend, he is a pivotal character in the Exodus story and one of the few non-Israelites for whom a Torah portion is named. Tzipporah, Jethro’s daughter, plays a pivotal role in the fulfillment of Moses’ prophetic mission.

Week 4: Rahav, the Spies and Hiders of Jews

What kind of person risks their own life and lives of their family for the sake of strangers? Joshua’s men are wanted men—the King of Jericho is on the hunt for them, but they have been hidden by Rahav. Her defiance of local authorities helps Joshua to complete his mission. She is a biblical parallel for those who defied their own governments and Nazi invaders, hiding Jews in their midst to spare them from the gas chambers.

Week 5: Traitors Within the Ranks

Yael, the Kenite woman, assassinated one of her own generals to prevent Israel from being overrun. We look at this extraordinary biblical character and modern historical counterparts like Corrie ben Boom and Major Karl Plagge, who similarly defied Nazi authorities and even killed to save Jews.

Week 6: Ruth the Moabite and Cyrus, King of Persia

Way back in Genesis, Israelites learn that they are forbidden to marry Moabites, yet this Moabite woman was loyal to her Israelite mother-in-law and established the Davidic line, which is central to both Jewish and Christian eschatology. Cyrus defeated the Babylonians and paved the way for the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. We look at some modern parallels of world leaders who played role in the re-establishment of Israel in the 20th century.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

A copy of the Bible (any translation) is recommended, but not required.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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