This activity represents a possible continuation of the previous activity. It has exactly the same aims, namely a deepening of the students’ understanding of the idea of international Jewish solidarity.
The purpose of the exercise here is not to examine a historical situation but rather to get the students to confront different opinions on the question of international Jewish responsibility. To this end we suggest that if there are students whose opinions you know, from previous parts of the program, to be either firmly for or against the idea of Jewish responsibility, you place them in the position opposing their real view, which will force them to struggle with the other side of the question.
In this simulation, Sir Moses Montefiore plays a central role. We suggest that it might be wise for you or another teacher to play this part, not only to add depth to the discussion but also to ensure that his opinion - the deciding opinion - is clearly stated. This should be based on the passage from an actual speech that he made on the Mortara case, which we offer below.
- The class should simulate a meeting of the Board of Deputies in London in which Montefiore read outs out the letter received from Italy (the same letter prepared in the previous activity). Half of the delegates who sit on the Board (i.e. half the class) will represent Jews who are opposed to the Board’s involvement in anything that does not concern British Jewry directly. The other half of the class will represent Jews who feel some solidarity with Jews of other countries. Some of them will feel responsibility for less fortunate Jews because English Jewry has become wealthy and fairly strong.
- Assign every person his/her role and give each one a copy of the letter from Italy. Allow them time to think about how they would respond to it (in their role).
- The meeting of the Board should begin with the opening by ‘Sir Moses’ who will state that the meeting will be devoted to one subject only and that is a reply to the letter. He will add that the letter has been sent out to all the members of the Board before this meeting, and he hopes that all have thought seriously about their response, since it is a serious matter. He asks for responses and suggestions as to what action, if any, the Board should take and adds that he will speak last, after he has heard the opinions of all the other members.
- Ask several students on each side to state their opinions about the case. A discussion, in role, should develop, the essential issue being the nature of a Jew’s responsibility towards other Jews in the modern world in which Jews are citizens of other countries.
- The Board should summarize its conclusions and recommendations, and a vote should be taken in role. If you have divided the class evenly, the results should be about even. If the vote is uneven, announce that, as President of the Board, Montiefiore has a double vote - as usual. Whichever way it goes, Montefiore’s should be the decisive vote. Before he makes a speech, you may like to ask the students to predict in writing which way they think that he will vote; they may do this according to their understanding of his past record, which you should present in a few lines on a piece of paper, on the basis of the above information.
Montefiore’s speech should be based on the real speech that he made to the Board, part of which we now quote. It was impassioned and left no doubt about his own wishes:
It is quite clear that the child, who was about twelve months old when he was baptized, was quite unconscious of the act. It is also clear that, up to the date of the child's being kidnapped by the Church, he was brought up in the faith of his parents and that any suggestion that Edgar Mortara is happy in his new Catholic faith is absurd, considering his present age. It is clear that he yearns constantly to be able to go back home...
The case itself is one which deserves our attention. The civilized world will be wrong if it allows the nineteenth century to be disgraced by allowing the Church to retain the child against the laws of nature, morality, and religion. We of the Jewish community must especially make every effort to do whatever we can in such an urgent cause. If we fail, we will at least have the consolation of knowing that we will have done our duty, while if with the help of God we succeed, we will be able to rejoice not only because the sorrow of an afflicted family will have been lessened but because we will have won a moral victory that will be appreciated by every friend of humanity, law and order throughout the world.
Sir Moses Montefiore
- After the vote, which decides for intervention, the students should draw up a plan of action.
- Ask the students what they think of the debate - out of role - and of the plan that they have drawn up.
- Compare their plan with the real one drawn up at the meeting whose details we have given above. Tell them about Montefiore’s unsuccessful mission to Rome.