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Readers React: Americans already paid a price for slavery — in the form of 620,000 Civil War deaths

A restored canon sits along Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, Pa., site of the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War.
A restored canon sits along Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, Pa., site of the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War.
(Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images)

To the editor: Rabbi Sharon Brous’ March 7 op-ed article, “Why Jews should support reparations for slavery,” is pertinent as we Jews approach Passover. Nevertheless, I believe she ignores critical aspects of American history.

She does not mention the Civil War or President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which wrote into the history of our country the truth that the war arose over slavery, and that the catastrophic loss was likely God’s judgment on the costs of purging that sin from our country. America indeed paid a tremendous price for slavery.

None of this is to diminish the evil of slavery or to deny what happened after the war. But Rabbi Brous ignores this, nor does she address the constitutional issues that may arise with payments based on race. German reparations are no guide — they were made to actual survivors within years of the Holocaust.

As we approach Passover, I agree with Rabbi Brous that Jews should always consider the slavery in their history and what lessons are to be drawn today. Reparations for slavery now in America, I believe, is not one of those lessons.

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Richard Burstein, Sherman Oaks

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To the editor: As I started reading about the “rabbinic dispute over what ought to be done if a palace is built on the foundation of a stolen beam,” I assumed the topic would be the state of Israel, built on land taken from the Palestinians.

But when Rabbi Brous wrote “our country,” she was talking about the United States. I instantly thought of America’s native peoples, who were displaced, warred upon, slaughtered and marginalized in the interests of Manifest Destiny.

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Rabbi Brous’ focus, though, was on a different group: African slaves. In the long and colorful history of American capitalism, wherein countless workers were exploited, none were treated more cruelly.

But will those made wealthy by the unfair treatment of distant forbears ever see it that way? Unless they do, there is little hope of reparations — for anyone.

Janice Blake, Manhattan Beach

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To the editor: The collective guilt that Rabbi Brous imposes on us for the conduct of slave masters more than a century ago who are strangers makes little sense, especially when many of us are immigrants or second-generation Americans who enslaved no one and instead fled from the same oppression suffered by American slaves.

Reparations, as she notes, are complex, but she says our failure to work around this “reflects a profound lack of moral imagination.” She fails to acknowledge and pay tribute to the thousands of civil rights activists who sacrificed to correct the very injustices she seeks to remedy.

No moral imagination is required to write a check to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League or scores of other civil rights groups. Reparations are not the answer.

Louis Lipofsky, Beverly Hills

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To the editor: I believe our founding fathers would approve of forming a congressional commission to explore reparations for the descendants of slaves.

As they crafted the Constitution, our founders set aside, for the sake of unity, the divisive question of slavery. They knew there would be a reckoning, of which the Civil War was only the beginning.

Now we their heirs and beneficiaries must continue the work of building a true democracy.

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Mary Bomba, Los Angeles

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