Jews and slavery in Newport subject of Touro Synagogue Foundation talk


Jews and slavery in the Atlantic world of the American colonial era is the subject of the first program in Touro Synagogue Foundation’s Winter 2022 Judah Touro Program Series. Guest speaker, Dr. Paul Finkelman, will present a talk titled “Jews, Slavery and the Meaning of Freedom,” on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. via Zoom. There is no fee to participate, but reservations are required to receive the Zoom link.

The history of Newport, which was founded upon the principles of religious freedom, is also the history of those who did not find freedom there – enslaved Africans. Many Newporters, including Jews, either owned slaves or participated in some aspect of the transatlantic plantation system, which was based on the slave trade and goods produced through the labor of enslaved Africans. Finkelman’s talk will address this central paradox of America – the coexistence of slavery and freedom, along with an intermingling of noble ideals about liberty with the poison of racism. His talk will address these issues in a way that will help participants understand them clearly and honestly.

Finkelman is one of America’s most respected legal scholars and has published extensively on the history of slavery and on Jews in America. He currently holds the Rydell Visiting Chair at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. He received a B.A. in American Studies from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. He is the author of more than 200 scholarly articles and the author or editor of more than 50 books. His most recent major book, “Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court,” was published by Harvard University Press in 2018.   Finkelman has spoken on slavery, human trafficking, civil liberties, and human rights issues at the United Nations, throughout the United States and in more than a dozen other countries.

Three more presentations in this virtual series have been scheduled. On Jan. 12, 2023, at noon, Professor Pieter Vlaardingerbroek, live from Amsterdam, will present a talk, “The Architecture of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam.” Then, on Feb. 9 at 6 p.m., Samantha Baskind, a distinguished professor of art and history at Cleveland State University, will give an illustrated talk, “Picturing Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam (1675).”

The series closes with a special collaborative presentation on March 30 at noon, hosted by the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, “Local Collections in Conversations,” featuring Touro Synagogue’s Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) and its Great Chandelier, and comparative objects from the collection of the RISD Museum. Presenters will include Howard Newman, a nationally respected Newport artist and conservator, who restored both these objects.

To reserve for the Dec. 15 presentation, please visit the “Program & Events” page at, or use this link: . For more information or assistance with registration, please contact Meryle Cawley at 401-847-4794, extension 207 or

Touro Synagogue Foundation, Newport