Genesis traces southern rabbinic involvement with black civil rights backward. By doing so it implicitly asks questions concerning the similarities and differences of two communities. The three rabbis represented in these pages acted during a period of heightened racism when civil rights were clearly in retreat. Nevertheless, their varied actions in some ways paralleled those of the rabbis who served during the contrasting heyday of the civil rights movement.
Max Heller, Morris Newfield, and William Fineshriber received educations at Hebrew Union College, an institution that promoted a strong social justice message. The backgrounds of the three rabbis, the influences of role models, direct association with racism in America, consciousness of European events, prior extended participation in other reform activities, and the position of the clergy in the South coupled with factors in the local environment contributed to the decisions the rabbis made. Politics, relations with clergymen of other religions, and organizational structures also played significant parts in the unfolding dramas.