Antisemitism in US Superseded by 400-Year-Old Civic Foundations
Contrary to European antisemitism, the recent episodes of antisemitism in the US — such as hundreds of white supremacists bearing torches and giving the Nazi salute — represent a negligible American minority, religiously, socially, ethnically and politically. These episodes defy the civic, moral and religious foundations of America, as well as the US political, media and civic discourse, which has demonstrated high esteem for Judaism from the era of the early Pilgrims through the Founding Fathers until today.
The Colonial Origin of the American Constitution, by University of Houston Prof. Donald Lutz, highlights “the continuity from the [November 11, 1620] Mayflower Compact to the American state and national constitutions of the late eighteenth century, [which] clearly evolves from basic symbols in the Judeo-Christian tradition… Protestants writing [constitutional] documents viewed their work as equivalent to the Jewish biblical covenants… between God and his chosen people… The political compact eventually evolved into what we now recognize as the American form of constitutionalism.”
For example, the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties — the first modern day compilation of civil and religious liberties — which inspired the 1791 US Bill of Rights, “drew heavily on the Pilgrim Code of Law proposed by John Cotton in 1636, which was based on Mosaic principles.”
In fact, this week’s Torah portion (“Shoftim,” Deuteronomy 16:18 — 21:9) inspired a cardinal distinction of the US constitution: a government of laws, not of men. Moreover, the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy inspired the 1629 Salem Covenant, the 1637 Providence Agreement, 1650 Connecticut Code of Laws, the 1680 New Hampshire General Laws and Liberties, the 1701 Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties and additional codes of civil liberties compiled by the early Pilgrims, setting the Founding Fathers on the constitutional course.
In 2017, conservative Republican Vice President Mike Pence revealed that his faith is largely guided by the Jeremiah 29:11 verse, which hangs above his mantle: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
In 2014, liberal Democratic President Barack Obama quoted Exodus 22:21 (“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”), in order to justify his decision to act unilaterally in deferring deportation of up to five million illegal immigrants.
In 2017, there are eight statues and carvings of Moses and the Ten Commandments in the US Supreme Court, in addition to similar monuments in the chamber of the House of Representatives, the National Archives and additional government offices throughout the country. The Library of Congress features Micah 6:8 in its main reading room: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”
The Story of Hebrew, by Dartmouth University Prof. Lewis Glinert, indicates that the first book written and printed (in 1640) in the British North America, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was Bay Psalm Book, a translation of the book of Psalms, documenting the prominent stature of the Old Testament and Hebrew among the early Pilgrims. “Familiarity with Hebrew was quite common among the intelligentsia and the better-trained of the clergy… Harvard’s first two presidents were Hebrew scholars, as were the first president of King’s College (later Columbia) and Ezra Stiles, the first president of Yale… a world-renowned intellectual, the leading American-Hebraist of the era and a prominent supporter of the American Revolution… The study of Hebrew marched hand-in-hand with the enlightenment principles of the American founding… [President Stiles] learned much about Hebrew from his friend, Rabbi Hayyim Carigal from [the original] Hebron.”
While there is only one Hebron in the Land of Israel — King David’s first capital — there are 18 Hebrons in the US, representing the thousands of locations across America bearing Biblical names. This reflects the state of mind of the early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, who considered themselves to be “the modern-day Chosen People” and viewed the New World as “the modern-day Promised Land.”
They established the 400-year-old foundation (since 1620) for the special affinity of the American people for the Jewish state, and America’s high esteem for the Old Testament, which dwarf the significance of supremacists and any other form of anti-Israel or antisemitic sentiments.