Evangelical-Jewish Relations

NetanyahiRalph Keen is writing for us this week from the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History in New York City.  Keen is Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation Chair of Catholic Studies and Professor of History at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 2018 he was president of the ASCH.

A session on Evangelical-Jewish relations brought new light to the harmonies and tensions between American Jews and pro-Israel Evangelicals. Amy Weiss (College of St. Elizabeth) presented Billy Graham and Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum of the American Jewish Committee as partners, not without differences, in the forging of an alliance regarding Israel and the promotion of inter-religious dialogue before 1979 when Baptist claims of Evangelical exclusiveness made it harder for Jews to work with the SBC. Daniel Hummel (UW-Madison) discussed the construction of a Judeo-Christian identity in the wake of the 1982 Lebanon War, arguing that that war prompted a clearer definition of the term by the religious right, one that asserted that freedom of religious practice (specifically that of Christians in Islamic regions) is a human right. Hummel described Jerry Falwell’s trip to Lebanon as a point in the development of American support of Israel. Third, Ian Van Dyke (Notre Dame) unpacked the difficult questions regarding the religious identity of Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians, particularly as they arose during the 1989 International Congress of World Evangelization in Manila. Tensions between these two groups triggered questions about who could be considered Christian (as well as whether Messianic Jews were still Jews), in particular given their stances toward Israel. As Heath Carter stated in his comment after these papers, it was evident that there was more conflict within Evangelicalism concerning Judaism and Israel than there was between Evangelicals and Jews.

George Washington and American Jews

Touro-Synagogue

On August 18, 2019, Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island had its 72nd annual reading of George Washington’s letter to this Jewish congregation.  The speaker that day was Jed Rakoff, a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York.

The New York Review of Books is running an excerpt of Rakoff’s speech.  Here is a taste of Washington’s Legacy for American Jews: ‘To Bigotry No Sanction.’“:

George Washington’s letter of August 1790 (sixteen months after he became president) responding to a letter from Moses Seixas, Warden of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, is rightly celebrated as one of the definitive statements of religious freedom under the new US Constitution. Washington’s assertion that “the Government of the United States… gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” made clear that our nation’s first president would not permit the power of the new government to become an instrument of religious intolerance….

But is it still true? There may be cause to worry. Two years ago, in August 2017, neo-Nazi marchers, some of them carrying Nazi flags, descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Some of these neo-Nazi demonstrators, carrying semi-automatic rifles, surrounded a local synagogue and posted messages online threatening to burn the temple down. Finally, James Alex Fields Jr.—a confessed Hitler admirer—intentionally drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a young woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring twenty-eight others.

Then, last October, an expressly anti-Semitic mass murderer entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing eleven members of the congregation and wounding several others. This, the single most violent anti-Semitic incident in US history, was followed, just a few months ago, by a synagogue shooting near San Diego, California, that left one Jew dead and several others injured.

Needless to say, Jews have not been the only victims of the acts of domestic terrorism that have become all too common in our country. Black and Hispanic people, and others, have suffered much worse, as recent events in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, so horribly attest. But that a violent hatred of Jews is once again rearing its ugly head in certain quarters is difficult to deny. Although in America, in contrast to anti-Semitism in many other parts of the world, this hatred and accompanying violence is mostly the work of small fringe groups of political extremists, it is apparent that such attacks are increasing in both number and ferocity. American Jews, so fortunate in so many ways, need to be more alert to these threats, both to others and to ourselves.

I do not wish to seem an alarmist, and all of this must be put in perspective. Despite the recent increase in anti-Semitism in the US, we Jews owe the overwhelming majority of our fellow Americans a huge debt, both for according us what Washington called our “natural rights,” and for increasingly welcoming us into the life of the American Republic without obliging us to abandon our traditions and beliefs. As Washington envisaged in his letter, Americans have in so many ways become “a great and a happy people,” Jewish Americans not least among them. But just as eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, so we cannot be sure that such happiness will continue if we do not acknowledge, and confront, the growing dangers we face.

Unlike the Moses Seixas of May 1790, who feared to give offense, we must be like the Moses Seixas of August 1790, who asserted our rights, as Americans and Jews, to lead our daily lives free of fear.

Read the entire piece here.

Eric Alterman on Springsteen: “World-famous rock stars don’t come any menschier”

Long Walk HomeEric Alterman, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is a contributor to the recently released collection Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen (Rutgers University Press, 2019).  His essay in the book is titled “Growing Up With Bruce Springsteen: A Fan’s Notes.”  Here is a taste of an excerpt of that essay published in today’s New York Times:

Bruce Springsteen is the son of Catholic parents and grandparents. There is no ambiguity on this point. And yet, in much the same way that New York football fans have casually annexed the stadium across the river to root for what they like to pretend is their “home” team, some Jewish Springsteen fans are devoted to proving that New Jersey’s favorite Irish Italian son is, if not actually Jewish, nevertheless somehow Jew-ish. Perhaps you thought young Bruce was mostly singing about cars, girls, and getting the hell out of town before he switched gears to focus on the dignity of working folk, the broken promises of the American dream, and more cars and girls. But amid the empty factories, crowded barstools, and swimming holes that constitute the foundation of the Springsteen oeuvre, some detect a whiff of the Chosen.

Read the rest here.

The Meaning of Trump’s Israel Comments

The president has been talking about Israel a lot lately.

First, there was Trump pressuring Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent two members of Congress from visiting Israel.

Then he suggested that Jews who vote for Democratic candidates lack knowledge and are “disloyal.”

Then a conservative pundit and promoter of the Obama birther conspiracy named Wayne Allyn Root said this about Trump:

I happen to be Jewish by birth, and 75% of all Jews vote Democrat and they don’t like Trump and he is the greatest president for Jews, and for Israel, in the history of the world–not just America, Trump is the best for Israel in the history of world.  And the Jewish people love him like he’s the King of Israel.  They love him like he is the second coming of God. And in America, American Jews don’t like him.

Trump liked what he heard.  Of course he did.  He is always glad when one of his sycophants worships him.  He tweeted:

And then there was yesterday press briefing.  I think Root got in his head.  Watch Trump’s refer to himself as “the chosen one”:

Whenever Donald Trump mentions Israel he is speaking directly to his evangelical base.

Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

The third major issue championed by the court evangelicals is the United states recognition of Jerusalem as the “eternal capital ” of the Jewish people….One of the reasons conservative evangelicals are ecstatic about this move is that many of them believe…that biblical prophecy teaches that the return of the Jews to Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Christ will one day return to earth with his raptured saints and descend on a rebuilt temple located inside Jerusalem.  Robert Jeffress is one of the most outspoken defenders of Trump’s decision to move the capital to the holy city.  He has written several books on biblical prophecy and is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, the center of Dispensational theology in America.  Jeffress told Fox News that Trump is now “on the right side of history” and on the “right side of God.”

Trump’s decision to move the embassy, which no doubt came after much lobbying from the court evangelicals, is not only a triumph for the Dispensationalists; it also fits well with INC apostle Lance Wallnau’s prophecy that Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus.  This merger of Dispensational theology and INC prophecy appears in court evangelical Mike Evans’s response to the Trump move.  One of America’s leading Christian Zionists, Evans recently founded the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to celebrate the “everlasting bond between the Jewish and Christian peoples.”  When Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Evans enthusiastically told the Christian Broadcasting Network that when he next saw Trump in the Oval Office he would say to him: “Cyrus, you’re Cyrus.  Because you’ve done something historic and prophetic.”  Wallnau envisioned Trump as a Cyrus who would save American Christians; Evans believed that Trump was a modern-day Cyrus who would make possible the restoration of Jerusalem and the further confirmation of Israel’s future role in biblical prophecy.  Because of Trump’s actions, Evans declared, the blessing of God would come upon America.  Indeed, this decision would make America great in the eyes of God.  It also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals, raising questions about whether his decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was more of a political move than a diplomatic or religious one.

Yesterday Fox News broadcaster Todd Starnes had court evangelical Robert Jeffress on the show to talk about Trump’s comments about Israel.  Listen to it here:

Jeffress tries to downplay biblical prophecy in this interview (despite the fact that he has written books about this very topic), but it should not surprise anyone that he supports Trump’s remarks about Jews who vote for Democratic candidates.

Again, when you hear Trump talk about Israel, think about the evangelical base he needs to win in 2020.

5 “Must-Read” Books on Anti-Semitism in America

FordThese recommendations come from Brandeis University’s Jonathan Sarna, one of the foremost authorities on American Judaism.  (Back in 2012, I reviewed Sarna’s excellent book When General Grant Expelled the Jews).

Antisemitism in America
By Leonard Dinnerstein

And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank 
By Steve Oney

Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate
By Neil Baldwin

The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton 
By Jerome Karabel

The Temple Bombing 
By Melissa Fay Greene

Read Sarna’s annotations on these titles at the Brandeis University website.

What Should We Make of Yesterday’s Exit Polls on Religious Voters?

Vote church

Mark Silk of Religion News Service interprets the exit polls:

  • White evangelicals voted for Republicans.  (Surprise!)
  • Protestants constituted less than half of the electorate for the first time in U.S. history
  • Catholics were split, but they leaned Democratic.  This may be because of the Latino vote.
  • Trump’s support of Israel did not sway Jewish voters.  In fact, their support for Democratic candidates doubled
  • “Nones” voted Democratic

Silk concludes: “The bottom line, as moving parts of the American religious system continue their recent trends, is clear: Republicans beware.”

Read the entire piece here.

Mike Pence Invites a Messianic Jew to Pray at His Rally

Pence and Jacobs

Mike Pence invited a Messianic Jew to pray at a recent campaign rally.  Here is Matthew Haag’s piece at The New York Times:

As he began his prayer, it became immediately clear that the rabbi, Loren Jacobs of Congregation Shema Yisrael in suburban Detroit, would not be considered a Jew by any of the four major denominations of Judaism. In his prayer, he mentioned the “saving power” of the Lord and concluded, “In the name of Jesus, amen.”

Rabbi Jacobs believes that Jesus is the Messiah, a conviction that is theologically incompatible with Judaism. Some Jews believe that the movement the rabbi represents, Messianic Judaism, is not only antithetical to Judaism but also hostile to their religion because its goal is to persuade Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and by doing so convert Jewish people to Christianity.

Rabbi Jacobs, a leading figure in the denomination colloquially known as Jews for Jesus, quickly came under criticism on Monday for appearing to represent Jews at the rally and for leading the only prayer by a religious figure at the event for the 11 people and six others injured in the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday.

Read the rest here.

There are two ways to interpret this:

  1. Pence really believes that Messianic Jews are real Jews and by inviting Loren Jacobs to pray he thought he was making some kind of gesture of compassion to those killed in Pittsburgh.  If this is the case, he is completely clueless.  The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on this in 1989.
  2. Pence knows that Messianic Jews are actually Christian dispensationalists and the invitation to Jacobs was an attempt to appeal to his Christian Right base.

Whatever the case, it shows that Pence is using the Pittsburgh tragedy for political purposes.

It should also be noted that Jacobs specifically prayed that members of the Republican should win in 2018.  (Although he also prayed that if they lose they would accept God’s will).

George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, 18 August 1790

TouroSynagogue_02

In August 1790, President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and others traveled to Rhode Island.  On August 18, they stopped at the Touro Synagogue in Newport.  Later in the day, Washington wrote this letter to the congregation:

Gentlemen.

 

While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address1 replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport,2 from all classes of Citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

A President of the United States at a Jewish synagogue.

For more context on this letter and the trip click here.

*Believe Me* in the *Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle*

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Last week I had a great phone conversation with Toby Tabachnik of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle for her story on evangelicals and Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of her piece: “They love Israel and Trump–the complex world of evangelicals“:

More than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for President Donald Trump, a candidate whose personal behavior arguably conflicts with the family values of traditional Christianity.

His purported marital infidelities, the vulgar way in which he spoke of women in the now infamous “Access Hollywood” interview and now, his alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels all seem pretty contrary to the ways of the church.

But in “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” a new book by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., the politicization of evangelicals and their overwhelming support of Trump can be explained as a natural corollary of their “culture war” begun in the 1970s — which includes a resolute stance against abortion and the defense of “religious liberty,” as they define it.

Read the entire piece here.

Who Preached This Morning in First Baptist Church, Dallas?

First Baptist

As we noted yesterday, Robert Jeffress is in Jerusalem today preparing to the deliver a prayer at the opening of the new American embassy.  This means that he did not preach today at First Baptist Church–Dallas.

According to my sources, Jeffress chose Southern Baptist evangelist Bailey Smith to preach in his absence.  Bailey’s website boasts that “as a pastor, he has led more people to Christ than any other Southern Baptist pastor in an equal period of time in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.”  He was a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Outside of Southern Baptist circles, Smith is probably best known for saying that “God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew.”  Oh, the irony!  You can’t make this stuff up!

Court Evangelical Support For Kushner May Be More Than Just Political

Kushner

Earlier today we published a post on the court evangelical’s support of Jared Kushner as he testified before Congress this week.

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey points out that many of these court evangelicals like Kushner because he is an orthodox Jew.

Here is a taste of her piece:

While there is a deep divide in the Southern Baptist Convention over whether pastors should continue to vocally support Trump, several Southern Baptist pastors continue to support the president. Jeremiah, a pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in California, said that Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are Jewish, may have been chosen by God to help Christians.

“It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States, defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations,” Jeremiah wrote in his statement.

Moore said that many evangelicals feel “a connectedness” to Kushner’s Orthodox Jewish faith because it’s so “seamlessly integrated in his life. ”

Many white evangelicals have warm attitudes toward Jews because they believe God has set them apart as chosen. White evangelicals rate Jews more positively than any other non-Christian religious group, but Jews rate white evangelicals least positively among Christian groups, according to the Pew Research Center.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder if the court evangelicals believe that Donald Trump’s “Presbyterian Christian faith” is “seamlessly integrated in his life.”

Who is Henry Marie Brackenridge?

 

HM_Brackenridge_1901Chief Justice John Roberts quoted a Brackenridge speech in the Trinity Lutheran v. Comer majority opinion.

Here is a taste of Ann E. Marimow’s piece at The Washington Post:

The lawmaker Roberts cited was H.M. Brackenridge, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and leading supporter of what was known as the “Jew Bill” — a measure to remove the state’s requirement that elected officials swear to “a belief in the Christian religion.”

The brief excerpt from Brackenridge’s lengthy speech came at the end of the 15-page majority opinion in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. The high court found that a preschool operated by a Missouri church should have been eligible for state funding just like other non-religious charitable organizations.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., brought the case after the Missouri government excluded the church from a grant program that pays to resurface playgrounds because the state said it could not provide financial assistance directly to a church. In the 7-2 decision, Roberts quoted Brackenridge before concluding that the exclusion of the church “solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The son of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge, Brackenridge is hardly a household name in Maryland’s political history having served just two terms representing Baltimore. Much of his career was spent in other states, including stints as a judge in Louisiana and Florida, and as a U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania in 1840.

Brackenridge’s 1819 speech was part of broader effort to get rid of a measure that prevented Jews from holding office. Many states in the early nineteenth-century had religious qualifications for office.

According to the Maryland State Archives, Brackenridge argued that Maryland’s requirement violated the First Amendment of the Constitution that at the time only applied to the federal government. The so-called Jew Bill did not pass during Brackenridge’s tenure, when there were only about 150 Jewish people in Maryland. Jews were unable to hold elected office in Maryland until 1826, said Emily Oland Squires, director of research, education and outreach at the Maryland State Archives.

Read the entire piece here.

It is also worth noting here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home that H.M. Brackenridge is the son of Henry Hugh Brackenridge, a Princeton classmate of Philip Vickers Fithian.

So It Looks Like This Will Not Be Happening

Ed Kilgore reports at New York Magazine:

Trump conspicuously promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem at an AIPAC event in March of 2016. He reiterated the pledge on the eve of his inauguration, adding that, “You know I’m not a person who breaks promises.” And at the 2017 AIPAC gathering a few weeks ago, Vice-President Mike Pence backed off some but managed to raise expectations again. “After decades of simply talking about it, the president of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Pence said.

Well, not anymore, or at least not imminently. Trump’s hopes of brokering some sort of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are apparently alive, and he plans to meet with Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem next week. Putting the embassy move on hold is essential to any diplomacy with the Palestinians.

Read the entire piece here.

Religion and the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution: A Short Series, Part 7

Mikveh

Sketch of Mikveh Israel’s new synagogue, built in 1782.

I am afraid that this series is no longer “short” (at least by blog standards).  If you want to get up to speed click here for earlier installments.

As we have noted before, the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 was very democratic in nature.  This is what I wrote in Part 1 of this series:

The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 was the most democratic state constitution in the newly established United States.  It had a unicameral legislature and a plural executive.  Power rested in the legislature. While there were other states (Vermont and Georgia) that had unicameral legislatures, the Pennsylvania government was unique because it gave the right to vote and the right to hold office to all males, regardless of wealth or land ownership.  This meant that the one-house legislature was virtually unchecked by a governor or an upper-house.  Members of the legislature had to swear an oath of loyalty to this new government.  Proceedings were open to the public and published in newspapers in both English and German.  This was democracy at work.  Several historians and political scientists have pointed to the influence of Thomas Paine on its framers.

Historians of the American Revolution, especially those from the Neo-Progressive historiographical school, like to point to the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 as an early experiment in democracy.

For example, here is historian Gary Nash:

…the ideas embedded in the radical constitution of 1776 lived on.  Reflecting the full flowering of democratic thought in the Revolutionary Era and standing as a prime example of the revolution within the Revolution, it inspired lawmakers around the world.  Unicameralism, with its insistence that a true democracy should make no distinction between the haves and have-nots as represented in upper and lower legislative houses, spread around the world.  It was acclaimed and implemented in revolutionary France and is how law is made today in Nebraska, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Hong Kong; in all of Australia and Canada’s provinces: in the legislative bodies of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; in Italy and Spain; and in almost all socialist states.  Most important, the broadening franchise, in which land ownership is not required for first-class citizenship, in time nashbecame the gold standard nationwide and gradually spread aborad as the most important legacy of the sparks from Pennsylvania’s altar of ’76.  Philadelphia’s radical caucus had changed Pennsylvania’s position on independence at a crucial moment in the summer of 1776, and in the process had turned Pennsylvania into a people’s republic. —Gary Nash, “Philadelphia’s Radical Cause That Propelled Pennsylvania to Independence and Democracy,” in Ray Raphael, Alfred Young, and Gary Nash, ed., Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation.

Nash is correct.  The  Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 was radical.  But what he fails to mention is that for many of these members of the convention this kind of progressive democracy had its limits.

Here is Section 10:

A quorum of the house of representatives shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of members elected; and having met and chosen their speaker, shall each of them before they proceed to business take and subscribe, as well the oath or affirmation of fidelity and allegiance hereinafter directed, as the following oath or affirmation, viz:

I do swear (or affirm) that as a member of this assembly, I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote, or resolution, which stall appear to free injurious to the people; nor do or consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared in the constitution of this state; but will in all things conduct myself as a faithful honest representative and guardian of the people, according to the best of only judgment and abilities.

And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:

I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.

And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.

Yes, the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 established a “people’s republic,” but the only people permitted to govern in this “people’s republic” were those who could uphold a belief in the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments.  In other words, the framers only wanted Christians running their commonwealth.

Pennsylvania Jews were not very happy about this.  In 1783, the Council of Censors, a body that met every seven years to suggest amendments to the constitution so that the government would function more efficiently, received a letter from the leaders of Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel congregation.

Here is a taste of that letter:

That by the tenth section of the Frame of Government of this Commonwealth, it is ordered that each member of the general assembly of representatives of the freemen of Pennsylvania, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe a declaration, which ends in these words, “I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the old and new Testament to be given by divine inspiration,” to which is added an assurance, that “no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this state.”

Your memorialists beg leave to observe, that this clause seems to limit the civil rights of your citizens to one very special article of the creed; whereas by the second paragraph of the declaration of the rights of the inhabitants, it is asserted without any other limitation than the professing the existence of God, in plain words, “that no man who acknowledges the being of a God can be justly deprived or abridged of any civil rights as a citizen on account of his religious sentiments.” But certainly this religious test deprives the Jews of the most eminent rights of freemen, solemnly ascertained to all men who are not professed Atheists.

They asked the Council of Censors to amend the Constitution:

Your memorialists beg further leave to represent, that in the religious books of the Jews, which are or may be in every man’s hands, there are no such doctrines or principles established as are inconsistent with the safety and happiness of the people of Pennsylvania, and that the conduct and behaviour of the Jews in this and the neighbouring States, has always tallied with the great design of the Revolution; that the Jews of Charlestown, New York, New-Port and other posts, occupied by the British troops, have distinguishedly suffered for their attachment to the Revolution principles; and their brethren at St. Eustatius, for the same cause, experienced the most severe resentments of the British commanders. The Jews of Pennsylvania in proportion to the number of their members, can count with any religious society whatsoever, the Whigs among either of them; they have served some of them in the Continental army; some went out in the militia to fight the common enemy; all of them have cheerfully contributed to the support of the militia, and of the government of this State; they have no inconsiderable property in lands and tenements, but particularly in the way of trade, some more, some less, for which they pay taxes; they have, upon every plan formed for public utility, been forward to contribute as much as their circumstances would admit of; and as a nation or a religious society, they stand unimpeached of any matter whatsoever, against the safety and happiness of the people.

And your memorialists humbly pray, that if your honours, from any consideration than the subject of this address, should think proper to call a convention for revising the constitution, you would be pleased to recommend this to the notice of that convention.

In the 18th-century world democracy had its limits.

Stay tuned.  One or two more posts left in this series.

Bonus feature:  We covered the Mikveh Israel letter in a recent episode of the Virtual Office Hours:

 

George Washington on the Difference Between Religious Toleration and Religious Freedom

tourosyn_creditRead George Washington to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, August 18, 1790.

This is an amazing letter for all kinds of reasons, but I am always struck by how Washington makes a clear distinction between religious toleration and religious freedom.

Here is a taste:

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.