Many people do not realize the influence of Judaism upon our founding fathers. As you celebrate this weekend with your family, please remember some of the many gifts Judaism has given to our nation:
Haim Solomom (1740-1785) was a Polish-born businessman who lived in New York City. By helping Robert Morris, the chief financier of the American Revolution and Continental Army, to convert French loans into available cash to be used by the army, he is considered one of the prime reasons our Army was able to survive. When the Continental Army was out of money immediately prior to the Battle of Yorktown, and Robert Morris had no suggestions, George Washington simply said, “Send for Haim Solomon”. Not only did he ultimately raise over $650,000 for the Revolution (equating to over 16 million in today’s terms), he gave additional monies personally to soldiers in need. He died in personal poverty financially, but considered himself of great wealth because of his help in creating a nation that would be welcoming to Jews.
We have all heard of the Tony award winning musical, Hamilton. But long before his story was explored on Broadway, the financial architect of our nation was educated in a Jewish school. According to Dr. Andrew Porwancher in his book, “The Jewish Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden Life” (Harvard Univ. Press), Hamilton’s mother Rachel additionally converted to Judaism upon marrying Johann Levine in 1745. If you loved the play, I suggest taking a look at this book for all the interesting and fascinating information about this “Jewish” founding father.
In 1620, William Bradford, one of the leaders of the pilgrims, proposed that Hebrew should be the official language of America. Based upon the idea that the early American settlers modeled themselves after the biblical Exodus, this idea was proposed again in 1780 by George Washington’s good friend, Marquis de Chastellux, and picked up a lot of momentum as many of our early leaders wanted to distance themselves from anything British, including the language. The universities of the time were very Pro Hebrew, making the language mandatory study, and even allowing students to do commencement speeches in the Holy Tongue. The Seal of Yale has a Hebrew phrase in Hebrew letters, and it is clear that at least both Madison and Jefferson were conversant in the language. The Touro Synagogue was dedicated in 1763 in Rhode Island, and Judaism has always been part of the spiritual fabric of our nation.
The original proposed Seal of the United States included an image of the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, and our very system of checks and balances in the government is based upon ancient Israel. The Executive, Judiciary, and Legislative model of checks and balances is directly influenced by the ancient model of the Monarchy, Great Assembly, and Cohanim.
This is only touching on some of the important contributions our tradition gave to the foundation and forming of this nation. There are countless others not only during revolutionary times, but throughout our history as a country. The early abolitionists, philosophers, and political leaders throughout the last 250 years have all been either Jewish or deeply affected by Jewish teachings.
So as you relax and observe this holiday weekend, I encourage you to begin it with Shabbat services on Friday, and continue to do some personal exploration on how Judaism has made this great nation what it is. Pick your favorite time of American history, and you will find Jewish leaders at the forefront of change, and in making this country always a better place.