AMERICA AND JUDAISM An Address By Rabbi N. I. Benson, D. D. Delivered At The Jewish Temple, Jackson, Mississippi, July 4, 1876.
When the hoary hand of time passed the hour of midnight in the preceding day, America had passed a century, and entered upon a new one; and in consequence the same enthusiastic millions of people inhabiting its free soil and enjoying the liberty and energy’s reward sent forth to the King of all kings, Ruler of all nations, a thanksgiving which was appropriate for past dispensations, and an earnest solicitation for future grace. The enthusiasm manifested to-day by America’s children is one of no idle clamor or noisy shouting—it is the voice of the people, acknowledging the gifts of their divine Ruler. If anything in the wide world should call forth a national, and in fact, a universal enthusiasm, it is the celebration of this anniversary, in which a grateful people can behold the realization of what were but hopes, one hundred years ago. The grievances stated by a suffering people in the Declaration of Independence, one of which alone were sufficient to impede the progress and cultivation of any class of people, when the freedom of speech was not tolerated, when the chains of despotism were around their necks, when the yoke of oppression by the tyrannical laws of an unscrupulous tyrant, as the then King of Great Britain was, where the germs of greatness could not be developed, —then I say it was a time to revolt-and throw off the yoke of oppression, and to endeavor to show to that tyrannical monarch, that man has no master, save one, their Creator. And they rallied! they harmonized! and with one unanimous voice the representatives of 40,000,000 people proclaimed themselves free and independent. With one unanimous struggle they threw off the yoke of despotism, and laid before the world their pent-up grievances which gave cause to their revolt. And they succeeded! and what, my friends, think you was the cause of their success? – Perhaps you may think it was physical strength which produced these wonders! Oh no! for we are well aware that the English army outnumbered the Americans vastly in equipments, in regularity, in military tactics and maneuvers. What then was the secret spring of success? Ah, my friends, it was right against might! Yes, my friends, America had a most noble ally right in its ranks; that ally was right arrayed against might; and thank God, in this instance, right won the day. Behold, was it not Providential during the war, where a handful of ragged men drives out from its soil a well-regulated army! Yes, my friends, it was the hand of God. and America is much likened to my beloved creed Judaism. For behold, were we not slaves in Egypt under a tyrannical Pharaoh, and by the goodness of the Almighty God, He sent unto us Moses, who carried out the word of God according to revelation. Even so was America in bondage to Britain’s despotic monarch, and God hearing the voice of the oppressed, sent unto you George Washington, America’s Moses, who, inspired by God, led the ragged and suffering men entrusted to him by Congress, to the field of glory and triumph; and as the children of Israel went out of the land of Egypt unto perpetual liberty, and finally entered into the promised land in glory and triumph, even so did Washington by his patriotism finally and eventually conquer his opponents, and America became the beacon of perpetual liberty, the wonder of the world, a land which we may indeed call the land of milk and honey.
In no country is labor so highly respected, and so well remunerated as in the United States; and in none therefore are the laboring class so happy, and we may add enlightened. No restrictions are laid on industry; political privileges are extended to all. and the humblest citizen may raise himself to the proudest position in the Republic.
Our mechanics have brought a high degree of ingenuity as well as skill to their work; and through their means America has become justly famous for her inventions and improvements. Among a host of things that might be mentioned, it is undeniable that the best locks, life-boats, printing presses and agricultural implements, come from America.
The labor of building up the resources of a new country has as yet left the people of the United States little time and opportunity for cultivating literature and the arts. Yet we point with pride to our meta-physician Edwards; our lexicographer, Noah Webster; our mathematicians, Bodwitch and Rittenhouse; our naturalists, the Audubon’s; our novelists, Irving and Cooper; our poets, Bryant and Longfellow; our sculptors, Powers and Greenough; our painters, Copely, Stuart, Trumbull, Vanderlyn, Allston, Peale and Sully. If there is one thing on which, more than all others, America may pride herself, and found high hopes of stability for her glorious institutions, it is her system of common schools ; she offers the advantage of education to the young without money and without price, convinced that their enlightenment is her best safeguard. Now, having thus enumerated the results of a hundred years’ growth, let us see what could be the cause of this prosperity. In reviewing back the history of other nations, we cannot behold the same results. Instead of progress and amelioration, decay and strife hath proved its career. The secret upon which these noble results are based, is framed in a very few words in the Constitution, wherein is quoted the following words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Ah, noble words! upon these rests the progress of the nation. To how many countries has the non-observance of these words proved a downfall and ruin? How many millions of people have been put to death in the universe on account of the non-adoption of this noble principle; but America, prosperous and fortunate country, thou hast taken unto thee a precept which will eventually develop itself; and the world will look upon thee with admiration and respect. Never will there be in this soil a governor as Appeles, in the days of the Maccabees, who endeavored to enforce conformity in the religious observances and to abolish the laws of Moses; nor will there nestle in thy bosom tyrants like Syro Grecians, [Syrian-Greek mix] who having discovered the fact that the Jews would not use any arms on the Sabbath, even in self-defense, and taking advantage of this scrupulous observance of the holy day of the Lord, attacked a cave near Jerusalem wherein secreted themselves a thousand pious worshippers of God, and slaughtered them without mercy ; nor will there ever be on this soil a madman like Antiochus, who, because they would not renounce their ancestral faith caused, a mother and her seven sons to be put to a death the most ignominious by tortures the most revolting.
The spirit of liberty—liberty of conscience, liberty of thought and speech, the inalienable right of man, has made rapid progress upon the free soil of this vast and blessed Republic, which has been inhabited by human beings hailing hither from all parts of the globe; and Israelites too have sought and found shelter and protection under the banner of the stars and stripes, and settled themselves also in the State of Mississippi. Pursuing the annals of this State we discover traces of Jewish steps in your midst as far back as at least a half a century ago. Most of the early Jewish inhabitants of this State have already long since departed from this world of sorrow and woe for the unknown regions of eternity. But some of them by their constant adherence to the laws of equity and justice, of loyalty and benevolence, left behind them imprints more lasting than monuments of cold marble, and which will never be erased from the memory of Jew or Gentile.
Judaism teaches the equality of person and universal salvation. And it is but just to acknowledge that you, my Christian friends, have tacitly expressed your acknowledgment that the Jew is as good as any other man, that we all have but one Father; one God created us all; and by that acknowledgment, which to us speaks louder than words, you have expressed your belief that in the kingdom of Heaven, there is no distinction made between the Jew and Gentile.
Then indeed, may I uplift my hands to Providence and thank Him, upon this anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, that He, in his benign grace, caused the day to dawn at last, when Jew and Gentile shall walk hand in hand in life, to see at last, that they are indispensable to each other, and I trust that the Creator of the Universe shall strengthen and cement these filial bonds of brotherhood, that when our children shall celebrate one hundred years hence, that this bond of brotherhood shall have become so strong and mutual, that no false doctrines, nor sectarian dogmas, shall be able to sever not even the smallest link.See also: The Wisdom and Love of God as Shown by His Creation by Noah Webster Constitution of the United States and it’s Governmental Operations (In Plain English) Christianity and the Founding of the United States the Simple Truth Advice to Young People from Noah Webster Father of American Education THE DUTY AND VALUE OF PATRIOTISM by John Ireland 1894 PATRIOT SONS OF PATRIOT SIRES by Rev. Samuel Francis Smith 1808-1895