3/17/07 – Jews: A Cultural Self - Portrait by M. Asinoff
I am a second-generation-American Jew of eastern European descent. My last name’s Russian, because my grandparents, along with millions of others, immigrated-from Eastern Europe, around the turn of the 20th Century, because this is a land of opportunity, offers political and religious freedom. While unlike Israelis we don’t speak Hebrew. My parents are fluent in Yiddish, a German dialect, and like most Jews it was a “secret “- language: spoken when they did not want the children to know what they were saying. I picked some up and talk to my parakeet in it daily, to make her multi-cultural. People often ask if my parents are American. I say, mom’s-from Brooklyn and pop’s from the Bronx. So I guess so. I add they’re not really Jews because they do not value education. I am a college professor with a graduate degree. But they want me to be a mailman, like my brother, Jeff. He’s their pet, partially because of it. His ability to read the letters/sign his check’s a huge-surprise & no- small miracle. My parents have cultural ways. We also enjoy various ethnic foods.
We are a complex people because we have a great sense of humor, value education, are very materialistic, a-matriarchal society and try to control our children. An Israeli man in the doctor’s office joked, “The only thing worse than a Palestinian terrorist is a Jewish mom.” My family is not religious. Being a Jew is tough. But we persevere anyway.
Many people think Jew’s a pejorative word because of Hitler. It’s not.
Like most religions we’re romantically modest. Men & women are segregated in Temple & most places. They have separate entrances and in private, religious colleges classes are segregated: men attend Monday & Wednesday. Women go Tuesday & Thursday. If they attend the same night they must be on opposite sides of the building with a closed door, or some sort of barrier.
We’re not allowed to touch in anyway, whatsoever. Not even shaking hands is permitted. Women wear long sleeves, skirts and dresses. Once married women many shave their heads and wear a shitle (wig) so they won’t be attractive to other men
We are the oldest of any people on earth still around with their national identity and cultural heritage intact & the chosen ones: God picked us to accept monotheism first. That is why The 2nd Commandment says, “Thou shall have no other God before me.” We are also about ½, of 1%, of the world population, & about half of the professionals. Three of greatest & most influential thinkers dominating the 20th century were Jews - Einstein, Freud and Marx. Joseph Pulitzer was Hungarian & ½ Jewish on his dad’s side & created the prestigious award that led to the formation of the Columbia School of Journalism in Harlem, NY.
In his play, “The Merchant of Venice”, Shakespeare said, “I am a Jew: Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions…warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian?” Voltaire said, “…we all ought to become Jews, because Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jew, died a Jew, and said expressly that he was fulfilling the Jewish religion.” Fran Salvador was the first Jew to die fighting the British in the Revolutionary War. H. Solomon helped the Union win the Civil War by selling bonds in Europe & lending much of his own $, interest free. He lost it and died penniless. Years- later a statue of him and George Washington was erected in Chicago. R. Ginsberg: former S. Court Justice. Dr. Simon Baruch: performed the first successful appendicitis operation. Dr. Abraham Jacobi is hailed as America's Father of pediatrics.
Dr. Siccary showed differently, Americans believed the tomato was poisonous. Chagall, from Segal, Russia is one of the great 20th Century painters. Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, "give me your tired ... your poor... your huddled masses," appears as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. Louis Santanel was the financier who funded Columbus' voyage to America. Former and current NYC Board of Ed. Chancellors Harold Levy and Joel Klein- are. So is Bruce Wasserman, chairman of the investment banking giant Lazard, owner of New York Magazine & brother of the-late great, award winning playwright Wendy Wasserman.
So was Maimonides: 3/30/1135–12/13/1204, a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Spain and Egypt during the Middle Ages. He was one of the various medieval Jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-Jewish world. Although his copious works on Jewish law and ethics was initially met with opposition during his lifetime, he was posthumously acknowledged to be one of the foremost rabbinical arbiters and philosophers in Jewish history. Today, his works and views are considered a cornerstone of Orthodox Jewish thought and study.
Maimonides' full name was Moshe Ben Maimon (Hebrew: משה בן מיימון) and his Arabic name was موسى بن ميمون بن عبد الله القرطبي الإسرائيلي (Mussa bin Maimun ibn Abdallah al-Kurtubi al-Israili). However, he is most commonly known by his Greek name, Moses Maimonides (Μωησής Μαϊμονίδης), which literally means, "Moses, son of Maimon." Many Jewish works refer to him by the Hebrew acronym of his title and name — Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon — calling him the RaMBaM or the Rambam (רמב"ם).
Maimonides was born in 1135 in Córdoba, Spain, then under Muslim rule during what some scholars consider to be the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. Maimonides studied Torah under his father Maimon who had in turn studied under Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash. The Almohades conquered Córdoba in 1148, and offered the Jewish community the choice of conversion to Islam, death, or exile. Maimonides's family, along with most other Jews, chose exile. For the next ten years they moved about in southern Spain, avoiding the conquering Almohades, but eventually settled in Fes in Morocco, where Maimonides acquired most of his secular knowledge, studying at the University of Fes. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishnah.
Following this sojourn in Morocco, he briefly lived in the Holy Land, spending time in Jerusalem, and finally settled in Fostat, Egypt; where he was doctor of the Grand Vizier Alfadhil and also possibly the doctor of Sultan Saladin of Egypt. In Egypt, he composed most of his oeuvre, including the Mishneh Torah. He died in Fostat, and was buried in Tiberias (today in Israel). His son Avraham, recognized as a great scholar, succeeded him as Nagid (head of the Egyptian Jewish Community), as well as in the office of court physician, at the age of only eighteen. He greatly honored the memory of his father, and throughout his career defended his father's writings against all critics. The office of Nagid was held by the Maimonides Family for four successive generations until the end of the 14th century.
He is widely respected in Spain & a statue of him was erected in Córdoba alongside his synagogue, which is no longer a Jewish house of worship but is open to the public. There is no Jewish community in Córdoba now, but the city ‘s proud of its historical connection to Rambam.
See: History of the Jews in Egypt. Works, bibliography and manuscript page by Maimonides. Judeo-Arabic Language in Hebrew letters.
He composed both works of Jewish scholarship, and medical texts. Most of Maimonides' works were written in Arabic. However, the Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew. His Jewish texts were: The Commentary on the Mishna, written in Arabic. This text was one of the first commentaries of its kind; its introductory sections are widely-quoted. See Mishnah Commentaries for details; Sefer Hamitzvot ("The Book of Commandments"). See 613 mitzvot for details;
The Mishneh Torah (also known as " Sefer Yad ha-Chazaka"), a comprehensive code of Jewish law;
The Guide for the Perplexed, a philosophical work harmonising and differentiating Aristotelian philosophy and Jewish theology;
Teshuvot, collected correspondence and responsa, including a number of public letters (on resurrection and the after-life, on conversion to other faiths, and Iggereth Teiman - addressed to the oppressed Jewry of Yemen).
Maimonides also wrote a number of medical texts; some of which are still in existence. The best known is his collection of medical aphorisms, titled Fusul Musa in Arabic ("Chapters of Moses", Pirkei Moshe in Hebrew).
Influence: title page of The Guide for the Perplexed
He was by far the most influential figure in medieval Jewish philosophy. A popular medieval saying that also served as his epitaph states, From Moshe (of the Torah) to Moshe (Maimonides) there was none like Moshe.
Radical Jewish scholars in the centuries that followed can be characterized as "Maimonideans" or "anti-Maimonideans". Moderate scholars were- eclectics who largely accepted Maimonides' Aristotelian world-view, but rejected those elements of it which they considered to contradict the religious tradition. Such eclecticism reached its height in the 14th-15th centuries.
The most rigorous medieval critique of Maimonides is Hasdai Crescas' Or Hashem. Crescas bucked the eclectic trend, by demolishing the certainty of the Aristotelian world-view, not only in religious matters, but even in the most basic areas of medieval science (such as physics and geometry). Crescas' critique provoked a number of 15th century scholars to write defenses of Maimonides. A translation of Crescas was produced by Harry Austryn Wolfson of Harvard University, in 1929.
The 13 Principles of Faith
In his commentary on the Mishna (tractate Sanhedrin, chapter 10), Maimonides formulates his 13 principles of faith. They described his views on: The existence of God, God's unity, God's spirituality and in corporeality, God's eternity, God alone should be the object of worship, Revelation through God's prophets; The preeminence of Moses among the prophets; God's law given on Mount Sinai; The immutability of the Torah as God's Law; God's foreknowledge of human actions; Reward of good and retribution of evil; The coming of the Jewish Messiah; The resurrection of the dead; These principles were controversial when first proposed, evoking criticism by Hasdai Crescas & Joseph Albo, and were effectively ignored by much of the Jewish community for the next few centuries. ("Dogma –in- Medieval Jewish Thought", Menachem Kellner). However, these principles became widely-held; today, Orthodox Judaism holds these beliefs to be obligatory. Two poetic restatements of these principles (Ani Ma'amin and Yigdal) eventually became canonized in the "siddur" (Jewish prayer book).
See also Mishneh Torah on his influence in halakha. With Mishneh Torah, Maimonides composed a code of Jewish law with the widest-possible scope and depth. The work gathers all the binding laws from the Talmud, and incorporates the positions of the Geonim (post-Talmudic early Medieval Scholars, mainly from Mesopotamia). It is a highly-systematized work, and employs a very clear Hebrew, reminiscent of the style of the Mishna.
While Mishneh Torah is now considered the fore-runner of the Arbaah Turim and the Shulkhan Arukh (two later codes), it met initially with much opposition. There were two main reasons for this opposition. Firstly, Maimonides had refrained from adding references to his work for the sake of brevity. Secondly, in the introduction, he gave the impression of wanting to "cut out" study of the Talmud, to arrive at a conclusion in Jewish law. His most forceful opponents were the rabbis of the Province (Southern France), and a running critique by Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud (Raavad III) is printed in virtually all editions of Mishneh Torah.
Through the “Guide for the Perplexed” and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted an important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of Arab Muslim philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired an intimate acquaintance not only with Arab Muslim philosophy, but with the doctrines of Aristotle. He strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science, with the teachings of the Torah.
The principle which inspired his philosophical activity was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between truths God’s revealed, & findings of the human mind in science & philosophy. He primarily relied on the science of Aristotle & philosophies of the Talmud & Aristotle, commonly finding basis in the former for the latter. In some important points, however, he departed from Aristotle. For instance, he rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, & not individuals.
He was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept. For instance, he was an adherent of "negative theology" (also known as "Apophatic theology".) In this theology, one attempts to describe God through negative attributes. For instance, one should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; all we can safely say is that God is not non-existent. We should not say that "God is wise"; but we can say that "God is not ignorant", i.e. in some way, God has some properties of knowledge. We should not say that "God is One", but we can state that "there is no multiplicity in God's being". In brief, the attempt is to gain and express knowledge of God by describing what God is not; rather than by describing what God "is".
The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God; but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal", "omnipotent", etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Moses did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal", etc. In essence what he wanted to express is that when people give God anthropomorphic qualities they do not do justice to His greatness.
He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series…emanating from God, the prophet must, by study & meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here, he invokes the authority of "the Law", which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the "free act of God", before the man actually becomes a prophet.
The problem of evil
Maimonides wrote on theodicy, the attempt to reconcile the existence of evil, with the premise that an omnipotent and good God exists. He follows the neo-Platonists in laying stress on matter as the source of all evil and imperfection.
Astrology & answered an inquiry concerning astrology, addressed to him from Marseille. He responded that man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority. He affirms that he studied astrology,& that it doesn’t deserve to be described as a science. The supposition that the fate of a man could be dependent upon the constellations is ridiculed by him; he argues that such a theory would rob life of purpose & make man a slave of destiny. (See also fatalism, predestination.)
True beliefs V. necessary beliefs.
In "Guide for the Perplexed" Book III, Chapter 28, he explicitly draws a distinction between "true beliefs", which were beliefs about God which produced intellectual perfection, and "necessary beliefs", which were conducive to improving social order. He places anthropomorphic statements about God in the latter class. He uses as an example, the notion that God becomes "angry" with people who do wrong. In his- view. God does not actually become angry with people; but it is important for them to believe God does, so that they desist from sinning.
Resurrection, acquired immortality, and the afterlife.
Maimonides distinguishes two kinds of intelligence in man, the one material in the sense of being dependent on, and influenced by, the body, and the other immaterial, that is, independent of the bodily organism. The latter is a direct emanation from the universal active intellect; this is his interpretation of the noûs poietikós of Aristotelian philosophy. It is acquired as the result of the efforts of the soul to attain a correct knowledge of the absolute, pure intelligence of God.
The knowledge of God is a form of knowledge which develops in us the immaterial intelligence, and thus confers on man an immaterial, spiritual nature. This confers on the soul that perfection in which human happiness consists, and endows the soul with immortality. One who has attained a correct knowledge of God has reached a condition of existence which renders him immune from all the accidents of fortune, from all the allurements of sin, and even from death itself. Man, therefore is in a position not only to work out his- own salvation and immortality.
The resemblance between this doctrine and Spinoza's doctrine of immortality is so striking as to warrant the hypothesis that there is a causal dependence of the later on the earlier doctrine.
The differences between the two Jewish thinkers are, however, as remarkable as the resemblance. While Spinoza teaches that the way to attain the knowledge which confers immortality is the progress from sense-knowledge through scientific knowledge to philosophical intuition of all things sub specie æternitatis. He holds that the road to perfection and immortality is the path of duty as described in the Torah and the rabbinic understanding of the oral law.
Religious Jews not only believed in immortality in some spiritual sense, but most believed that there would at some point in the future be a messianic era, and a resurrection of the dead. This is the subject of Jewish eschatology. he wrote much on this topic, but in most cases he wrote about the immortality of the soul for people of perfected intellect; his writings were usually not about the resurrection of dead bodies. This prompted hostile criticism from the rabbis of his day, and sparked a controversy over his true views.
Rabbinic works usually refer to this afterlife as "Olam Haba" (the World to- Come). Some rabbinic works use this phrase to refer to a messianic era, an era of history right here on Earth; in other rabbinic works this phrase refers to a purely spiritual realm. It was during his lifetime that this lack of agreement flared into a full blown controversy, with him charged as a heretic by some Jewish leaders.
Some Jews then taught that Judaism didn’t require a belief in the dead’s physical resurrection as the afterlife would be a purely spiritual realm. They used his works on this matter to back up their position. In return, their opponents claimed that this was outright heresy; for them the afterlife was right here on Earth, where God would raise bodies from the grave so they’d live eternally. He was brought into this dispute by both sides: the first group stated his writings agreed with them. The 2nd portrayed him as a heretic for writing the afterlife is for the immaterial spirit alone. Eventually, he felt pressured to write a treatise on the subject, the
"Ma'amar Tehiyyat Hametim" (The Treatise on Resurrection).
Chapter two of the treatise on resurrection refers to those who believe that the world to come involves physically resurrected bodies. He refers to one with such beliefs as being an "utter fool" whose belief is "folly".
If one of the multitude refuses to believe [that angels are incorporeal] and prefers to believe that angels have bodies and even that they eat, since it is written (Genesis 18:8) 'they ate', or that those who exist in the World to Come will also have bodies—we won't hold it against him or consider him a heretic, and we will not distance ourselves from him. May there not be many who profess this folly, and let us hope that he will go farther than this in his folly and believe that the Creator is corporeal.
However, Maimonides also writes that those who claimed that he altogether believed the verses of the Hebrew Bible referring to the resurrection were only allegorical were spreading falsehoods and "revolting" statements. He asserts that belief in resurrection is a fundamental truth of Judaism about which there is no disagreement, and that it is not permissible for a Jew to support anyone who believes differently. He cites Daniel 12:2 and 12:13 as definitive proofs of physical resurrection of the dead when they state "many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" and "But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days."
While these two positions may be seen as in contradiction (non-corporeal eternal life, versus a bodily resurrection), he resolves them with a then unique solution: he believed that the resurrection was not permanent or general. In his view, God never violates the laws of nature. Rather, divine interaction is by way of angels, which he holds to be metaphors for the laws of nature, the principles by which the physical universe operates, or Platonic eternal forms. Thus, if a unique event actually occurs, even it is perceived as a miracle, it is not a violation of the world's order (Commentary on the Mishna, Avot 5:6.)
In this view, any dead who are resurrected must eventually die again. In his discussion of the 13 principles of faith, the first five deal with knowledge of God, the next four deal with prophecy and the Torah, while the last four deal with reward, punishment and the ultimate redemption. In this discussion he says nothing of a universal resurrection. All he says it is that whatever resurrection does take place, it will occur at an indeterminate time before the world to come, which he repeatedly states will be purely spiritual.
He writes, "It appears to us on the basis of these verses (Daniel 12:2,13) that those people who will return to those bodies will eat, drink, copulate, beget, and die after a very long life, like the lives of those who will live in the Days of the Messiah." He thus disassociated the resurrection of the dead from both the World to -Come and the Messianic era.
In his time, many Jews believed the physical resurrection was identical to the next world; thus denial of a permanent/universal resurrection was considered tantamount to denying the words of the Talmudic Sages. However, instead of denying the resurrection, or maintaining the current dogma, he posted a third way: That resurrection had nothing to do with- the-messianic-era (this world), nor with Olam Haba (the purely spiritual afterlife). Rather, he considered resurrection to be a miracle that the book of Daniel predicted; thus at some point in time we could expect some instances of resurrection to occur temporarily, which would have no place in the final eternal life of the righteous.
Maimonides and the Modern
He remains the most widely debated and controversial Jewish thinker among modern scholars. He has been adopted as a symbol and an intellectual hero by almost all major movements in modern Judaism, and has proven immensely important to modern Jewish philosophers such as
Leo Strauss. His importance to diverse systems of thought lies in the philosopher's embrace of paradoxical and often contradictory- ideas. The Reform movement, for instance, pointed out his argument that Jewish ritual has developed over time as justification for its proposed changes to Jewish tradition. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has pointed to the Maimonidean argument that the Oral Law (Halacha) and the Principles of Faith are inviolate and must be scrupulously observed even if they are not fully understood. His reconciliation of the philosophical and the traditional has given his legacy an extremely diverse and dynamic quality. He is one of the few figures in Jewish history who is universally embraced by all strains of modern Judaism. Jewish historian Yosef Yerushalmi has noted that every generation creates the Maimonides it needs or desires.
One of the major issues regarding his work is the obscure nature of Guide for the Perplexed. Leo Strauss, who held that he was the most important philosopher who ever lived, theorized that he deliberately intended his book to be ambiguous. The first, obvious meaning was for average readers. The second, hidden meaning was for his elite readers who would understand it due to their intellectual sophistication. Strauss believed that he telegraphed his real meaning by using codes, numerological indications, and deliberate contradictions within the text. Strauss's writings remain controversial, although he is now accepted as one of the most important modern scholars of his philosophy.
Modern scholars tend to fall into two camps: those who believe that he was attempting a synthesis between Judaism and Aristotelian philosophy, and those who hold that he was, in fact, a secret Aristotelian who saw Jewish tradition as an allegorical system which was intended to maintain the Jewish community, but was not philosophically accurate. This debate appears unlikely to ever be resolved, since it is based in differing exegetical readings of his obscure and difficult philosophical works.
Many people do not realize that the medical complex in Boro Park, Brooklyn’s named for him. There’s a portrait and brief bio of him prominently displayed in the lobby.
Marvin Fox Interpreting Maimonides, Univ. of Chicago Press 1990.
Julius Guttman, Philosophies of Judaism Translated by David Silverman, JPS, 1964
Maimonides' Principles: The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith, in "The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology, Volume I", Mesorah Publications 1994
Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought, Menachem Kellner, Oxford University press, 1986
Maimonides 13 Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology? Marc. B. Shapiro, The-Torah U-Maddah Journal, Vol. 4, 1993, Yeshiva U.
A –History- of- Jewish Philosophy, Isaac Husik, Dover Publications, Inc., 2002. Originally published in 1941 by the Jewish Publication of America, Philadelphia, pp. 236-311
Persecution and the Art of Writing, Leo Strauss, University of Chicago Press, 1988 reprint
"How to Begin to Study the Guide", Leo Strauss, from The Guide of the Perplexed, Vol. 1, Maimonides, translated from the Arabic by Shlomo Pines, University of Chicago Press, 1974
Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Maimonides/Rambam from the Jewish Virtual Library
Writings of Maimonides (Manuscripts and Early Print Editions)
Maimonides Page: links to online resources
The Foundations of Jewish Belief
Rambam's introduction to the Mishnah Torah (English translation)
Rambam's introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah (Hebrew Fulltext)
The Guide For the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides translated into English by Michael Friedländer
Maimonides Mishneh (or Mishnah) Torah or Rambam - the codified laws compiled by Maimonides
Oath and Prayer of Maimonides, as a choice instead of the Hippocratic Oath in medical profession.
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
The brains behind the Confederacy: Major Adolph Proskauer led the unit at Gettysburg; Judah P. Benjamin held four cabinet positions: Attorney General, 2/25 – 9/17/1861; Secretary of War, 9/17/1861 – 3/18/1862; acting Secretary of War, 3/18-23/1862; Secretary of State, 3/18/1862, (until the end of the war) & was referred to as "the brains of the confederacy." Rabbi Max Michelbacher was a confidant and spiritual advisor to General Robert E. Lee. A great many Jews fought for the Confederacy, and an overwhelming number were recent immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe who felt they were fighting for Democracy. They fought far out of proportion to their numbers.
WHY I'M PROUD TO BE A JEW
With the echoes of the war still ringing in our ears, with global terror reaching new heights, with global anti-Semitism on the rise, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on why I'm proud, more than ever, to be a Jew.-- I'm proud to be a Jew because Jews don't kidnap.---I'm proud to be a Jew because Jewish education does not consist of teaching martyrdom and hatred.---I'm proud to be a Jew because my religious leaders and religious services don't whip me into a frenzy to kill others.I'm proud to be one because in the midst of war, we still demonstrate & protest to protect the rights of the Arab-Israeli minority to voice their opposition to the war.---
I'm proud to be a Jew because even when Israel is wrongly and falsely accused of killing innocent civilians, Jewish leaders apologize immediately for any loss of life—instead of celebrating these deaths by passing out candy and shooting celebratory gunshots into the air.When the world accuses Israel of massacre in Jenin, bombing civilians on a Gaza beach, shooting a child cowering against a wall, bombing a Lebanese apartment building killing 56 civilians—when all of these accusations turn out totally false, vicious anti-Semitic lies—and when all along I knew in my heart that these stories just could not be true—and I'm later proven to be right—then I'm proud to be a Jew.---I'm proud to be a Jew because the Israeli Army is so, so good, that when it takes more than four weeks to wipe out a sophisticated enemy who has prepared six years for this war, the world criticizes the IDF for not getting the job done quickly.-
---I'm proud to be a Jew when my army, the Israeli army, drops leaflets and makes calls to Lebanese citizens on their cell phones to warn them to evacuate before bombing begins.---I'm proud to be a Jew when the democracies of the world talk about fighting the war on terror, but only Israel is left alone to bear the burden of eradicating Hezbollah, the proxy army of Iran and Syria.---I'm proud to be a Jew when entire Israeli towns in the north—Nahariya, Kiryat Shimona, Safed, are reduced to ghost towns due to the constant shelling, & yet not one looter has appeared to empty out the property of others.----When Israel must defend its very right to exist, when it must fight a well armed enemy representing the Islamic fascists, as President Bush has called them, when Israel must conduct this war on terror with its hands tied behind its back so as not to take an innocent life lest the media have something true to report, that it must fight this war of survival under the cloud of "disproportionality", as if thousands of Katusha rockets falling on its citizenry is somehow "proportionate"—when Israel simultaneously pushes back these threats both in the North and in the South under the added pressure of a biased media, then I'm proud to be a Jew.---I'm proud to be a Jew when the Edinburgh Scottish film festival tells an Israeli director to stay home although his film is being screened and the director says "No, I'm coming." --I'm proud to be a Jew because Mel Gibson is not a Jew.--I'm proud to be a Jew when the UN's Human Rights Commission consists of countries like Syria, Libya & Iran & Israel is not asked to join. --I'm proud to be a Jew when magician David Blaine announces his trip to Israel next week to entertain the children living in bomb shelters and tells the press he's doing it to encourage other performers to stand up for Israel and its right to defend itself.---I'm proud to be a Jew when a Russian/Israeli businessman single-handedly creates not one but two tent cities on the beach to house Israelis fleeing the North and provides shelter, bedding, food and drink, showers and bathrooms—all done without red tape in a matter of 24 hours—to house over 6,000 Israeli's, one of whom described it as a "poor man's Club Med."---I’m proud to be a Jew when Israelis on the left & right support the government's decision to fight—when 97% of the country is united in its own defense—when Israeli's from Jerusalem give shelter to families from Haifa—when food from the Negev is donated to feed soldiers at the front—when the IDF deploys soldiers on special assignments to deliver diapers to shelters and to entertain and calm the frightened children.
U.S. Presidents and Jews
GEORGE WASHINGTON was the first President to write to a synagogue. In 1790 he addressed separate letters to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, to Mikveh Israel Congregation in Savannah, GA, and a joint letter to Congregation Beth Shalom, Richmond, VA, Mikveh Israel Philadelphia, Beth Elohim, Charleston, S. C., and Shearith Israel, New York. His letters are an eloquent expression and hope for religious harmony and endure as indelible statements of the most fundamental tenets of American democracy.
JEFFERSON was the first president to appoint a Jew to a Federal post. In 1801 he named Reuben Etting of Baltimore US Marshall for Maryland.
JAMES MADISON was the first President to appoint a Jew to a diplomatic post. He sent Mordecai M. Noah to Tunis from 1813 to 1816.
MARTIN VAN BUREN was the first president to order an American consul to intervene on behalf of Jews abroad. In 1840 he instructed the U.S. consul in Alexandria, Egypt to use his good offices to protect the Jews of Damascus who were under attack because of a false blood ritual accusation.
JOHN TYLER was the first President to nominate a U.S. consul to Palestine. Warder Cresson, a Quaker convert to Judaism who established a pioneer Zionist colony, received the appointment in 1844.
FRANKLIN PIERCE was the first and probably the only President whose name appears on the charter of a synagogue. Pierce signed the Act of Congress in 1857 that amended the laws of the District of Columbia to enable the incorporation of the city's first synagogue, the Washington Hebrew Congregation.
LINCOLN was the first President to make it possible for rabbis to serve as military chaplains. He did this by signing the 1862 Act of Congress which changed the law that had previously barred all but Christian clergymen from the chaplaincy. Lincoln was also the first, and happily the only President who was called upon to revoke an official act of anti-Semitism by the U.S. government. It was Lincoln who cancelled General Ulysses S Grant's "Order No. 11" expelling all Jews from Tennessee from the district controlled by his armies during the Civil War. Grant always denied personal responsibility for this act attributing it to his subordinate.
ULYSSES S. GRANT was the first President to attend a synagogue service while in office. When Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. was dedicated in 1874, Grant and all members of his Cabinet were present.
RUTHERFORD B. HAYES was the first President to designate a Jewish ambassador for the stated purpose of fighting anti-Semitism. In 1870, he named Benjamin Peixotto Consul-General to Romania. Hays-was- also the first President to assure a civil service employee her right to work for the Federal government and yet observe the Sabbath. He ordered the employment of a Jewish woman who had been denied a position in the Department of the Interior because of her refusal to work on Saturday.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT was the first president to appoint a Jew to a cabinet. In 1906 he named Oscar S. Straus Sec’y. of- Commerce & Labor. Roosevelt was also the first President to contribute his own $ to a Jewish cause. In 1919, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts while President to settle the Russo-Japanese War Roosevelt & contributed part of his prize to the National Jewish Welfare Board
WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT was the first President to attend a Seder while in office. In 1912, when he visited Providence, RI, he participated in the family Seder of Colonel Harry Cutler, first president of the National Jewish Welfare Board, in the Cutler home on Glenham Street.
WOODROW WILSON was the first President to nominate a Jew, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, to the United States Supreme Court. Standing firm against great pressure to withdraw the nomination, Wilson insisted that he knew no one better qualified by judicial temperament as well as legal and social-understanding, confirmation was finally voted by the Senate on June 1, 1916. Wilson was also the first President to publicly endorse a national Jewish philanthropic campaign. In a letter to Jacob Schiff, on November 22, 1917, Wilson called for wide support of the United Jewish Relief Campaign which was raising funds for European War relief.
WARREN HARDING was the first President to sign a Joint Congressional Resolution endorsing the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate supporting the establishment in Palestine of a national Jewish home for us. The resolution was signed September 22, 1922.
CALVIN COOLIDGE was the first President to participate in the dedication of a Jewish community institution that was not a house of worship. On May 3, 1925, he helped dedicate the cornerstone of the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community center.
F. D. R. was the first President to be given a Torah as a gift. He received a miniature Torah from Young Israel & another that had been rescued from a burning synagogue in Czechoslovakia. Both are now in the Roosevelt Memorial Library in Hyde Park. His administration's failure to expand the existing refuge quota, system, ensured that large numbers of Jews would ultimately become some of the Holocaust's six million victims. Fifty-six years after Roosevelt's death, the arguments continue over Roosevelt's response to the Holocaust.
TRUMAN, on May 14, 1948, just 11 minutes after Israel's proclamation of independence, was the first head of government to tell the press that "the US recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new state of Israel." Truman was also the first U.S President to receive Israeli President Chaim Weizman and Ambassador Eliahu Elat at the White House in 1948. With Israel staggering under the burdens of mass immigration in 1951-1952,
President Truman obtained from Congress close to $140 million in loans and grants.
EISENHOWER was the first President to participate in a coast-to-coast TV program sponsored by a Jewish organization. It was a network show in 1954: celebrating the 300th anniversary of the American Jewish community. On this occasion he said that it was one of the enduring satisfactions of his life that he was privileged to lead the forces of the free world which finally crushed the brutal regime in Germany, freeing the remnant of Jews for a new life and hope in Israel.
J. F.K. named two Jews to his cabinet - Abraham Ribicoff as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and Arthur Goldberg as Secretary of Labor. Kennedy was the only President for whom a national Jewish Award was- named The- Annual peace award of the Synagogue Council of America was re-named the John F. Kennedy Peace Award after his assassination in 1963.
CARTER in a number of impassioned speeches stated his concern for human rights and stressed the right of Russian Jews to emigrate. He is credited with being the person responsible for the Camp David Accords.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH in 1985 as V.P. had played a personal role in "Operation Joshua," the airlift which brought 10,000 Jews out of Ethiopia directly to resettlement in Israel. Then, again in 1991, when Bush was President, American help played a critical role in "Operation Solomon", the escape of 14,000 more Ethiopian Jews. Most dramatically, Bush got to the U.N. to revoke its 1975 "Zionism is Racism" resolution.
Consider the last two officeholders: Clinton appointed more Jews to his cabinet than all of the previous presidents combined and put Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, both 1st appointed to the federal bench by Jimmy Carter, on the Supreme Court.
GEORGE W. BUSH is the first president since Herbert Hoover who has no Jews in his cabinet and has appointed any to the Federal bench. “-- Professor Sherman L. Cohn, Georgetown University, Law Center HEROES Just an interesting piece of evidence of the curious behavior of FDR’s administration toward the Jews during WWII ----- A few months ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV. For over 50 years, the State Department resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. For them he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic he archeologist who unearthed the Inca City of Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1911. Harry entered the US diplomatic service and, in 1939, was posted to Marseilles, France, as American Vice-Consul. The USA was then neutral &, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime, President Roosevelt's gov’t ordered-its representatives in Marseilles not to grant Jews visas. Bingham found this policy immoral &, risking his career, did all he could to undermine it.
In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted over 2,500 USA visas to Jews & other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He also sheltered Jews in his Marseilles home, & obtained forged identity papers to help Jews in their dangerous journeys across Europe. He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean & even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket. In 1941, Washington lost patience with him. He was sent to Argentina, where later he continued to annoy his superiors by reporting on the movements of Nazi war criminals. Eventually, he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely. Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found some letters in his belongings after his death. He has now been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations and the State of Israel. Speilberg made the film Schlinder’s List.