Built on or Belonging to Jewish tradition #2 Roots of Jewishness

Last month, CNN was exploring American exceptionalism — the concept that the United States is exceptional when compared to other nations and is uniquely destined to bring democracy to the world. Lots of citizens of the United States of America do believe they have the most marvellous country and they were able to become the best of all because of their Judeo-Chrisitan values they kept. With the Aurora shooting those Judeo-Christian values became questioned.

Pilgrim Fathers and Puritans promoting general understanding and freedom

It is a fact that that notion of American exceptionalism was promoted by the nation’s founders and earliest leaders. It’s especially evident in the places where the Puritans first landed and built their first settlements, where explorers travelled westward to fulfil the country’s manifest destiny, and to purchase or take land by force.

Last year the remains of the first Protestant church built in America, the church where the Native American princess Pocahontas was baptised and married to John Rolfe in 1614 was discovered at the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, the 1607 Jamestown colony.

The Plymouth Rock that symbolizes the Mayflower Pilgrims journey to their new home in the New World. Though they left their home base in the Old World for reason that their environment was not as it should be,  they soon went into old habits and came again in the ban of power like the one they wanted to escape.

John Smith denied the allegation of a majority of the settlers, suspecting him of aiming to make himself a tyrant king. Smith by the end of his Jamestown sojourn, did indeed reign alone, terrorizing Indians, bullying Englishmen, and flogging whoever happened to cross him.


Many Americans, also today, still dream like freedombytheway and are convinced that America is the only nation on Earth that purports personal  liberty as one of it’s cornerstones. Question is than how far is that personal liberty taken? Where are they willing to draw the borders of their liberty against the liberty of the others?

When the people from the Old World crossed the ocean they had also many dreams about liberty and about making a better world. It was real hardship to make their dreams come through.

The ones who fled the Old World for religious reasons hoped they could make a place where many would live according the Law of God and would enjoy the peace of the children of God. But soon they had to face conflicts in the New World as well.

These settlers had dreamt far beyond borders to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get to a new, beautiful and rich land. When they arrived they had still a lot of aspirations, but soon many of them watered down. Though many still went on fighting for their idea of freedom, but more about expansion and owning land. The idea of moving around was by many quickly put aside, and many settled at one place and stayed there for generations.

A new society had to be build up from scratch. They had their mixed ideas of building new institutions and found opportunities to give their children the education they could not get in the Old World. Now they had to establish a social structure from the ground up and could form corporation.

The travellers were confronted with the “heathen lands”and found it necessary to impose their religion on the natives. Manly puritans where hard on themselves and on others.

Old teachings and mixed contacts

The non-trinitarian Christians and Jews were more peaceful and did not want to give up their pacifist ideas to get more wealth. For them the Mozaic Law was much more important than any human law.

The Dutch merchant Immanuel Perada brought Sephardic Jews from Holland, who settled in the city of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1649. The Jewish merchants could find their second half by the Christians and did not mind to get an interfaith marriage.In 1656, Pietersen became the first known American Jew to intermarry with a Christian; though there are no records showing Pietersen formally converted, his daughter Anna was baptized in childhood. (Hertzburg, Arthur. The Jews in America. Columbia University Press: 1997 (p. 21-22). It is not sure if some of those Jews who married a Christian could find themselves in the idea of the Messiah who would have come already.

Those who fled the segregation of the Jewish community in a restricted quarter, as begun in Venice in 1516 and soon extended to all major Italian cities, took with them the spirit of the Renaissance and the passion for historical criticism to the Low Countries and so across the ocean to the New World.

Shabetaian debacle

Dogmatic Kabbalism had spread progressively through Europe and finally came to social expression in 1666 with the widespread acceptance of the views of the pseudo-messiah Shabbetai Tzevi (Sabbatai Zevi).
Most of European and Ottoman Jewry was swept into a hysterical pitch in the belief that the end was now finally at hand. When the pseudo-messiah converted to Islam after being apprehended by the Ottoman govern­ment, mass despondency took the form of crypto-Shabbe­taianism in which the apostasy of the messiah was ex­plained as a form of voluntary crucifixion for the sake of the Jews. A witch-hunt on the part of traditionalists to uncover the cells of heresy had unsettled Jewish communitieseverywhere by an emphasis on greater rigidity than before.

Sabbatai Zevi as a prisoner in Abydos.

Sabbatai Zevi as a prisoner in Abydos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Jews that could escape one of the the darkest periods in the history of rabbinic Judaism and time of massa­cres and impoverishment of Polish Jewry after 1648 were open minded to other writings. They also learned from Catholic scholars and prelates who had  employed rabbis to instruct them in the Hebrew language and in the secrets of the Kabbala, new bodies of literature that had been lost to the Jewish community, such as the works of Philo and Jose­phus. {(Azariah dei RossiMeor ‘enayim (“Enlightenment of the Eyes”)}

The  Sefardic immigrants shaped their tiny American Jewish community officially in the Orthodox tradition, but, unlike European Jewish communities, was voluntaristic, intermingled freely with other communities.
Successive waves of immigrants would face many of the same religious, social, and communal challenges as did these first American Jewish pioneers.

Standing on Judaic rights

The Dutch (kosher) butcher Asser Levy (Van Swellem) who arrived with 23 Jews (four couples, two widows, and thirteen children) as a refugee, from Pernambuco in Dutch Brazil (now called Recife), fought for Jewish rights in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1654. He secured the right of Jews to be admitted as Burghers and to serve guard duty for the colony.

Colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant was not pleased with those Jews who “with their customary usury and deceitful trading with the Christians, were very repugnant to the inferior magistrates”. He thought it necessary for the benefit of the weak and newly developing place and the land in general, deemed it useful to require them in a friendly way to depart.

The Dutch West India Company had several influential Jews in the directorate and under their shareholders, who interceded on the refugees’ behalf. Company officials rebuffed Stuyvesant and ordered him in a letter dated April 26, 1655, to let the Jews remain in New Amsterdam, “provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the company or to the community, but be supported by their own nation”.

Already then people did not want to support those who were in need and wanted everybody to be able to take care of his own.

In 1664 when the English came to rule over the colony the rights enjoyed by the Jews were not interfered with, notwithstanding that Jews had previously been barred from settling in English colonies, as they had been banned from all English lands for 400 years.

Oliver Cromwell (British Protector from 1649 through 1660, through his son Richard) lifted this prohibition, and founding of the first major Jewish settlement soon followed in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1672, Rabba Couty attained prominence by his appeal to the King’s Council in England from a decree passed against him by the courts of Jamaica, as a result of which one of his ships had been seized and declared forfeited. His appeal was successful and established the rights of Jews as British subjects. This appears to be the first case in which a colonial grant of naturalization was recognized as valid.

Immigration and communal growth

During most of the eighteenth century, American Jews lived primarily in five port cities on the Atlantic seaboard: New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Savannah. New waves of immigrants arrived over the course of the nineteenth century and, following the general pattern of America’s demographic growth, the Jewish community expanded westward. Some of the immigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century settled in existing Jewish communities, while others established new centres of communal life. After 1892 the majority of Jews immigrating to the U.S. arrived at New York City. They were greeted by the Statue of Liberty. The Ellis Island experience, where thousands of immigrants first entered this country, is indelibly etched into American memory – as is the symbol of the Statue of Liberty. (The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives)

Civil wars and Jewish clergy

In the Holy Scriptures is clearly written that we do have to abstain of violence and should go for love between each other and peace.  Though in history of men there have been many battles and also wars between Gods people and others.

In the West, though Jesus had preached pacifism, and many Christians who had fled the Old World because of the many battles, the newly formed communities also started to  fight against each other. The different camps fought for freedom and honour and demanded the churchgoers also to take a stand.  This made that as in the Old World also priests and pastors took up the arms. As such the American tradition of clergy serving with the military began during the Revolutionary War with the Continental Congress enacting payment for chaplains in 1775. These first chaplains were exclusively Protestant although Catholic chaplains were added during the Mexican War in 1848.

English: National Museum of American Jewish Mi...

English: National Museum of American Jewish Military History located at 1811 R Street, NW in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The building is a contributing property to the Dupont Circle Historic District. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Confederates and Unionists, Jewish civilians who did not fight on the battlefield showed their loyalty in many ways. 6,500 Jews also wanted to fight in the Union Army. At the outset, there were no rabbis to minister to these Jewish soldiers.

When the Pennsylvania-based “Cameron’s Dragoons,” a regiment with a large number of Jews, elected Rabbi Arnold Fischel from New York as their chaplain, Simon Cameron, the Secretary of War for whom the regiment was named, denied Fischel’s application for chaplain status because he was not a Christian. In addition, the YMCA and other Christian organizations began to lobby Congress to uphold the exclusion of rabbis from the armed services.

Prominent Jewish leaders including Isaac Mayer Wise and Isaac Leeser began a campaign to include Jews as chaplains and Rabbi Fischel could find Jacob Frankel of Philadelphia, Berhard Gotthelf of Louisville, and Ferdinand Sarner of Rochester being accepted as “regularly ordained minister of some religious denomination”. (Congress bill passed on 17 July 1862.)


It has often been said that Orthodox Judaism has always existed since the Jews received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and that Conservative Judaism was a reaction to Reform Judaism, however, that is not entirely accurate.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, strongly influenced by Schiller and Hegel, was a grandchild of Mendel Frankfurter, the founder of the Talmud Torah in Hamburg. Having had the opportunity to receive classes from the German Jewry’s greatest Talmudists, who were proficient in both non-Jewish and Jewish culture, he became also influenced by the Christian reformers. He wore clerical robes, accepted a choir (male-only), shaved his beard, delivered sermons in German, the vernacular, and encouraged study of the Bible instead of engaging in pilpul (Talmudic “hairsplitting”). He also abolished the Kol Nidre service on Yom Kippur. Torah study had to reflect the view that the Torah is the divine guide to achieving the ennoblement of the human spirit.

Living in the post-Napoleonic era,  the Jews at the continent could find they were granted equal civil rights in a large number of European countries. The world was again crying for reforms on political and cultural level. A large segment of Hirsch his work focusses on the possibilities for Orthodox Judaism in such an era, when freedom of religion also meant the freedom to practice Torah precepts without persecution and ridicule. In the growing world of freedom Jews had to play a divinely ordained role, which required both Jewish education and a role in the modern secular world.

Isaac M. Jost had written a general history of the Jews to promote Reform; Zunz’s Gottesdienstliche Vortriige del’ Juden, historisch entwickelt (1832; “The Worship Sermons of the Jews, Historically Developed”) served to legitimize the modem innovation of the sermon in the vernacular; and Abraham Geiger, the outstanding leader of German Reform in the 1840s and 1850s, interpreted the Pharisees as the forerunners of the reformers of his own day. In their work these intellectuals presented archetypes of what modern Jews should become.

To support their claims of academic respectability, the Wissenschaft figures highlighted those aspects of the Jewish past that were closely inte­grated with general fields of study. In particular, Moritz Steinschneider, who owes his fame to towering achievements in bibliography, was concerned above all with the contribution of Jews to science, medicine, and mathema­tics. Nineteenth-century Jewish scholarship set out to praise Judaism as one of the co-founders of the Western tradition, and thus to argue that whenever the Jews were not excluded from European society they have produced great culture, and that they would repeat such accomplishments under conditions of social and political equality.

The thinking of the Neo-Orthodoxy group based in Frankfurt am Main group was profoundly influential, for it indicated the possibility of living a ritually and religiously full life while being totally integrated into Western society.

In the New World such ideas could easily be adopted also by accomplishing this by positing a theoretical division between religion and culture; the Jews were to remain Orthodox in reli­gion (although deferring their messianic aspirations to the unforeseeable future) while becoming Western in manners and culture.

This form of Orthodoxy, which became the intellectual model for Western Orthodoxy, continued into the early 1970s in the United States in a variety of religious and academic institutions (such as the Yeshiva University and the bulk of English-speaking Or­thodox synagogues), coexisting in substantial tension with a number of Orthodox groups, most notably the Lubavitcher and Satmar l;Iasidim, and some Talmudic academies that saw the West­ern world itself as the enemy and chose to recreate the ghetto.

Breaking with Orthodox Judaism

Kaufmann Kohler

Kaufmann Kohler, the eldest child of Moritz and Babette (Lowenmayer) Kohler became a disciple of the dynamic Orthodox leader, Samson Raphael Hirsch, to whom he attributed much of his Jewish idealism.
But at the universities of Munich (1864-1865), Berlin 1865-1867), and Erlagen (Ph.D., Nov. 13, 1867), he broke with Orthodox Judaism. The critical methods of his university study told him that Judaism was an historic growth, not every part of which was of equally divine character and value, and in his doctoral dissertation, Der Segen Jackob’s, he made a strong plea for modernizing religion. This thesis limited his prospects of obtaining a rabbinical position in Germany, and after two years of post-doctoral study at the University of Leipzig, he was called to the Beth-El Congregation in Detroit, arriving in the United States on August 28, 1869.

After two years in Detroit, during which time he led his congregation farther away from its Orthodox background, he was called to Temple Sinai, Chicago, where he introduced many elements of radical reform. At the beginning of 1874, he instituted Sunday services besides the regular Saturday observance, an innovation which evoked violent criticism and denunciation. In September 1879 on the retirement of his father-in-law, Kohler succeeded him as rabbi of Temple Beth-El, New York, where again he introduced supplementary Sunday services, and continued to do battle with his conservative critics and Orthodox denouncers, maintaining his right to decide what was permanent and vital in Judaism, and what was ephemeral. In 1885, in a series of lectures published as Backwards or Forwards, he attacked Alexander Kohut’s definition of traditional Judaism.

This polemic led both men, the leading Jewish scholars in America, to action. On Kohut’s side, it was one of the factors which resulted in the foundation of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (January 2, 1887) to defend and strengthen traditional Judaism. On Kohler’s side, it led him to call the Pittsburgh Conference, with the adoption of the radical Pittsburgh Platform (November 1885), at first repudiated even by some Reform Jews, but later accepted as a statement of principles by American Reform Judaism. Kohler was one of the founders, and for many years president, of the New York board of Jewish Ministers. Succeeding Isaac M. Wise as president of the Hebrew Union College at Cincinnati on February 19, 1903, he raised its academic standard notably. Kohler himself taught homiletics, theology, and Hellenistic literature. His seventieth, seventy-fifth, and eightieth birthdays were widely celebrated by American Reform Jewry. Retiring in 1921 at the age of seventy-eight, he returned to New York, where he died in his eighty-third year, on January 28, 1926.

Despite his enlightened views, Hirsch was a direct opponent of Reform, which had abolished all vestiges of ritual Judaism including the Sabbath, dietary laws, and garb. In the Nineteen Letters, written while he was Rabbi in Oldenburg, Hirsch wrote:

“Was Judaism ever ‘in accordance with the times?’ Did Judaism ever correspond with the views of dominant contemporaries? Was it ever convenient to be a Jew or Jewess?… Was that Judaism in accordance with the times, for which, during the centuries following the Disperson, our fathers suffered in all lands, through all the various periods, the most degrading oppression, the most biting contempt, and a thousand-fold death and persecution? And yet we would make it the aim and scope of Judaism to be always ‘in accordance with the times!'”



  1. Men of faith
  2. Built on or Belonging to Jewish tradition #1 Christian Reform

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Also of interest:

  1. Judeo-Christian values and liberty
  2. Fear of God reason to return to Holy Scriptures
  3. A world in denial
  4. Fear and protection


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About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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