This morning, Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel delivered a historic address to the Congress of the United States of America. He alluded to the face of Moses staring down upon the chamber but neglected to mention that Moses is the only face depicted full-on rather than in profile. Moses enjoys special placement in America’s great hall of government.
Over 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson proposed depicting the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt upon the Great Seal of the United States. How remarkable that the new world should consider featuring on its great seal, the Israelites, a nation so symbolic of the old world. They associated the birth of America with the Hebrews for the same reason that motivates many Americans today to view Israel and the Jews in a special light.
No country has been a more stalwart friend of Israel than America and no other society has ever been more hospitable to its Jewish population. In no other nation has any Jewish community enjoyed a longer period of tranquillity and affluence. The bond between America and her Jews is so conspicuous that it has even attracted foreign attention. Hundreds of books have been published in Europe, Asia and many Islamic countries, that chronicle the extraordinary prominence that Jews enjoy in America. Life has been good for American Jews.
One explanation often advanced to account for the hospitality enjoyed by America’s Jews has been the size of the American Jewish community and its economic and political influence. In other words, the argument goes, America has been good to her Jews because their power has allowed her little alternative. In addition to demonstrating astonishing ingratitude, this argument is as wrong headed as claiming that turning on street lights causes the sun to set. A moment’s reflection reveals that American Jews have achieved affluence and political prominence precisely because of the security and tranquillity they have enjoyed here for so many years.
Furthermore, if, as some claim, America’s support for Israel were based entirely on political expediency, that support would originate from the State Department. It does not. Instead, it springs from the Christian heartland of America and from the deep commitment to Judeo-Christian values felt by so many Americans.
Americans’ fondness for Judaism and Israel manifests itself in those politicians who can least be said to preside over major centers of Jewish culture. For example, it is hard to make the case that Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Robert Pittenger support Israel in order to placate the large number of Jewish voters in Texas and North Carolina. It is clearly Christian commitment to the Bible that lies behind America’s affinity and friendship for Judaism.
The real bond linking American civilization and the Jews is that they are the only two nations founded on an idea rather than on a land. Judaism and America were founded on commitment to the loving God of Abraham and to freedom from human tyranny. Furthermore, they are the only two peoples that foreigners can join with all subsequent rights. Just try to become accepted as a naturalized Englishman, Frenchman, Swiss or Japanese. However if one becomes a naturalized American or converts to Judaism, one becomes a full American or a full Jew with all rights, save one: a convert to Judaism cannot become king, and a naturalized American cannot attain the presidency.
Shortly after the founding of both the American and the Jewish peoples, each experienced a horrendous civil war. Both the war between the North and the South and the war between Judah and Israel were over moral issues and both nations emerged from their travails stronger than they had been before.
Only two countries, America and Israel, swing their doors open wide to welcome even poor and down-trodden immigrants who share their ideals.
The founders of America, the Pilgrims, were called “separatists.” Similarly the early Jews, Abraham and his family, were called “Ivrim”—Hebrews, or in English— “separatists.”
The first settlers in both America and Israel found primitive populations who knew nothing of the God of Abraham. Both America and Israel eventually built their capital cities in a manner designed to guarantee equal access for all. Neither Washington DC. nor Jerusalem belongs exclusively to any one state or tribe.
Jacob launched the Jewish people by replacing his son Joseph with Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Menashe. “They will be to me like Reuben and Shimon” said Jacob, thus changing the twelve tribes into thirteen. (Genesis 49:5) Similarly, the twelve colonies launched their great enterprise, the United States, once Rhode Island became the 13th original colony. Evidently the founding fathers knew that the number of elements required for the founding of a holy nation had to be increased from twelve to thirteen.
Our currency expresses this important idea that unity has its origin in thirteen. The phrase e pluribus unum, printed above the eagle on the one dollar bill, contains thirteen letters, as does the phrase annuit coeptis printed above the pyramid. There are thirteen layers of stone in that pyramid, thirteen stars above the eagle’s head and thirteen stripes upon its breast. There are thirteen arrows clutched in one talon and thirteen olives upon the olive branches in the other. And all this symbolism of thirteen is found only on the one dollar bill. In Hebrew, a language which associates a numerical value with each letter of the alphabet, the word for “One,” Echad, possesses a numerical equivalent of thirteen.
The intrinsic similarity between these two great nations was not lost on the early Americans. Neither is it lost on their descendants, so many of whom still share a devotion to the Judeo-Christian principles that fueled our nation’s earliest visions. Robert Frost’s The Gift Outright and John Winthrop’s Citie on the Hill are only two of the many literary examples that reflect this deep spiritual bond that links Judaism and the American dream.
The graciousness extended by most Americans towards their Jewish friends is not the result of having been intimidated by those friends into a mood of sullen acceptance. It is a wholehearted embrace surrounding one sentiment best expressed by the Scriptural words, “and I will bless those that bless you and those that curse you, will I curse.” (Genesis 12:3) Many Americans still revere those words as they do God Almighty who spoke them. American Jews have always been the beneficiaries of that sentiment. The joyous serenity of life experienced by American Jews is safe only for as long as most Americans continue to subscribe to that Biblical sentiment.
My life mission is providing access to the Bible through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom – much of it wisdom that was known to this country’s founders. I encourage you to explore our store and delve into understanding the world, not through the latest transient trend, but rather with God’s timeless wisdom.