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From: Chaim Sidman
Subject: ISRAEL AND AMERICA
ISRAEL AND AMERICA
BY PROF. PAUL EIDELBERG
No nation has been more profoundly influenced by the Hebrew Bible than America. During its formative period many of America's most prominent statesmen were schooled in Hebraic civilization.
The curriculum at Harvard, like those of other early American colleges and universities, was designed by learned and liberal men of "Old Testament" persuasion. Harvard president Increase Mather (1685-1701) was an ardent Hebraist. Mather's writings contain numerous quotations from the Talmud and the Midrash as well as from the works of Saadia Gaon, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Maimonides and other classic Jewish commentators.
As Abraham Katsch has noted, Yale University president Ezra Stiles readily discoursed with visiting rabbinical authorities on the Mishna and Talmud. At his first public commencement at Yale (1781), Stiles delivered an oration on Hebrew literature written originally in Hebrew. Hebrew and the study of Hebraic laws and institutions were an integral part of Yale's as well as of Harvard's curriculum.
Much the same may be said of King's College (later Columbia University), William and Mary, Rutgers, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Brown University: Hebrew learning was then deemed a basic element of liberal education. Samuel Johnson, first president of King's College (1754-1763), expressed the intellectual attitude of his age when he referred to Hebrew as "essential to a gentleman's education." This attitude was not merely academic.
On May 31, 1775, almost on the eve of the American Revolution, Harvard president Samuel Langdon, addressing the Congress of Massachusetts Bay, declared: "Every nation, when able and agreed, has a right to set up over itself any form of government which to it may appear most conducive to its common welfare. The civil polity of Israel is doubtless an excellent general model."
The first sentence of this statement will remind the reader of its counterpart in the Declaration of Independence, many of whose signers had a basic knowledge of Hebrew. Even though Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, was no admirer of the Hebrew Bible, he nonetheless framed the Declaration with a view to galvanizing a bible-reading public in support of the American Revolution.
During the colonial and constitution-making period, the Americans,
especially the Puritans, adopted and adapted various Hebraic laws for their
own governance. The legislation of New Haven, for example, was based on
the premise that "the judicial laws of God, as they were delivered by Moses,
and as they are a fence to the moral law, being neither ... ceremonial, nor
ha[ving] any reference to Canaan, shall ... generally bind all offenders, till they be branched out into particulars hereafter." Thirty-eight of seventy-nine statutes in the New Haven Code of 1665 derived their authority from the Hebrew Bible. The laws of Massachusetts were based on the same premise.
The fifteen Capital Laws of New England included the "Seven Noahide Laws" of the Torah or what may be termed the seven universal laws of morality. Six prohibit idolatry, blasphemy, murder, robbery, adultery, and eating the limb from a living animal, while the seventh requires the establishment of courts of justice (which are essential to any society based on the primacy of reason or persuasion rather than passion or intimidation).
These seven universal laws of morality, together with their elaborations or
particular branches, comprised what may be called a "genial orthodoxy."
This genial orthodoxy transcended any social or economic distinctions and
held all men equal before the law. By so doing it placed constraints on
governors and governors alike and thereby habituated Americans to the rule
of law. As a further consequence, this genial orthodoxy dissolved or
subordinated many ethnic differences among American immigrants. It
moderated the demands of various groups, helped coordinate their diverse
interests and talents, and thereby contributed to the nation's growth and
Without minimizing the influence of such philosophers as Locke and Montesquieu on the framers of the American Constitution, America may rightly be deemed the first and only nation that was explicitly founded on the Seven Noahide Laws of the Torah. Indeed, the legislation of the several states comprising the Federal Union embodied these laws--including the prohibitions against blasphemy and adultery--well into the nineteenth century.
It should also be noted that the constitutions of eleven of the original thirteen states made provision for religious education. In time, however, the states followed the example of the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution which prohibits Congress from enacting any law "respecting an establishment of religion." (The purpose of the amendment was to prevent the establishment of a NATIONAL religion.)
Strange as it may seem, the Seven Noahide Laws were expressly incorporated in Public Law 102-14 establishing March 26, 1991 as "Education Day"! Apparently, this Congressional joint resolution does not violate the First Amendment because the statute doesn't explicitly acknowledge the Judaic origin of the Noahide laws. Therein is the point at which this statute differs fundamentally from the old laws of New England.
Indeed, we may regard this statute as a secularization of religious law. But this is precisely why it will not diminish the secularization of American education whose influence on legislators and judges gradually led to the separation of law and religion in the United States.
It needs to be understood that as American higher education became increasingly secularized in the nineteenth century, it diminished the citizen's awareness of the biblical authority underlying the laws. Eventually the entire body of laws, including the all important Noahide laws, came to be regarded as the mere product of human will.
The separation of law and religion was a mixed blessing. While it enlarged freedom and equality, it also removed moral restraints on men's passions, such as greed and egoistic ambition. One may even say that the split between law and religion contributed to the tremendous wealth of the United States, such that today America stands as the mightiest nation on earth.
On other hand, the split deprived the law of its former sanctity and authority, while it also deprived morality of the support of law. The consequences can be seen in the lawlessness and immorality of contemporary American society.
Not that early America was without vice and violence and a goodly measure of hypocrisy. Surely there was more hypocrisy then than now, but only because in this age of moral relativism, VICE PAYS NO COMPLIMENT TO VIRTUE. In any event, one cannot but shudder at the rate pre-teenage crime, venereal disease, and drug addiction in present day America.
The separation of law and religion has de-moralized America. Only shallow secularists propose such a separation in Israel. They pontificate about Israel's religious parties and accuse them of extorting money from the government for yeshivot. This is the pot calling the kettle black.
The secular parties, with the Labor Party at the forefront, have been raiding the public treasury from the outset of Israel's reestablishment. They have spent billions of dollars bailing out the country's largest secular enterprises.
Those who pontificate about separating law and religion in Israel are actually playing the politics of "who gets, what, when, and how." Israel's future will not retrace America's past. America had a religious founding and has become utterly secular. Modern Israel had a secular founding and will become increasingly religious. In no other way can Israel fulfill its destiny as a light unto the nations.
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