ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE BIBLE AND LEADERSHIP
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE BIBLE AND LEADERSHIP
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המופע התקיים בתאריך
16.2.20
20:00
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תמלול אירוע ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE BIBLE AND LEADERSHIP שהתקיים בתאריך 16/02/2020

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik
Good evening everyone, my name is Stew Helpers, senior adviser to the Provost of Yshiva University, on behalf of the Yeshiva centre I want to thank our partners in Beit Avichai for putting together our event. The mission of the center is to train intellectual leaders, well versed in the Western and Jewish canon. Emerging from this mission, we published recently, Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land, the book launched here in Beit Avichai. I would like to present our speaker, besides being the director of the center, he is the rabbi of Shert Israel, he lectured and written on topics related to theology, Jewish-Christian relations. His essays appear in the WSJ and other journals. He is the co-editor along with my self of Torah and Western Thought and Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land. Without further ado, I would like to call my beloved teacher, mentor and friend, Rabbi Doctor Meir Soloveichik.
In his wonderful Book, Abe’s America, Ferguson travels across the country, in one chapter he recounts his meeting with an immigrant family in Chicago, running a Thai restaurant near the Jewish neighborhood where I grew up. The owner had a special relationship with Lincoln, had an idol of sort in the restaurant of him. My wife sees the license plate of all the cars after we move to Chicago, she sees – land of Lincoln. He says – in our country we pay respect ot the head of the country, and here it’s Lincoln. We must go pay respects to this man, he is great, helps the poor, says we are all equal. That is very important, they go down to Springfield every year to worship at his grave. They have a statue of him – they put it there, they say, ever since we put it there, the business is only going up. The roll the statue played in their financial success, the offering is a full meal, entre, desert, we change the meal every day, we serve him everything. Mrs. Eshi interrupts, corrects him in Thai, we don’t serve him pork, we don’t want to be disrespectful. Why no pork? He is Abraham Lincoln, Yes? Jewish people do no eat pork. The sad fact of this story is that, I can report at the beginning of this story, Lincoln is not Jewish, it has been reported by the beautiful website, Jew-or-not-Jew.com, which describes the Jewishness of each celebrity. It starts out – four score and seven times no. Many famous Abrahams were not Jewish also. Lincoln we now know was not Jewish, but while he may not have been a Jew, there were American Jews during his era, who like Eshai venerated him, and might have influenced his legacy profoundly. Their lives will serve as a base for us, as we consider how the Bible influenced him, and especially his speech beginning with ‘Four score,’ the most famous one, the Gettisberg Address. The central attracting during that event was Everret, who spoke for several hours, but his words were mainly forgotten. Lincoln’s speech addressed what America embodied, referring to the founding speech. He did not use 87 years ago, but Four score and seven years ago. ‘Now we are engaged in a war… we are met on a great battlefield of that war. These words have been debated for a generation, we engage them again, to join the story of Lincoln, the most famous American in history, with Jewish-American Devotees, to investigate the role the bible played in that. We will meet a rabbi, a Jewish union soldier, the coincidence of Jewish and American dates. On the eve of President’s day, we will see how Jerusalem is liked to America, in a way which provides profound lessons on America. The first figure, a Rabbi who served during the Civil War in Philidelphia, worked in a Shul, R. Moreas, born to Sephardic parents, applicant to the post of Hazan in London, his biographer says he was unsuccessful – his English told against him, he couldn’t speak English well. Then Mikve Israel, the Sephardic-Portuguese leader, getting into contract negotiations with his community, he demanded a lifetime salary, etc. He was told to leave, Moreas was hired. Something new that never happened before or after, a new Rabbi comes instead of the old, finds loyalists and those who support the new one. His job as minister of the congregation was to lead the services and to preach, but he knew the community appreciated Hazanut more than speeches. He finds himself speaking in the vernacular. English was not his native language, but many of his congregates disliked about sermons – he was principled, put his beliefs above his own interest. A child at that time was taken from the community to be raised as a catholic. Bucanon, Wilson, said it was not concern of him. Moreas, as the child was from his community, took this personally, he refused to pray for the president. He received a letter from the president –you know you can be discharged, from independence to unrequited labour – you got there a nice rabbinic position, it would be a shame if something happened to it. Then the president was replaced by Lincoln, when Willie, Lincoln’s son died, Rabbi Moreas prays for him – rekindle with joy his domestic hearth, grant that the end of his career be unsullied, the prayer was sent to him, Lincoln sent a letter, a synagogue letter, the only one he sent. Moreas was a democrat, and a resister of slavery, many of his supporters were republicans. When Maryland abolished slavery, he said – you will now be known as Merryland, a typical rabbinic speech, with terrible puns. I once give a speech about cloning, the Man with Levi’s Genes. This was his speech, excoriating slavery, celebrating Maryland. The leaders of the congregation banned the Rabbi from giving sermons for several months. The synagogue trustees would brook no reference to this issue. Moreas fought this and eventually was allowed to give sermons freely. This sets the stage of our central subject. When Moreas ascended the pulpit, he did not usually deliver sermons in the summer months, a republican union organization in Philadelphia, desired the congregations to give sermons on liberty. But Moreas did not celebrate independence day, it was the 4th of July, but also the 8 of Tamuz, marking a three week period of mourning, but there was another more pressing reason as to why a somber sermon was required, from July 1st to the fourth, there had been a battle in Gettisberg. By this time, the Jews there did not know who had one. If confederate forces would win, they would continue perhaps to Philadelphia, can he celebrate independence? When the fact of thralldom stare me in the face – the season direct my thoughts to a gloomy outlook. What occurred in the 8 of Tamuz, he compared Biblical Jerusalem to Philadelphia, he asked that the fate that befell the former would not befall the latter. But, somber throughout there is a joyful reference to the 4th of July, he could not forget that the declaration of independence occurred 87 years ago, and his synagogue was placed near to that site. He said – I am not indifferent to the event which four score and seven years ago, brough to the world this joy. The documents that were read in yonder hall, commanded my exultation. Few Americans speak in this manner. But Mareas spoke in this way all the time, he was not a native English speaker, he taught himself English by comparing the Hebrew text of the Tanach, to the King James Bible version, Four-score is a KJB word, from the verse ‘four score was the days of our lives.’ The word was reserved for the bible, no one spoke this way off the cuff, including Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln knew who had won at Gettisberg, and he knew another union victory was won at that time, Vicsburg. Upstairs in the balcony, another civil war nerd. Who here had been to Gettisberg? We saw it in the best way to be seen, by Segway. You can see the entire battle in this way, only I was thrown off by a branch, injured at Gettisberg, the world will little remember what I said there, but it will remember what I did there. So Lincoln received the surrender in Vicsburg at the time. Lincoln says – how long ago is it, some 80 odd years, since in the 4th of July in the history of the world, does a nation declare that all men are created equal. And on this way, there is the surrender of those who deny it, and the surrender in Pensylvania, on the 4th the cohorts who oppose the declaration turned tail and ran. I am not worthy to make a speech worthy of the occasion. We see here the roots of the Gettisberg address. The war is fought for the doctrine created in the first 4th of July. This is the kernel of his address, but he did not use the term ‘four score,’ but ‘some 80 odd.’ But at Gettisberg he says four score, could Lincoln have been inspired by Moreas’ – shall we give the Jews credit for the Gettisberg address? IT is my hobby to find such links. We know that the sermon was published in the newspaper, sent to Lincoln, Lincoln corresponded with Moreas. We do know that there was an exchange, we know Moreas used the phrase first, and that Lincoln read some of his sermons. I would rate the chance as 99%. The similarity is uncanny. And in any case, there is a connection – Moreas based himself on the KJB. Lincoln wanted to take a biblical tone, and this is not the first time Lincoln did this. The first time happened near Moreas’ synaguge. In 1871, Abraham Cohen, emigrated from Bavarian to Chicago, was elected city clerk, there were then republicans. A fierce abolitionist, he wrote that Lincoln was the savior of his country. He sent him a painting of the American flag, and on the flag he inscribed verses from Joshua, be of good courage, be not afraid or dismayed, etc. After Lincoln gets this gift, a joining of America and his bible, Lincoln leaves for his inauguration, he says – I now leave, not knowing if I should return, my task greater than Washington, with God’s help I cannot fail, without it – I surely will. A religious outpouring, rare in Lincoln, was inspired by the gift. He took with him the gift and hung it in the White House. It's been there since the inauguration. Lincoln put it on the wall in the White House. As Lincoln travels towars his inauguration, his words take more and more a bilbical turn. He stops at Trenten, the capital of New Jersey, as we say in New York, we are depressed because the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey. In Trenton, Lincoln reads the biography of Washington, his intention was to serve as a humble instrument in the hands of the almighty, and for these, his almost chosen people. He suggests that just as Israel was chosen so that all the world can be blessed, so Lincoln was a successor to a country that was meant to embody equality, for all the world. After receiving his gift from Cohen, he goes to Philadelphia, independence hall, near Moreas’ shul. He says – all my teachings defend that wisdom of that hall. If my right hand prove unable, my tongue will stick to the roof of my mouth – if I forget thee oh Jeruslem, here it is cited with respect to Philadelphia. The creed that all men were created equal was an American covenant. Lincoln draws a link between the destruction of Jerusalem because it was being forgotten by the Jews, so is Lincoln connecting Philadelphia to America. In 1863, when he invokes ‘four score and seven years ago,’ he seeks to achieve a biblically inspired moment of covenantal dependence and regeneration. Some think that ancient Greece inspired his speech. No, the previous speech, by Everett, refers to the classical world. But in Lincoln’s address, he uses biblical terms to clothe his political speech. The opening words refer to the Rabbi’s speech which used these words. The Address seems itself to be a sermon inspired by the Bible. It is a prophetic proclamation indeed, one of the much-discussed features of the address reveal this. Did Lincoln mention God or not? ‘We are met on a dedicated battlefield of that war… but we cannot hallow this ground, the dead who have consecrated this ground have done that which cannot be forgotten etc. They should not have died in vain, if this nature under god, etc. That’s the standard version, I do recommend a book called Frum-speak, they translate – by the people to ‘by the Ilum.’ There are five known copies of the Address in Lincoln’s hand, the first two from the day of the address do not contain these words. Later copies have these words. The press reports these words, he seems to have inspired to incorporate these words in the moment, caught as it was in the moment. This reflects the biblical impact. A covenantal rededication. The blood of the covenant – the soldiers’ blood. Our obligation to those who died to ensure that those whose blood as shed did not die in vain. Moreas finally was granted a lifetime contract by the synagogue, but the sermon of the 8 of Tamuz was largely forgotten. At that day, we gain a renewed appreciation of the perilous situation. Civil War Nerds debate this point – what if Lee had listened to Haystrick, etc. It could have so easily gone differently. The victory at Vicsburg would have mattered little. The sermon, linking a Jewish fast day, when the Jewish commonwealth fell, to one in which the American was about to fall. In 1776 we see that the fourth of July also fell on the 8 of Tamuz. In the website “Jew in the City,” a question is asked on the issue. Does this indicate something negative about America? Many great rabbis were born on that day, and the Messiah will be born on the 9th of Av. The turning point occurred on the fourth of July, this indicates that the experiment of America is fragile, it too can experience destruction. Lincoln changes the language – the notion that all men are created equal. Not a self-evident truth and a proposition. Self-evident truth is self-evident, a proposition has to be proven. We cannot rely on the doctrine to be taken for granted, we have to rededicate ourselves to it at every generation. We owe this constant rededication, to ensure that those dead would not have died in vain. The connection between Moreas’ sermon and Lincoln’s address, make it obvious that the Jews of today’s Judea really make obvious the importance of our independence celebrations. Israelis since 1951, held the mourning day the day before independence day, the somber Yom Hazikaron give way in the eve to Independence day, the days define each other, those who gather in the cemeteries know that their dead guaranteed the independence. Memorial Day for Americans is not connected by the 4th of July, too few ponder the link between the sacrifice of the dead. President’s Day less dedicated to the father of America or the man who redefined it, is used for selling cars. Israel’s connection of the days is not only more appropriate but more American, embodying the spirit of Lincoln’s words. This past Shabbat, in the Wall Street Journal, an article of myself appeared, with a picture of Cohen’s phone. I kept getting responses of thanks. American Christians always write – God Bless you, if only we can restore the Bible as the basis of American lives. Jewish replies go – you made a slight error. What possesses a person to point out a Hebrew date? That’s the anti-semitic portion of my speech. I get a lot of emails from Christians over Shabbat, I get an email from a kind in New Mexico, he says – Rabbi Soloveichik, thank you for that insightful piece about Lincoln. I shared it with friends on Facebook, and I wish there was a replication of that flag, available to hang in my middle-school. This President’s day, a holy day, please keep up such reminders. I was touched by this, we need both reminders and remindings, if you are a chosen nation or an almost chosen nation, you must not only remind yourself of the duties to which you are called, you must relive it all – what our forefathers fought for. Our final Jewish devotee, not a man who knew him, but who served under him. Private Joseph Joal, during the civil war served under the Ohio Civil Regiment, station in West Virginia, towards Pesach, his commander, Rudderford B. Haze, Joal named his son after him. He describes how they got together different objects for the Seder. Horseradish we could not obtain, but we found a weed that exceeded anything our forefathers could enjoy. Instead of the Kharosset we had a brick, to remind us of its purpose. No Hazan was present, I was selected to give the service. The ceremony was passing nicely, until the herb was to be taken. Each ate his portion – what horrors ensued in our congregation, it excited such thirst, we drank all the cider, those who drank the most freely were excited, proclaiming themselves Moses, Ahron, Pharao. We consecrated there to the Everloving God of Israel our prayers. If our ancestors could look down on us then, could hardly have thought us mortals, but as reviving the ancients in Egypt. Some of my friends fell, but I retain this memory. This embodies the obligation to relive the exodus, only in remembering our covenanatal calling, in engaging in reminders and remindings, do we remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for our freedom, and that it is fragile, it must be cherished through each and every generation. Lincoln calls forth this reminding, so many in America fail to do today, but so many hunger also for such a covenantal biblical reminding again. This call, linked to Pesach, connects in an eerie and apt way to the end of Lincoln’s life, he was assassinated for his dedication to the covenant of America, he died Shabas Khol ha Moed, Pesach. The Jews that night commemorate the exodus and at the same time remembering his life as America’s Moses, an eerie reference to Cohen’s present. The president reflected that quote before he died, he wanted to see no city more than Jerusalem. He was unable to achieve this, he was mourned by Cohens co-religionists, who concluded the Seder wit hthe words – next year, in Jerusalem. Today the country forgot biblical literacy. Netanyahu, glorifying a water project, taking water from Erak, it was quoted as Iraq, the newspapers not familiar with the story. Thus we must talk of Lincoln here, in the Biblical center of the world. Biblical Israel is chosen, guaranteed even if it sins, as it does so often throughout the Tanach and history. America, the almost-chosen people, must also retain, prove, its biblical roots. In 1965, when Winston Churchil passed away, Leo Strauss delivered an impromptu sermon of his own – we must remind ourselves of human excellence, seeing things as they are – nobility, triumphs, never to mistake mediocrity for greatness. This is what we remember today, in Jerusalem, his biblical language is a reminder to all Americans, to ensure the principles for which he gave his life endure, that the principles he taught us in the address, should not soon perish from the earth, thank you very much.


מתוך האירוע:
Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik
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