by Ted Roberts
Why is it important for us American Jews of 2008 to know that in 1649, a Puritan couple, asked for a repeal of Edward I's Act of Jewish banishment - in effect for 350 years?The key fact is their Puritanism - a form of Christianity - that accented the Old Testament and drove them to sympathy with Judaism. It was the core of the faith of those who founded our America.All this reminds me of the best theological secret of the past millennium - especially to Jews. It concerns those wandering, persecuted Puritans. Strange people. Revolutionary in their religious beliefs. They loved the Old Testament - our Humash - unanimously swear to it.Before you slice into your traditionally rare, half-done turkey, next Thanksgiving give a thought to those strange birds, the Pilgrims. What a rare breed they were - typical of the exotics who stand the world on its head. Hacking, sniffing, trembling with chills in the late New England Fall, they sat down to the first Thanksgiving. They gave thanks, as we do, before every meal. More prayerful than usual because it was their Seder equivalent. And so what if half of them had fluttered skyward that year? Those celestial beings were happier than the earthy survivors, since they were wrapped in warm clouds and dined to their full at heavenly tables. So, laugh and dance like the Chasids. You see, they believed in Heaven.The secret of their Jewish leanings is not widely known to most rabbis and their flock. These alienated folks left the 17th Century urbanity of London for the stone-cold wilderness of savage North America. The "New Zion", they called it - does that give you a clue? "The Puritans' mania for the Old Testament developed directly out of their experience of persecution by the established church." So says the renowned historian Barbara Tuchman in her 1957 book Bible and Sword.. She verifies my vague suspicions that our American forefathers were SO Jewish that you wonder why the old pictures don't show them in yarmulke and tiffilin.
According to Tuchman, fleeing persecution, the Puritans saw themselves as 16th Century Israelites; named their kids Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca. Did you know that the seal of Yale and Harvard is in Hebrew of all things. "They paid a respect to the Hebrew language that they refused to the language of their gospels...." Tuchman tells us. Even McCauley, the greatest of English historians, rants about their "Hebraic leanings". It was no secret - they flew the flag of Moses and metaphorically, culturally waged war with episcopal Christianity. Another historian, Cunningham, sums it up neatly: "The general tendency of Puritanism was to discard Christian morality and to substitute Jewish habits in its stead".
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