The premise of the article that follows this introduction is at best on shaky terrain that somehow Abraham Lincoln was Jewish. Its ingenious and plausible ; Jewish in the sense that Harold Bloom worked laboriously through as some form of aesthetic compromise with the Covenant that produced a sort of mateiral and agnostic Judaism seen within the prism of Christian categories, diverging viewpoints that were never intended to be reconciled since the values are far from identical. The Hollywood aesthetic of blurring differences that posit a vast range of thought lying somewhere between the Puritan and Libertine coins and its relation to body and spirit while judaism seems to deny symmetrical compartments for religion in ways not easily understood. Cinematically, then, in terms of popular culture, there is as Bloom remarked upon, a kind of “American religion” which has hitherto never existed and seamlessly encompasses, within its mass of contradictions a mythology of American manifest destiny with paganism, heresy, idolatry and monotheism in mingling conviviality. If anything the so-called Jewification of America through Hollywood does Judaism no real service as in in fact a blend of Universalist and the more abstract Protestant denominations with Reform style Judaism and its dilution seen in abbreviated services,decorous modes of worship, vernacular prayers and Christian style sermons that point the view that “it’s the idea that counts”…
(see link at end)…Abraham Lincoln has been dead for almost 150 years, yet suddenly he’s everywhere. … And on screens everywhere, there’s Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”
After visiting the exhibitions, watching “Lincoln” was almost surreal — photographs I had just seen and documents I had just read came to life. Daniel Day-Lewis, for his part, seemed to embody Lincoln so completely at certain moments, it was as if he, too, were convinced he actually was Lincoln. At the same time, Spielberg’s Lincoln is portrayed in more personal and intimate terms than ever before on film: shown speaking to soldiers, to the war wounded, to family members and advisers; shown being both compassionate and passionate in his advocacy; and seeming something of a sly fox — always with a story, anecdote or joke at the ready to liven a room, make a point or close a deal….
After seeing the movie, I got to thinking about whether this Hollywood studio film, which was written and directed by Jewish-Americans (Tony Kushner and Spielberg, respectively), and which depicts the quintessential American as portrayed by Day-Lewis (whose mother is Jewish), is, in fact, a Jewish version of history in and of itself, a throwback to the days when Hollywood’s moguls, themselves Jewish-Americans, made movies about a seemingly non-Jewish America through the filter of their own very Jewish perspective.
Which raises the question: Has Spielberg given us a Jewish Lincoln? Or is it that Lincoln was “Jewish” in his temperament, values and actions: consumed by social justice in his fighting a war to abolish slavery; Moses-like in leading a people to freedom; talmudic in his use of disputation among a “team of rivals” to lead the nation; alternately morose and jovial (who doesn’t know that type?)? Add to all this that he died during Passover.
Set during the first four months of 1865, and centered on January, the month during which Lincoln lobbied the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment, the film depicts a Lincoln more human, more flawed than we have ever seen on screen. Spielberg and Kushner contrive to show where Lincoln may have overstepped his authority, suspending habeas corpus and acting by executive fiat, yet the president is allowed to argue in his own defense the legality of his actions. This Lincoln is driven to incorporate the prohibition of slavery into the Constitution because he knows the legal importance of that document and because he fears what will follow if he doesn’t accomplish this before the war ends. We also see Lincoln’s failings — as a father, husband and friend, as well as in his anger when it flares….
…Compassion, charity and the pursuit of justice — these values, which we identify as Jewish values — are what inform the Spielberg-Kushner Lincoln: This is a president who seeks freedom for the slaves, who wants to heal the nation, is devoted to his young son, who visits the sick and mourns the dead. Sound familiar? While they might also be described as American values, even Christian values, it is understoo
at Spielberg and Kushner know them as the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charitable giving), bikur holim (visiting the sick) and gemilut hasadim (acts of lovingkindness).
…There is one more way that this “Lincoln” conforms to an “Old Hollywood” tradition of Jews using the movies to redefine American history: The film contains no mention of Jews or Judaism.
It is historical fact, however, that Lincoln was very much a friend of the Jews, and he was much loved by the Jewish community, both in his day and after his death. There is even some reason to believe that Lincoln himself had Jewish forebears.
In Illinois, Abraham Jonas, the first Jewish settler west of the Allegheny Mountains, served in the Illinois legislature with Lincoln and was, in Lincoln’s words, his “most valued friend.” Louis Dembitz Brandeis, a Jew from Kentucky, was a Lincoln delegate to the 1860 Republican Convention and was reportedly the first to vote to nominate Lincoln for president. As president, Lincoln appointed the first Jew to serve as a foreign consul. More important, Lincoln was the first and only president to revoke an official U.S. act of anti-Semitism, canceling Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s order barring Jewish peddlers from selling to Union troops. In Washington, one of Lincoln’s best friends was Isachar Zacharie, a Jewish doctor from England who treated him and became his friend. His photographer, Samuel Alschuler, was Jewish. And, according to the Rosewater Family papers donated to the American Jewish Archives, Edward Rosewater, while serving as a telegrapher in the War Department in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, came to know Lincoln, who would often come to Rosewater to dictate and receive communications. It was Rosewater who dispatched the Emancipation Proclamation to the world.
…Even more intriguing was the claim that Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, author of the Union Prayer Book and founder of Hebrew Union College, delivered in his funeral address for Lincoln in Cincinnati in 1865: “Brethren, the lamented Abraham Lincoln believed himself to be bone from our bone and flesh from our flesh. He supposed himself to be a descendant of Hebrew parentage. He said so in my presence. And, indeed, he preserved numerous features of the Hebrew race, both in countenance and character.”
Lincoln, really Jewish? There are some tantalizing clues. He was named Abraham, for his grandfather, Abraham, who died when Lincoln’s own father was quite young; his paternal great-great-grandfather was named Mordecai, as was his uncle. Their last name derives from the city from which they emigrated, Lincoln in England (many Jews adopted as family names the city they hailed from). The city of Lincoln, it is interesting to note, is famous for being home to one of England’s oldest and most important Jewish communities, as well as for saving its Jews during the 12th century Crusader riots. However, Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert denied that his family was of Jewish ancestry, saying that his father was merely jesting when he spoke with Rabbi Wise.
Still, it is not so hard to believe that Lincoln, who never professed a faith other than citing the Ten Commandments in Exodus, saw himself as a descendant of Jewish tradition, for where did his sense of justice and fairness come from if not from Mosaic law, or his belief that a mere amendment to the Constitution would do more than an army to win a war?…
…Reading these documents, it becomes “self-evident” that the argument over slavery began before there even was a United States (Franklin urged that the Republic not countenance the practice). And yet, slavery remained unresolved until Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, followed by the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Lincoln is shown as just part of a long line of leaders who fostered, interpreted and extended the meaning of that singular phrase, “all men are created equal.”…
…For evidence, you need look no further than the prayerful words with which Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, just weeks after the passage of the 13th Amendment, days before the end of the Civil War and a mere few weeks before his own death:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Read More:http://www.jewishjournal.com/cover_story/article/the_first_jewish_president_lincoln_in_the_abrahamic_tradition
It is possible that many Jews saw America as the means to re-invent themselves, using De Toqueville’s famous observation, to immigrate and shed one identity in favor of a new one, or to be almost a form of Spanish Marrano:
(see link at end)…Twain’s essay also describes how he wrote to the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica ten years earlier to contest the encyclopedia’s claim that only a quarter of a million Jews lived in the United States. Twain was sure that one hundred times more Jews lived in America than the encyclopedia admitted. He felt that the Jewish population figures were underreported because the Jews masqueraded as Christians for business purposes. “Look at the city of New York; and look at Boston, Philadelphia [and several other cities]–how your race swarms in those places!–and everywhere else in America, down to the least little village. . . . I may, of course, be mistaken, but I am strongly of the opinion that we have an immense Jewish population in America.”…
…Mark Twain was another writer whose work on the Jews was filled with antisemitic stereotypes. Providing an insight into the origins of his anti-Jewish feelings, Twain wrote: “I was raised to a prejudice against Jews–Christians always are, you know–but such as I had was in my head, there wasn’t any in my heart.” In Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain grew up, the children were subjected to antisemitism in public and Sunday school, the town newspapers, and many, no doubt, by their parents. In November 1853, a sixteen-year-old Twain wrote from Philadelphia that the Jewish presence had “desecrated” two historic homes there. And in a newspaper article of 10 April 1857 he asserted that “the blasted Jews got to adulterating the fuel.” Although he later indicated that his experience taught him that Jews were not the evil characters he had been taught as a child, in 1879 he observed that “the Jews are the only race who work wholly with their brains and never with their hands. . . . They are peculiarly and conspicuously the world’s intellectual aristocracy.” In other words, he still stereotyped Jews,…
In his famous essay, “Concerning the Jews,” written in 1898 and first published in Harper’s Monthly in September 1899, Twain claimed to be free of antisemitism and to be writing in defense of Jews. Although he praised the Jews for their charity, close family life, hard work, and “genius,” he repeated the slander that the Jews had an “unpatriotic disinclination to stand by the flag as a soldier.” (Up to 10,000 Jews may have fought in the Civil War–a much higher proportion than their percentage of the general population.) His solution was for regiments of Jews and Jews only to enlist in the army so as to prove false the charge that “you feed on a country but don’t like to fight for it.” In reaction to angry letters from American Jews who read the essay, Twain retracted this statement in a postscript and noted that despite having to endure American antisemitism, Jews fought widely and bravely in America’s wars. Therefore, “that slur upon the Jew cannot hold up its head in presence of the figures of the War Department.”
In the same essay, Twain ignored historical realities to recount how the Jews had cheated, exploited, and dominated poor and ignorant Christians in the American South, Tzarist Russia, and medieval England, Spain, and Austria. “There was no way to successfully compete with [the Jew] in any vocation, the law had to step in and save the Christian from the poorhouse. . . . Even the seats of learning . . . had to be closed against this tremendous antagonist. [The Jew] has made it the end and aim of his life to get [money].” Read More:http://www.twainweb.net/filelist/jews.html