Supplement to an “Open Letter”

Supplement to Rabbi Eli Cohen’s Open Letter

I received varying reactions to Rabbi Cohen’s letter. As usual, Sharlee’s comment was insightful, encouraging and to the point. But not all reactions were so friendly.

In light of this, I figured a bit of education never hurt anyone – except the cause of falsehood – so here goes.

John Adams, the second President of the United States wrote: “I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing nations.”

(From a letter to F. A. Van der Kemp [Feb. 16, 1808] Pennsylvania Historical Society)

Now – I am quite aware that many Christians do not value the accomplishment of “civilizing” nations. They consider this accomplishment to be fleshly, earthly and material. I would argue that moving people from the jungle to a civilized democracy where everyone enjoys equal rights is quite a Godly accomplishment – but let us talk the language of the Christian.

I imagine that most Protestant Christians would consider the reformation of the Catholic Church to be a Godly accomplishment, and perhaps some Jews could also admit that it is a step in the right direction. A tiny step, but a step nonetheless.

Martin Luther, the most prominent figure of the reformation was heavily influenced by a Franciscan theologian; Nicholas of Lyra. Lyra’s influence on Luther was so strong that the saying went: “if Lyra had not played his lyre, Luther would not have danced”. Lyra, in turn was heavily influenced by Rashi, the Jewish Bible commentator. Lyra wrote: “I usually follow Rabbi Solomon (Rashi)”. Those Christians who could not stomach Lyra’s dependence upon Jewish scholarship, ridiculed Lyra with the term: “Rashi’s ape”.

In other words, no Jews, no reformation.

Are you still looking for a light?

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Thank You

Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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5 Responses to Supplement to an “Open Letter”

  1. John says:

    “In other words, no Jews, no reformation.”……I always wondered how the reformation came about! Thanks for shedding some “light” on it for me. (lol)
    (I do appreciate the time you put into this..)

    • Naaria says:

      Luther was very admiring of Jews and Judaism early in his life. He changed dramatically later (some say because Jews were too “stiff necked” and still had little regard for Jesus, although he was “reformed”) and became one of the most well-known anti-Jewish Christian leaders ever.

      This supplemental for some reason reminded me of Samuel Clemons/Mark Twain’s very kind praise of Jews and Judaism. If you never read it, you might want to.

      Yes, any student of the American Revolution will surely agree that the ethics, laws, and ideas of justice and freedom of Jews & Judaism were very influential in the Independence movement. The Jewish Revolution against Rome in the 1st & 2nd century c.e., although unsuccessful, was a great inspiration to the American Revolutionary movement. Some of the slogans of the American rebels were taken from those Jewish rebels 1700 years before (Live free or die, etc). The “Old Testament” was so important to religious groups like the Pilgrims, Puritans, etc. that many children had been named after folks/heroes in the “OT” (like Samuel, Moses, Solomon, David, etc)(more so than some NT names, except for maybe John and Paul and a few others).

  2. Naaria says:

    I didn’t mean to give the impression that the Puritans were at the forefront of the American democracy movement as other Christian groups were. Many religious people wanted freedom & justice, but they also believed in pre-destination, that God pre-determined everything, which conflicted with ideas of democracy that were largely based on the idea of freedom, free will, and self-determination. This was called the “Puritan Dilemma”. In short, they worked out it out. Free will is God Given; man acts but God still controls the situation and the outcome; man is a servant of God and we are God’s agents on earth; we can be a chosen nation of God if we choose God; we have a pre-destination, like a kingdom of God on earth. We can “repair our world” since we are both servants and children of God. We are not “hopelessly fallen”, since God is merciful and just and said (even commanded us) “Be ye Holy, for I, your God am Holy”. We were created to be like God (“image” which means likeness or idea) and God called us not just a good, but a very good idea. Most of these ideas are foreign or an anathema to pagan and heathen philosophy or theology. The Romans even thought that Jews were atheists or Godless, since the God of the Jews and the Jews world-view was so totally different from that of the rest of the world’s gods and philosophies. But the above ideas of justice, freedom, etc. form the essence of Judaism. And the world wanted much of what the Jews had, but on their own terms and without the Jews if possible. Which meant that the Jews God had to be Hellenized, Romanized.

  3. Goldberg says:

    Hello Rav Blumenthal,

    It’s interesting that you quote John Adams. I’ve read several biographies of the American founding fathers including Adams. I have noticed a clear trend in the religious thinking they seemed to share. While they were all of nominally christian background, much of the scriptural inspiration that found it’s way into their writtings had a decidedly Torah orientation, with vey little mention of the NT and you know who. In fact they sometimes come accross as being downright Noachide in their reference to the Torah and especially in their light-years-ahead-of-its-time tolerant disposition toward Jews.

    I was wondering if anyone else has ever noticed this

  4. Hello Rav Goldberg
    I was in the Library of Congress about 20 years ago. They were displaying articles of Jewish interest – they had a mishnayos that Thomas Jeffereson used. It was open to shnayim ochzin and it had his own notes penciled in the margin. That got me thinking in the direction you mention

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