In 1776, Independence Day was observed on July 4 which was the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar. In a rare calendar convergence in 2015, we will be celebrate Independence Day on July 4 which is also the 17th of Tammuz.
In another Jewish connection to the Revolution, the Haftorah for Shabbat Balak (July 4) comes from Micah who wrote “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; And none shall make them afraid.” In 1790 President George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island, in part to reassure the Jews of their acceptance in the new republic. Echoing the words of the Jewish prophet he wrote: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” (emphasis added).
Whether he meant to or not, Washington was telling the Jewish population that the messianic vision of peace and justice could be realized in the United States of America under its newly adopted constitutional form of government.
During the Revolutionary war there were fewer than 2,500 Jews living in the 13 colonies out of a total population of about 2,500,000 people. The fact that there were one hundred or more Jews who fought for independence, while not sounding large, is considerable when looking at the size of the Jewish population. For example in Charleston (or, as it was called then, Charles Town), SC., Captain (Richard) Lushington commanded what was called “the Jew’s company” because so many of its members were “Israelites.”
On a lighter note, when a copy of the Declaration of Independence was sent to Amsterdam via the small Dutch Caribbean Island of St. Eustatius, it was intercepted by the British at sea. An accompanying letter with the historic document was also intercepted and sent to London because it was written in what the British thought was a secret code that needed to be deciphered. The secret code was, in fact, Yiddish!
Happy Independence Day,
Mitchell A. Levin
This Day In Jewish History
Cedar Rapids, Iowa