George Washington was a pioneering, passionate champion of religious diversity and freedom. His favorite Biblical verse, cited some four dozen times in his public statements and private correspondence, was Micah 4:4 – “Every man shall sit under his vine or fig tree, with none to make him afraid.” (Martha Washington also quoted this Scripture!)

The verse reflects the first president’s love of farming – bespeaking its ideals of domestic tranquility, self-sufficiency, and simplicity. Washington was an Anglican vestryman and church warden; citing Micah may also reflect his own Christian faith. The Christian savior is referred to as “the true vine” (John 15:1-5)… and the fig is the first fruit mentioned in the Torah (Genesis 3:7) and the last mentioned in the New Testament (Revelation 6:13).

Primarily, however, Micah 4:4 expresses Washington’s commitment to freedom of individual religious expression, independent of a state-sanctioned Church or official faith… independent of the preferences of the majority. In the United States, since its very founding, the Jew has been privileged to live a Jewish life and to honor Jewish tradition – “with none to make him afraid” – as have the faithful of other religious minorities. As we celebrate the Fourth of July, Jews properly rededicate ourselves to upholding and defending Washington’s expansive vision…

As should all who give a fig for independence.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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