The Chronicles Papers - Views of American Life - 1984, page 39.
A collection of newspaper articles originally carried by The Yonkers Jewish Chronicle (1976-1979) by Dr. Irving Levitas, 1910 - 1987.
The early days of the republic - Even during the War of Independence, between 1775 and 1783, there was an identity in the mind of the new Americans that they were reenacting the Exodus from Egypt and entering the land of Freedom. It must be remembered that it had been recommended by Franklin that the Great Seal of the new United States be engraved with a depiction of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. This was not accepted, although the idea it was to convey was presented again and again in sermons and pamphlets distributed during and after the Revolution.
It must be understood that any study of American history during the first century of its independence, and even before, requires a careful reading and study of the sermons delivered through the thirteen colonies, later the thirteen states. For the pulpit was the platform of public utterances, so closely were the interests of the new country and religion made. And, in reading the sermons made in 1774, 1775, through the early 1800s, one is actually reading what the literate men of the American community had to say. Thus, when the preacher William Gordon delivered a sermon exhorting his congregation to support the Revolution in Boston, in 1777, he entitled his sermon, The Separation of the Jewish Tribes, After the Death of Solomon, Accounted for, and Applied To The Present Day." And this was a sermon delivered at the Third Church of Roxbury, Mass., with the Massachusetts General Court in attendance. His theme was that, after the separation of the Kingdom of Israel from the Kingdom of Judah, and comparing Great Britain to the Kingdom of Israel, it was the Kingdom of Judah (by which he meant the new American Republic) that was to become the bearer of the Divine Law, not that of Israel, which was to become the "Lost Tribes."
And, in 1788, after the Revolution, another preacher, Samuel Langdon, was to deliver a sermon in New Hampshire, also before the General Court of the new state, entitled, "The Republic of the Israelites; An Example to the American States." Here, Reverend Langdon was to emphasize that, just as the early Israelites made their political behaviour reflect their religious beliefs, so, in this new republic, the public officials, and the general community, should always bear in mind that the Divine Creator was effective in politics as well as in religious ceremonies.
This idea of resemblance between Ancient Israel and the new United States was carried through the entire succeeding several decades. Thus, we find in a sermon in 1799, on the occasion of a Thanksgiving Service in Haverhill, Mass., a sermon preached by Abiel Abbot entitled," Traits of Resemblance in The People of the United States of America to Ancient Israel," the substance of which was that, amidst other so-called Christian states in Europe, here in the United States there was to be a government that was copied after the early Israelite government, without the "trappings" and "additions" of a later Christianity.
This whole Mood of identification with early Jewish Biblical history was accompanied, ... , by Messianic speculations regarding the return of the Jews to the then Palestine (present-day Israel). And, since we do have the Diary of a very prominent Christian minister of Newport, Rhode Island, which, as we have noted, had a large Jewish community, comparatively, we can read of these interests and identification with the Jews by the early American leaders.
It is the Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles that affords us this record. He served in Newport and was later to become Professor of Hebrew, and then President of Yale University. In this Diary, Stiles records again and again items he read about Jews of Hindustan (India), of China, in North Africa, and, significantly enough, the Jews of Palestine at that time. Not only did he read whatever he could about Jews, and reading Hebrew as he did, his library contained many books of great merit in Jewish scholarship and studies of the time, but he also made it a point to invite Jewish scholars and sages to his home and study to discuss Jewish subjects.
But his most interesting conversation, as recorded, are with "Sclichim," "Messengers from Palestine," who had come to the new country to collect funds for the Jews living in the land. It seems that in 1768, there had been a stir among the Jews of the colonies, who expected the Messiah to come in the summer of that year. Under the dates of July 26, and Aug. 3, of the that year, Stiles records that he had heard that the Jews of Newport and New York were packing their carriable possessions, expecting to follow the Messiah to Palestine that year. Stiles had long been interested in such Messianic speculation, having as a youth written to the "Greek priest or bishop" living in Jerusalem for information regarding the Jews of Palestine, and the possibility of such a return of the Jews.
Of all these slichim, it was rabbi Chayim Isaac Carigal that impressed him the most. He first met this shliach in 1773 and continued his correspondence and meetings with him until 1775 when Carigal was to return to Palestine, who had been born in Hebron, was traveling through Europe, North Africa and the English colonies of the New World (the Bahamas, the south and the north), seeking aid for the Jews of Palestine. He spoke a Hebrew that impressed Stiles (probably a Sephardic Hebrew), and he also knew Arabic, Syriac and Spanish. Thus attesting to his Sephardic lineage.
Carigal was not the only Jewish scholar Stiles was to meet. There was R. Moses Malkai, R. Moses Bar David, R. Tobiah Ben Jehudah, R. Bosquita, and R. Samuel Cohen. In his diary note for 1783, he records that only two were Ashkenazim, Bar David and Cohen.
Besides such conversation with "messengers," Stiles was to serve as a close of his Jewish neighbors. He defended Aaron Lopez before the Rhode Island Court when Lopez was accused of having been a Tory. His friendship with Touro has already been noted (and he further records that he attended the first ceremony of a boy becoming a Bar Mitzvah in Newport, with Touro.) He translated Hebrew letters from Europe and Palestine for those Jews who could not read the. And, in an interesting case, he was to serve as an intermediary between Jews and Christians.
The case was this: in 1772, the Christian teacher of Hebrew at Harvard University had died. In seeking a replacement, the Overseers of Harvard were informed of a very competent melamed named Judah Monis, who was teaching in Boston. They approached Monis, who accepted the offer. However, there was a hurdle to jump. Harvard's rules at that time permitted on Christians to teach, it being in many respects, a theological school for Christian ministers. They so informed Monis, who accepted the offer, and converted to Christianity on March 27, 1772. Monis thus became the first Jew, even as a convert, to teach at Harvard University. And it was the same Monis who was to write the first Hebrew Grammar in the New World, in 1735.
Significantly enough Stiles did not accept the theory that the Indians were the "Lost Ten Tribes," and riduculed those who did. He felt that the Ten Tribes were to be found in India.