This week’s essay will focus primarily upon an article rather than upon a book. The convergence this year of American Independence Day and the 17th Day of Tamuz was brought together by an interesting and timely essay by attorney Michael W. Schwartz entitled, “A Great Compliment Paid the Jews” [Commentary Magazine.com/article] This essay’s theme demonstrates the uniqueness of the ideological foundations of the American republic and its regard for the integrity of the Jewish faith.
The late Dr. Milton Konvitz, the distinguished scholar of constitutional law, wrote:
“America, from the time of its very founding, has tended to see itself as a kind of New Israel, planted, under G-d’s providential guidance, in a New World.
“In the 18th century, however, when the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution came to be written, the strong influence of the enlightenment led Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and other leaders of American thought to speak rather of ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s G-d,’ and of certain ‘self-evident truths and certain unalienable rights’ including ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.”
[“Judaism and the American Idea,” Cornell University Press, 1978].
When taken together, these two contrasting influences were destined to have a crucial bearing upon the behavior and ethos of both the American people and the institutions of its governance. Thus the resultant incident as detailed in Schwartz’ essay:
“A recent work about the ratification of the U.S. Constitution rescues from oblivion an amazing and moving story about the Jews of post-Revolutionary New York and the solicitude their Gentile neighbors showed them. In the course of describing the ratification process in New York, Pauline Maier’s “Ratification” [Simon and Schuster] makes fleeting reference to the fact that a huge parade through New York City in 1788 by supporters of the Constitution was put off for a day ‘to avoid July 22, a Jewish holiday.’ This postponement, and its significance, have been lost to history until now.”
Schwartz goes on to detail the various tensions and dynamics that came into play that brought about this great postponement.