A JEWISH ABE LINCOLN
As David Geffen pointed out, much indeed has been written on how warmly President Abraham Lincoln embraced the history, culture and spirituality of the Jewish people (“Abraham Lincoln and the Jews,” February 14). Few serious biographers of Lincoln overlook this point. His focus on abolishing slavery may very well have come from the influence of the Old Testament – and particularly the transition of the Hebrew nation from Egyptian bondage to a free people – which he felt very close to. And I suspect, moreover, that he would have seen the development of Jewish society as described in the Torah as a model for the period of post-Civil War United States Reconstruction, had his life not been so abruptly taken.
Which is why I was a bit surprised that Geffen made no mention of the rumor that began circulating in 1863 that the 16th president was genetically, if not halachicly, Jewish. The source of the rumor was Rabbi Stephen Wise. It was recounted that during a meeting with the president, Lincoln professed to be “a descendant of Hebrew parentage.”
Scholars are in general agreement that the words were spoken metaphorically rather than literally, and no due diligence was ever performed to determine if there was any reason to think that Lincoln might in fact be partially Jewish. Nonetheless, the rumor remains as part of Lincoln lore and is referred to from time to time.
That this subject is being raised now is an interesting coincidence. The Democratic Party is currently holding primaries to determine who will be competing against President Donald Trump in the November presidential election. Two candidates – Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders – are Jewish and are still in the running for the nomination. Not surprisingly, speculation that America may have its first Jewish president has become a tantalizing tidbit circulating throughout the Jewish communities from coast to coast.
Now, wouldn’t it be something if some historian or Lincoln biographer unearthed evidence that Abraham Lincoln was in fact Jewish and that the United States had already elected a Jewish president?
Nearly eight score ago.