Shabbat and the Fourth of July

June 29, 2018

Shabbat Shalom on the Shabbat before July 4! Are we doing anything special for this Shabbat? Red, White, & Blue challah, perhaps? The Fourth of July, of course, isn’t a Jewish holiday, but it’s certainly a holiday that most of us American Jews appreciate. Of course, we as Americans stand for Democracy, and American values. Interestingly, Democracy isn’t really a traditional Jewish value! Yes . . . if you read the Talmud (the book of collected Jewish laws based on the Torah), the Talmudic  process, in fact, seems democratic. Legal decisions are made by the rabbis. The majority rules. The sense of intellectual honesty is pre-eminent – every statement is referenced to the person (rabbi) who initially expressed such a statement. It’s worth noting, however, that the rabbis themselves were an elite class. Yes . . . they voted democratically. However, common people couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t vote. Non-Jews couldn’t vote. Nevertheless, we American Jews are passionate about Democracy. And . . . our tradition tells us that we can live in two systems. In this case our two systems are American Democracy, and the Jewish tradition. The Prophet Jeremiah spoke from Jerusalem.  About  2,000 other Jews had been exiled to Babylon. His powerful words to them resonate today:

  4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

(Jeremiah, Chapter 29)

So, yes. Celebrate the Fourth of July. It’s a Jewish and American thing to do. America has been a good place for us. President George Washington, in his famous 1790 letter to the Jewish community of Newport Rhode Island epitomized the promise of America:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Shabbat Shalom . . . and Chag Sameach!