The First Jewish President

April 27, 2009

The United States of America has only had one president that was not Protestant, John F. Kennedy, and he was still a Catholic – although controversial at the time. The similarities among all Presidents used to be drastic, all white, all males, and all protestant. Now the list of characteristics is, thankfully, a bit less rigid: all white, except one; all males; all protestant, except one. But how sure are we of the President’s religious identity. There was a lot of rumors in the most recent election about questioning Obama’s religious background/identity and I doubt it was the first time in history. The first non-protestant candidate, a Catholic running in the early 1900’s, was perceived as a threat – opponents blasted that the Pope was ready to move into the White House as soon as he took office. So clearly, as controversial and important as religion is today, it was even more so historically. That is why, some believe, one President may have slipped through, undetected.

All though it is tempting to say, since Moses was Israel’s greatest prophet that ever was or will be, that another “great emancipator” was a member of the tribe (meaning a Jew, from the 12 tribes of Israel) the evidence is sketchy at best. Abraham Lincoln had a beard, which is traditionally worn by observent Jewish men. However, during his first election campaign and his earlier life he did not have a beard or even side-burns, which are another traditional Jewish practice called payos. The myth is that a young-girl once wrote the President suggesting that a beard would help him look more presidential, and that is a far cry from a myth about his religious identity. Lincoln was also a famous hat wearer, another traditional Jewish practice of covering the head. His name, also, was Abraham, the same name as the fore-father of the Jewish people. These assessments of his attire and grooming practices are anecdotal and amusing connections but hardly constitute proof of his religious identity. Lincoln denied commenting on his religion only to quote the ten commandments and suggest that every American study and take them to heart. Bible study, particularly of such well-known passages was a common practice in Lincoln’s times and was, in fact, taught in school. Although it does not definitively suggest Lincoln was Jewish, it still leaves his religious affiliation/identification unclear.

Due to this lack of clearly appointable religious traditions to Lincoln, many theories and rumors have developed. Research has been made into Lincoln’s history and chain-emails have been spread on the subject. Some of the best evidence suggests that his family name, “Lincoln”, was attributed to an entire Jewish community living in and around Lincoln, England when the Jews were forced to take last names. Traditionally, Jewish men are named with a first name and their last name is “of their-father’s-name.” This event has helped continue the legend or myth of Lincoln as potentially being of Jewish decent. Regardless of whether or not Lincoln was Jewish or an unaffiliated Christian, it is interesting to see the connections and conjecture on the subject. The important thing is that each level of conjecture can and should be responded to, with the “evidence” being critically analyzed. For your own assessment of the debate see the following website:

http://msgboard.snopes.com/message/ultimatebb.php?/ubb/get_topic/f/36/t/000819/p/1.html

Maybe debates like this will make Americans more comfortable with the idea of a non-protestant President, a Jewish President, or even a Muslim President.

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2 Responses to “The First Jewish President”

  1. Notelrac said

    “Lincoln was also a famous hat wearer, another traditional Jewish practice…” Correlation does not imply causation.

  2. theundefeatedrookiesensation said

    Seems like everybody wants to claim Lincoln as one of their own these days. Some people think Lincoln was gay. Others think he may have been our first atheist president.

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