Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island Jews Are Not Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Jews Who Lost Their Way and Know No History

The American republic is a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance – but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental machine.

After Israel, for the Jewish Diaspora, America is the sunniest and safest corner of the world.

Every single US President, including previous ones who did not esteem Jews had adhered to this principle set forth by our magnificent first President George Washington. It is assiduously upheld by President Trump and arguments to the contrary are pure political and partisan rot.

On August 17th, 1790, Moses Seixas, the warden of the Hebrew Congregation of Rhode Island, wrote a letter to our magnificent first President George Washington welcoming him to Newport [excerpt]:

Sir:

Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merits – and to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to Newport.

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People – a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance – but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine … “

On the very next day, President Washington responded, quoting Seixas [excerpt]:

Gentlemen:

“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 … ” … ..”May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants-while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Moses Seixas' letter to President George Washington
Moses Seixas’ letter to President George Washington

As written by George Washington University:

Moses Seixas, born on March 28, 1744, was a first generation Jewish-American whose parents migrated from Lisbon, Portugal, to Newport, Rhode Island.

Gershom Mendes Seixas was the first native-born Jewish religious leader in the United States. An American patriot who served as the hazzan [cantor] of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City for about five decades. The first American Jewish clergyman to give a sermon in English, Mendes Seixas became known for his public spirit as well as defense of religious liberty, with activities as varied as assisting during the inauguration of President George Washington to helping found what later became to be known Columbia University.

Gershom Mendes Seixas
Gershom Mendes Seixas

Seixas rose to prominence as warden of Newport’s Touro Synagogue of Congregation Jeshuat Israel, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Rhode Island, and co-founder of the Bank of Rhode Island.

Seixas is best remembered for the congratulatory letter he penned in 1790 on behalf of his congregation to then recently inaugurated President George Washington. Written just months after Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the United States Constitution, Seixas sought assurances that the enumerated rights of freedom of religion and enfranchisement would apply to American Jews in the new republic.

Although Washington received similar letters from other religious groups, Seixas’s letter was among the first to assert that America was founded on the principle of religious liberty. In July 1790, Seixas explained to the New York Kaal Kadosh Seerit Israel Congregation that he preferred to address Washington individually, as opposed to in a joint letter, as the synagogues in New York, Richmond, Philadelphia, and Charleston would do later that year.

Seixas desired to write his own letter to the president was to ensure that “the Enfranchisement which is secured to Jews by the Federal Constitution” was upheld.

In August 1790, President Washington visited Rhode Island with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and others. This trip followed the president’s 1789 tour to New England, which did not include Rhode Island as it had yet to ratify the Constitution. On August 18, Washington’s stop at the Touro Synagogue, with its impressive domed ceiling and alloyed candelabra, which afforded Seixas an opportunity to read his letter to the synagogue’s revered guests.

Dated August 17, the prior to the visit day, Seixas’s letter stated-rather than requested-that Jews would be entitled to the same privileges as an American of any other religious denomination. Having been previously “deprived of the inalienable and invaluable rights of free Citizens,” Seixas endeavored to elevate the status of American Jews.

To reinforce his message, Seixas used the Revolutionary principle of liberty and asserted that the American republic was “a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance – but generously affording to all liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine.”

On August 18, President Washington replied to Seixas. The president’s response differentiated between religious toleration and religious liberty, as it specifically applied to the American Jewry. Washington wrote that Americans “have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy – a policy worthy of imitation. 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.”

Washington’s reply set a significant precedent that separated a more passive practice of tolerance, from the more potent one of liberty. Even the most liberal European states, such as the Netherlands, had policies that merely tolerated non-Protestants.

In alluding to the Bible’s Old Testament, Washington unequivocally called for religious equality for Jews stating that “the Children of the Stock of Abraham shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree.”

Notably, in his reply Washington imitated Seixas’s phrasing in writing that the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

The president’s reply made loyalty to country, as opposed to Protestant allegiance, the prerequisite for religious equality.

As a representative of King David’s Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, Seixas wrote a second letter to Washington, also dated August 17, 1790. As a fellow mason, Seixas wrote this letter to Washington not from the perspective of a person of a persecuted society, but as a member of the fraternal order to which both men belonged.

Despite the comparatively more secular tone than their other correspondence, belief in God is a chief tenet of the Masons, and its centrality was evident in both Seixas’ letter and Washington’s reply.

In this letter Seixas wrote that “the Sovereign Architect of the Universe” should protect Washington during his presidency. Unlike Seixas’s other letter, his reference to God was nondenominational, as he did not explicitly refer to the God of Abraham, Israel or David.

Washington’s undated second responding letter to Seixas, reprinted in newspapers as early as September 18, 1790, declared that he would maintain and promote the fraternity’s virtues during his administration. Washington also echoed the classical belief of supporting “private virtue and public prosperity.”

Following his correspondence with Washington, Seixas remained a civic and religious leader in Newport throughout the decade. After serving as the Deputy Grand Master of the lodge for the previous two years, on June 22, 1802, Seixas was reelected Grand Master at the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Rhode Island’s annual meeting. Seixas ran the evening’s toasts, emphasizing the order’s emphasis on equality, obedience to the law, the right to engage in commerce, and belief in God.

On November 29, 1809, at the age of 66, Seixas left our world. A December 2, 1809 Newport Mercury obituary remembered him as “a Jew” with an “unblemished reputation, without bigotry, zealous and uniform in the profession of his faith.”

Perhaps the protesting Jews of Pittsburgh and their ilk should learn a lesson from Gershom Mendes Seixas and so should any and all American-Jews who have lost their way and have forgotten what took place ONLY 75 years ago: The Holocaust!

During the 2006 second Lebanon War, Nurit Greenger, referenced then as the “Accidental Reporter” felt compelled to become an activist. Being an ‘out-of-the-box thinker, Nurit is a passionately committed advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Free World in general. From Southern California, Nurit serves as a “one-woman Hasbarah army” for Israel who believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.
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