America’s Oldest Synagogue and the Death of Abraham Lincoln

April 13

Meir Soloveichik reflects on the reaction of American Jews to Abraham Lincoln’s death, and the influence of Judaic ideas on Lincoln’s worldview:

Because the president died on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the first utterances from the pulpit in response to the assassination were heard in synagogues. . . . One of the most striking—and indeed, controversial—moments took place in Congregation Shearith Israel, in New York, the oldest Jewish congregation in America. There, [as historian Isaac] Marken recounts, “the rabbi recited the Hashkabah (prayer for the dead) for Lincoln. This, according to the Jewish Messenger, was the first time that this prayer had been said in a Jewish house of worship for any other than those professing the Jewish religion.” This seeming deviation from tradition in Shearith Israel—known to this day for its fierce devotion to preserving religious and liturgical tradition—was noted by many. . . .

The prayer for Lincoln . . ., one of the first religious reactions to Lincoln’s death, embodied the belief in human equality that lay at the heart of Lincoln’s worldview: that this was a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal. At the same time, the recitation of the prayer—which asks on behalf of the deceased for a “goodly portion in the life of the world to come”—also embodied the belief the members of Congregation Shearith Israel had in Lincoln’s spiritual immortality.

Post by WebMaster

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