Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry-A Documentary History

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry-A Documentary History

Article excerpt

We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry-A Documentary History. Edited by Gary Phillip Zola. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2014. Pp. xiv, 455, illustrations, notes, index. Cloth, $49.95.)

On April 19,1865, four days after Abraham Lincolns assassination, Lewis Naphtali Dembitz delivered a eulogy for the fallen president before the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Louisville, Kentucky. Dembitz, a lawyer and member of the Republican Party, felt a special kinship with Lincoln beyond their shared party affiliation and Kentucky connection. When Dembitz spoke to the congregants of the Green Street Synagogue, he invoked religious ties with Americas slain leader: "You often called him, jocosely, Rabbi Abraham, as if he was one of our nation- of the seed of Israel; but in truth, you might have called him 'Abraham, the child of our father Abraham.' For indeed, of all the Israelites through the United States, there was none who more thoroughly filled the ideal of what a true descendant of Abraham ought to be than Abraham Lincoln" (p. 1).

From these words comes the title of a new collection of primary sources, We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry-A Documentary History, compiled, edited, and annotated by Gary Philip Zola into a highly accessible narrative. Zola, the executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, has proven himself adept at locating fascinating and important texts. The documents, mostly in English but some in German, Yiddish, and Hebrew, will be useful to scholars of Lincoln, the Civil War, and American Jewish history from the nineteenth century through the modern era.

A second and best-known major incident involving Lincoln and American Jewry concerned General Ulysses S. Grant's "General Orders No. 11" of December 17,1862, which expelled Jews from territory newly conquered by the Union army. Here again Jewish protest came swiftly, especially from brothers Cesar and Julius Kaskel, who appealed directly to the president in the universalist language of Americanism, and Lincoln repealed the order.

The third such incident occurred in February of 1863, when fundamentalist Christians and committed abolitionists attempted to explicitly Christianize the United States Constitution. …

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