How Lincoln aidedJews' Assimilationinto American life,Tilting the Playing field,In the pipeline,When Belief Risks Health

By Wallace, Alan | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

How Lincoln aidedJews' Assimilationinto American life,Tilting the Playing field,In the pipeline,When Belief Risks Health


Wallace, Alan, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Much changed for Jews in America during the lifetime of Abraham Lincoln, whose warm relations with them are the subject of "Lincoln and the Jews: A History" (Thomas Dunne Books, available Tuesday) by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell.

Immigration, mainly from Europe, expanded U.S. Jews' numbers from barely 3,000 in 1809, when Lincoln was born, to more than 150,000 in 1865, when he was assassinated. And though anti-Semitism was rampant, Lincoln did not share the anti-Semitic views then held by many Americans, including some of his Cabinet members and Civil War generals.

Indeed, Lincoln befriended Jews, relied on Jewish supporters and advisers from the early 1850s through his two presidential campaigns, and included Jews among his presidential appointees. The authors say Lincoln even shaped his rhetoric with Jewish sensitivities in mind, using inclusive language such as his Gettysburg Address reference to the United States as "this nation, under God" instead of calling it "a Christian nation."

The publisher bills the book as telling "the full story" of Lincoln's "extraordinary relationship with Jews ... for the first time." It details that relationship through not just its text but through many primary-source documents reproduced on its glossy, oversize pages. The book's combination of words and images reflects what its authors bring to it: Sarna is a Brandeis University professor of American Jewish history; Shapell founded the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, from whose collection "Lincoln and the Jews" draws heavily.

Sarna and Shapell are helping provide more than just a reading experience, too. Accompanying the book is an exhibition, "To See Jerusalem Before I Die -- Lincoln and the Jews," opening Thursday at the New York Historical Society. It will later move to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill., and other events are set for Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles.

This book and those events ensure that Lincoln's relations with American Jews, long a rather obscure aspect of his life and presidency despite all that's been written about him, will be much better known.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412- 320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).,Alan Wallace,"Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine" by Paul A. Offit, M.D. (Basic Books) -- Though many parents who deny their children vaccinations do so for other than religious reasons, this book is timely amid an ongoing measles resurgence because it deals with the fact that it's largely legal in America for parents to deny children medical treatment on the basis of their beliefs, even when young lives are at stake. A University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine professor of pediatrics with expertise in infectious diseases and director of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Vaccine Education Center, he witnessed a 1991 Philly measles outbreak centered on two fundamentalist churches that infected more than 1,400 people, killing nine. …

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