On the twelfth of February, 1809, 200 years ago, a young, poor illiterate woman from Virginia , Nancy Hanks Lincoln, gave birth to a son, in a log cabin built along the banks of the south fork of Nolin Creek, near what is now Hodgenville, Kentucky.
That baby, whom she named Abraham, grew to become one of our greatest, and most tragic, national leaders. Lincoln was a man of great spiritual conviction. Yet, and I find this fact fascinatingly instructive, Abraham Lincoln was the only American president not to have declared himself a member of any particular religious faith.
That fact has given rise to a great deal of interesting speculation. In fact, there are those who believe that Honest Abe was Jewish. After all, his name was Abraham. His great-grandfather was named Mordechai. Lincoln was the only President not to have a formal religious affiliation. He was neither raised in a church nor did he ever belong to a church.
And there’s more… the town of Lincoln, in eastern England, whence his ancestors came, has an interesting Jewish history. A Jewish community was established there in 1159. During Crusader riots, the Sheriff of Lincoln saved the Jews by giving them official protection. St. Hugh, the great Bishop of Lincoln, taught love of Jews to his parishioners. His death was marked by an official period of mourning among Lincoln ‘s Jews. Rabbi Joseph of Lincoln was a scholar mentioned in the Talmud; Aaron of Lincoln was a financier whose operations extended all over the country.
In 1255, Lincoln ‘s Jews were accused of ritual murder. Ninety-one Lincoln Jews were sent to London for trial and 18 were executed. Notwithstanding, the Lincoln Jewish community flourished until 1290, when they were forcibly expelled by edict. Most Jewish historians assume that all the Jews of Lincoln left in 1290.
But could it be possible that some remained, practicing their Judaism in secret….passing the family secret from generation to generation? The more we learn of the secret life of Spanish Jewry following the Expulsion of 1492, the more we must at least consider the possibility of the same thing occurring elsewhere.
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, whole Jewish communities sat shivah. Rabbis all over the country eulogized the fallen President. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise,the man who created Reform Judaism in this country, began his eulogy with the words… “Brethren, the lamented Abraham Lincoln believed himself to be bone from our bone and flesh from our flesh. He supposed himself to be a descendant of Hebrew parentage He said so in my presence.”
Lincoln was often questioned about his religious beliefs. Time and again, he told of a special passage from Scripture that summed up his theology. It was the twentieth the Book of Exodus he recommended that every American study, learn and follow. In English it is usually referred to as the Ten Commandments.
Rabbi Jeff Kahn
Temple Har Shalom,
PS: Abraham Lincoln was Jewish. An extensive research paper from a Professor in Rutgers who studied this topic extensively and found, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Abe Lincoln was Jewish…. She has absolute proof from checking out his ancestry and going back to his hometown where she did years of work on this topic. Her research was complete and absolute. Her name is Professor Elizabeth Hirschman, Rutgers University .