Is America ready for a Jewish president? The question came up at the last Presidential election when Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman was running, but it turns out to be a moot point. America has already had a Jewish president: Thomas Jefferson.
The New York Times reported last Wednesday (February 28, 2007) that “researchers studying Jefferson’s Y chromosome have found it belongs to a lineage that is rare in Europe but common in the Middle East, raising the possibility that the third president of the United States had a Jewish ancestor many generations ago.”
This explains a lot about the man. First his passion for books and writing, definitely a Jewish trait. Second, the purchase of Louisiana at far below retail prices. Third, his ambivalence towards slaves: hating it and participating in it at the same time. As an ancestor of Egyptian slaves, Jefferson would have a soft spot in his heart for the victims of American slavery. The fact that he had a black lover harkens back to Moses who married a black woman. Fourth, his founding of the Democratic Party, Jews are by and large liberals, and his invention of the “wall of separation between church and state,” who else but a Jew living in Christian American would come up with that idea? Fifth, his desire to build an American navy to take on the Arab pirates of the Barbary Coast who were capturing our ships and killing or enslaving our sailors. And finally his editing of the Gospels that recast Jesus as a Jewish prophet rather than a miracle working Son of God. So now we know.
I for one am pleased that Jefferson’s Jewish heritage is out in the open. I have always been a fan of his and resented the Unitarians for claiming him as one of their own. Of course lots of Jews belong to the Unitarian Church, so I have no problem with joint Unitarian and Jewish ownership of TJ.
I suggest is that we Jews really play up the Jewish Jefferson. We could make Jefferson’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of this death) a holiday: Yom Tom. We would read the Declaration of Independence and selections from his Gospel, and make a pilgrimage to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. The fact that he died on the Fourth of July makes taking the day off that much easier.
I can’t think of what kind of food would be appropriate for Yom Tom, but I do think it would a good time to raise money for the United Negro College Fund. Jefferson created one of the first universities in the country, and left behind black children who couldn’t attend them. This might be a fitting act of teshuvah and tzedakah (repentance and justice).
So now that America has had a Jewish and a Catholic president, are we ready for a Mormon?