Monday, June 8, 2009

Jewish Settlers in Colonial America

We often hear about the Christian roots of America, and for good reason. There was a very strong Christian influence starting with Columbus. Sometimes we hear about a Judeo-Christian tradition in our history. People could assume that the term relates to the fact that the Holy Bible contains both the Old Testament of Jewish history and law as well as the New Testament of Jesus' teachings and commission.

But it is important to realize that even by the time of the Revolutionary War there were thriving Jewish communities here. Many, if not all, of the Jewish settlers came here for the same reasons the Christian settlers came: for religious liberty. Even though some of our states had official Christian religions at the time the Constitution was written, there was a diversity of religions here, including Jewish.

The following is an excerpt from Library of Congress article titled "Faith of Our Forefathers."

Jews Find a Refuge in 17th Century America

The first Jews who settled in British North America were fleeing a possible pogrom in Brazil. For some decades, Jews had flourished in Dutch-held areas of Brazil, but a Portuguese conquest of the area in 1654 confronted them with the prospect of the introduction of the Inquisition, which had recently burned a Brazilian Jew at the stake (1647). A shipload of 23 Jewish refugees from Dutch Brazil arrived in New Amsterdam (soon to become New York) in 1654 and by the next year had established religious services in the city. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, they had established several thriving synagogues.

Read the entire article here.

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