Hebrew Voices #48 – Jewish Freedom in America

Religious Freedom in AmericaIn Hebrew Voices, Jewish Freedom in America, Nehemia Gordon and Tel Aviv University Professor Michael Kochin, explain how Jonas Phillips, an 18th century Jewish merchant gave us freedom of religion, how George Washington set us free from the tyranny of religious "toleration", and how the Regressive Left is ushering in a new era of religious persecution. They also discuss how President Trump's "Muslim Ban" fits with the American Constitution, and the history of US immigration law.

I look forward to reading your comments!

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Hebrew Voices #48 - Jewish Freedom in America

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon with Hebrew Voices, and I am coming to you this week with Professor Michael Kochin of Tel Aviv University, the Department of Political Science. He did his undergrad at Harvard University and his PhD at the University of Chicago, and today, we’re going to be speaking about the cornerstone of American Jewish history. Shalom, Professor Kochin.

Professor Kochin: Hi, Nehemia.

Nehemia: We’ll be talking today about this letter written by a Jew named Jonas Phillips, who wrote to the Constitutional Convention as they were formulating the Constitution of the United States. So what was the issue here, Michael? Why is it that he wrote this letter? And then I’ll read a little bit of the letter.

Professor Kochin: So what bothers Jonas Phillips is something they have in Pennsylvania and the other states, except New York. They have religious tests for office that prohibit Jews from taking office under the state government.

Nehemia: Now, they don’t actually say Jews can’t participate in government, but the way they word it makes it impossible for a Jew to participate, right?

Professor Kochin: To take office you have to swear an oath that you believe in the Old and New Testament, which Phillips explains in his letter as something no Jew could swear.

Nehemia: Okay, and he’s in Pennsylvania, and the Convention is in Philadelphia, is that correct?

Professor Kochin: Yeah. He’s a Jew from Philadelphia. He’s a member of Mikva Israel, which is today, the oldest continually operating Jewish congregation in the United States.

Nehemia: Wow. And by the way, Mikva Israel, Mikveh Israel, people might think that’s the immersion bath of Israel, but the word “mikva” also means “gathering”. So it’s the gathering of the Israelites, is kind of what the name of the synagogue means.

Before we read the letter, I want to read from Article 6 Clause 3, or Section 3, of the US Constitution. And it says as follows: “The Senators and representatives aforementioned and the members of the several legislatures and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation.” And this is this the key part. “Anybody who holds public office shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution, but no religious tests shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

And this Clause 3 of Article 6 of the US Constitution is a response to the letter written by Jonas Phillips in 1787. This whole idea that we have religious freedom, and in order to hold public office we cannot be forced through a religious test, is a response to this letter by Jonas Phillips.

Professor Kochin: It’s certainly a response to the kind of concern that he had. And he was an important guy, and it’s quite possible that he had other social opportunities and so forth, to express his views to the members of the Convention.

Nehemia: There was an article written by this Jewish scholar in 1879, who actually claims that Article 6 Section 3 of the US Constitution was a direct response to Phillips’ letter. Let me read this. This is written on August 22, 1879. It says, “In connection with this circumstance, I wish to remark that it was due to Jonas Phillips that the article on religious liberty, as contained in the New York Constitution of 1777, was made a part of the Constitution of the United States in 1789 by Congress.”

In other words, this idea of religious freedom already existed in the New York Constitution of 1777, and they copied that clause. And he says here in 1879 that it was a response to the letter. And like you say, whether it was a response specifically to the letter or that kind of concern, I guess you could never know that.

So let’s read this letter. It’s pretty amazing. He starts out, and he writes it on September 7, 1787. And the really cool thing is, I went online and I was able to find the original letter. It’s really hard to read. It’s really faded. I had to put it though Photoshop to enhance the ink. But you could actually read it! You can make out some of what it says. So here’s what he wrote in the letter of 1787.

He says, “I, the subscriber…” meaning the writer, and this is again, Jonas Phillips writing. “I, the subscriber, being one of the people called Jews of the city of Philadelphia, a people scattered and dispersed among all nations, do behold with concern that among the laws in the Constitution of Pennsylvania, there is a clause, Section 10, which says…” and then he quotes Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. And basically, what it’s talking about is that to hold public office you have to make the following declaration. And he quotes the declaration.

The declaration is, “I do believe in one God, the Creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.” This is what people had to declare in order to hold any public office in Pennsylvania, according to their constitution.

And so Jonas Phillips, after quoting this, he writes, “To swear and believe that the New Testament was given by divine inspiration is absolutely against the religious principle of a Jew, and it is against his conscience to take any such oath. By the above law, a Jew is deprived of holding any public office or place of government, which is contradictory to the Bill of Rights.” And it’s interesting, he then quotes the Bill of Rights of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which says that, “All men have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own conscience and understanding.”

And then it says, “They cannot be deprived or abridged of any civil rights as a citizen on account of his religious sentiments or peculiar mode of religious worship.” In other words, there’s a contradiction in the Pennsylvania Constitution, which on the one hand says you can’t be deprived of civil rights as a citizen based on your religion and on the other hand, it says you have to declare you believe the New Testament was given by divine inspiration, which Jews cannot do, based on the Jewish faith.

And I love this. I was very moved by this part. Let me read you this, and we’ll post a link to the transcript of the letter and to the original letter itself on the website, on nehemiaswall.com. He says, “It is well-known among all citizens of the 13 United States that the Jews have been true and faithful whigs…” and I had to look up what whigs were. Whigs was a term that referred originally to people who believed in the rights of the Parliament in England, opposing the Tories, but in the Revolutionary war, apparently whigs were those who supported the Revolution.

Professor Kochin: Against Parliament. [laughing]

Nehemia: Against Parliament, right. Okay. Ironically, right. “The Jews have been true and faithful whigs, and during the late contest with England…” [laughing] meaning the Revolutionary War, “they have been the foremost in aiding and assisting the States with their lives and fortunes. They have supported the cause, have bravely fought and bled for liberty, which they cannot enjoy.” Meaning, you have formulated in 12 of the 13 states a religious test preventing Jews from holding public office. We fought for this liberty. We bled for it. We put our money behind it, our lives and our fortunes, and now we can’t enjoy it. We can’t enjoy the fruits of freedom.

And I thought that was interesting, he writes here, “Their lives and fortunes.” And so I looked up this man, Jonas Phillips, and I found out that in 1770 he signed a covenant with other merchants, saying they would no longer import goods from England. I guess it was sort of an embargo or a boycott against English goods, because of the unfair taxes that were being imposed by the English. And here was this Jew in Philadelphia who was a merchant, and he says, “Okay, we’re not going to import anything more from England.” And that must have cost him dearly.

So when he says, “We’ve put our lives and fortunes behind the revolution,” he’s not talking just in general about Jews, he means personally, as well. He fought for this freedom. And there’s this great letter that’s been discovered. He sent a letter to a Jewish merchant in Amsterdam, and it’s really interesting, because he writes the letter in Judeo-German, or maybe a dialect of Yiddish. And he writes in the letter, he said, “I’d be able to express myself much better if I didn’t have to write in Yiddish.” [laughing]

And in the letter, he’s bragging about how the United States now has freedom, and he actually appends a copy of the Declaration of Independence to this letter. And we have the letter today, because it was intercepted by the British, by the English, during the American Revolution, and it’s now in the English archives in England. And in the letter, he’s saying, “Now America has done what Holland had done much earlier,” which is interesting, because as far as I know, Holland was the only country in Europe that had freedom of religion, is that right?

Professor Kochin: They had partial freedom of religion in England. They had legalized the Jewish community and the residency of Jews back in the 17th century. That was legalized by Cromwell. They didn’t have complete religious freedom for Catholics.

Nehemia: Okay. Well, so basically, he’s bragging about the American Revolution and including a copy of the American Declaration of Independence in English. But he writes his letter in apparently very bad Yiddish or Judeo-German. And this letter has survived, it’s incredible. He’s bragging about how the US, how the colonies have 100,000 soldiers, which I’m not sure if that was true, but he’s certainly very proud of his new country, the newly-formed country, or forming country.

All right, so talk to me about this letter.

Professor Kochin: So there’s no real question about religious freedom, certainly not in Pennsylvania. But he’s upset about religious tests, where it’s possible to hold office without swearing a religious oath that Jews can’t swear.

Nehemia: In other words, no one was going to come and shut down a synagogue or arrest you for practicing Judaism, but if you wanted to hold a government office you had to be a Christian. And that was the whole point of the revolution. What triggered it was, “Hey, taxation without representation.” And he’s saying, “Where’s my representation, if I’m not allowed to hold a public office?”

Professor Kochin: Representation means voting. So in Pennsylvania, Jews could vote. I’m not sure they could vote in all the states, and I don’t think they could. But in Pennsylvania, they could vote. They just couldn’t be elected. And that’s what upsets him.

Nehemia: Which, if we fought for this freedom and we put our fortunes behind it, and our lives, then we should be able to hold public office. I want to go back to one really interesting issue, in the Pennsylvania Constitution, Section 10. They’re declaring they believe the New Testament was given by divine inspiration. And then, after the declaration it says, “And no further or other religious tests shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this state.” In other words, once you declare you believe in the New Testament, we’re not going to impose any other additional religious test in Pennsylvania, which is very interesting. In other words, they were allowing for Catholics and other Christian minorities to be part of the government, but not Jews.

And the wording earlier in the passage allows a person to make an oath or affirmation. And I thought that was really interesting, because this whole idea of making an affirmation versus an oath, it goes back to the Quakers. And the Quakers were obviously a Christian denomination. In their faith, it was forbidden to make an oath, and they based it on the Gospel of Matthew 5:33-37. By the way, I’ve talked about some of this in my book, The Hebrew Yeshua Versus the Greek Jesus. Verse 34, this is Jesus speaking, and he says, “I say to you, swear not at all, but let your communication be yea-yea, nay-nay.” In other words, you can say yes or no, but don’t swear. “For whatsoever is more than these, commeth of evil.” And most Christians read that in context and say, “Well, he’s not saying you can’t make an oath.” They kind of ignore what he says, to be honest with you.

But they took it literally, the Quakers, based on what it actually says in the Greek and English texts, and said, “Okay, we’re not allowed to make an oath. We’re not allowed to swear.” So the Pennsylvania Constitution and the US Constitution allows someone to affirm, and specifically guarantees the right to affirm, and this was for the Quakers. There was no other Christian group that I know of, or no major group, at least, that had this issue. But this is basically a Quaker provision allowing people to affirm.

And it’s quite interesting, because I recently did jury duty here in Texas, and they made us recite this statement, and we’re allowed to swear or affirm. So even now in the 21st century, this carries over. And I learned about this years ago. My father, of blessed memory, who was a rabbi, but also a lawyer, once had to testify in court, and they asked him to swear and he said, “Your Honor, it’s against my beliefs to swear. I can affirm.” And the judge thought he was trying to pull a fast one. And my father had to pull out a US Constitution and say, “Hey, it’s my constitutional right to affirm and not swear.”

And so I asked my father, “Where’s that from?” My father wasn’t reading the Gospel of Matthew. He was actually getting it from Ecclesiastes chapter 5, of all places, and it says in verses 3 and 4, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfil it, for He has no pleasure in fools. What you vow, fulfil. It is better not to vow at all than to vow and not fulfill.” And my father took this to mean, “I should never make a vow. If I have the opportunity, I should affirm.”

And by the way, in the Israeli army today, when you make your declaration, you can say, “Ani nishba” or “Ani matzhir,” “I swear” or “I affirm.” So to this day, there are many Jews who interpret it the same way as my father, similar to the Quakers, [laughing] although they’re basing it on something else, not to make an oath, but to make an affirmation. Now, the affirmation has no difference in the eyes of the law, and I don’t think before God. But it doesn’t mean you’re allowed to lie. You’d better keep your word, whether you’re affirming or making an oath.

But I think it’s interesting that the Constitution of Pennsylvania had - I’m going to put it this way – it had a Quaker clause, but it didn’t have a Jew clause. It was an anti-Jew clause, I mean, in a sense. Anti-Jew, and, I guess, anti-atheist clause. And so the US Constitution then comes and corrects that. That’s pretty cool.

So you know, this term “religious test” is something we hear about a lot today in the news in relation to President Trump’s so-called Muslim Ban, that is an executive order that he issued and it was shut down by the courts. I mean, were the courts right? Meaning, if you’re not allowed to have a religious test, does that apply to President Trump’s so-called Muslim Ban or travel ban?

Professor Kochin: Well, until these court rulings, there was no law that said that these issues applied to people outside the US. So the courts have really done something pretty radical and said that foreigners can also get certain rights or privileges from the US Government without regard for their religion, and they have some kind of constitutional right to that. Which if it’s the law, it’s only the law in the last few months, because up until then there was no such law.

Nehemia: Does this concept of a religious test apply to immigration, or is it only for holding public office?

Professor Kochin: So the US has a long history of offering haven to people who are fleeing religious persecution, and there are laws that empower the President to let those people in. So it’s a little hard to examine some of these claims of religious persecution if you can’t find out what religion they are. I mean, there are other ways in which religion comes into immigration, but quantitatively speaking, that’s the most important.

Nehemia: So actually what you’re saying is that there’s a law - and you had sent me a link to this, and we’ll post it on the website on nehemiaswall.com - but in the US law, not only are they allowed to look at religion as a consideration for accepting refugees, they’re required to, aren’t they?

Professor Kochin: If someone is claiming religious persecution, yes.

Nehemia: Right, and I actually read the executive order, the original one that President Trump put out. And the only thing it said about religion is that religious minorities would be allowed to get preferential status, and presumably, the context there was the Yazidis, who were being murdered en masse and turned into sex slaves by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, or they were particularly in Iraq. And really, I think future generations are going to judge the American leftist establishment for the hundreds of thousands of Christians - I mean, I’d be shocked if the number isn’t hundreds of thousands - who needlessly died because of this quashing President Trump’s executive order. I mean, it really is criminal what they’ve done. They’ve shut the door on hundreds of thousands of people who are being murdered, for no other reason than that they’re Christians and other minorities, as well.

So to invoke the religious tests of holding public office and in a sense it’s a reverse religious test. “Hey, we’re not going to keep you out, based on your religion. We’ll let you in, based on your religion, if that religion’s persecuted from where you’re coming from.” Am I right about that?

Professor Kochin: Yes. That’s what it means in this context.

Nehemia: Right. You know, I’ve been doing some genealogy research recently, and I found my great-grandfather’s application for US citizenship. It’s called a Petition for Naturalization, and he’s actually the man I was named after, Rabbi Nehemia Yaakov Robinson, or “Reubenson”, they wrote it back then. And this is from 1928. So here he signs in this declaration, he says, “I am not a polygamist, nor a believer in the practice of polygamy.”

Now, whether you agree with polygamy or not, that’s not the topic here. But the US Government had a ruling that you may not immigrate to the United States and become a citizen if you’re either a polygamist or even if you believe in polygamy. I mean, if that’s not a religious test… I mean, obviously this was formulated against the early Mormons, who later disavowed polygamy, but originally considered it to be a righteous thing. And so this in 1928 is still in the petition for naturalization, the application for US citizenship.

So to say that the US never has had a religious test is just not true, meaning this isn’t just, “Okay, we’ll let you in if you’re persecuted for your beliefs.” This is, “We won’t let you in if you have certain religious beliefs.” And I’d like your thoughts on this. But given the reality of the world today, how immigrants to the United States, and even people who are coming to visit, how there is not some kind of at least declaration that says, “I am not a violent Jihadi, nor a believer in violent Jihad.” I don’t see how that is not part of the immigration process. That’s just criminal. It’s criminal to the people who are already here.

Professor Kochin: If one didn’t want to actually ban Muslims from coming into the United States, then one would have to work on the wording a little bit, because the Muslim scholars like to talk about “defensive versus offensive jihad”, and so-forth. If Muslims are attacked for their religion, then to defend themselves and their religion is also considered jihad.

Nehemia: I said violent jihad, and the reason I said violent jihad is some Muslims will tell you – and I think they’re sincere – some Muslims will tell you, “Jihad is the inner struggle against Shaitan,” which is Satan, “to keep Allah’s commandments,” or whatever. You know what? That’s some doctrine I’ve no interest in whatsoever. We’re not talking about the inner struggle of jihad. We’re talking about violent jihad. It’s a term that they use. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam, is jihad. If they take that jihad to be violent jihad, I don’t want them in my country. Let them go to their countries.

And the ones who don’t believe in violent jihad, okay. Hey, I’m not even talking about those people.

Professor Kochin: No, the question is whether you should expect Muslims to be Quakers, and not be allowed to use force to stand up for themselves when they’re attacked by people who don’t like Muslims. There are places in the world where Muslims are persecuted, in Burma, for example. There was just this attack in London. Now, there’s a violence by Muslims and there’s some violence against Muslims. So it’s very tricky to figure out how to write these things down.

Nehemia: And I’m not in favor of that. That’s horrible, violence against Muslims, violence by Muslims, and against each other. I’m not saying there should be violence against Muslims. What I’m saying is that I think it should be a basic question. And you’re right, so now you’re getting into religious nuance, and you have to work on the exact wording.

But anyway, one of the things I know you’ve spoken about in the past is this issue of tolerance. And I’ve found this to be a very fascinating topic. Tolerance is held up today as the highest and most noble value, that we should tolerate people. But actually, it’s a really disgusting, horrible thing. [laughing] Can you tell us about why tolerance is such an evil thing?

Professor Kochin: Well, tolerance means that there’s something bad, or at least unpleasant or distasteful about what somebody’s doing, or something you don’t like about it. I happen to like reggae music. If somebody doesn’t like reggae music, then I don’t just tolerate that difference. I’m happy for them to listen to whatever kind of music they like, and they should just let me listen to whatever kind of music I like. That’s not tolerance.

Nehemia: So tolerance is confused with acceptance?

Professor Kochin: Yeah, to recognize that people are different and that not every kind of difference is something that, even if we have some feeling about it, maybe that’s a feeling we shouldn’t indulge, even so far as to say, “Well, you know, if find that the food he eats smells really bad, but I guess I have to tolerate it.”

Nehemia: By the way, I lived in China for a year, and they have a delicacy in China called chodofu which translates as “stinky tofu”, and it’s the smelliest thing you can even imagine. There are actually laws that you’re not allowed to make it in certain places, because it smells so bad. [laughing] So I hear what you’re saying, but there is an ancient Jewish adage, “Al tam vereakh ein lehitvakeakh,” “One may not argue concerning smell and taste.” And the point there is that those are inherently subjective.

Now, I don’t believe religion is subjective, I believe there is a true faith that the Creator of the Universe taught to mankind. But I also believe that in this day of exile, that it’s really not my place, as long as somebody’s not harming somebody else, I don’t need to get involved in what his beliefs are.

So here’s why I think the idea of tolerance is really evil - because when I hear that term, what I think of is the Roman debate concerning the Jews. We’re talking like in the 4th and 5th century. So the Romans had basically made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, and then they have this decision, “Hey, we have the political power to either kill all the Jews or force them to convert,” or at least offer them conversion or death, or exile them. And they came to the conclusion that they would tolerate the Jews.

And what does “toleration” mean in that concept? It means, “We really can’t stand the Jews, but we’ll allow them to exist.” And that became the policy - Jews were tolerated. And there were places Jews weren’t tolerated. Like for example, they were banned from England, I think in the 12th century. And as you said, they were brought back by Cromwell in the 17th century. But in most places, Jews were tolerated. And what that meant is, Jews had to pay extra taxes, there were humiliating laws that they had to live under, they had to wear literally, funny hats. I mean, it sounds so immature and ridiculous, but literally, they made Jews wear funny-looking hats to humiliate them. And in Muslim countries, they had the “jizya”, the Jew tax. The Jews were under a special tax, as were Christians.

So tolerance is actually a way of saying, “I can’t stand someone. I hate them, but I’m going to allow them to exist, and in order to allow them to exist, I’m going to probably treat them in a bad way.” And one of the things that you’ve shared is that the US is a new page in history. It wasn’t that the Jews were tolerated, the Jews were actually accepted. And there’s a famous letter that George Washington sent to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, from 18th August, 1790, and how that is a new page, it’s no longer tolerance, it’s acceptance as full citizens. Tell us about that letter.

Professor Kochin: When Washington becomes president, he goes on a tour of the United States. But in his first tour, he doesn’t go to Rhode Island, because Rhode Island was the last state to ratify the Constitution, and they weren’t actually part of the United States when Washington became president.

Nehemia: And you had told me before that Rhode Island was considered like a foreign country, basically?

Professor Kochin: Right. So Rhode Island was sort of dragging its feet on ratifying until the United States made clear that they were going to treat Rhode Island as a foreign country, especially for tariff purposes, and at that point, the Rhode Islanders gave up and ratified the Constitution.

Nehemia: Oh, wow. [laughing]

Professor Kochin: But until then, he didn’t go. He only visited the states that were in, and he didn’t visit Rhode Island, which was out. So then, after Rhode Island ratified, he went to Rhode Island and he met with all kinds of groups and went to all kinds of places in Rhode Island, and one of the places he went to was to the synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. So this is a thank-you note for the reception that he received from them while he was there in Rhode Island.

And he says in this letter, this is the passage that I think is really most amazing. “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation. All possess liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as it if was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoy the exercise of their inherent, natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they, who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions, their effectual support.”

Nehemia: Tell us what that means, in plain English. [laughing]

Professor Kochin: In plain English, well, I think it’s actually pretty plain English for 1790. But what he’s saying is that Jews are citizens. It’s the first time in the history of the world that a gentile ruler addressed Jews as citizens.

Nehemia: And I think this is the key passage for me. “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoy the exercise of their inherent, natural rights.” In other words, it’s not that, “Hey, we Christians, we’re tolerating you Jews and allowing you to live in our country. You are citizens, and as long as you pay your taxes and are loyal to the government, and support the government, you’re full citizens just like everybody else, equal before the law.” And that really is the power of the American enterprise, which is really special in world history. It’s not that, “Yeah, Jews are allowed to be in the country too.” No, Jews were citizens and had the same rights as anybody else. I mean, what a powerful thing.

You do a teaching on this, and you call it the Cornerstone of American Jewish History. Explain that a little bit.

Professor Kochin: Well, the documents from pretty early on in the history of the United States sort of set the tone for both the attitudes of the United States towards Jews and the attitude of Jews towards the United States. As you said, Jews are citizens, just like any other group of citizens, and the expectations from them are precisely the expectations from any other citizens - that they should pay their taxes and obey the laws and support the government.

Nehemia: And I want you to reiterate that. I just want to emphasis that. So you’re telling me, in all of world history, there had never been a gentile ruler that comes to mind that turned to the Jews just like any other citizens? Or at least, that we have an address from.

Professor Kochin: So there’s a little technicality, which is “citizens” means people who live in a republic, who are full members and who have full political rights of the republic.

Nehemia: Okay, so for example, in China there were Jews, and the Jews had the same status, probably, as the peasants, which basically meant they had no rights. [laughing]

Professor Kochin: No, there were Jewish Mandarins. The Jews were the same as everybody else, because the government really wasn’t all that interested in any religion that didn’t interfere with government. But China was an empire, it was a monarchy, people’s rights depended on what their official status was. But the whole concept of citizenship wasn’t one that was at all relevant.

But in the republics of Europe, places like Venice and so forth, the citizens all had to be Christians, and pretty much everywhere, Christians of a certain sort - in Venice, they had to be Catholic, in Hamburg, they had to Protestant.

Nehemia: So if a Jew was born in Venice and his great-great-great-great grandfather was born in Venice, but because he was a Jew, he wasn’t a citizen of the republic, is what you’re telling me?

Professor Kochin: No. Shakespeare lays this out pretty clearly in Merchant of Venice. Shylock is a Jew from Venice, but the merchant, the Venetians, the citizens, they’re all Christian.

Nehemia: So literally, I could show up in Venice as a Catholic, get citizenship and I have more rights and standing before the law than a Jew who’s lived there for 1,000 years, since the time of the Roman Empire.

Professor Kochin: Yeah.

Nehemia: And that made sense to people in Europe. And so here is a departure from that, that because you are a citizen of the republic, it doesn’t matter what religion you are. And I love this progression. So we have the letter of 1787, saying, “Hey, wait a minute. We fought for freedom. Why are we not allowed to hold public office?” And then we have Article 6 of Clause 3 of the Constitution, that basically says, “No religious test.” And then we have this letter in 1790 that says, “Hey, you’re citizens. And it’s not that we’re tolerating you and we’re allowing you to exist, gritting our teeth saying, ‘We’ll allow those Jews the indulgence of one class of people against another, or for another,’ but that you are citizens just like anybody else.” That’s pretty cool. That’s something really special about the United States.

Professor Kochin: Right.

Nehemia: And as you said, this is something that is an example for mankind, and I think it’s been imitated now in probably other countries. But like, for example, in the United Kingdom, in England, it’s still officially a Christian country, isn’t it? I mean, by law. [laughing]

Professor Kochin: By law, it’s a Christian country, and the Queen has to protect the Christian faith, and I think it’s still true, probably, the heir to the throne can’t be married to a Catholic. And in Sweden and Norway, the king - there’s an official religion. The king has to be a Lutheran. So it’s not completely gone now, even in democratic countries.

Nehemia: Right. So not everybody so quickly accepted this.

Professor Kochin: No. So the thing’s a little complicated, because the ‘no religious test’ clause only applies to the Federal Government. It doesn’t apply to the state governments. Twelve of the 13 state governments had religious tests, all of them except New York, and they continued to have them for many years.

Nehemia: For example, Texas, where I currently am, Article 1 Section 4 of the Texas Constitution says, “Religious tests – no religious tests shall ever be required as office or public trust in this State, nor shall anyone be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledges the existence of a Supreme Being.” In other words, according to the Texas Constitution, if you’re an atheist, you can’t hold public office. [laughing] A Jew, a Christian, I don’t know, maybe a Buddhist and a Hindu could, but not an atheist. And that’s today, that’s still in there.

Professor Kochin: Right. So the US Constitution, they added after the Civil War, the Civil Rights Amendments, 13, 14, and 15, and those were interpreted in 1961 by the Supreme Court to prohibit the states from applying religious tests, and in the case of Texas, preventing atheists from holding office. But certainly, the original Constitution was never interpreted that way, and the states continued to apply their own religious tests until they got rid of them.

Nehemia: So Texas didn’t get rid of it. So is this something that’s enforced today? I mean, I know it’s not.

Professor Kochin: It’s not, no. The 1961 Supreme Court case would prohibit the State of Texas from actually excluding atheists from office. There was recently a thing with Bernie Sanders, where Trump appointed some guy, and Sanders started interrogating the guy about what his beliefs are regarding salvation, and who he thinks is going to hell. And so a lot of people pointed out this is exactly what the US Constitution was intended to prohibit. You can’t ask somebody if they’re a Christian. You can’t ask somebody not to be a Christian, in order to hold office under the United States.

Nehemia: And this was in a Senate confirmation hearing?

Professor Kochin: Yes.

Nehemia: So the atheist man of Jewish descent, Bernie Sanders, was imposing a religious test? [laughing]

Professor Kochin: He was trying, yes. He was trying.

Nehemia: Unbelievable. I didn’t know that. That’s really shocking. And by the way, you had another thing that you had quoted, that one of the ways of dealing with Jews by the anti-Semites was to say, “Well, they’re not human beings.” Can you talk about that?

Professor Kochin: So, when I gave this talk at Claremont McKenna College a few years ago, I found this book by this kind of dubious English guy. But the book is called, The Jews; Are They Human? And it was a book attacking anti-Semitism, published in 1939, as I recall.

Nehemia: It was attacking anti-Semitism? Okay.

Professor Kochin: Attacking anti-Semitism, in other words, making fun of the notion that Jews aren’t really human or can’t be treated as human beings, or that somehow things would be better, in some helpful way, if the gentiles get rid of the Jews, which he thought was just utter nonsense. But in the lecture, I brought it up because of the following problem, which is, you read this letter by Washington, and it’s really inspiring. And every time I read it, I choke up and I cry.

But then, you have to remember that Washington doesn’t actually care whether there are any Jews in America or not. If all of them would convert to Christianity, he’d be completely indifferent. There’s a story about the American sailors who were being held as slaves in Algiers by the jihadi pirates of Algiers, and the Bey of Algiers says at one point to the American who’s sent to negotiate…

Nehemia: That’s the ruler, the bey is the Turkish ruler, right?

Professor Kochin: He’s the ruler, yeah. So he says to him, “Look, the US is very slow to pay. They’re not well organized. They don’t have money. They’re not paying the ransom. They agreed on the ransom, and they haven’t paid.” And the Bey is kind of impatient with this, right? And he says at one point to the American representative, “Look, if you don’t pay, these guys are all going to convert to Islam, because if they’re Muslim slaves, then they’re going to be treated better than if they’re Christian slaves.” And the American representative says he doesn’t care, they can all go convert to Islam. That has nothing to do with him. That’s not the issue. The US doesn’t care.

So it’s not that the US wants there to be Jews, or doesn’t want there to be Jews, or wants there to be Christians, or doesn’t want there to be Christians, or wants there to be Muslims, or doesn’t want there to be Muslims. It’s really indifferent, and people have to make their own choices, and they have to live their own lives, which in America, has given a lot of Jews and a lot of Christians the opportunity to throw away the faith that they were brought up in, and to live without religion, or to live under a different religion.

You know, as Washington says, as long as they pay their taxes, obey the Government, and give it all lawful support, the government really is completely indifferent to them. Now, if you’re a Jew, you’re not indifferent to the survival of Judaism. If you’re a Christian, you’re not indifferent to the survival of Christianity. And so this letter, which is really impressive, it’s a world historical document…

Nehemia: And you’re talking about the George Washington letter to the synagogue in Rhode Island?

Professor Kochin: The Washington letter, yeah, or the provision of the Constitution, which is eloquent in its own way. These things, from the point of view of traditional religious life, there’s a lot that’s really scary here.

Nehemia: Scary?

Professor Kochin: Yeah.

Nehemia: In other words, can I put it differently? That Jews thrive in persecution? [laughing]

Professor Kochin: It does seem that that was the point of the author of that book, whose name has suddenly escaped my mind. Unless you kill all the Jews, persecuting the Jews is probably not going to be the way to convince them to stop being Jewish.

Nehemia: So you’re saying… Jews obviously don’t survive being murdered, but a certain mild level of persecution actually causes traditional Jewish communities to thrive, is what you’re saying.

Professor Kochin: That seems to be the lesson of history.

Nehemia: That sounds like a whole other topic we need to explore. [laughing]

Professor Kochin: Yes. But freedom gives people tremendous opportunities, and that kind of freedom was generally rejected by traditional societies, both Jewish and gentile. And they had their reasons, so it’s worth remembering that.

Nehemia: So traditional Jewish and Christian societies didn’t want the freedom, is what you’re saying?

Professor Kochin: No, they didn’t give the freedom to their own members. They didn’t give it to other people.

Nehemia: In other words, if you were a Christian heretic in the 1400s, you were burned at the stake. So there was persecution of Jews and there were laws against them having certain professions, and to humiliate them, but the gentile Christians weren’t free citizens under the law, either. [laughing]

Professor Kochin: They were, but freedom didn’t mean religious freedom.

Nehemia: Okay, it wasn’t freedom in the sense that we consider it today, in the United States or in the Western… Maybe it was more like North Korean freedom?

Professor Kochin: I wouldn’t go that far, but you know, if your neighbor worships idols, God’s going to look at that. The Book of Deuteronomy has something to say about that.

Nehemia: Yeah, but we don’t implement that today. I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but people make the argument, “Well, wait a minute. So Muslim jihadis, they’re no different than the Jews and the Christians, because in the Old Testament, the Tanakh, it talks about waging religious wars and all kinds of things like this.” Yeah, but nobody actually implements that today. That’s deferred to the time of the King Messiah, who will work those things out. At least, that’s my perspective.

In today’s world, I want the government staying out of my personal business and my religion and my faith, and I’m going to stay out of other people’s personal religions and faith and things, as well. Theoretically, the people who say this are right in a sense that you could create an ISIS-like state under the Torah, but nobody today in Judaism is even thinking in those terms, I don’t think. Maybe they’re fantasizing about that, some people, in the ultra-Orthodox world, but nobody is seriously going to do that, whereas it actually exists today in the Islamic world. It’s not a hypothetical thing. And I think that’s a fundamental difference.

Professor Kochin: If your conception of religion makes religious freedom fundamental, then it’s a fundamental difference. And you and I are Americans, and this is the kind of understanding of religion that we were brought up with.

Nehemia: Yeah. Well, it reminds me of the Essenes, who when Josephus describes them, he describes them as these extreme pacifists. And one of the first seven scrolls that was discovered was called “Milkhemet Benei Ohr veBenei Khoshekh,” “The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness,” in which they described their battle formations, and the weapons, and they’re going to write on their different spears and swords. Wait a minute, what’s going on here? Well, that’s an eschatological war. That’s not something anyone is attempting to carry out today.

And that, from my perspective, is the fundamental difference between the way Jews understand the Torah today, and it doesn’t matter what denomination you’re part of, even the most extreme ultra-Orthodox Jew is not in any active way, attempting to set up the death penalty for… I don’t know, for adulterers, right? No one’s thinking in those terms, whereas in Saudi Arabia, that’s actually a weekly event. You go and you see people’s hands get cut off, and things like that. People are executed for things that, certainly the way I look at it, I don’t need to know about what you’re doing. I don’t want to know about it. It’s got nothing to do with me. The government should stay out of my personal business, and it should stay out of yours. That’s how I look at it. And God will sort those things out, and I view see that as a fundamental difference.

Look, we’re putting this episode out for July 4th, although people will be listening to it for years to come. And just my personal feeling is that the United States really has created this wonderful thing in world history. It became a haven for the Jews. Millions of Jews were not killed in the Holocaust because they found refuge in the United States, I think because of this letter by Jonas Phillips, and things like that, that the people responded to and said, “Okay, you know what? These people were on our side. They’re no different than us. They might believe differently, they might have a different synagogue, or a different church, but they’re citizens, and if we believe what we say, that all men are created equal...” And okay, there were some issues that had to be worked out with slavery, obviously.

But the beginning of that was to say, “Everyone is a citizen before the law, every human being.”

Professor Kochin: Yes. There’s a basic message about religious freedom here, that’s really important. I think in some ways, the sort of Bernie Sanders attitude, or what’s come out of the gay marriage legalization in the US, now the question is whether traditional religious belief, biblical belief, Christian belief, Orthodox Jewish beliefs, are going to be tolerated, and to what extent. Those are really the political questions.

So whereas Washington could say, “It’s some time since people have ceased to speak of toleration,” now the whole question regarding religion, the religion of the majority, biblical religion, is a question of toleration. What’s the room for people who believe in the Bible? Are they going to be able to educate their children to bring up their children the way they think they ought to be brought up, in terms of the biblical imperatives? And will the government, will the powers that be in society, tolerate that, or to what extent will they repress that?” That’s really the politics of religion today in America. Those are the main issues.

You have a case like this farmer, I think in Wisconsin, and they said that because he won’t allow gay weddings on his farm - he has a farm which he rents out for weddings, he won’t let them out for gay weddings - so they’re not going to let him sell his produce in the city farmers’ market, because he’s a bad person. So now there’s a religious test for occupation. Do you subscribe to the currently fashionable beliefs, and if you don’t, then the government feels free to deprive you of a livelihood. So that’s where we are in terms of the politics of these things right now in the United States, and it’s kind of dispiriting when you compare it to what Washington said in 1790.

Nehemia: Wow, that’s a really interesting analogy. In other words, what Jonas Phillips writes in his letter is basically… Theoretically I could say the words, “I declare the divinity of the New Testament,” but that would be against my religious faith. It excludes me based on my conscience. And what you’re saying here today is, the man who says, “I don’t want to have a gay wedding,” which is viewed certainly from a Christian perspective and a Jewish perspective as a religious ceremony, any wedding, “I don’t want that kind of religious ceremony on my property.” So he’s now deprived of his livelihood. And you know, when they say, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” my understanding is that the pursuit of happiness is a capitalist statement – meaning, originally, I think it was the pursuit of property, right?

Professor Kochin: Wealth; Locke says, “Life, liberty and pursuit of wealth.”

Nehemia: Oh, “Life, liberty and pursuit of wealth,” okay. So they’re now being deprived of their ability to pursue wealth because of their religious conscience. And I just heard this case the other day, that there was this neo-Nazi who changed his son’s name to Adolf Hitler, and went to get a cake, and they refused to make the cake. If you were of certain persuasions, the government would have gotten behind him, and instead, what happened is, his kids were taken away, because they said he’s a bad influence on his kids.

Now, he might be a bad influence on his kids - he’s a neo-Nazi, I agree. But they’re not my kids, they’re his kids. [laughing]

Professor Kochin: Right. So you know, you have to draw these lines. But until 2015, people tried to draw these lines in such a way that everybody was treated equally, and that people were free to relive their religious lives as far as possible if they didn’t do any physical harm to anybody else, and that’s no longer the way people look at things in the United States. It’s no longer the way the law or the government looks at things. And so I’ve found that dispiriting.

Nehemia: Wow. Well, to paraphrase what a Lutheran Pastor in World War II said, “First, they came for the communists.” And I’ve got to say, first they came for the Evangelical Christians, and then they came for the neo-Nazi. We know it always ends with the Jews. I’m no fan of the neo-Nazis, you know? [laughing] But I know where this ends. This doesn’t end well for us. This is a lot to think about, but this really is a beautiful letter written by Jonas Phillips, and what I see as the response in a way, of the Constitution and then ultimately, by George Washington. It’s a beautiful gift to mankind.

So thank you very much. Shalom, and happy Fourth of July, Independence Day, to everyone. Shalom.

Professor Kochin: Shalom.

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Original Pennsylvania Constitution, Section 10

Letter from Jonas Phillips a Jew, dated Sept. 7. 1787 to the President & Members of the Convention
Letter from Jonas Phillips a Jew, dated Sept. 7. 1787 to the President & Members of the ConventionTo His Excellency the president and the Honourable Members of the Convention assembled
With leave and submission I address myself To those in whome there is wisdom understanding and knowledge. they are the honourable personages appointed and Made overseers of a part of the terrestrial globe of the Earth, Namely the 13 united states of america in Convention Assembled, the Lord preserve them amen —
I the subscriber being one of the people called Jews of the City of Philadelphia, a people scattered and despersed among all nations do behold with Concern that among the laws in the Constitution of Pennsylvania their is a Clause Sect. 10 to viz — I do believe in one God the Creature and governour of the universe the Rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked — and I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and New testement to be given by a devine inspiration — to swear and believe that the new testement was given by devine inspiration is absolutly against the Religious principle of a Jew. and is against his Conscience to take any such oath — By the above law a Jew is deprived of holding any publick office or place of Government which is a Contridectory to the bill of Right Sect 2. viz
That all men have a natural and unalienable Right To worship almighty God according to the dectates of their own Conscience and understanding, and that no man aught or of Right can be Compelled to attend any Relegious Worship or Erect or support any place of worship or Maintain any minister contrary to or against his own free will and Consent nor Can any man who acknowledges [79] the being of a God be Justly deprived or abridged of any Civil Right as a Citizen on account of his Religious sentiments or peculiar mode of Religious Worship, and that no authority Can or aught to be vested in or assumed by any power what ever that shall in any Case interfere or in any manner Controul the Right of Conscience in the free Exercise of Religious Worship —
It is well known among all the Citizens of the 13 united States that the Jews have been true and faithful whigs, and during the late Contest with England they have been foremost in aiding and assisting the States with their lifes and fortunes, they have supported the Cause, have bravely faught and bleed for liberty which they Can not Enjoy —
Therefore if the honourable Convention shall in ther Wisdom think fit and alter the said oath and leave out the words to viz — and I do acknoweledge the scripture of the new testement to be given by devine inspiration then the Israeletes will think them self happy to live under a goverment where all Relegious societys are on an Eaquel footing — I solecet this favour for my self my Childreen and posterity and for the benefit of all the Isrealetes through the 13 united States of america
My prayers is unto the Lord. May the people of this States Rise up as a great and young lion, May they prevail against their Enemies, May the degrees of honour of his Excellencey the president of the Convention George Washington, be Extollet and Raise up. May Every one speak of his glorious Exploits. May God prolong his days among us in this land of Liberty — May he lead the armies against his Enemys as he has done hereuntofore — May God Extend peace unto the united States — May they get up to the highest Prosperetys — May God Extend peace to them and their seed after them so long as the Sun and moon Endureth — and may the almighty God of our father Abraham Isaac and Jacob endue this Noble Assembly with wisdom Judgement and unamity in their Councells, and may they have the Satisfaction to see that their present toil and labour for the wellfair of the united States may be approved of, Through all the world and perticular by the united States of america is the ardent prayer of Sires
Your Most devoted obed Servant
Jonas Phillips
Philadelphia 24th Ellul 5547 or Sept 7th 1787

Photo of the Original Jonas Phillips Letter to the Constitutional Convention

Reference to 1879 Study Crediting Phillips with Article VI Section 3 of the Constitution
"...it was due to Jonas Phillips that the article on religious liberty... was made a part of the Constitution of the United States in 1789 by Congress."

Jonas Phillips's Participation in the American Revolution

Jonas Phillips Yiddish Letter to a Dutch Jew

George Washington's Letter to the Jews

  • Ezracha Bat Ephrayim Watchwoman On the Wall says:

    Knowing that “religion” is the reason we are all separated (Jews and Christian’s), I wouldn’t brag about this Constitutional amendment, since the USA is a Christian nation founded on rights that only the God of the Jews can bless us with and remove.. Fortunately for the Jew, Christian’s recognize their brotherhood. By the same token, Jews tend to stay to themselves and repel Christian’s in ther inner circle, their close family friends, and their lives in general, which is why they have neighborhoods segregated, just like Mexican’s and Muslim’s who are here illegally ad do not want to assimilate into our United States Constitution and our laws. They want to keep their own such as sharia, and infringe on OUR people. People come to the USA to worship YHWH, The Elohim of Jews and Christian’s, and not be forced by their original homeland st communist type governments. It is not just my belief, but it is written in my heart by YHWH Himself, that USA IS EPHRAYIM. As a “believer” in TORAH and the fact that Yahushua IS The Messiah, I reject religion, all of it! The world has sought to divide us and keep Christian’s from YHWH our Elohim and His Torah, and as well, the Jews from our Moshiach. If the rule still existed, at least the Christians recognized the “Old Testament,” where the Jew has never recognized the RE-NEWED Testament. As Solomon proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The division continues, thanks to people on both sides within their separate state run religions, brought over here from their places of origin, and we are one step closer to Babylon’s New World Order, forced state religion of self, except in their religion they hate themselves, they hate Jews, and they hate Christian’s. That’s why the leftists Democrats today hate our President Trump. President Trump IS A WALL, standing as a protection between USA and the NWO.

  • daniel says:

    The greatest ‘unknown’ American revolutionary patriot also was a member of Mikveh Israel in Philly (and I think buried in the cemetery there), almost single-handedly financed the endgame at Yorktown … Haym Salomon! So where did the Jews go when expelled from England? I know that quite a lot went to Scotland. I really love these untold facts of history. The facts are there, but someone else controls the narrative(fake news?). The world’s greatest archaeologist was an amateur named Ron Watt, and most people never heard of him or think he has been debunked. Also, I heard some of Bernie Sanders grilling the Christian nominee in the Senate and it was utterly disgusting how Sanders was allowed to go on, and on, and on and no one challenged him. Thanks Nehemia – always good stuff.

  • Darlene DeSilva says:

    One of the things going through my mind as you were speaking is that I have always been concerned about who is elected to any position in government. If Israel elected people to office that no longer cared for Torah…maybe shops could remain open on Sabbath. Slow erosion can happen over time. Look at the United States founded on men and women who loved and lived the teachings of the Bible….not sure if Thanksgiving was actually the Fall Feast. Christmas is a pagan holiday and was outlawed here. Elect enough people in office that no longer love the creator and His instructions and you end up with what you see in America today. We had a Muslim for a President that tried to destroy this country and was an enemy to Israel. What if enough Judges and officials are elected that start changing laws and let’s Sharia law judge over certain people. We do have a Constitution but it has been disregarded for years….someone’s religious beliefs are very important to know before you elect them.

  • Robert K says:

    This is an enlightening and timely podcast. Many Thanks to both Nehemia and Professor Kochin for sharing their research of this most relevant topic.

  • This is one of the best (they are al excellent) audios from Nehemia about our American and Jewish History. Certainly digs deep into our roots and brings to light why our country functions as it does.