Was President Abraham Lincoln the Descendent of a Sephardic Jew? by Paula Rose Michelson

The 16th President of the United States of America was born on February 12, 1809. His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, was a young, poor, illiterate woman from Virginia. She gave birth to him in a log cabin built along the banks of the south fork of Nolin Creek, near what is now Hodgenville, Kentucky. That infant, whom she named Abraham, grew to become a great but tragic national leader.


Lincoln was a man known for his spiritual convictions. Yet, a fascinatingly instructive fact was that Abraham Lincoln was the only American president who did not declare himself a member of any particular religion or faith. This fact has caused many to speculate that he might have been Jewish. After all, his name was Abraham and his great-grandfather was named Mordechai. Lincoln was the only President that had no formal religious affiliation, he was not raised in, nor did he ever belong to a church.


The town of Lincoln, in eastern England, where his ancestors came from, had a large group of Jewish people who build homes there in 1159. Since Spanish Jews had been dealing with programs hundreds of year prior to their Expulsion from Spain, since it was a short route from Spain to England, and since those who fled usually took the name of the town they settled in for their last name, these Jews were most likely Sephardic Jews fleeing oppression. Over time, these Jews flourished, had many offspring, and became a large part of that community. However, during the Crusades riots were fomented against these Jews. The Sheriff of Lincoln saved them by giving them his official protection. The great Bishop of Lincoln, St. Hugh, taught those of the Christian faith that they should love the Jews. His death was marked by an official period of mourning among Lincoln's Jews. Jews flourished in this community and many learned scholars claimed Lincoln as their home. However, in 1255, Lincoln's Jews were accused of ritual murder. Ninety-one of them were sent to London for trial, 18 were executed. However, Lincoln’s Jewish community flourished until 1290 when they were forcibly expelled by edict.


To understand why Abraham Lincoln might have known about his heritage and chosen to keep quite, or why his mother may have never told him, one needs to understand what happened when Edward I implemented The Edict of Expulsion that forced all Jews to leave England. To the Jews this was unfathomable because following the Conquest of 1066, Jews were an important part of Norman English society. English Nobles were constantly in need of money, and borrowed heavily from Jewish moneylenders. William the Conqueror had recognized the importance of the Jewish moneylenders to Norman society, and offered them special protection under law. He declared Jews to be his direct subjects, not subjects of their local feudal lord. Because of this, English kings saw the Jewish moneylenders as a convenient source of funds. The king could levy taxes against Jews without needing the prior approval of Parliament.


The Norman invasion caused the medieval world to undergo a gradual shift towards religious emphasis on a single belief epitomized by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which required Jews and Muslims to wear special dress so that they were easily to distinguish from Christians. Jews were required to wear a special badge. Church proclamations gave official approval to attitudes that were already prevalent in medieval society. Persecution became more evident culminating in outbreaks of mob violence aimed at Jews, which were, common in England, for example, in 1190 a mob killed hundreds of Jews in York.


At the same time as attitudes of intolerance became more common - and more acceptable the emergence of the Italian system of merchant banking made the Jewish moneylenders less vital to the nobility. Measures of punitive taxation against the Jews became common, with the result that there were fewer Jewish moneylenders with ready cash to lend. In 1285, the Statute of Jewry banned all usury, even by Jews, and gave Jews 15 years to end their practice. Unfortunately, given prevailing altitudes towards Jews in trade, few avenues of livelihood were open to those affected by the Statute.


Abraham Lincoln might not have claimed his Sephardic Jewish heritage, or his mother may have chosen to keep mute about his families’ history because of England’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492 when writs were sent to the sheriffs of most counties advising that all Jews in their counties had until 1 November to leave the realm. Jews remaining after this date were liable to be executed. Parliament agreed to a special tax on the Jews. Records are inexact for this period, but it seems that about 3000 Jews were forced to leave England due to the Expulsions decree.

But back to Lincoln...

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, entire Jewish communities sat shivah...morning Abrahams death as one would a son. Rabbis throughout the country eulogized the fallen President. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the man who created Reform Judaism in this country, began his eulogy with …”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 religions beliefs were often questioned. When asked, he sighted a passage from Scripture that summed up his theology. It was the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus that he recommended that every American study, learn and follow. In English, it is usually referred to as the Ten Commandments.


Professor Elizabeth Hirschman of Rutgers University did extensive research and concluded that Abe Lincoln was Jewish


Next week...Did Columbus Edit a Book of Prophesy from the Old Testament?
Category: 3 comments

3 comments:

musingsnprint said...

There is a town in NC,Bostic,which claims to be Lincoln's birthplace.

Steve L. Nyemba said...

Interesting analysis and thought provoking. It opens a whole host of questions related to social contract; socio/religious tolerance; state & religion.

-- Great work!!

Karen said...

Intriguing! Enjoyed your research.

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