Orthodox Jews in the United States remember Moses Feinstein (1895-1986) as a preeminent halakhist who brought his immense erudition to bear on the thorniest questions of Jewish practice. But when, in March 1939, America celebrated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution, he delivered a sermon displaying a rarely noted political awareness. As Elli Fischer observes, his encomium to the wisdom of the American system of government must be read in the context of rising Nazi and Communist threats to Jews and to the world in general. Herewith, quoted by Fischer, the sermon’s key passage:
Every superstition and every nonsensical opinion in the world claims to bring light to the world and creates beautiful things to deceive and win over adherents. However, since many do not espouse [these beliefs, their followers] compel anyone they can, with sword and spear, to adopt their views. This is true in all times, with respect both to matters of faith and to matters of ideology, past and present, and especially in Russia and Germany. . . . Ultimately, all that is left is wickedness, not the ideology it was fashioned to support; what need do they have for [ideology] once they have swords and spears? . . . In the end, only the sword and spear remain, while the light is completely extinguished, as we see in the extremes of Germany and Russia.
Therefore, no sovereign power should accept one single faith or one single ideology, because ultimately only the power will remain, without an ideology, and this leads to destruction, as we see with our very eyes . . . . Rather, [a regime] must only serve its function, which is to see that no one perpetrates injustice against another, steals, or murders, for, [as the Talmud states] if not for the fear of the regime, people would swallow one another alive. However, with regard to opinion, religion, and speech, everyone shall be free to do as he wishes.
Therefore, the United States, which established in its Constitution 150 years ago that it will not uphold any faith or any ideology, rather, that each person shall do as he desires, and the regime will see that people do not molest one another, is carrying out God’s will. It is for that reason that it has succeeded and become great in our times.