George Washington’s Letter to the Newport Jewish Congregation Marked a New Era of Religious Liberty

In 1790, the new American republic was home to some 2,000 Jews, out of a total population of 2.5 million. That year, President Washington visited Newport, Rhode Island, where he received a letter from the members of the local synagogue. “Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens,” it read, “we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship.” John Berlau describes the president’s response, which came the next day:

[I]n that letter, Washington promised even more than the religious liberties the Jewish congregation had asked for: that Jews would be full citizens of the new republic. . . . Washington was quick to add, though, that the U.S. Constitution goes beyond mere religious toleration and explicitly grants religious freedom and full citizenship to people of every creed. “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights,” he wrote.

Washington then made an allusion to the passage of Micah 4:4 in the Hebrew Scriptures . . . which reads, “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” Washington stated emphatically to the Jewish congregation that in the new nation, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Scholars of religious freedom have called Washington’s letter to . . . the congregation a milestone in human rights. For the first time, members of religious minorities were granted full partnership in the nation they inhabited as a matter of policy, as stated by the nation’s leader. The late political philosopher Harry Jaffa . . . wrote that Washington’s letter meant that Jews would be “full citizens for the first time, not merely in American history, but since the end of their own polity in the ancient world, more than 2,000 years before.”

Jews, however, were not the only religious minority to whom Washington would provide much-needed aid and comfort. In Great Britain and most of her American colonies, Catholics couldn’t hold public office or serve on juries. And in George Washington’s Virginia, Catholics couldn’t even pray publicly during the colonial days. But to Catholics, as to Jews, Washington personified the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom through his words and deeds.

Read more at National Review

More about: American founding, American Jewish History, Catholic Church, Freedom of Religion, George Washington, Touro Synagogue


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy