When the Mayflower arrived in what is now Massachusetts, its passengers knelt on the ground and recited Psalm 107—inspired, it seems, by a British Hebraist’s citation of Moses Maimonides, who instructed that this chapter be recited by those who have safely completed an oversea journey. This episode leads Meir Soloveichik to contemplate Judaism’s role in the American founding:
In an excellent reflection in Jewish Ideas Daily on the first Thanksgiving of the Mayflower’s passengers, Moshe Sokolow correctly notes that “this vestige of Jewish influence on the religious mores of the U.S. is worth our acknowledgment and contemplation—and, of course, our thanksgiving.” But I would add that it also, rightly understood, obligates American Jews to safeguard the story of America’s past and thereby its future. For we find ourselves concluding a summer of discontent, experiencing, as Commentary has rightly put it, a “great unraveling” that [calls into question] the greatness of America and its Founders. This follows the “1619 Project” launched by the New York Times, which insisted that America itself was created in order to preserve slavery. The project’s premise was roundly derided as entirely ahistorical by prominent historians such as Sean Wilentz, James McPherson, and Gordon Wood. . . . It was nevertheless awarded the Pulitzer Prize, a reminder of how swiftly and spinelessly the cultural elite has fallen in line.
In the face of these many assaults on the American idea, a number of American scholars have proposed a “1620 Project,” linking the Pilgrims to the preservation of American history. The anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing reminds us what Jewish ideas have given to America and the obligation that Jews who care about the Bible owe this remarkable country in defending its story.