The Rabbi Who Met with Presidents

Feb. 22 2022

When Isaac Mayer Wise—the principal architect of Reform Judaism in America—met then-President Zachary Taylor in the White House, he was not meeting a U.S. president for the first time, but Taylor was meeting a rabbi for the first time. At least, that’s what Wise claims in his memoirs, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Allan Arkush describes both this meeting and some of Wise’s other presidential audiences:

When he went to the White House in February 1850, Wise himself was not yet the distinguished president of the Hebrew Union College or the Central Conference of American Rabbis; he was just a thirty-year-old pulpit rabbi from Albany, New York. Zachary Taylor, the Mexican War hero, had been president of the United States for less than a year when Wise, who was traveling south for his health, arrived in Washington, DC.

A Bohemian-born immigrant who had been in the US less than four years, Wise was eager to observe the American government at work. He could hardly have picked a more exciting moment. The debate over the Missouri Compromise was raging, and . . . Wise owed his meeting with the president to one of the principal debaters—William H. Seward—who was a friend of his from Albany, where the senator had been a lawyer for a number of years between his terms as governor of New York and his election to the upper house in 1849.

It seems . . . that newspaper reports of the very fact that he had met with the president made Wise into an instant celebrity. The following day he had a long conversation with Daniel Webster, who was so impressed by his erudition that he offered to get him hired at Boston University.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish History, Isaac Mayer Wise, Rabbis

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia