On the twelfth of February, 1809, nearly 200 years ago - a young, poor
illiterate woman from Virginia, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, gave birth to a son in a log
cabin built along the banks of the south fork of Nolin Creek, near what is
now Hodgenville, Kentucky. That baby, whom she named Abraham, grew to become one of our greatest, and most tragic, national leaders.
Lincoln was a man of great spiritual conviction. Yet, and I find this fact
fascinatingly instructive, Abraham Lincoln was the only American
president not to have declared himself a member of any particular religious faith.
That fact has given rise to a great deal of intere sting speculation. In
fact, there are those who believe that Honest Abe was Jewish.
After all, his name was Abraham. His great-grandfather was named Mordechai.
Lincoln was the only President not to have a formal religious affiliation.
He was neither raised in a church nor did he ever belong to a church.
And there's more... the town of Lincoln, in eastern England, whence his
ancestors came, has an interesting Jewish history. A Jewish community was established there in 1159. During Crusader riots, the Sheriff of Lincoln saved the Jews by giving them official protection. St. Hugh, the great Bishop of Lincoln, taught love of Jews to his parishioners. His death was marked by an official period of mourning among Lincoln's Jews.
Rabb i Joseph of Lincoln was a scholar mentioned in the Talmud; Aaron of Lincoln was a financier whose operations extended all over the country. In 1255,Lincoln's Jews were accused of ritual murder. Ninety-one Lincoln Jews were sent to London for trial and 18 were executed. Notwithstanding, the Lincoln Jewish community flourished until 1290, when they were forcibly expelled by edict.
Most Jewish historians assume that all the Jews of Lincoln left in 1290.
But could it be possible that some remained, practicing their Judaism in
secret... passing the family secret from generation to generation? The
more we learn of the secret life of Spanish Jewry following the Expulsion of 1492, the more we must at least consider the possibility of the same thing occurring elsewhere.
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, whole Jewish communities sat
shivah. Rabbis all over the country eulogized the fallen President. Rabbi
Isaac Mayer Wise, the man who created Reform Judaism in this country,began his eulogy with the words... "Brethern, 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 was often questioned about his religious beliefs. Time and again,
he told of a special passage from Scripture that summed up his theology.
It was the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus he recommended that
every American study, learn and follow. In English it is usually referred
to as the Ten Commandments.