The Puritans & the Jews

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



The Puritan States of America


     In 1630 John Winthrop (1588-1649), ancestor of Senator John Kerry, led a group of Puritans to New England. His was not the first of these believers to come to Massachusetts. The first were those who had come in 1620 under the leadership of their pastor John Robertson (1575-1625). These immigrants were also known as “separatists” when they sailed from England to America on the “Mayflower.”

     In New England these Pilgrims, as they called themselves, founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which they organized according to their understanding of the Five Books of Moses and other Jewish themes. They believed that they were the Children of Israel and therefore sought to live by the commandments of God as found in the Torah. Like the Jews, the Puritans enrolled all their children in school so that they could read the word of God, i.e. the Bible (from Biblos, a city in ancient north Africa whence the Greeks imported dried palm leaves on which they wrote their books).

     The Puritans were called that because they sought to “purify” the Church of England, which was founded in 1534 by king Henry VIII (1491-1547), the absolute ruler of England. In fact, the Church of England was the Catholic Church without a pope but headed by the king.

     The Puritans' affinity for the Torah was related to the availability of the “King James” version of the Bible. That translation was named after James VI of Scotland when Parliament elected him James I of England in 1603. One year later, in 1604, James appointed a group of 47 scholars to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew into English. These scholars relied heavily on the translation by William Tyndale (1484-1536).  Tyndale had studied Hebrew and Greek at Oxford University and decided to translate the Bible for the first time from the original Hebrew. He achieved this by 1530. In 1536, Tyndale was apprehended by the Inquisition and murdered because the Catholic Church had prohibited translating the Bible. That Church feared that an English translation would result in the same protestant reformation already attained in Germany after Martin Luther (1485-1546) translated the Bible into German.

     Prior to Tyndale, John Wycliffe (1325-1384) had already translated the Bible from the Latin into English, but with little success, as Wycliffe translated a translation. Neverthless, Wycliffe too was condemned by the church for doing so. Having died of natural causes in 1384, his body was exhumed and burnt and the ashes scattered into a river.

     In the end, the King James Bible was printed and distributed in 1611. There are apparently numerous errors in that translation. Yet, it was this Bible which gave Englishmen access to Jewish history and led the Puritans to establish Israel in the New World. They called Massachusetts “the new Zion” and made every effort to follow the commands of the Torah as they understood them. The Pilgrims also used the Hebrew language when naming towns and villages, such as Medina, meaning community, or Salem, meaning peace. The Puritans also used Hebrew names, including Jacob, Israel, Moses, Joshua, etc.

   In 1641 the Puritans adopted a legal code in Massachusetts and in 1650 in Connecticut. These codes were directly taken from the Torah, including Sabbath observance. Puritans believed, like ancient Israel, that they were ruled directly by God and therefore abolished all hierarchies in religion.

    The Puritan tradition in the United States is by no means dead or abandoned. It lives on in the Evangelical (Ev= good and angel= messenger, hence Evangelic means good message) movement in American Christianity. Today about 55 million American Christians follow the teachings of Jean Calvin (1509-1564) and John Knox (1514-1572) and practice an altered form of Calvinism on which the evangelical tradition rests.

     For that reason these fifty five million are Christian Zionists and, unlike the Jewish community, favor the survival of Israel. The fact is that the most vociferous supporters of Israel in the United States are evangelical Christians and a minority of Jews. Unfortunately, those Jews who have left the Jewish community and converted to the religion of “liberal” now support an anti-Israel agenda, as repeatedly pronounced by Barack Obama, a Muslim sympathizer.

     It is the view of sociologists that the reason the Jewish community has fared so well in the United States is the Puritan tradition, which underlies the positive attitude of most Americans toward the American Jewish community. Unlike Europe, where Jews are even now hounded in a manner resembling the years just before the start of the holocaust, American Jews are welcome here, as seen by the extraordinary number of Jewish politicians elected even in states with few Jews.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Criminal Justice System (2010).

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