Role of Jews in American History Told

“Early American Jews,” by Lee M. Friedman. $2. 50. Harvard University Press.

Mr. Lee M. Friedman relieves the fatigues of the law by riding the hobby-horse of research through historical by-ways and quiet back-waters, riding it, incidentally, with all the elaborate apparatus of a sound scholarship: detailed references for every fact, a formidable bibliography, appendices, and, of course, an index. From his latest somewhat random excursion Mr. Friedman, in his just published “Early American Jews,” returns with a surprising catch.

The author of “Home, Sweet Home,” John Howard Payne—part Jewish! Yes, surprising (at least to the reviewer) to learn that Payne’s maternal grandfather was Jewish (a Christianized Jew from Hamburg one learns on appealing to the cited authority); and perhaps both maternal grandparents; though here Mr. Friedman is silent on the wife of Aaron Isaacs, Payne’s Jewish grandmother.

It again comes as a surprise to learn that an aide-de-camp of Washington was a Jew. Otherwise curious is the discovery that there was, in 1772, a Jews’ College in Jerusalem to which a Jew might —as did Joseph Israel Levy of Calcutta—leave money.

Along with these discoveries there are, of course, the inevitable delightful quaintnesses. “The Rev. Increase Mather took great pains to convert to Christianity an unnamed Jew “who went to Jamaica and dyed a hardened wrech.”

Less wickedly insensible to the light was Judah Monis, first regular instructor in Hebrew at Harvard, whom Increase Mather, and others, in 1722, at last succeeded in corraling into the fold. There were some to suggest that the prospects of a job at Harvard wrought the change of heart in Monis. At his baptism ceremony, at any rate, Mr. Colman, pointedly apt, did well to hope exclaiming “O! May the all-seeing Lord say of you and to you as he sees you coming—Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. “

G. W.

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