WASHINGTON (Nov. 13)
President Kennedy today was presented with a Torah by a delegation of 250 Reform Jewish leaders representing the convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now taking place here. The Torah originally belonged to the late Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, founder of Reform Judaism in the United States, and was entrusted to the Reform temple in Cincinnati bearing his name.
The presentation ceremony took place at the Rose Garden of the White House. It was arranged by Secretary of Labor Arthur J. Goldberg, who was elected to the UAHC board of trustees. The presentation was made by Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, UAHC president. President Kennedy, in accepting the Torah, said that the ceremony “symbolizes the happy relations which exist between our religious groups, and must continue to exist in this country if we are worthy of our heritage.”
In making the presentation, Rabbi Eisendrath declared: “This parchment contains not only sacred words but words for which men had sacrificed their lives. This nation was established on these words and the immutable universal truths which they express. These truths remain our most potent weapon in today’s great struggle between those who have staked their lives and their future on the value of the human spirit breathing free in a universe guided by divine laws and those who seek to bring the creative human personality under the awesome weight of a juggernaut tyranny. You Mr. President, are the inspired and inspiring leader of those committed to the moral mandate set forth in the words of this sacred parchment.”
President Kennedy in replying, declared: “The significance of this ceremony is not merely a gift of an ancient document but that in a very real sense the great issue today is, as Rabbi Eisendrath stated, the supremacy of the moral law which is initiated, originated and developed in the Bible and which has special application here today.
“I have never felt that we should attempt to use the great impulse towards God and towards religion, which all people feel, as an element in a cold war struggle. Rather, it is not an arm, it is the essence of leadership–not the organization of economy so much but as the supremacy of moral law and therefore the right of the individual, his rights to be protected by the State and not be at the mercy of the State.
“In the inaugural address which the rabbi mentioned, I said that the basic issue was that the rights the citizen enjoyed did not come from the State, but rather came from the Hand of God. And it is written here. And it is written in the Old and in the New Testament.
“So I am grateful to you and I want you to know that, in coming here today, I think it symbolizes the happy relations which exist between our religious groups and must continue to exist in this country if we are to be worthy of our heritage. So, Rabbi, I am grateful to you. There is no gift which could please me more, and I am delighted to welcome you to your house.”