Opinion/Fink: The Jewish world of Alexander Hamilton – The Providence Journal

Posted By on August 28, 2021

Mike Fink| Guest columnist

Mike Fink has been an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design since 1957.

This is the time for the reading of the famous letter that George Washington wrote to the Newport congregation of Touro Synagogue. The letter is read by a local celebrity in a special ceremonial salute to freedom of religion, the legacy of our founder Roger Williams and the Rhode Island contribution to the national Bill of Rights.

Well, RISD offers to its faculty a chance to order books related to our courses in advance of the start of September semester. I asked for the Princeton Press research text titled "The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton" by a professor currently on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma.

AuthorAndrew Porwancher reviews theusual account of how Hamilton was born intheCaribbean island of Nevis,where he learned Hebrew andstudied theTorahin a Jewish school. He proposes that Hamilton was both anti-slavery and also profoundly concerned for the principle of religious freedom, especially for Jewish Americans. It is a remarkable, informative, and thorough account throughout the text.

He focuseson the usual bigotry against Jews from both, indeed from all, political groups and claims that Washington's favorite line from the "Old"Testament, theTorah, was "Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid." Although the general was not connected to the Hebrew communities among the colonies, he was, according to Porwancher, deeply influenced by his aide and ally, Hamilton.

Hamilton's mother, Rachel, had in alllikelihood converted to Judaism for her first marriage,and thesynagogue accepted the son Alexander to recognize the legitimate legacy of themother's lineage; this much is common knowledge. What the professor explores goes into fascinating detail about the ironies,"poetics," and nuances of the brief but intricate life of our first secretary of thetreasury. His values were such that he befriended and remained ever loyal to what he had learned in the Caribbean.

I commend this book to all students of Americanhistory,especially inthis new school year,when patriotism is a controversialissue,and when divisiveness rules thecampus realms.Give this wandering professor your eyes and mind and recognize thecomplexity of our narrative and thegood will and high hopes for thenew world towhich Hamilton invested thebest years of his short lifetime but long list of accomplishments.

It just came out this very week, late in August, in time for me to use in my Bible elective.

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Opinion/Fink: The Jewish world of Alexander Hamilton - The Providence Journal

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