Monday, May 04, 2015

A pair of Hebrew Revolutionary War prayers for three different Georges

1. Here we've got a prayer composed for New York Governor George Clinton and אדוננו General דשארדש וואשנגטן in 1784. 

It mentions God's 13 attributes of mercy, the 13 principles of faith, and the 13 colonies of America. And as you can see, it links the freedom of the 13 colonies with the freedom that will come from the redemption of the Messiah.

This prayer was already translated in 1920, here, so click the link if you'd like to see the translation. Just to point out something interesting, notice that the name Samson (two lines above GEORGE WASHINGTON) is vocalized in Hebrew as "Shamshon," perhaps reflecting the 

On the back of this document, written in a very old hand, is named the composer of the prayer, the mysterious "Rabbi Hendla-Ieochanan Van Oettingen," and Jacob Cohen, who was acting chazan at Shearith Israel in New York, and presumably chanted it.

(Source: Jacques Judah Lyons papers; P-15; 1; 64; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.)

2. This one is perhaps even more interesting. Then, as now, war was looked upon by many as a great evil, especially between brothers, and many American Colonists only wanted the oppressive measures of King George III to be lifted, bloodshed ended, and peace restored. The nascent American Congress called for a day of "Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer" along these lines for May 17, 1776. It was for this occasion that this prayer was recited in Congregation Shearith Israel in New York. 

As you can see, a complete service was arranged for this occasion, meant to invoke the solemnity and seriousness of the occasion; after morning prayer, Tachnun was to be sung to the tune of a Yom Kippur pizmon; a dozen Psalms recited, and then the Hazan would recite this prayer written for the occasion, and of course all were to be fasting. The prayer hopes for a change of heart for King George III and his advisors, that they would rescind their wrath and harsh decrees against "North America," that the bloodshed should end, and peace and reconciliation should obtain between the Americans and Great Britain once more, in fulfillment of the Messianic verse that Nation shall not lift up sword against nation.

Of course this was not meant to be, and six weeks later the American Congress declared independence from Great Britain, and there was no walking back from the hostilities which had already occurred.

(Source: Jacques Judah Lyons papers; P-15; 1; 4; 234; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.)


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