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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Could Abraham Lincoln have been Jewish?

THOUSANDS of American Jews will join in the year-long commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 1809.

And some will ponder whether Lincoln had Jewish ancestors.

I recently came across a long article in a New Yorker magazine about the celebrations of Honest Abe Lincoln.

When he died Jews across America said Kaddish and some even sat shiva for him. Rabbis even eulogised Lincoln.

Reform Rabbi Isaac Mayer began his eulogy by stating that Lincoln believed himself to be a descendant of Hebrew parentage.

It raised questions debated to this day, as I discovered through numerous sources across America to find a definitive answer to whether Lincoln was Jewish.

His great grandfather was named Mordechai, which some pointed to a possible Jewish background.

Eileen Mackvich, Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission told me by email: "Lincoln’s desire to stamp out government-sponsored anti-Semitism led to Jews giving their total love, calling him Father Abraham Lincoln and naming their children after him."

Lincoln surrounded himself with influential Jewish political figures.

It is believed the first suggestion for his nomination came from Lewis Dembitz, of Kentucky, a well-known Jew.

Lincoln was the first president to appoint a Jew to a European post as Consul in Zurich.

Dr P Zola, executive director of the Jacob Radar Marcus Centre of the American Jewish Archives, Ohio campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is currently working on a book about Lincoln and the Jews.

He answered my numerous email questions with: "Obviously there is no scientific way either to prove or disprove the assertion that Lincoln had some Jewish ancestors somewhere long the line.

"With that having been said this 'urban legend' is merely the continuation of a longstanding tradition that began literally days after Lincoln's assassination American Jews have doggedly tried to embrace Lincoln as if he was one of us.”

Isaac M Wise famously declared that the president told him he thought he was descended from Jewish parentage.

But Lincoln's son Todd said he had no recollection of ever hearing his father say such a thing.

During the Civil War, in which Jews fought on both sides, Lincoln opened the military chaplaincy to rabbis.

He had a Jewish doctor and photographer.

Do I think President Lincoln could have been Jewish?

I doubt it, but there are facts that make me ponder and eagerly look forward to what some discussions, events and, above all, researchers might uncover during 2009.

I know too well that truth can be stranger than fiction.

But it is especially fascinating as Barack Obama takes the oath as president.

Imagine if there has been a Jewish American president?

Obama makes history... by stepping on a train

Barack Obama: “America’s First Jewish President”

Abraham Lincoln Obama’s War Cabinet

Barack Obama: The Naked Emperor