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A Jewish Father’s Letter To Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln's use of the term'"four score and seven years ago' may have been borrowed from a rabbi's Fourth of July sermon

Abraham Lincoln's use of the term'"four score and seven years ago' may have been borrowed from a rabbi's Fourth of July sermon

I gave my consent to my son, who was yet a minor that he should enlist in the United States army; I thought it was his duty, and I gave him my advice to fulfill his duty as a good citizen, and he has done so. At the same time I taught him also to observe the Sabbath on Saturday, when it would not hinder him from fulfilling his duty in the army. Now I do not want that he shall be dragged either to the stake or the church to observe the Sunday as a Sabbath. Your Excellency will observe in this my writing that I am not very well versed in the English language, and if there should be found a word which is not right, pardon it, and never such a word shall be construed so as if I would offend your Excellency or the people; for I love my country, the Constitution, and the Union, and I try to be always a loyal citizen.

I remain, respectfully, your most obedient servant and fellow citizen…

Dr. Gary Behrend of Raleigh, NC, a descendent of Bernhard Behrend, supplied the following additional information about this letter.

“…the letter was written by one of my ancestors, Bernhard Behrend, then of Narrowsburg, NY, on behalf of his son, Adajah Behrend (1841-1932) a hospital steward and an officer in the field (no unit designation is available), later a legendary physician in Washington, D.C.”

Apparently, Behrend did not receive a reply from Lincoln to his moving letter. However, Dr. A. Behrend reported “that in 1863 a general order was issued permitting Jews to be furloughed over their Holy Days, and that at Fairfax Seminary he furloughed eleven on that occasion.”6

“We do not know if a reply was returned, but we do know of a man’s love for his son, a family’s love for their new country and their devotion to their faith.”7 __________________

1. See “The Jewish Chaplaincy Controversy” The Jewish Press, January 6, 2012, pages 52 & 53 and “Unsung Hero: Reverend Arnold Fischel” The Jewish Press, February 3, 2012, pages 51 & 58.

2. See “General Grant’s Expulsion of the Jews” The Jewish Press, March 5, 2008, pages 34-35.

3. “Lincoln and the Jews: by Isaac Markens, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1909; 17, AJHS Journal, p. 109-166. (Available at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm).

4. Ibid.

5. www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/shabbat.htm

6. www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/simonwolf.html

7. http://knowlescollection.blogspot.com/2010/12/behr-behrend-family-of-germany-and.html. This web page also contains some genealogical information about the Behrend family, originally from Germany, who changed their family name from Behr to Behrend around 1800.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


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