Much of his painstaking legal and historical research was centered upon the examination of attempts on the part of any dominant religious group to control everyday affairs through laws dangerous to civil rights. “Why not,” he asked, “have every man fight for religion in his church or by individual or collective endeavor without attempting to use the state and the law to enforce religious ideals?” The titles of several papers, delivered as lectures or printed as essays, indicate this special preoccupation.
No mere theoretical advocate of religious equality, he sought legislative exemption of Seventh Day observers from Sunday laws.
Benjamin was a frequent public speaker. His presentation “A History of Intolerance in Maryland” was published in the Jewish Exponent and “The Loyal Jew, the Best Patriot,” a Fourth of July address delivered in 1907, was later translated into French and published. His essay “Did the Jews or Romans Kill Jesus?” which appeared in the Baltimore Sun in 1909 attracted a great deal of attention and discussion.
In the distinctive field of Jewish research he made noteworthy contributions to the Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, entitled “The Sephardic Congregation of Baltimore,” “The Russian Night School of Baltimore” and “Rhode Island and Consanguineous Jewish Marriages.”
Benjamin stands out among other historians of American Jewish history in that he came from a long line of Jewish religious traditionalists and maintained his commitment to Orthodoxy throughout his life. In his will he bequeathed more than $50,000 for Jewish and public charities and educational institutions, including Johns Hopkins University.
1. All quotes in this section are from The Forerunners: Dutch Jewry in the North American Diaspora by Robert P. Swierenga, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1994.
2. All quotes in this section are from “Benjamin Henry Hartogensis” by Ezekiel J. Londow, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1947; 37, AJHS Journal. This article is available online at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.
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 email@example.com.