Photo Credit: Jewish Press

“The truth of the matter is that lawyer Brandon was as tough on Christianity as his opponent was on Judaism. Said Brandon, Jews do not need Mr. Hemphill ‘to teach them his true gospel of peace, to tell them his story of the cross with loving earnestness.’ Brandon observed that ‘Israel too, Mr. Hemphill, has a gospel of peace; Israel too, has a story of the cross. Our history is one long story of the cross; of patient endurance of persecution, suffering, and death for humanity, in the preservation of the great eternal truth committed to our custody – the Unity of God; and Israel, too, has exclaimed after all her sufferings, ‘Father, forgive them, they knew not what they did.’”

“Rejecting Hemphill’s idea that pagan Rome had conquered the public schools, he urged the reader to ‘rejoice that free thought, free education, [and] free religion have gained a victory over the churchmen of all denominations; that the great principle has at last been enunciated, that the State, which should be the common parent and protector of all its children – majority or minority, few or many – will not lend its aid to dispense the parti-colored light of any particular sect, but only that colorless, illuminating principle which is common to all…. America’s flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, should symbolize the roof of that grand, common, unsectarian, religious temple of all mankind, The Cloudless Sky!’


“… Joseph R. Brandon was a one-man Jewish Anti-Defamation League. He was not just a public Jew mounting the platform on behalf of Jewish rights in the forum of the market of ideas. He was a member of San Francisco’s Congregation Shearith Israel. As noted, he observed the Sabbath and Jewish Holy Days and would not litigate on them. The always keen journalist Isidor N. Choynski noted in 1884 that Brandon was ‘the most conscientious orthodox Jehudah in this city [San Francisco] and that is saying a great deal.’ He observed the laws of kashrut and the Sabbath and wrote articles on Jewish ethics for the San Francisco Jewish paper, Emanuel.”

As Choynski noted, Brandon was unable to pass on his orthodoxy to his oldest daughter:

“Miss Brandon, daughter of one of the most pious orthodox Jews in this city, was married on Thursday last to an Irish Catholic, and the good old father said to me: ‘What can I do in the matter? My daughter is twenty-eight years old; I brought her up in the religion of her ancestors, and even went so far as to send her Kosher meat when, during the summer, she remained at the watering place. But she is no worse than most of the girls who want to get married and do not wish their fathers to buy husbands for them. I was not on hand at the wedding. I could not possibly see my daughter given away by a judge and a clergyman, though Mr. Stebbins is a scholarly gentleman and stands at the head of the Unitarian church.

“I asked Dr. Cohn to perform the ceremony, since I knew that it will come as come it must, but the good old Rabbi could not see it in that light, and as my daughter is of age I had to submit, and wishing her well. I hope I will go down to my grave believing that my daughter will live and die, though married to a Christian, as did her ancestors before.’

“Said I: ‘Mr. Brandon, was not your mother a Christian?’ ‘Yes, said he; ‘my father married her in Jamaica, when there were but few Jewesses there. When he died I was two years old, and she made, as he requested on his deathbed, a tolerable good Jew of me.’ ”


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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 then taught as an adjunct at Stevens until 2014. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at