Jewish Roots of the
by Prof. Paul
The Republic prescribed by the American Constitution is the longest lasting free
government in history. America saved Europe from tyranny three times in the
twentieth century, and today it is the only solid bastion of freedom against
What is not generally known, however, is that the American Constitution was
rooted in ethical and political principles whose source is none other than the
Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Protestant social revolutionary reformers,
especially the Puritans of New England, saw in the Torah models for modern
government. The Puritans adopted or adapted Torah principles and values in
organizing their own colonial governments. Many New England divines agreed with
Harvard President Samuel Langdon, who said, in his 1775 election sermon: 'the
Jewish government, if considered merely in a civil view, was a perfect
republic.' Yale President Rev. Ezra Stiles, who conversed with rabbis,
apparently agreed with Langdon that the American Constitution was based on the
Although many of the framers of the American Constitution were not devout, their
political mentality was shaped in universities whose curriculum was based very
much on Jewish ideas. Accordingly, this essay will be divided into two parts.
The first part will show how Judaism, in particular the Five Books of Moses,
influenced higher education in 17th and 18th century America. The second part
will examine the institutions prescribed in the American Constitution and show
their roots in Jewish laws and principles.
1. No nation has been more profoundly influenced by the "Old Testament" than
America. Many of America's early statesmen and educators were schooled in
Hebraic civilization. The second president of the United States, John Adams, a
Harvard graduate, had this to say of the Jewish people:
"The Jews have
done more to civilize men than any other nation.... They are the most glorious
Nation that ever inhabited the earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a
bauble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of
the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily than
any other Nation, ancient or
2. The curriculum at Harvard, like those of other early American colleges and
universities, was designed by learned and liberal men of "Old Testament"
persuasion. Harvard president Increase Mather (1685-1701) was an ardent Hebraist
(as were his predecessors, Henry Dunster and Charles Chauncey). Mather's
writings contain numerous quotations from the Talmud as well as from the works
of Saadia Gaon, Rashi, Maimonides and other classic Jewish commentators.
3. Yale University president Ezra Stiles readily discoursed with visiting
rabbinical authorities on the Mishna and Talmud. At his first public
commencement at Yale (1781), Stiles delivered an oration on Hebrew literature
written originally in Hebrew. Hebrew and the study of Hebraic laws and
institutions were an integral part of Yale's as well as of Harvard's curriculum.
4. Much the same may be said of King's College (later Columbia University),
William and Mary, Rutgers, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Brown University. Hebrew
learning was then deemed a basic element of liberal education. Samuel Johnson,
first president of King's College (1754-1763), expressed the intellectual
attitude of his age when he referred to Hebrew as "essential to a gentleman's
5. This attitude was not merely academic. On May 31, 1775, almost on the eve
of the American Revolution, Harvard president Samuel Langdon, addressing the
Congress of Massachusetts Bay, declared:
"Every nation, has a right to set
up over itself any form of government which to it may appear most conducive to
its common welfare. The civil polity of Israel is doubtless an excellent
6. The Higher Law doctrine of the Declaration of Independence is rooted in the
Torah, which proclaims 'The Laws of Nature and Nature's God,' and appeals to the
'Supreme Judge' and 'Providence.' Even though Jefferson, the principal author
of the Declaration, had reservations about the Hebrew Bible, he supported
Baptist churches and framed the Declaration with a view to galvanizing a
bible-reading public in support of the American Revolution.
7. During the colonial and constitution-making period, the Americans,
especially the Puritans, adopted and adapted various Hebraic laws for their own
governance. The legislation of New Haven, for example, was based on the premise
that "the judicial laws of God, as they were delivered by Moses, and as they are
a fence to the moral law, being neither ... ceremonial, nor ha[ving] any
reference to Canaan, shall ... generally bind all offenders, till they be
branched out into particulars hereafter." Thirty-eight of seventy-nine statutes
in the New Haven Code of 1665 derived their authority from the Hebrew Bible.
The laws of Massachusetts were based on the same premise.
8. The fifteen Capital Laws of New England included the "Seven Noahide Laws" of
the Torah, or what may be termed the seven universal laws of morality. Six
prohibit idolatry, blasphemy, murder, robbery, adultery, and eating flesh from a
living animal, while the seventh requires the establishment of courts of
justice. Such courts are obviously essential to any society based on the
primacy of reason or persuasion rather than passion or intimidation.
9. The seven universal laws of morality (together with their particular
branches) comprised a "genial orthodoxy." This genial orthodoxy transcends
whatever social or economic distinctions exist among men: it holds all men
equal before the law. By so doing it places constraints on governors and
governors alike and thereby habituated Americans to the rule of law. As a
further consequence, this ancient Hebraic orthodoxy dissolved or subordinated
many ethnic differences among immigrants in the new world. It moderated the
demands of various groups, helped coordinate their diverse interests and
talents, and thereby contributed to America's growth and prosperity.
10. Now, without minimizing the influence of such philosophers as Locke
and Montesquieu on the framers of the American Constitution, America may rightly
be deemed the first and only nation that was explicitly founded on the Seven
Noahide Laws of the Torah. Indeed, the legislation of the several states
comprising the Federal Union embodied these laws, including the prohibitions
against blasphemy and adultery, well into the nineteenth century. It should
also be noted that the constitutions of eleven of the original thirteen states
made provision for religious education. Some even had religious qualifications
11. Strange as it may seem, the Seven Noahide Laws were explicitly incorporated
in Public Law 102-14, which established March 26, 1991 as "Education Day"! What
presumably saves this Congressional joint resolution from violating the First
Amendment is its silence about the Hebraic origin of the Noahide code. Here I
must digress for a moment and say a word about the First Amendment.
12. The First Amendment states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting the
establishment of religion '' This clause is now misunderstood. It was intended
not to prevent Congress from enacting laws supportive of religion, but to
prohibit Congress from establishing a state or national religion. In his
'Farewell Address,' George Washington declared:
"Of all the
dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and
morality are indispensable supports. Whatever may be conceded to the influence
of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both
forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in the exclusion of
Incidentally, the theme of Washington's Farewell Address is national unity.
National unity, he believed, requires national morality, a precondition of which
is religion. Religion and morality counter man's natural inclination to
self-indulgence and his tendency to be preoccupied with the immediate
gratification of his own desires. Religion and morality foster self-restraint
and consideration of others. Far more than secular humanism, religion inspires
men with reverence, with deference to wisdom, with concern for posterity. But
these ideas are Jewish ideas, rooted in the Seven Noahide Laws.
B. The Institutions Prescribed by the American Constitution
1. The House of Representatives represents 435 districts of the United States,
where the people of each district elect one person to represent their views and
interests. The idea of district elections is implicit in the Torah. 'Select
for yourselves men who are wise, understanding, and known to your tribes and I
will appoint them as your leaders' (Deut. 1:13). The word 'election' obviously
comes from the word 'elect,' and the 'elect' means men of high intellectual and
a. Exodus 18:19 states: '... seek out from among all the people
men with leadership ability, God-fearing men--men of truth who hate injustice.'
Similar qualifications are prescribed in the original constitutions Maryland,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. This is what the word
'election' means. It is not a democratic but an aristocratic term!
b. So, each tribe must select the best men to be their
representatives. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that 'each tribe (shevet)
is to choose out of its own midst men whose character can only be known by their
lives [hence whose character] is known only to those who have associated with
them.' This is the biblical source of residential requirements for
Representatives and Senators in the United States. Also, what is here called a
shevet was called a district after the Second Temple.[iii]
c. Moreover, the idea of district elections conforms to the Jewish
law of 'agency' (Kiddushin 59a). This law synthesizes the 'delegate' and
'trustee' concept of representation prevalent in the non-Jewish democratic
world. Whereas the delegate concept binds a representative to the instructions
of his constituents, the trustee concept allows him to judge whether adherence
to these instructions, when additional knowledge or new circumstances intervene,
will harm his constituents' immediate and/or long-term interests.
d. Finally, it is a principle of Jewish law that 'No legislation
should be imposed on the public unless the majority can conform to it' (Avoda
Zara 36a). This obviously requires legislators to consider or consult the
opinions of their constituents. Hence representative democracy can be readily
assimilated to Judaism simply by adding that representatives must be 'men who
are wise, and understanding.' This would make for a 'high-toned' or
aristocratic democracy, or a universal aristocracy. (Bear in mind that Israel
is supposed to be a 'Nation of Kohanim,' [Exodus 19:6] meaning a nation of
2. The Senate. The Senate represents the 50 states of the Federal Union; it
therefore represents the Federal principle. But the idea of federalism goes
back to the Torah and the twelve tribes. Each tribe had its own distinct
identity, its own governor and its own judicial system.
3. The Presidency. Unlike Israel, which has a Plural Executive or Cabinet
consisting of a prime minister and other ministers representing different
political parties in the Knesset, the United States has a Unitary Executive,
namely, the President. Of course, the President has a Cabinet, but its members
cannot hold any other office and they are wholly responsible to the President,
not to any political party.
a. Now it so happens that a Unitary Executive is a Torah principle! Thus, when
Moses told Joshua to consult the elders when he was about to lead the Jews
across the Jordan, God countermanded Moses: there can only be one leader in a
generation. And if you look at tractate Sanhedrin 8a, you will see that Jewish
law opposes collective leadership. Nor is this all.
b. Just as a President of the United States must be a native-born
American and not a naturalized citizen, so a king of Israel must be born of a
Jewish mother and not a ger [transient sojourner] or convert..
4. The Supreme Court. Just as the American Supreme Court is the final
interpreter of the American Constitution, so the Great Sanhedrin is the final
interpreter of the Jewish Constitution, the Torah.
So we see that the original American Constitution was very much rooted in Torah
This section of this essay is based on Abraham
The Biblical Heritage of American Democracy (New York:
[ii] Cited in Pathways to the Torah (Jerusalem:
Publications, 1988), p. A6.2.
[iii] For a detailed analysis of
Israel?s political system, see
Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall (Ariel Center for Policy Research 2000;
University Press of America, 2002). See also
The Myth of Israeli Democracy: Toward a Truly Jewish Israel (Fullerton, CA:
Davidson Press, 2007).
'It is impossible to rightly govern the
world without God or the Bible.'