Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Should we forgive General Grant or not?

Over at Slate Jonathan Sarna, the distinguished historian of American Judaism is arguing that the worst thing Ulysses S. Grant ever did was one of the best things that ever happened to American Jews.

Grant, as you might know, was responsible for the only expulsion order in American history. On December 17, 1862 he tossed the Jews out of the military district he controlled on the grounds that Jews, as a class, were aiding smugglers and violating trade regulations. 

Jews with connections appealed immediately to President Lincoln who countermanded the order. According to Sarna, Grant spent the rest of his life doing teshuva and should be remember l'tov on the grounds that:

(1) His persecution strengthened the Jewish community as the successful campaign to overturn the order made us more self-confident.
(2)  He pandered to the Jews during his presidency by appointing an unprecedented number of us to public office and by attending the dedication of a synagogue
(3) He supported persecuted Russian Jews. 

I suppose all of that is nice enough; still, signing an order to toss Jews out is not easily forgiven.

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