Page 200 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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192
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Right from page one, Noah expressed his desire to obtain “the
most authentic information in relation to the situation, character,
resources, and numerical force o f the Jews in Barbary, part o f
whom had been banished from their colleges at Cardova, and
parts were emigrants from Judea and Egypt.” 10Later in the book
he described with obvious care different sectors o f the Jewish
community — praising some, condemning others — but gener­
ally laying blame for any Jewish vices at the feet o f the Islamic
rulers. He pointed out that Jews hungered after money in North
Africa because it purchased “protection and toleration.” He sug­
gested that emancipation and mild treatment might make Jews
far more useful and beneficial citizens.11
The apologetic part o f Noah’sbook — the extended defense o f
his consulship in general and particularly his handling or
mishandling o f a secret mission aimed at freeing American pris­
oners in Algiers — holds, at first blush, substantially less interest.
Noah had published much o f the material in his
Correspondence
and Documents Relative to the Attempt to Negotiatefo r the Release o f the
American Captives at Algiers
(1816), and his plea for his “unfortu­
nate people, whose faith and constancy alone have been the cause
o f so much tyranny and oppression; who have given moral laws
to the world, and who receive for reward opprobrium and
insult,” reeks o f self-pity. What does make the defense significant
is the simple fact that Noah undertook it at all, let alone in so spir­
ited a fashion. As “a citizen o f the United States, protected by the
constitution in my religious as well as in my civil rights,” he served
notice that he would fight, fight publicly, and fight as a Jew, for
religious equality.12
This Jewish self-assertiveness, expressed even more frequently
in Noah’s later writings, had lasting significance. The fact that a
public figure like Mordecai Noah so openly declared himself a
Jew, both by expressing his interest in other Jews and by de­
fending himself against religious attacks, legitimated and en­
couraged similar acts o f self-assertion by other Jews, and indeed
other minority group members. Noah, o f course, was not unique
in assuming a forthright stance, nor was he the first American
Jew to proudly defend his religion in print. He did, however, re­
10 Ibid, p. 1.
11 Ibid, pp. 289, 307-314.
12 Ibid, pp. 376-381; Sarna,
Jacksonian Jew,
pp. 31-32.