Page 206 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

Basic HTML Version

1 9 8
in the character o f Jesus to give him a rank among the highest
practical moralists.”29 Proud as he was o f being Jewish, Noah did
not wish to see his fellow Jews cut themselves o f f from their non-
Jewish neighbors. In his writings, as in his other activities, he
sought to bring American Jews and American Christians closer
together while still preserving Jewish identity firmly intact.
What then is the legacy o f Mordecai Noah? Surely it does not
rest solely on his writings, for though many can be read with in­
terest today, none can honestly be said to have had any lasting
impact on subsequent generations. The fact that a Jew in the
early nineteenth century wrote for and was read by non-Jews
still significant; a mere handful o f Jews anywhere in the world
could make the same claim. Noah also wrote with a fine style and
he left behind some beautifully crafted prose. But he was by no
means an important thinker.
Instead, it appears that Noah’s enduring importance derives
from his courageous and in many ways pioneering effort to
achieve success in two worlds at once. He taught Jews that
America did not demand conversion as the price o f achievement;
a Jew could remain a Jew and still rise to significant heights. At
the same time, he taught non-Jews that, as Rabbi Morris Raphall
put it in his eulogy, those “professing the Jewish faith were as
able, as faithful, as zealous in [America’s] cause and service as any
o f her other children.”30 In short, he mediated between two
worlds, explaining each to the other. He scarcely solved the di­
lemma o f being an American Jew, but he experienced,
embodied, and understood it — and then grappled with it hon­
estly and openly.
29 Ibid, p. 12.
(March 28, 1851), p. 181.