Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish? – WSJ

Ten years up to now I decided to enliven constitutional historic previous for my faculty college students by sharing biographical curiosities regarding the Founding Fathers.

Thomas Jefferson

as quickly as acquired a “mammoth cheese” that weighed larger than 1,200 kilos.

James Madison

misplaced re-election to the Virginia legislature because of he refused to dispense free whiskey to voters.

Alexander Hamilton,

the Caribbean orphan turned financial visionary—properly, one factor about his origin story left me unsettled.

Fairly a number of biographers have well-known that Hamilton’s mother was named

Rachel Levine

and that she enrolled him in a Jewish college on his native island of Nevis. However no scholar took severely the idea that mother and son may want claimed a Jewish identification. Hamilton’s standing as a cradle-to-grave Christian was taken on faith.

Nonetheless I couldn’t shake the notion that two centuries of scholarship on Hamilton is probably mistaken. Finally I began a six-year journey that took me from the archives of the West Indies to the libraries of European capitals, subjecting widespread assumptions about Hamilton’s upbringing to scrutiny by poring over tons of of 18th-century data.

My first discovery issues Rachel’s estranged husband,

Johan Levine.

They’ve been married spherical 1745—nearly a decade sooner than Alexander’s starting—on the Danish Caribbean island of St. Croix. Rachel was herself born Christian. If Johan was moreover Christian, there may very well be little motive to suppose that Rachel assumed a Jewish identification. However when Johan was Jewish, then Rachel’s potential conversion to Judaism turns into worth considering.

Hamilton’s biographers principally reject the hypothesis that Johan was Jewish because of he was not acknowledged in Danish data as a Jew. Nonetheless I unearthed in these data many entries of Jews on St. Croix who appear with none notation of their religious background. What’s additional, loads else recognized about Johan Levine—his surname, his occupation as a service supplier, his description as a “rich Danish Jew” by Hamilton’s private grandson—is consistent with a Jewish identification.

The extreme likelihood of Johan’s standing as a Jew raises the question of whether or not or not Rachel reworked to her husband’s faith. A key clue issues Rachel and Johan’s son, Peter. He wasn’t baptized as an toddler, as was customary for island Christians. Peter joined the Anglican Church solely years later, endeavor an grownup baptism that Hamilton college students characterize as “uncommon,” “inexplicable” and “gorgeous.” However when Johan was Jewish and Rachel reworked to Judaism to marry him, then the matrilineal nature of Jewish identification would render Peter a Jew, and he would have wished an grownup baptism to rework to Christianity.

Rachel fled her troubled marriage on St. Croix and bore Alexander out of wedlock to a Scottish colonist named

James Hamilton

on Nevis. No baptismal file has been uncovered for Alexander, who attended a Jewish college. “Not usually as he alluded to his non-public historic previous,” Hamilton’s son recalled, “he talked about with a smile, his having been taught to repeat [the Ten Commandments] in Hebrew, on the school of a Jewess, when so small that he was positioned standing by her aspect upon a desk.”

Some Hamilton college students counsel that his out-of-wedlock starting prevented his toddler baptism and church schooling, leaving the Jewish college as his solely chance. However my look at of the church data on Nevis and all via the Caribbean reveals baptisms of fairly a number of illegitimate children. The grounds for insisting that Hamilton’s standing barred him from church life are uncertain. What’s additional, Hamilton biographers commit an error in assuming a school that was Jewish would have educated a child who was not. Uneasy Jewish-Christian relations make it inconceivable {{that a}} Christian infant may attend a Jewish college. Jewish schools, in any case, have been concerned with the cultivation of Jewish identification, and the Talmud forbids Jews from educating non-Jews the Torah.

Although he in no way breathed a phrase about any Jewish heritage to his contemporaries, no totally different Founding Father did larger than Hamilton to grasp the promise of the Declaration of Independence for American Jewry. From {{the marketplace}} to the academy to the courthouse, Hamilton fought for a republic the place Jew and Gentile would stand as equals. His lifelong ties to the Jewish neighborhood present a compelling reminder that Hamilton, like the rest of us, was profoundly fashioned by his origins.

Mr. Porwancher, a fellow at Harvard and affiliate professor of constitutional analysis on the School of Oklahoma, is creator of “The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton.”

The week’s biggest and worst from Kim Strassel, Mene Ukueberuwa, Kyle Peterson and Dan Henninger. Image: AP Image

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