Dear TEE community,

As American Jews we live in two civilizations, one American and one Jewish. Each has its unique culture and sacred texts. A significant part of our experience has to do with the overlap and interaction between those civilizations. For example, we study the Torah with an American perspective, concerned with issues of democracy and freedom in ways our ancestors didn’t imagine. This Friday we will be turning the tables, examining the Declaration of Independence with a Jewish lens.

The Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776, holds profound significance for American Jews. The United States was the first country in history to include Jews as citizens from the beginning. The declaration’s proclamation that “all men are created equal” and endowed with “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” resonated deeply with an immigrant Jewish community which sought security and equality in a society free from persecution.

In our time, the resurgence of antisemitism and the rise of extremist ideologies challenge the pluralistic and inclusive vision enshrined in the declaration. Current threats to democracy, including attempts to undermine electoral processes, spread disinformation, and erode the rule of law, are particularly alarming for American Jews, whose history is marked by the devastating consequences of unchecked authoritarianism.

I hope you will join me as we consider what the declaration means for us in this current moment as Americans and as Jews and how we might recommit ourselves to upholding its values of justice and equality.

Rabbi Drorah Setel