Monday, August 17, 2015

The Fast of 17th of Tammuz and America's Birthday

by Dr. Shlomo Sprecher
The original adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 could not receive its proper celebration by the American Jewish community, as it coincided with the fast day of 17 Tammuz (see R. Dovid Heber's column on page 58 of this weeks Yated). As originally discussed in Commentary here, twelve summers later, when New York State's delegates were locked in a bitter debate whether to place New York among the other states ratifying the proposed Constitution, 17 Tammuz once again presented an obstacle. To increase pressure for an affirmative vote, the proponents for ratification scheduled a Grand Federal Procession in NYC, to demonstrate to the nay-voting Up-Staters that Down-Staters were overwhelmingly in favor, to the extent that NYC might even secede from the state in the event of a nay-vote. This massive Procession (which ultimately included a quarter of the entire population of NYC accompanied by a scaled-down frigate, artillery and trumpeters on horseback) was abruptly postponed from July 22 to July 23. The reason? At the last moment it was discovered that the original date coincided with 17 Tammuz and consequently the tiny Jewish community would be unable to participate! Michael Schwartz, whose research provided the basis for this post, surmises that the great respect for the heroism of Gershom Mendes Seixas, the hazzan of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, during the British occupation of NYC, was the impetus behind the decision to postpone the momentous Procession. Schwartz also suggests that it was the Sephardic minhag of only beginning avelut during the week of Tisha b'Av that enabled the Procession to proceed on the 23rd. Had the Ashkenazim been in charge an impossible 3 week postponement would have been required!

Gershom Mendes Seixas

Gershom Mendes Seixas

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