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Under Oath

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Taking an oath of office or swearing* to tell the truth in court may not seem like a historic victory to Jews who were raised in the 21st century. However, for hundreds of years Jews were denied their legal rights/political voice because almost all valid oaths included a profession of Christianity or were recited over a Christian Bible.

Changing these laws was an extremely slow and arduous process. Today is the anniversary of two important legal victories.

Barbados: By 1654, theJewish community of British Barbados was large enough Jewish community that a synagogue was established in Bridgetown. Unfortunately, the community’s success in business resulted in legal restrictions, and the Jews had no legal recourse because they could not take the oath in court (which was administered on a Christian Bible). It was not until February 14 (8 Adar), 1674, that a law was passed allowing Jews to take an oath on the Five Books of Moses. This law only applied to cases involving trade disputes, but was, nevertheless, a significant first step.

Maryland: The colony of Maryland, established in 1632, was, initially, a haven for Catholics. However, as many of its later settlers were Protestant, a Toleration Act was passed in 1649 allowing for religious tolerance–for anyone believing in the Christian Trinity. Until the American revolution, few Jews lived openly in Maryland. Even after 1776, when freedom of religion became law, the Maryland Constitution required an oath of office including a declaration of belief in the Christian religion for anyone assuming a government office. It was only on February 26 (8 Adar), 1825, that the government finally passed an act “for the relief of the Jews of Maryland” allowing Jews to be appointed to office with an altered oath proclaiming a belief in Divine reward and punishment.

*Swearing and oath taking are separate and important issues to be dealt with in a future Jewish Treat.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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