A Prayer for the Country written by the Richmond Jewish Congregation in 1789

November 14th, 2010

On display in the new National Museum of American Jewish History is a prayer for the country written after the ratification of our Constitution in 1789 by a Jewish Congregation in Richmond, Virginia.

Here is the description of the prayer from the NMAJH:

A “prayer for the country” was written in 1789 by the Richmond, Virginia Jewish congregation following the ratification of the United States Constitution. The prayer said, in part (and pictured in Hebrew below):

We beseech thee O Lord to have the President of the United States … and all U.S. Senators and Representatives … grant them such a share of knowledge that will tend to the happiness of the people … that they may wisely and successfully execute the trust committed to their care, that knowledge, religion, and piety, arts and sciences, may increase, and that agriculture and manufactures, trade and commerce, may flourish.

Although there is no prayer for the Justices of the Supreme Court (I am not sure if this prayer was written before or after any of the inferior courts were created), this is pretty cool. Fascinating that they use such constitutional phrases as “arts and sciences,” and “commerce” right within the prayer. Further, the fact that they separate agriculture, manufactures, trade and commerce indicates that these words, in 1789, did have separate meanings (as Randy Barnett as documented), and that commerce did not subsume every possible human activity involving intercourse (contra Jack Balkin).

Here is a description of the exhibit from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“And here’s something I love,” said Perelman, wiping the fingerprints from a glass case that had already attracted much attention.

“This,” he said, pointing to the page within, “is the ‘Richmond Prayer,’ ” composed in Hebrew by a Virginia congregation in 1789 in honor of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

“It’s a prayer for our country,” he said, gazing fondly at its uneven, hand-lettered lines resembling verse. The first Hebrew letter on the right of each line creates a vertical anagram spelling out the name “George Washington.”

“It’s really one of a kind,” said Perelman.

The vertical anagram spelling out George Washington is even cooler. What a treasure!

H/T Steve Rappoport for sending me this interesting article.