By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: US-Israel Initiative”—
According to Prof. Robert Bellah, a leading UC Berkeley sociologist, there is “a well-institutionalized civil religion” in the US, which stipulates separation between religion and state, but not between religion and society. In fact, President John Quincy Adams wrote: “The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal , as well as a moral and religious code.”
Prof. Bellah contended that civil liberties – reflecting more responsibility than rights – are Bible-driven: “Behind civil religion lie biblical archetypes the Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem… a heritage of moral and religious experience….”
The legacy of Moses, the definitive law-giver, has been such an archetype, an integral part of US cultural, ethical, legal and political history, highlighting Judeo-Christian ethical principles that shaped the USA and forged the foundation of its special ties with the Jewish State. Therefore, most Americans – from the early Pilgrims, through the Founding Fathers, until today – hold Israel in high regard, consider the Jewish state more than just a foreign policy issue.
Thus, the metaphor of Moses has been employed extensively in the US political discourse. For instance, in April 2010, Prof. Thomas Sugrue wrote in his book, Not even past: Barack Obama and the burden of race: “The metaphor of Moses and Joshua, the freedom fighter and the nation builder, offered a powerful framework for Obama’s campaign.” In January 2000, the Republican leader in the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell, greeted the newly-elected President George W. Bush, at the traditional post-inauguration Senate luncheon: “We trust that you shall lead us in the best tradition of Joshua and Caleb.” On January 14, 2013, the Kansas City Star wrote: “Martin Luther King must have had Moses in mind that night of his last sermon when he said, ‘God has allowed me to go up on the mountain, and I have seen the Promised Land.'” Harriet Tubman, a leading abolitionist and a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, was named “Mama Moses.”
On June 27, 2005, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 6-foot-high Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. According to Chief Justice Rehnquist: “Religion has been closely identified with our history and government…. Acknowledgements of the role played by the Ten Commandments in our nation’s heritage are common throughout America…. Since 1935, Moses has stood, holding two tablets that reveal portions of the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew, among other lawgivers in the south frieze Representations of the Ten Commandments adorn the metal gates lining the north and south sides of the Courtroom as well as the doors leading into the Courtroom. Moses also sits on the exterior east façade of the holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments…. Since 1897, a large statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, alongside a statue of the Apostle Paul, has overlooked the rotunda of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building. A medallion with two tablets depicting the Ten Commandments decorates the floor of the National Archives. Inside the Justice Department, a statue entitled ‘The Spirit of Law’ has two tablets representing the Ten Commandments lying at its feet. In front of the Ronald Reagan Building stands another sculpture that includes a depiction of the Ten Commandments. So too a 24-foot-tall sculpture, outside the Federal Courthouse, depicting, among other things, the Ten Commandments and a cross. Moses is also prominently featured in the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives…. Moses was a lawgiver as well as a religious leader, and the Ten Commandments have undeniable historical meaning….”
A February 25-27, 2005 Gallup Poll showed that 76% of Americans were in favor of displaying the Ten Commandments monument on the ground of the Texas State Capitol.
Moreover, on March 29, 2006, the California State Senate approved bill SCR 108 stating: “This measure would recognize and acknowledge that the Decalogue, also known as the Ten Commandments, ranks among the influential historical documents that have contributed significantly to the development of the secular governmental and legal principles and institutions of the USA and the State of California…. In the history of American institutions, no book – except the Bible – has played so great a role…. Members of the US Supreme Court have noted the foundational role played by the Ten Commandments in the development of our legal system….”
Furthermore, on April 8, 2015, Arkansas Governor, Asa Hutchinson, signed into law a bill instructing the state to erect a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol in Little Rock. The Arkansas State House and the Senate approved the bill 72:7 and 27:3 respectively.
President Truman stated: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount…” A century earlier, President Lincoln referred to Exodus, Chapter 20, the Ten Commandments, as the summation of his theology.
Moses and/or the Ten Commandments feature in the US Federal Courthouses in Cleveland, OH and Indianapolis, IN; the Supreme Courts in Harrisburg, PA, St. Paul, MN, Lansing, MI and Knoxville, TN; the County Courthouses in Cleveland, OH, West Chester, PA, Pittsburgh, PA, Ft. Wayne, IN and Jackson, MS; the Appellate Court in Brooklyn, NY; the Boston Public Library and the State Capitol in Lincoln, NE; etc.
Moses and the Ten Commandments have always been part of the American story, playing a role in the shaping the state-of-mind of the American people. They have underscored the 400-year-old Judeo-Christian foundation of the US-Israel covenant, which has transcended transient politics and geo-strategic considerations, catapulting US-Israel cooperation to unprecedented levels – in defiance of the Department of State – but consistent with the will of the American people.