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An American Covenant of Brotherhood, by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and Eugene Kohn (1945)

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For Brotherhood Sabbath, celebrated between Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays.

An American Covenant of Brotherhood

This day,
whereon the memories of both Washington and Lincoln are interwoven,
is dedicated to the ideal of brotherhood.

Let us pray that all citizens of this Republic,
which came into being under the guidance of Washington
and was preserved by the genius of Lincoln,
may be fraternally united in common allegiance
to the principles on which it was established.

We thank you, O Lord,
for having imbued the Founding Fathers of our nation with that faith in you
which moved them to proclaim truths of great moral import:

That all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain inalienable rights,
that among these are life,
liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.[1] From the “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,” 4 July 1776. 

You guided them in the framing of a constitution
designed to promote the general welfare
and to secure the blessings of liberty
to themselves and their posterity.

They made provision
that all men should be free to serve you
as their own conscience dictates.

They sought to keep far from these shores
the old-world prejudices
and fanatical hatreds
by which men have profaned your name.

America was to be a nation that,
in the words of Washington,
“gives to bigotry no sanction,
to persecution no assistance.”[2] George Washington’s Letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island (1790). 

We thank you, O God,
for having taught the founders of our Republic
laws that safeguard the equal rights of all citizens
and impose equal obligations upon all.

Thus is the happiness of every American
bound up with the welfare of the nation
by a solemn covenant of citizenship.

Yet not always
and not in all ways
have we been true
to the high purposes
of the Founding Fathers;
but when we went astray,
You summoned us back
to the path of righteousness.

You sent us leaders
of prophetic stamp
who recalled us to our duty,
and who taught us to behold
your chastening hand
in the sufferings and trials
brought on by our sins.

At the very beginning of its career,
our nation,
even while holding aloft
the banner of freedom and equality,
belied the ideals it proclaimed
by condoning the sin of slavery.

Our national being well-nigh came to an end
through that transgression of your will;
fratricidal war threatened to shatter the Union.

It was Abraham Lincoln who admonished his people,
saying: ‘If God wills that the war continue,
until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s
two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk,
and until every drop of blood drawn
with the lash shall be paid with another drawn with the sword,
as it was said three thousand years ago,
so still it shall be said:
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’[3] Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865. 

It was Abraham Lincoln who,
with malice toward none,
with charity to all,
with firmness in the right
as God gave him to see the right,[4] Cf. Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865. 
strove to restore the Union
and to give it a new birth of freedom.

Yea, loving the God of freedom with all his soul,
he surrendered his soul in God’s service,
and died a holy martyr for the glory of God.

Thus did he liberate the Negro race from bondage,
and redeem the White race from the sin of oppression.

Thus did he save our Union from destruction,
and make possible a new era of equality and fraternity.

O God,
help us to keep America true to its faith in democracy,
and to fulfil the promise of its nationhood.

Unite the hearts of all Americans,
whatever be their race,
religion
or part in the nation’s economy,
and help them preserve and enrich
the American heritage of liberty and justice,
of democracy and brotherhood.

Protect us from all enemies who,
knowing not your way of justice and freedom,
would seek to destroy or enslave us.

And protect us also
from our own inclination
to seek personal,
partisan,
racial
or sectarian aggrandizement.

Give us love and understanding;
may we recognize one another’s needs,
and help one another
in achieving all the worthy purposes
we cherish for ourselves
and for our people.

Help us to respect and value
the heritage of every community in our land,
and enable each community
to give of its best
to the service of all.

May our nation be privileged to prove,
both in its own life
and in its dealings with other nations,
how good and how beautiful it is
for brethren to dwell together
in unity.[5] Cf. Psalms 133:1. 

May we ever exercise our national sovereignty
in compliance with the supreme authority of your law;
may we advance the universal brotherhood of man,
under your divine fatherhood.
Amen.

“An American Covenant of Brotherhood” was first published in Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s A Sabbath Prayer Book (Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1945), p. 538-541. (A slightly modified version was published under the title “The Spiritual Heritage of America” in The Faith of America: Readings, Songs, and Prayers for the Celebration of American Holidays (Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation 1951), p. 65-67.) I have replaced all archaisms (Thee, Thy, Thou) in reference to divinity. –Aharon Varady

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Notes

Notes
1 From the “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,” 4 July 1776.
2 George Washington’s Letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island (1790).
3 Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865.
4 Cf. Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865.
5 Cf. Psalms 133:1.

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