The news that at a meeting with Conservative Jewish leaders President Obama “stressed he probably knows about Judaism more than any other president, because he read about it” has prompted a barrage of incredulous responses—not least Charles C. Johnson’s historical catch-up in Tablet Magazine. Obama knows the most about Judaism of any president? Let me throw John Quincy Adams back at you!
Johnson focuses much of his attention on explaining how various presidents understood “Judaism” as fairly strictly defined, that is, as a religious nation. But he also mentions Truman’s crucial early support for Israel. And so while he derides Obama’s “intimate knowledge of the milieu of Hyde Park Jewry,” I do think there are, particularly in post-assimilated eras, flexible ways to “know about Judaism.”
With that caveat in mind, here’s my list, with explanations when necessary, of which presidents knew the most about Judaism. I’m sure I’ve inadvertently listed at least one anti-Semite higher than he should be, so my apologies.
43.* Richard Nixon.
* Why 43? Don’t we have 44 presidents? Actually, though Obama is considered the 44th president, that counts Grover Cleveland, who lost a re-election bid and then later won election again, twice. Only 43 men have served as U.S. president.
42. Jimmy Carter (this isn’t even about Israel; for a modern Democratic incumbent to get only
60 45 percent of the Jewish vote??).
41. Andrew Jackson.
40. Chester A. Arthur.
39. William Henry Harrison.
38. John Tyler.
37. Millard Filmore.
36. Franklin Pierce.
35. Zachary Taylor.
34. George H.W. Bush (“Fuck the Jews, they didn’t vote for us anyway” -James Baker).
33. Rutherford B. Hayes.
32. James A. Garfield.
31. James Buchanan.
30. Dwight Eisenhower (handling of Suez war not too cool).
29. Benjamin Harrison.
28. Martin Van Buren.
27. James K. Polk.
26. Andrew Johnson.
25. Thomas Jefferson.
24. William McKinley.
23. JFK (pro: lots of Jewish friends; con: dad a huge Jew-hater).
21. Warren G. Harding.
20. Gerald Ford.
19. Woodrow Wilson (worked with the ADL).
18. James Monroe (wasn’t he just Madison’s third and fourth terms?).
17. Calvin Coolidge.
16. Grover Cleveland (did business with the Rothschilds, of which was made a campaign issue).
15. William Howard Taft (served on Supreme Court with Brandeis).
14. John Quincy Adams.
13. Abraham Lincoln (religious, rescinded Grant’s order).
12. Ronald Reagan.
11. Herbert Hoover (see here).
10. James Madison.
9. Ulysses S. Grant (repented!).
8. Harry Truman.
7. Theodore Roosevelt (appointed first Jewish Cabinet member, Commerce Secretary Oscar Straus).
6. Barack Obama.
5. George Washington.
3. George W. Bush (so many Jewish advisers, religious himself).
2. John Adams (fluent in Hebrew).
1. Bill Clinton (kishkes).
Related: Obama’s Historical Chutzpah [Tablet Magazine]
Obama Awards Rock Icon Bob Dylan Highest Presidential Honor [Haaretz]