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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thoughts on Cardozo

There are a number of articles today asking whether Benjamin Cardozo would be properly considered the first Hispanic US Supreme Court Justice.

His ancestors likely came from Portugal, although his family lived in the US for generations. And some people question whether Portuguese people are properly considered Hispanic, with some contradictory evidence whether the US legally considers them as such.

I think that there is a subconscious reason why people did not historically consider Cardozo to be Hispanic or even Portuguese: because he was Jewish. And throughout history, with rare exceptions, Jews were not popularly considered to be full members of their adopted countries.

Some of the reason is from the Jews themselves, especially the more religious ones, who would tend to be more insular and separate. But much of the reason is simply because the Jews were never accepted as equal members of most of the societies they became a part of, even after hundreds of years.

The bottom line is that, throughout history, both Jews and non-Jews considered the Jewish people to be a nation of their own. Cardozo was first and foremost a (Sephardic) Jew, by his self-definition as well as by others, and this definition of Jew had little to do with religion and a lot to do with ancestry.

Which goes to show that, not too long ago, pretty much everyone agreed that the Jews were part of their own nation. It is interesting that only recently have people, for political purposes, started to question that fact.