The Yiddish code

British officers were stunned to find the Declaration of Independence together with an unintelligible document - a Yiddish translation.

By BUZZY GORDON
July 5, 2007 12:53
2 minute read.

There is another interesting parallel to Jewish tradition in the first public pronouncements of the Declaration of Independence. Just as the Torah commanded that its teaching be read aloud unto the people, a practice that continues in synagogues to this day, the Continental Congress ordered that copies of the Declaration be sent "to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Committees or Councils of Safety, and to the several Commanding officers of the Continental Troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the Army." Immediately after the Declaration of Independence was approved and signed, 200 broadsheet copies were printed in the late afternoon of Thursday, July 4, by a Philadelphia printer. By the next morning, copies were on their way to all 13 states by horseback. On Monday, July 8, the Declaration of Independence was "proclaimed" in its entirety in public for the first time by Colonel John Nixon of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety at the State House in Philadelphia. Over the course of time, most of these original first copies were lost. In the late 1990s, a lucky Philadelphian purchased a picture for $17 at a yard sale that he wanted only for the frame. When he dismantled his bargain, he found a broadsheet copy of the Declaration of Independence hidden behind the painting. It was subsequently sold at auction to Jewish television producer Norman Lear for more than $8 million. According to legend, says Ron Avery, a licensed guide who specializes in Jewish Philadelphia, a Jewish resident of the town found a copy of the Declaration of Independence outside the printer's shop on July 4 or 5, 1776. Like most Americans at the time, he was caught up in the fervor of the early days of the Revolution. Excited, he sat down and translated the document into Yiddish, to explain to his family back in Europe the dramatic events that were taking place in America. He sent his translation, along with the original, by mail - but the ship was seized on the high seas by a British vessel. When the intercepted envelopes were opened, British officers were stunned to see the still fresh Declaration of Independence together with an unintelligible document. Convinced that the rebelling colonists had devised an ingenious wartime code, they sent the Yiddish missive to the attention of code breakers at British military intelligence - where apparently it was never deciphered.


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