Podcast: How Jewish was Alexander Hamilton?

Welcome to Times Will Tell, the weekly podcast from The Times of Israel. This week, we’re speaking with Andrew Porwancher, a constitutional historian at the University of Oklahoma and author of the recently published, “The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton,” about the US founding father’s Jewish background and influences.

Porwancher spent the better part of a decade researching “The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton,” prior to Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical hit on Broadway. We discuss Porwancher’s research and his engrossing thesis about American Jewry, including what it meant to be a Jew in Hamilton’s time.

“Part of what I hope to do in this book is develop a theory of Jewish identity that goes beyond binary Jew or non-Jew,” said Porwancher. “What I hope to do is to ask the question: Is Hamilton Jewish in any sense of the term, for any stretch of his life?”

Porwancher discovered Hamilton’s Jewish roots by chance, as part of another research project he was engaged in at the time.

His mother had converted to Judaism to marry her first husband, and while she was already separated from him by the time Alexander Hamilton was born, she raised Hamilton in her adopted faith, enrolled him in a Jewish school where he learned Torah in Hebrew.

The cover of ‘The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton’ by Andrew Porwancher, who spoke about the book on the Times Will Tell podcast (Courtesy Princeton Press)

Porwancher uncovers a long string of myths about Hamilton in his book in order to think critically about how that history may have informed Hamilton’s experience as an adult in colonial America.

“Hamilton has a closer relationship to the Jewish community than any other American founder,” said Porwancher.

“The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton,” includes historic material about Jewish life in the nascent nation, and an examination of attitudes toward Jews in the American colonies and after independence was declared from Britain.

Porwancher also speaks about the timing of his book with Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” which was in previews at the time he began his research a decade ago. He briefly met the now renowned playwright and composer and spoke with cast member Daveed Diggs, who also comes from a Jewish background.

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