A Heady Brew: Magna Carta, Whiskey and Jewish History

Posted on June 15th, 2015 by

I know that everyone has today marked on their calendars as a birthday – probably not your birthday – but the birthday of Magna Carta.  It turns 800 years old today.  Now the reason it’s on my calendar is that for 11 years I was the steward of the only extant copy of Magna Carta in North America – the copy on display at the National Archives.

Magna Carta, 1297.   On display in the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery. Presented courtesy of David M. Rubenstein.

Magna Carta, 1297. On display in the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery. Presented courtesy of David M. Rubenstein.

Next Sunday I will be offering a free tour of the National Archives at 2pm as part of our Schnapps with Pops program.  We are headed to the “Spirited Republic” exhibit – the latest changing exhibit at the National Archives and the inspiration for our JMM program.  But given this important birthday, we’ll also be taking a side trip to see Magna Carta.

On view at the National Archives

On view at the National Archives

Magna Carta on display at the National Archives is in fact just 718 years old.  It was not signed or sealed by King John but rather by his grandson King Edward I.  So what makes it special?  Well, Magna Carta (Archives trivia – never supposed to write “the” Magna Carta, because it is a Latin name and bears no article) was not a singular act.  John put his seal on Magna Carta under threat at Runnymede and from the time the ink dried, John and his successors looked for ways to annul, rescind and evade it.  In this long series of royal pledges and revocations – the 1297 Magna Carta stands out because Edward agreed to an additional clause that enrolled Magna Carta in the statutes of England, settling the question of whether this was the permanent law of the land.

And the Jewish connection?  Ask yourself “why did the kings keep issuing Magna Carta if they had little interest in conceding absolute royal power?”  The fundamental answer is that they needed money and agreeing to a power-sharing formula with the barons was a way to stimulate their assent to new taxes.  The original strategy of the Norman kings to finance their rule of their new Anglo-Saxon domain was to bring over Jewish merchants.  In addition to developing the English economy, Jews were trusted agents of the monarchy – since their very presence in the country was at the sufferance of the king, the Norman rulers could count on their loyalty.

This helps explain Clause 10 in the 1215 Magna Carta.  It is a clause which relieves the baronial families of having to pay interest to Jews after the death of a baron.  Limiting the financial dealings of England’s Jews was seen as part of curbing the powers of the king.

When we put Magna Carta back on display in 2011, several reporters asked me if the absence of Clause 10 in the 1297 Magna Carta was indicative of a change in attitude towards Jews.  The answer was unfortunately, “no”, the clause is missing from this Magna Carta, because Edward saw fit to expel all Jews from the country in 1290 and therefore could not agree to regulate a trade that – at least on paper – had ceased to exist.

"Famous whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania", an illustration from Our first century: being a popular descriptive portraiture of the one hundred great and memorable events of perpetual interest in the history of our country by R. M. Devens (Springfield, Mass, 1882). Image courtesy of the New York Public Library via Wikipedia.org.

“Famous whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania”, an illustration from Our first century: being a popular descriptive portraiture of the one hundred great and memorable events of perpetual interest in the history of our country by R. M. Devens (Springfield, Mass, 1882). Image courtesy of the New York Public Library via Wikipedia.org.

And what about the whiskey connection?  Well, “Spirited Republic” is dedicated to the story of the federal government and alcohol, and most of that story is about how the federal government would support itself.  The very first American insurrection, more than 60 years before the Civil War, is the Whiskey Rebellion – a pitched battle over the tax on alcohol.  In the post-Civil War era, as much as 40% of the federal government’s income rested on liquor excise taxes.  This is why the advocates of prohibition helped push through the 16th amendment establishing an income tax before advancing the 18th amendment banning the sale of alcohol.  The exhibit contains several documents from Jewish distillers before, during and after prohibition.

So I could frame the connections between Magna Carta, whiskey and Jewish history as being all about the struggle for human liberty… or we could agree that it is all about one of life’s two certainties – taxes.

See you on Sunday!

See you on Sunday!

If you are interested in taking Sunday’s tour, it is free but you must RSVP to Trillion (tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org) by Wednesday so that we can give the National Archives a final count on attendance.

 

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Museum Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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A Highlight from our Museum Shop!

Posted on June 13th, 2013 by

Lunchbox $10.99

Lunchbox $10.99

In honor of Clark Kent’s Bar Mitzvah Party AND Father’s Day THIS SUNDAY,

we thought: why not highlight a few SUPER gifts available at the shop!?

Superman Mug (2)

Mugs 9.95

Are you seeing MAN OF STEEL this weekend?

If you bring in your ticket stub on Sunday, you can get $2 admission!

Wonder Woman Shopper Tote (2)

Bag 5.98

Also, all fathers will get a special gift if they come and celebrate with us!

So grab your dad and head on over for a Super Sunday at the JMM!

 

estherEvery Thursday we’ll be highlighting one of the great items in our shop, managed by the lovely Esther Weiner. We hope you’ll come in and take a look! And remember, Museum members get a 10% discount! Interested in making a purchase or just have questions about our inventory? Give Esther a call 410-732-6402 x211 or drop her an email at eweiner@jewishmuseummd.org.

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Spotlight on Collections

Posted on February 28th, 2013 by

Did you ever think about a museum having pens and pencils in their collection?  We do!  Sometimes pens or pencils can mark a significant event or they may be evidence of company that no longer exists.

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Pen used by Harry Hughes, Governor, in signing House Bill 705, now Chapter 440 of the Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, 1983.  The bill was to restore B'nai Israel Synagogue. Courtesy of Harry Hughes. 1983.51.1.

Pen used by Harry Hughes, Governor, in signing House Bill 705, now Chapter 440 of the Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, 1983. The bill was to restore B'nai Israel Synagogue. Courtesy of Harry Hughes. 1983.51.1.

Pen used by Mayor William Donald Schaefer to sign ordinances for the Jewish Heritage Center, with yellow and black ribbon attached. Pens are attached to an envelope. Courtesy of William Donald Schaefer. 1984.61.1.

Pen used by Mayor William Donald Schaefer to sign ordinances for the Jewish Heritage Center, with yellow and black ribbon attached. Pens are attached to an envelope. Courtesy of William Donald Schaefer. 1984.61.1.

Black and gold fountain pen with the initials “M.R.” engraved on it which belonged to Michael Rosenfeld. Michael Rosenfeld was part owner of the New York Clothing House on Baltimore Street near the northeast corner of St. Paul Street. He also operated a factory for men's and boy's clothing and outfitted the streetcar employees, the firemen and the police. Courtesy of Louise Millhauser. 1989.164.1

Two pencils from the American Silk Co. White exterior with advertising. “Est. 1875 See AMERICAN First, 425 4th Ave., N.Y./ American Silk Label (picture of Eagle) MANUFACTURING CO./ WOVEN Labels of Every Description/ Rep. by __ M. Blout/ 110 W. Fayette Street., Baltimore 1, MD. Pencils are sharpened and have brass ends holding the erasers. Courtesy of Philip Kahn. 1991.5.3ab.

One of three pens from the Rogers Avenue Synagogue Brotherhood,  Fathers Day, 1984. Gold colored metal, ball points.  Courtesy of Morris Cohen. 1993.52.223a.

One of three pens from the Rogers Avenue Synagogue Brotherhood, Fathers Day, 1984. Gold colored metal, ball points. Courtesy of Morris Cohen. 1993.52.223a.

Unused yellow wooden pencil stamped in black “FROM THE DESK OF MARVIN MANDEL GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND”, 1969-1976. Courtesy of Linda F. and Julian L. Lapides. 1994.63.23.

Sterling silver pen, with push button end for retractable ball point, central portion of cylinder engraved in a decorative design representing the Tribes of Israel, front portion unscrews to change ink refill.  Courtesy of William Saxon, Jr.  1994.78.2

Sterling silver pen, with push button end for retractable ball point, central portion of cylinder engraved in a decorative design representing the Tribes of Israel, front portion unscrews to change ink refill. Courtesy of William Saxon, Jr. 1994.78.2

White plastic pen with blue details imprinting, Celebrate Israel @ 60 in Baltimore with double-sided pull-out scroll with information about www.israel60baltimore.com and facts about Israel.  Courtesy of Duke Zimmerman. 2008.40.1.

White plastic pen with blue details imprinting, Celebrate Israel @ 60 in Baltimore with double-sided pull-out scroll with information about www.israel60baltimore.com and facts about Israel. Courtesy of Duke Zimmerman. 2008.40.1.

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