Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Rebecca Brannon


By looking at four American Jewish meetings that were convened in the United States, this thesis seeks to understand why they would care about a handful of Jews in a faraway land (Damascus). In so doing, it militates against Jacob R. Marcus’ argument (which dominates the historiography) that holds that American Jews felt a special connection to Damascene Jews by virtue of their shared religion. Instead, this thesis argues the American Jewish attempt to rescue the Damascene Jews was informed by prevailing intellectual currents in Western society. A product of the culture of sensibility and Romanticism, American Jews had a heightened sense of sympathy for the well-being of others and an aversion to pain. They believed humans were given certain inviolable rights, including: 1.) The right to a fair trial; 2.) The right to live free of torture; 3.) The right to practice religion without the threat of persecution. They saw the Damascus Affair as an atrocity that flew in the face of universal human rights.

Moreover, American Jews believed that the United States was an exponent of republican virtue that set a model to be followed by the rest of the world. They felt America was ordained with a divine duty to protect human rights abroad. According to American Jews, if the United States truly embodied the rights enshrined in the Constitution, it would take meaningful action to end the sufferings of the Damascene Jews. The American Jewry had a special affinity to American exceptionalism because it dovetailed with Jewish particularism. If the American Jews were a chosen people, tasked with spreading the word of God, America was a chosen nation, tasked with spreading representative government. American Jews were not an insular community, cut off from society. They were a perceptive people that bought into ideas that were pervasive in America and Western society, co-opting them to suit their own interest.