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Florida’s ag commissioner sworn in on nation’s first Hebrew Bible

Nikki Fried, right, is sworn in as Florida's commissioner of agriculture on Jan. 8, 2019. Fried's left hand is placed on the first Hebrew Bible published in America. Photo by Colin Hackley

(RNS) — President Obama used a Bible belonging to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim member of Congress, took the oath of office on the Quran.

And on Tuesday (Jan. 8), Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat to win statewide office in Florida, was sworn in as commissioner of agriculture using the first Hebrew Bible published in America.

The University of Florida’s two-volume Hebrew Bible was printed in 1814 in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Price Library of Judaica

Fried, the first Jewish woman to serve in the post in the Sunshine State, called the University of Florida, her alma mater, to ask if there was a special Bible she could use for the occasion.

Curator Rebecca Jefferson of the university’s Price Library of Judaica had just the book — or books. The library owns a two-volume Hebrew Bible dating to 1814, one of about 100 still remaining that were published in Philadelphia that year using fonts from an older edition printed in Amsterdam. The first volume contains the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible, and the second contains the remaining 19 books. (There are 24 books in the Hebrew Bible, sometimes called the Tanakh.)

At 11 am. Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fried laid her hand on the Hebrew Bible and took the oath of office.

“As the first Jewish woman elected statewide in Florida and an unapologetic Florida Gator I could not be more honored to be sworn in with the first Hebrew Bible printed in the United States from University of Florida’s Judaica Library,” said Fried in a statement. “The symbolism of these firsts represents some of the greatest honors of my life.”

Scriptures have long been used at inaugurations, beginning with George Washington, who picked a Masonic Bible for his ceremony. Last week, Rashida Tlaib, the new Democratic representative from Michigan, and Ilhan Omar, her counterpart from Minnesota, both used Qurans at the swearing-in ceremonies for the 116th Congress.

But scriptures are not formally required.

Kyrsten Sinema, the newly elected U.S. senator from Arizona, used a Library of Congress volume containing the texts of the U.S. and Arizona constitutions for her swearing-in this month. Last year, Mariah Parker was sworn in on a copy of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” when she took her oath as Athens-Clarke County commissioner in Georgia.

The Hebrew Bible Fried will use was born out of a fierce competition between Jews and Christians for the first U.S. version of the Bible in Hebrew.

Nikki Fried took the oath of office using this two-volume Hebrew Bible dating to 1814. Photo courtesy of Price Library of Judaica

“In the aftermath of the American Revolution there was increased religiosity in the air,” said Jefferson. “Many scholars and clergymen were interested in producing a Hebrew Bible for America. The problem for the Jewish community is that many of the clergy were active in missionary circles and wanted to use (a Hebrew Bible) for conversion. The Jewish community wanted a Bible produced with their approbation.”

The resulting volume came about as a kind of a compromise. Jonathan Horwitz, a Dutch Jewish immigrant, arrived in Philadelphia with the metal blocks or fonts used for a 17th-century edition that had been published in Amsterdam and was widely hailed by Jews of the time.

Eager to get ahead of the competition, Horwitz sold the fonts to Philadelphia printer William Fry, a Christian, and some early subscriptions for the published volumes to a local bookseller. (Then Harvard College and Andover Theological Seminary had already ordered 40 copies each.)

The University of Florida’s Judaica collection dates back to the 1970s, but its volumes haven’t been used for swearing-in purposes before, said Jefferson.

Fried, 2003 graduate of the university and a former president of the student body, is the first to do so.

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

28 Comments

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  • Boy, these Democrats are an amazing cast of characters. Because they have no faith; they have no religious text in which to be sworn in upon. The purpose of which, was to swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land with them accountable to the creator.
    But because they have no faith and don’t believe in the creator; they have to resort to gimmickry so that they have a good story for their swearing in ceremony.
    A Jew being sworn in with a Bible?
    Better yet, Mariah Parker being sworn in on the auto biography of an anti-Semite and a racist! She couldn’t have picked a person further away from God then Satan himself.
    She would have been better off being sworn in on one of Oprah’s books.
    Next stop, Harry Potter or the vagina monologues.
    It really reveals what these people identify with and what is the most important thing in their lives.
    Very sad.

  • They can’t all be immoral hypocrites who use religion as an excuse to express petty bigotry and partisan interests like Republicans.

  • Nope. Just not a fan of phony “values voters” and their ridiculous efforts at trying to appropriate public morality, yet are bereft of basic ethics.

  • well, at least they claim to have positive values; even if they always don’t live up to them.
    The other side does have values; but of the amoral sort. Bottom of the barrel really…. anything goes; whatever makes me feel good; do what I want. It’s a reflection of the democratic party; which really doesn’t have a core set of principles – it’s more a conglomeration of fringe groups.

  • They claim a lot of things. None of which are true or accurate descriptions of their positions.

    What good is professing moral standing if you demonstrate you have none?

  • MalcolmX was a racist and antisemite when he converted to the Nation of Islam, but then he later rejected them. That’s why they shot him. What is your problem with a Jew being sworn in with a Hebrew Bible. Is it because unless there is a “New testament” it doesn’t count? That’s the only reason I can think of.

  • He did not particularly take aim at a Jew being sworn in with a Hebrew Bible.

    He was commenting on the ethnic signalling that is becoming de rigeur among the Democrats.

    Nicole “Nikki” Heather Fried attended Jewish day school at Temple Beth Am, a Reform congregation in Miami, where she was bat mitzvahed and confirmed, and was active in BBYO activities.

    As an adult she is no longer a member of any congregation, but attends High Holiday services with her parents at their Palm Beach congregation.

  • I have no problem; well, I have many – but a Jew using a bible isn’t one of them.
    I guess I’m more curious about the choice. Why not use a Torah?
    If I am taking the oath seriously as it relates to my faith – I would select a bible; not a Koran.
    My point being; as the article reaffirms- is was for novelty- not faith.

  • The Tanach, contains the jewish* new testament. so the jews*, wrote the first new testament. do not confuse The Torah Scroll with their Tanach.

    the jewish new testament, is not The Word from ELOHEEM (HaTorah). i, do reject any one being sworn in with the quran which is sectarian fascist hostile to the constitutions of the united states.

    all appointed or elected officials, should be sworn in by either state for federal constitutions scripture that they are to be sworn in to protect. they, are not elected or appointed sworn in to protect any other scripture. though i, would not object if they wish to include The Torah Scroll with it.

  • What is all the fuss about? A Jewish person should use a text they find sacred to swear on just as Christian would use a Bible with the New and Old Testaments with the Apocrypha or a Muslim with the Quran. Even the constitution of the US and applicable state would be appropriate.

    Using a particular edition or copy is a nice sentimental addition to the ceremony. The article just brings up a some interesting historical information about particular books.

    Using a text that the individual does not consider sacred would be hypocritical.

  • the swearing in of any public oath of office, should always include the constitutional duties of that office.

  • Wish those Republicans that used a Bible would not be so hypothetical in their policies and legislation. A pile of garbage used to swear on would be the most appropriate for today’s Republicans.

  • the bible used was the hebrew scriptures, what protestants call the old testament (catholic add books to the old testament found in the greek translation, not found in the hebrew original) .

    “I would select a bible; not a Koran.”

    because you are a christian perhaps . that would be the reason i would chose a bible . but for the folks who are muslim that would be a strange choice for them . qur’an would be expected .

    ignoring the usage of the “autobiography of malcom x”, and speaking only to your reaction to malcom x, i would urge you to get a copy of the book, sit down with an african american you know and trust, and read the book together . and listen to the reaction of your friend . don’t say much . listen and learn .

    and by the way the vast majority of democrats use the bible . it only makes news when someone doesn’t .

  • a jew using the hebrew scriptures to take her oath ?

    two muslim women using the qur’an to take their oath ?

    how is that “a politcal stunt” ?

  • ” What is your problem with a Jew being sworn in with a Hebrew Bible.” — i agree with susan stein. especially a jew being sworn in with an historic copy of an historic printing of the jewish bible, belonging to her alma mater? those are three excellent reasons to use it. for you to say that this was done for novelty reasons, not faith, is arrogant and presumptuous on your part.

    and to extend your slur of “no faith” to all democrats is just foolish.

    let me guess — you’re an evangepublican?

  • Unless she is a messianic Jew, or she is converting to Christianity; why would a Jew be sworn in with anything that would contain something a Jew supposedly doesn’t believe in?
    If she was a devout Jew, why not find a rare, historical copy of the Torah to be sworn in on?
    It’s because she’s not devout and the whole selection was for novelty. If she happens to be re-elected; perhaps she could pop out of a clown car next time.
    As far as your other comments – there have been numerous articles on this page with polls/statistics showing democrats/liberals do not (as a whole) profess a faith nor belong to a religion – so my comment was spot on.
    I am not an evangelical. But that particular comment demonstrates what side of the aisle and spectrum you are on; which again confirms my comments.

  • just because one is not an evangelical does not mean one is not christian.
    just because one is not a republican does not mean one has no faith.
    you are ignorant — you don’t even know what the hebrew bible consists of. look up “tanakh.” you should study up on the bible before you starting spouting off about it. that is, unless you don’t mind looking like a fool.
    are you anti-semitic, perhaps? clown car? really?
    oh, and you’re wrong about me, too.

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