It is America’s most famous relic, a nearly sacred token. Around the world it is regarded as a universal symbol of freedom. For more than a century, the Liberty Bell has captured Americans’ affections and become a stand-in for the nation’s values of independence, freedom, unalienable rights, and equality. The Liberty Bell started out simply as a bell commissioned to hang in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House. In 1751, Isaac Norris, the Speaker of the Assembly, proposed that a bell be installed. Norris was a wealthy and scholarly Quaker who knew the words of the Bible, and he asked that the bell be cast with the words “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land to all the inhabitants thereof,” from a pasuk in Parshas Behar dealing with the laws of sh’mitah and yovel. This proclamation of amnesty for all slaves was intended as a commemoration of liberties that were insured 50 years earlier, not as a prophecy of liberty to be gained 25 years later.

In 1752, the bell arrived from the Whitechapel Foundry of London, where it was designed and cast. On the first stroke of the clapper in the New World, a crack appeared in the brim, ruining the sound! The bell was recast by two Philadelphia foundrymen, John Stow and John Pass, who substituted the year 1753 for 1752 and their own names for those of the original craftsmen. These founders, however, had added too much copper and the bell’s tone was poor. Stow and Pass were beside themselves and had the bell recast once more. They added tin, and in June 1753, the bell was again mounted in the steeple.

As the official town bell, its main purpose was to call the Assembly to its meetings. Members who were late or absent were fined, and the money was given to the Pennsylvania Hospital. The bell also called town meetings, served as a fire alarm, celebrated the conclusion of wars, and tolled the deaths of great men. However, residents living near the State House in Philadelphia complained about its frequent ringing, which, they said, could be fatal to the sick, and in 1772 they sent a petition to the Assembly. No remedy was forthcoming, but the Assembly did take action on another problem. It voted to rebuild the steeple after fears had been expressed that the vibration from the ringing might cause it to collapse.

Meanwhile, the State House bell was tolling the deepening crisis with Great Britain. The bell that had rung in honor of King George III now rang in protest against his government. It summoned the Assembly to petition for repeal of unwanted taxes. It tolled the closing of the port of Boston and proclaimed the rising opposition to Great Britain’s policies in America. It rang when word was received of the battles at Lexington and Concord, which opened the Revolutionary War. It called the Continental Congress to give General George Washington command of the Continental Army. All these were events that sharpened the conflict with Great Britain and led to the Declaration of Independence. The bell, in an even deeper sense, was used to announce and fulfill its stated instruction: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land…”

Independence was resolved by the delegates to the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted by the Congress on July 4. Additional time was needed to publish copies and distribute them to the colonies and to arrange a public celebration. Monday, July 8, was designated as the day of the gala celebration.      

The day of celebration dawned bright and clear. The public was summoned to the ceremony by the ringing of the bell. By noon, a crowd of several thousand had gathered outside the State House. The Declaration of Independence was formally read by John Nixon, a prominent member of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. After the reading, the Liberty Bell and all the bells of the city pealed, and the crowd gave a cheer. The militia paraded and fired a salute. That evening the king’s coat of arms was brought from the hall in the TrainState House, where the king’s courts were formerly held, and burned, to the cheers of the crowd. The following year, 1777, Independence Day was observed on July 4, the date the Declaration was adopted, and the State House bell pealed out in celebration. Although independence was declared, the Revolutionary War continued for almost seven more years. France entered the revolution on the side of the colonists in 1778 and helped them force the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia. America had effectively won their independence, though fighting would not formally end until 1783.

Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is the author of the popular “Torah Tavlin” book series, filled with stories, wit and hundreds of divrei Torah, including the brand new “Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim” in stores everywhere. You’ll love this popular series. Also look for his book, “Heroes of Spirit,” containing one hundred fascinating stories on the Holocaust. They are fantastic gifts, available in all Judaica bookstores and online at  To receive Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly “Torah Tavlin” sheet on the parsha, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.