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בס"ד

Second Annual Examination of the Talmud Torah School of New York.

Mr. Editor,—

The second annual examination of the pupils of the Talmud Torah School took place at the Coliseum, on Sunday, the 26th of January. I expected to find a more detailed account than a mere notice of it in the last number of the Occident. Being, however, disappointed, I take the liberty of transmitting to you the following Report, hoping that you will allow it a place in your valuable periodical.

The examination commenced at about ten o’clock, in the presence of a numerous audience, and embraced Hebrew Spelling, Reading and Translating, Catechism, Arithmetic and Declamation. The performances of the pupils in the Hebrew department (which absorbed nearly the whole time) were interesting and gratifying in the highest degree. They afforded ample proof, that there was no remissness on the part of the Hebrew teacher, Mr. H. Goldsmith, but that the latter diligently strove to impart to his scholars such knowledge of the Hebrew language as our religious institutions require. The spelling class went through their exercises in an easy manner, so did also the second class, who translated portions of the daily prayer, the ten commandments, and the thirteen Ickarim (articles of faith) quite handsomely. Several chapters of the Pentateuch were translated by the first class with correctness and precision, and the questions proposed to them concerning the derivation and construction of the most difficult words, were satisfactorily answered. Among others they translated the benedictions of Jacob to his sons, which, as you know, is not a very easy matter. The method pursued by Mr. G. is, to let the pupils first read the whole verse, then translate it in regular connexion, and finally he causes them to examine every single word in its etymological construction and syntactical position, examples of which method were given on this occasion.

By way of climax, two boys were introduced who had been taught to translate Rashi to the first Parashah of Mishpatim, and who acquitted themselves quite creditably. I consider this rather a novelty in our days. There was a time when it was customary to consider a pupil quite deficient in learning if he could not read a Parashah of Rashi. And it was not seldom the case that a boy who was not able to translate correctly a chapter in Genesis, was taught with the greatest difficulty to read a portion of Rashi and even sometimes a Perek in Mishnah to gratify the eccentric taste of his teacher or parents. But this custom has long since been abandoned by modern pedagogues. And, however great an admirer I am of that distinguished commentator, however necessary he may be to a correct exegetical analysis of the holy text, I still think that elementary schools are not the places where he can be taught with any degree of advantage. He must be studied by a mature mind and a good Hebrew scholar, in order to be fully appreciated. I should not, therefore, like to have Rashi revived in our elementary schools. The time spent on it is as good as lost. And “time” should always be of weighty consideration with a teacher who has to superintend several classes, and whose principal object, therefore, must be to make his lessons as generally available as possible.

There was not much time left for the examination in the English department,* arithmetic being only attended to, in which, as far as the examination went, the pupils proved to be proficient. The intervals between the different topics of examination were filled up by well selected pieces of poetry, which were recited in a satisfactory style. I should have liked to see their specimens of writing and composition, as this would have afforded more ample opportunity to judge of the capacities of the scholars. I notice this absence in particular, as there was nothing of the kind exhibited at the last year’s examination. If declamation makes an integral part of the school plan (which, of course, it should), it is quite consistent to let the pupils exhibit their attainments; but if it is merely got up for the entertainment of the audience, the reading of original compositions would be by far more preferable. Persons not unfrequently entertain mistaken notions on the nature and object of exhibitions of this kind. If there is exhibited something ostentatious, calculated to satisfy their desire of being amused, all is well:—and on many an occasion the words of Handel could be applied, who, after the first performance of his Messiah, was told by the king that he had been greatly amused, replied in his blunt German manner: “I did not mean to amuse but to edify you.” It should be borne in mind that the immediate object of such exhibitions is, to enlist the patronage and support of the public, and to convince them that these are not unworthily bestowed.

* It would be highly desirable if another day were appointed for the examination in the English department.

The examination in catechism went off very well. The pupils are taught in a systematical manner, Mr. G. having written a small catechism, which he uses as a guide, and which greatly facilitates his task.

In the course of the performances the Rev. S. M. Isaacs delivered a brief address in his usual able manner. He pointed at the gratifying results there witnessed, spoke of the advantages of a good education, and the pitiable condition of those that were neglected, and energetically urged every one present to support this institution, the existence of which has hitherto been very precarious. He was listened to with great attention and elicited general applause.

Another very elaborate address was delivered by Jonas B. Phillips, Esq., who was cheered with the greatest enthusiasm. I forbear giving a synopsis of it, the learned gentleman having by special solicitation kindly consented to its publication in the Occident. I have no doubt that it will be read with great interest by every Israelite in the United States.

At the instance of the Board of Directors cards were handed round, inviting every individual to become a member, and a goodly number of new subscribers were thus gained. The subscription is fixed at a minimum rate of $4 per annum. There is, to my knowledge, no subscriber to a greater amount than this on the list. העשיר לא ירבה והדל לא ימעיט seems in this case to be religiously observed. It is, likewise, in perfect keeping with the republican character of this country, where every thing is conducted on the principle of strict equality. A deviation from this rule, however, by those more favoured by fortune in our community would be very desirable in a cause where the improvement of the moral and mental condition of our fellow beings is is concerned. Yours truly,

J. K. G.

Address Delivered Before the Talmud Torah and Hebrew Institute, Jan. 26th, 1845, by Jonas B. Phillips, Esq.

Deeming it my duty to acquiesce in every claim made upon my services by my brethren, whenever by possibility they might aid them in their laudable efforts to promote the welfare of our people, I accepted most cheerfully the invitation with which I have been honoured to address you on this interesting occasion, notwithstanding my conviction that the brief notice, and conflicting engagements, would afford but a limited opportunity indeed for preparation. I must therefore throw myself upon your friendly indulgence, trusting that the devotion I bring to the cause in which we are all so deeply interested, will apologize, if it does not compensate for the deficiencies which may be apparent in the address to which you will favour me with your attention.

Two years have elapsed since the institution of the Talmud Torah, and we have this day witnessed with unqualified gratification the practical results which attest its importance and utility.

Most sincerely do I congratulate the members of this excellent association upon the success which has thus far attended their efforts; and upon the prospect that the advantages which have already resulted from its organization give promise of future benefits, which will amply repay the care of those who planted the tree, who have watched and nourished it and caused it to blossom.<

Such an institution has long been a desideratum among the Israelites of America, and in this we now witness the nucleus of one, which at no distant day, may hold a rank second to none among the academies of learning, in this most favoured and enlightened republic. Among the various means philanthropy has devised to improve the moral and social condition of mankind education is the foremost and most efficient; to the general diffusion of knowledge, at once elevating and refining, may be attributed the spirit of liberality which distinguishes the age in which we live, and more particularly the inhabitants of this happy country, where no distinction of creed excludes those who thirst for knowledge from partaking of the pure stream which flows from her exhaustless fountains. It is by the cultivation of the mental powers that man is taught properly to appreciate his own importance and by such appreciation become the better enabled to fulfil his important dutiesto his God, his country, and to society. If permitted to grope his way in darkness, “as one who is blind and seeth not” through the world, desolate and miserable indeed is his condition. Ile turns aside from the angel virtue, to be ensnared and ruined by vicious temptation. No flowers spring in his path, or rather he sees them not, and passes them by without pausing to contemplate their beauties, or inhale their fragrance, until at last he is thrown upon “the bank and shoal of time,” without having the means within himself—the garnered treasures of a cultivated mind—“to cheer the closing hours of his life,” or smooth his progress to that “bourne from whence no traveller returns.”

But rescued from this darkness, educated, and taught to value the benefactions of his God, to dive into the depths of science, to bring from the mines of learning wealth which time cannot devour or adversity disperse;—delightful indeed is his progress through existence; every floweret that springs around him conveys some lesson he can estimate and profit by; of him truly it may be said he sees

 

“Sermons in trees,
Books in the warbling brooks, and good in every thing.”

Notwithstanding, as I have already intimated, the avenues of education are here open to all: a seminary of learning exclusively for the children of our own faith is peculiarly important, and should be most liberally and generally encouraged. Planted in a soil so congenial to its growth, as free America, where we worship according to the faith of our fathers by constitutional right, and not by toleration merely, there is no obstacle to prevent such an institution from realizing the most sanguine anticipations of its philanthropic founders. It is a duty we owe ourselves—nay it is a duty we owe to our God, who has so signally blessed and preserved us, through ages of persecution and disaster, to teach the rising generation of Israel his holy and immutable law; the sacred language in which their ancestors worshipped, in which the inspired Psalmist sang the praises of the Most High—the preservation of which sacred tongue, in all its purity and beauty, is an eternal evidence of the truth of that religion, which is our pride and our boast, and which must be our salvation. Most important indeed to the welfare and future happiness of our nation is the education of our children in the Hebrew language; and by whom should it be taught to them—I might ask by whom can it be taught to them so satisfactorily as by those who, from their early education and religious instruction, are themselves capable of appreciating its importance, and imparting to those under their charge the knowledge they have themselves acquired—imbued with that spirit of reverence due to the sacred antiquity of the language in which, amid the thunders of Sinai, the Law of the Eternal was proclaimed? It is a lamentable fact, that there are among us too many who are ignorant of the language in which the poets and prophets of Israel sang, and wrote, and spoke with heavenly inspiration; and if there were nought else to commend an institution like the Talmud Torah to the most favourable consideration and support, this alone should exercise a controlling influence over all desirous of rescuing from forgetfulness—I had almost said from oblivion—the language, the emphatical and poetical language, of our faith. The sacred writings, which record the history of our forefathers; the laws which govern us; the prophecies which are the source of our hopes of future happiness and restored greatness; the Psalms, so beautiful in their simplicity—so sublime in their poetry, are best appreciated by those who can read them understandingly in that language in which they were originally given to us. Their interest is impaired, their beauties lost, and their force diminished in every translation. But there are other considerations to influence the encouragement of this institution and place it on a permanent foundation.

There is undoubtedly a vast deal of talent among the Jewish children in this country, the cultivation of which is a duty too sacred to be neglected. If we neglect the soil, the very richness of which engenders weeds, we have no right to complain that it yields us no crop, no profit, when by its proper and wholesome cultivation it might have been rendered a source of endless revenue. So with the minds of the young; if when capable of receiving the seeds of learning we neglect to plant them until it is too late, the reproach and shame are ours, when in later years we find that which might have been a garden but a desert waste—weeds exhaling poison where flowers might have bloomed, making the air redolent with their delicious odour. I repeat, then, it is a duty we owe to society—to ourselves—to our God—to educate the children of our faith not only in the language and laws of our holy religion, but in all other branches of learning calculated to render them useful members of society, and qualify them for whatever stations it may be their destiny to fill. The truth of Lord Bacon’s familiar axiom that “knowledge is power” is no longer controverted or denied. Whatever then has a tendency to promote the intellectual and therein the moral improvement of a people, must have a corresponding tendency to increase their greatness, and secure to them the respect and confidence of other nations; and every institution organized for such a purpose, has undeniable and irresistible claims to the fostering care and patronage of those who by the wholesome lessons of experience have been taught to appreciate the benefits of early and judicious education.

I have often heard it remarked that too much learning has a tendency to impair and not to strengthen the intellect. Nothing can be more erroneous than such a doctrine: there is far more truth in the language of the poet:

 

“Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring,
A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

Study expands the intellect; the mind, unlike material vessels, becomes the more capacious the more it is crowded. Like the flower which expands its leaves to the genial rays of the summer sun, it opens and blooms beneath the life-giving powers of education; but the beauties of the flower are all developed when its leaves are unclosed, and it blooms in fragrant loveliness to the radiant god of day. Not so the mind: there is no limit to its refinement and improvement; they increase with every step of progress; the deeper you penetrate, the more unfathomable appears the depth of the human intellect; the loftier the flight, the more dazzling seems the brilliant goal which the ambitious student seeks to attain.

In the education of children, I have always considered that their studies should invariably be regulated with reference to the influence they will probably exercise upon their future occupations, for I assume the position that there is no pursuit or calling which is not facilitated by the advantages resulting from a cultivated and well-stored intellect. “It is the discipline to which study subjects the intellect at an early age which in after life the man of business finds so beneficial; it strengthens the memory and imparts the valuable power of concentrating the mind, without which no man can excel in any profession. Wanting this power, the lawyer would become bewildered in the intricacies of his profession; the physician a mere trifler with human sufferings and life, and the merchant confounded in the complications of his business.” It is from these considerations that I have ventured the suggestion, that in the education of the children of this institution, it should be regulated as far as practicable with reference to their future occupations in life. And more especially in this country is the influence of early education upon business more apparent—and therefore its encouragement more important; for where the highest honours of the republic are as here attainable by all, the literary acquirements which have facilitated the business operations of the merchant, the farmer, and the mechanic, also fit him for the higher trusts which may be reposed in him by the people, and qualify him for the grave discussions of the legislative halls.

To you, my young friends, who are now enjoying the benefits of this excellent institution, I now address myself. Though personally a stranger to you, I trust the few remarks I am about to offer will not fall upon inattentive ears. In your future welfare, in common with those from whom you are now deriving the advantages of liberal education, I have a deep and abiding interest. It is impossible to conjecture what may be your future destinies; what high and important trusts may be confided to you: it is not then surprising that those who now watch over your early years should regard with anxiety your progress in your studies. By attention and assiduity you repay that anxiety, and reward the zealous efforts of those from whom you receive daily instruction.

“Youth is the season of study:” the maxim is familiar yet not the less true. The treasures of learning acquired in early years are inexhaustible; gather them now; store them while life is in its “golden hours,” and when you reach that period when you are to mingle with men, in the various avocations to which you may be devoted, you will experience a gratification the excess of which no language can describe, and your hearts will throb with gratitude to those to whom you owe that “wealth of intellect which is beyond all price.” While attentive to those lessons which are to qualify you for the ordinary pursuits of life, and teach you to respect the laws under which you live; and understand that constitution which secures to you the proud and inalienable rights of American citizens, attend with reverence to the moral and religious lessons which instruct you in the faith and religion of your fathers. Without a just appreciation of your duties to your God, all other lessons lose their salutary influence, and even learning is deprived of otherwise eternal value. Neglect not this admonition; for upon the rising generation depends the future honour and welfare of Israel. It is to you your fathers look for the perpetuity of that faith which persecution could not shake, which calamity and dispersion could not overcome. Let not their hopes be blasted; let them behold their buds of promise bloom; that when summoned hence they may be able to exclaim as they give you their parting benediction—“the glory of Israel has not departed.”

Again I address myself to you, who have a most abiding interest in the success and permanency of this institution. Its objects are so well known that nothing I can add can be necessary to commend it to the patronage of those to whom the members of the Talmud Torah and Hebrew Institute naturally and of right may look for encouragement, to persevere in the laudable purposes for which they are associated.

We know not to what high and proud destinies the rising generation of our people may be devoted; but we do know that liberal principles are rapidly extending throughout the world, and daily indications are perceptible that the period is approaching when the children of Israel will assume that position among the nations of the earth to which they are entitled.

Let us then encourage with unanimity and energy this young society; let us unite in every effort to promote the mental cultivation of those in whose welfare, morally, intellectually and politically we are so deeply interested, and we may see herein the nucleus of an institution which will tend more than any other ever organized to the welfare, honour and glory of our people.

To the members of the Institute I would say: while congratulating you upon the success which has thus far rewarded your labours, persevere in your efforts; there may be difficulties which energy will overcome. Let no obstacles “make faint your purpose;” the cause in which you are engaged commends itself to the favour and support of all, and to the high and holy end you have in view.

 

“Assisting angels will conduct your steps.”