|Vol. III, No. 11
Shebat 5606, February 1846
Installation of Rev. Dr. Lilienthal.
New York, Jan. 13, 1846.
Reverend and dear Sir:
The installation of Dr. M. Lilienthal, as Chief Rabbi of the three congregations of German Jews, (Anshay Chessed, Shaaray Shamayim, Rodef Shalom) of this city, took place last Sabbath, the l0th instant, at the Henry Street Synagogue. The fact of his having been unanimously elected for this important office, argues well for the true religious spirit which pervades the above congregation. An immense number of persons of both sexes were present on this interesting occasion, and the order and decorum that reigned throughout, notwithstanding that every passage was literally blocked up, deserve honourable mention. Between the almemor (desk) and the ark, seats were prepared for the presidents, vice presidents, treasurers, and for the teachers of the three schools connected with these congregations. The three Readers of the three Synagogues, occupied the almemor. The ceremonies began with the recitation of Psalm 103. The Right Reverend the Chief Rabbi was then introduced by the President and the Reverend Mr. Felsenheld, who on presenting the compact to him, made an appropriate address, to which the Chief Rabbi briefly responded, and was then conducted to his seat, at the right hand side of the ark. After the Psalm 24 had been recited, the Right Reverend Chief Rabbi ascended the pulpit, and delivered one of the most eloquent sermons to which I have had the good fortune to listen. As this sermon may fairly be considered a manifesto of his position and principles, it would be very desirable to have it published for the information of your readers. However, I am happy to state that the Chief Rabbi cherishes no sympathy with the so-called reforming Rabbis of Germany; but that he is adverse to their movements, and fully determined to uphold our religious institutions and to be guided only by the law, as it is laid down in the Bible and explained by our sages. The sermon was preceded by a prayer in which he implored God to assist him in his arduous duties, to guard him from all errors, in order that he may lead in the right path those who have chosen him as their spiritual guide. But it was not only for himself that he implored this blessing, he likewise prayed that the grace of God may be bestowed on his flock, that harmony and love may fasten still stronger the bond of union which now united them, and that their solicitude for our holy religion, so nobly manifested on this occasion, may never cease. He chose his text from Malachi 2:7 "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge," &c., and applied it very skillfully to the various duties of his office, in relation to his congregations, to the Synagogue, to the schools, and to domestic life. The duties devolving upon him with regard to his flock were certainly of a very important character. By virtue of his office, as Chief Rabbi, he was their judge in religious matters. But far was it from him to entertain the idea of arrogating to himself an uncontrolled power; אל תהי דן יחידי שאין דן יחידי אלא אחד "Be not judge alone; for no one can judge alone, but the One," was the maxim of our sages; and in conformity of this injunction he would form a בית דין (religious tribunal), with whom he would deliberate on any important question or dispute brought before him, and it was only to the decision of this בית דין obtained by mature deliberation, that he would adhere; forואל תאמר קבלו דעתי שהן רשאין ולא אתה "And say not Accept my opinion; for they are empowered to do so, and not thou" was the conclusion of the above sentence. (Aboth 4:10.) With reference to the Synagogue, he would introduce no unwarranted innovations. He was aware of the factious spirit which at the present moment disturbs the peace and happiness of many of our congregations, which once were united in brotherly love, with the noble champions of oar ancient and venerable institutions on the one side, and the self-styled progressmen, whose watchword is "Onward," on the other. But these innovators, having overstepped the marks established by our wise forefathers, could only do so from their ignorance of our law and our history, or from a determination not to appreciate the beneficent influence the Oral Law has exercised over our people, during the time of its dispersion, and to set it aside at all hazards. But at the same time, whilst he would keep aloof from innovations, he would see that order and decorum be established as the דין (ordinance of the law) enjoins. He made here various quotations from the Orach Chayim, Maimonides, Zohar, and other works, all going to show, how the materials of a wholesome reform of the Synagogue were contained in these codes, if only properly understood and acted upon. The most important of his duties he considered to be that of superintending the schools, of sowing into the minds of the young the seeds of religious truth, that will blossom through life, and bear fruit in eternity. He spoke very feelingly on this subject, and called in very impressive terms on the parents, school directors, and teachers, to aid him in this important cause. He then spoke of the domestic and social relations between himself and his flock. He would make no distinction between rich and poor; his house should be open to every one who required his advice or assistance. He would be alike ready to sympathize with the poor, to comfort the sick, to console the dying, and to join in the thanks to the Almighty, offered up by the grateful hearts of the more fortunate. Thus taking the law as his guide, and not being a respecter of persons, he hoped that the love and confidence now so deeply cherished for him, would not abate in their intensity, but continue to strike still deeper root in the hearts of his flock.
After the conclusion of the sermon, Psalm 100 was recited, A prayer was then offered up by the Right Rev. the Chief Rabbi, invoking the blessing of God on this country, and on the congregations entrusted to his charge; after which Yigdal was sung in a beautiful style by the three Readers. The assembled multitude dispersed, highly pleased with the solemn ceremonies, and deeply impressed with the importance of this event, presenting as it does bright prospects for our future religious welfare.
Indeed the appointment of a Chief Rabbi, may be considered a new era in our religious concerns. Hitherto no such authority was acknowledged here, and any religious question, requiring decision, which arose in our midst, was submitted to a foreign authority. The difficulty attending such a mode of proceeding, prevented many an important question from being settled at all, and the consequence was that several cases have been acted upon in a summary and unauthorized mariner, or, at least, remain in uncertainty. All this can now be obviated. We have now a standard, round which to rally our scattered forces. A ש"ס חברה has also been formed, where תלמוד and the פוסקים will be studied. I hope that the Chief Rabbi will be assisted in his efforts to place our religion on a solid footing by every well-minded Israelite, and that the hearty welcome he has received at the hands of his countrymen, of whom many have known him in the old world, may stir up the emulation of other congregations to place themselves under his spiritual guidance. May he long enjoy health and happiness, and may God's blessing attend his labours. Truly yours,
J. K. G.