|Vol. III, No. 12
Adar 5606, March 1846
A View of a Remnant Of Israel,
Taken with the hope of promoting an increase of faith in God’s word among “the Children of the Lord.”
The thoughts of a mind of very ordinary powers, when forced by circumstances into habits of perhaps more than ordinary reflection; the devotional impulses of a heart once a stranger to such, and which it now only owes to God’s blessing upon seasons of trial and affliction, sending it to Him for strength, encouragement, instruction, and consolation; may be worth recording, may be received with some interest, possibly with some advantage, by those whose better natures have required a less severe discipline.
As a daughter of Israel, who has the welfare of her people most deeply at heart, the only object of the humble and unpretending writer of this article is, to answer a call, which she feels or fancies to be made upon her feeble powers, to contribute their mite towards the redemption of Israel. Whoever succeeds in opening the eyes of one son or daughter of Jacob to any portion of our inestimable inheritance, or to a true view of our position and prospects, has done something towards this great work, and it is this consideration which prompts the seeming boldness of the present effort.
The want of a true and living faith in God’s Law and in his promises, is the secret cause of that calamitous blindness by which so many among us fall into error and sin-entailed misery, and which alone retards the fulfillment of that glorious promise, “I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord.” Could we be sure that God had spoken these words, had enjoined these commandments, and made these promises, our faith and practice would be perfect; for we are not sunk so low as to doubt God; but we doubt what we fear to be or secretly suspect to be nothing more than erring man’s false report of God.
As one step towards removing this evil, we pray any such unhappy sceptic—and many a one is such who little suspects it of himself—to accompany us on a Sabbath morning to any one of our Synagogues,—we will take the rudest, the poorest, the most thinly attended,—and we will endeavour to make him see more than meets his eye, and to hear more than falls upon his ear;—sights and sounds grown so familiar, seen and heard in such habitual thoughtlessness, as to lose all their deep import.
Arrived there, we will imagine ourselves contemplating thoughtfully the scene before us. Perhaps you will contend that there is nothing here which you can desire to contemplate; nothing which can arouse thought or excite devotion. You see a thin, and, to you, perfectly uninteresting collection of people, going through apparently empty forms of worship, and occasionally joining noisily in prayers which (their true significance having never attracted your serious attention) seem to be void of all devotion. You see in this man nothing more than a tradesman who, from petty earnings carefully husbanded and judiciously disposed of, has raised himself from a state of abject poverty to one of comfortable competency; in that you see only a silversmith, in another only a trader in old iron or in cheap ready-made clothing, and in another merely a contemptible form bent with the habitual burden of the pedlar's pack. In none do you see “any beauty that you should desire” to belong to the same race. Indeed! and yet in those very words you have uttered a striking fulfilment of prophecy with regard to these very ordinary people.
Penetrate now a little deeper than this unattractive surface, which seems so to offend your nicer taste.
We are here in hard-working, money-making, free-thinking America, and the love of lucre is said to be the prevailing passion of these people whom we are now considering. Many of those present are dependent upon their daily efforts for their daily bread. Must not that, then, be a powerful motive, which can induce them, one and all, week after week, year in and year out, to close their shops, and lay aside their implements of toil, on a day when all about them are busily employed in the very avocations by which they obtain a livelihood? It is not one day of gain, but two, that they lose by thus voluntarily observing a custom in which they differ from their neighbours,—and yet they repair here regularly every Sabbath, decently clad, with cheerful countenances and contented hearts, to join, amid the din of busy labour going on around them, in the services of their ancient day of rest, and they forget that in so doing they are making any worldly sacrifice. Faith in God is this powerful motive, leading to a corresponding obedience of the command spoken by the voice of God to their assembled forefathers—“Six days shalt thou labour and do all that thou hast to do, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” &c. To-day and here these people forget that they are merchants, or silversmiths, or old iron venders, or pedlars. They only remember themselves as the descendants of Abraham, the children of Israel, the chosen of the Lord—the inheritors of His law—the receivers of His promises—and in their present fallen state they recognise the long-threatened judgment of the Lord, and even from it gather hopes of a glorious future. If you listen to the services in which they are engaged, you will hear them confessing the justice of the decree under which they are now suffering, extolling the name and the glorious attributes of Adonai Elohenu, recalling His wonders worked among them of old, supplicating a renewal of His justly-forfeited favour, and hopefully praying for a second redemption, not truly from Egyptian, but from universal bondage.
In this assembly there is most probably not a single adult who is a freeborn citizen of these United States of America. Few as is their number among them, we shall find natives of almost every country in Europe, and the colonial settlements of the West Indies and of South America may not be without their representatives here—a fact which, when considered with the attention it deserves, and viewed in connexion with prophecy, must furnish a sure prop to that faith in the Holy Scriptures as being the work of men directly inspired by the Almighty, as containing knowledge imparted by the unerring One alone, which we are so desirous of seeing established among all classes of our people.
The prophecies on which this single fact is in itself a striking comment, are so thickly strewn through the works of all the prophets, from Moses to Malachi, that it would take much more time than we can now spare to cite even the half of them. That of Moses, as being the first in point of time, of importance, and of wonderful accuracy, will suffice us now. “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from one end of the earth even unto the other; * * * * and among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest, and the Lord shall ngive thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of heart.” &c.
It is from these very evils, the fulfilment of this prophecy, that the men before us, some of the scattered among the nations, have here sought and found a refuge.
Now let us turn our attention to the mere outward aspect of this remnant of a race, once the glory of all nations, and we shall see that even from this source, we shall gather strong food for faith.
The philosophical reader of Jewish history, by which we mean one who regards events and circumstances not as mere isolated facts, but who weighs and considers them with reference to all their influences and consequences, will he neither shocked nor amazed at the imperfect physical development, the absence of physical beauty, for the most part, discernible amongst them. He will rather be tempted to exclaim, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that they are not consumed” utterly; he will not wonder to see on their bodies the disfiguring marks of the weapons so long wielded against, them. The searcher into the truth of the books of the law, gratefully recognises God’s faithfulness in what is here before him a living proof of it, and gladly gathers from it another stone on which to plant his faith, while the confirmed believer in God’s judgments, to account for what he sees, simply recalls these words of Moses:
“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statues which I command thee this day, cursed shall be the fruit of thy body. The Lord shall smite three in the knees and in the legs with a sore botch that cannot be healed from the sole of thy foot to the crown of thy head. And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb and a by-word among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee. Then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance. And ye shall be left few in number—whereas ye were as the stars in heaven for multitude, because thou wouldst not obey the voice of the Lord thy God.”
He knows that they have not hearkened to that voice, that they do not yet obey it, and since there is truth in God, such consequences must follow. How does he long to see “backsliding Israel” return? And what if they should? Is it not now too late? Is not the curse fixed on them for ever? No!—No!—No! examine again the book whose truth is thus so plainly proved, and examine the people with a yet more discriminating attention, and we shall gather from all, not only hope, but certainty. Let us see if even among this little group of Hebrews, we may not find something to remind us of the palmy days of Israel, something which may serve as an indication that the Lord hath not abandoned us for ever, and that He will yet “rejoice over us for good, as He rejoiced over our fathers.”
Who is the young stranger that has just entered this house of prayer of the ancient people? No one knows, but he is soon recognised as a brother Israelite, and is kindly presented with the garment, upon the corners of which, is the fringe that he “may look upon it and remember the commandments of the Lord, and do them.” (Alas! my people, of what avail are these symbols and remembrances, when ye so utterly disregard their true uses?) The language of the Bible, the language of his remote ancestors, is, perhaps, the only one that he has in common with any of the people of many languages among whom he now for the first time finds himself, yet here this stranger is at home. (Ah! let our brethren in all parts of the world pause ere by their mistaken reforms, they deprive the poor wandering Israelite of this his only feeling of home, in the land of the stranger.) That old well-used volume, which he just drawn from its concealment about his person, and which seems almost to vie in antiquity with the language in which it is written, has come to him from father to son through many generations who have adhered through suffering and concealment to their persecuted religion; yet it contains word for word the services that in this young country he now hears said and sung by those about him, and he joins with them in proclaiming aloud the words he learned when a child at his father’s knee, in the far off land of his birth, “Shemang Yisrael; Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad!”
His garb betokens poverty,—he is a wanderer from the confines of Russia, where all of his race still struggle with oppression of the most debasing character, and yet the stamp of his high origin is visible in his person and lineaments. Such a form, and such features, heightened in character by the influence of freedom and other propitious circumstances, might have been those of the noble Isaac, as wandering in the field to meditate at eventide, he encountered his lovely, his God-selected bride. As I look at him, the words “From the dust arise, oh! my people!” come to me with a voice of prophetic triumph.
Now let your eyes wander into the gallery;—among the few there seated you will hardly hope to find any who after the lapse of so many ages,—ages, too, of ignominy and oppression, may be considered worthy types of their beautiful ancestresses, Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel: but, contrary to your expectation and beyond your hope, your eye is immediately attracted by the strictly oriental, the strictly national beauty of a young Hebrew maiden, who is there joining with some of her companions of scarce inferior loveliness, in the devotions of the day.
Might not those large, dark, lustrous eyes, softened by their long and tangled lashes; that clear, open brow, those richly tinted checks, those soft, luxuriant ringlets, shrouding the beauty which they may not conceal, have worthily graced a daughter of the royal house of David? In her free and artless, yet modest, demeanour, and graceful bearing, do you recognise any thing to remind you that the blood which mantles in her cheek has flowed through the veins of many generations of despised ancestors, confined to ignoble pursuits in the Jewish quarter of some European city? Yet were her parents such; but she has been born and reared in freedom, and the noble stock thus shines forth. Again may we exclaim, “From the dust arise, oh, my people!” If you knew her, you would find the qualities of her mind and heart every way worthy of the casket that enshrines them. Nor are such instances rare among the Israelites of America. Wherever we find them, in whatever grade of society, in the humblest as well as in the highest callings, we shall perceive among them a superiority of intellect, a certain elevation of spirit, and conscious dignity of character, an upward pressure, which, overcoming the resistance of prejudice and adverse circumstances, distinguishes them scarcely less from their equals of other denominations than do their peculiar forms and customs.
This is no random assertion, no falsely coloured picture. It is drawn from an acquaintance with, and a close observation of, Jewish families of every grade of society; and in this statement we are so ably and eloquently borne out by the penetrating and far-reaching views of the gifted author of “Coningsby,” that a reference to this work will be sufficient to prove how very much within bounds are our assertions of the innate superiority of the Hebrew race. In this fact we may gladly recognise signs of the future eminence of our people: we see that its seeds are among them thickly strewn. That the rains of Heaven are withheld which would cause them to shoot forth into vigour and beauty, even from beneath the unkindest soil, we have but to blame ourselves.
Let it be said, in deepest reverence, “The Lord is waiting for us!” Return unto me and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts.
In confirmation of this, listen to the voice of the Reader, which we have too much neglected while engaged in these observations and reflections. He is now reacting the parassah for the day, which happens to be the 51st, and has already proceeded as far as the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, the whole of which is wonderfully encouraging; but we will only devote our attention to these most striking passages. “And it shall come to pass when all these things are came upon thee, the blessing and the curse which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart and with all thy soul: that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will gather thee from all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the utmost parts of Heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee. And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day. And the Lord will make thee plenteous in every work of thy hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers. If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”
If we look now into the books of the later prophets, we shall find them teeming with such abundant corroboration of these promises, such reiterated entreaties to “turn unto the Lord of Hosts,” that he may “turn unto us,” and assurances of the blessed consequences of such a course, that we shall find it almost impossible to make a selection. The offices of the day, have, however, made one for us, and an individual from among the congregation has now relieved the Reader, the beautiful tones of whose voice remind us that the sweet singers of Israel have not all departed from among the tribes, and is chaunting the portion from the prophets, after listening to which we will cease our remarks; and silently meditate upon what we have this morning seen and heard.
“The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! be glad, and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord hath taken away thy judgments; He hath cast out thine enemy. The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thy hands be slack. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty: he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden. Behold at that time I will undo all that afflict thee; and I will save her that halteth, (Israel,) and gather her that was driver out: and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.”
An American Jewess.
February 1st, 1846.