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בס"ד

Principles of Judaism.

To The Editor of the Occident.

Reverend Sir:

The three leading articles of the last three numbers of the Occident, were the batteries of the orthodox party against their well- equipped opponents, the reformers; or, as some people took them, as a direct attack upon the humble writer of these lines, or against his system or supposed system. You were kind enough <<493>>to allow me, or any other man, to give his views and his justification to the public, a privilege which I was refused in the half official organ of some leaders of the darkest stability. I will therefore make use of your permission as well as I can.

I consider your articles as a preparation of the battle-ground, since you did not yet come to the main points which are:

  1. That the Bible forbids every reform.
     
  2. That the prophets teach the resurrection of the body, and the coming of a personal Messiah.
     
  3. That every Jew, in order to be a Jew, is bound to believe these dogmas.

Allow me, therefore, to prepare in this letter the ground for my defence, or for the defence of reform, if you like better to oppose a system than an humble individual.

It is by no means a matter of indifference to me, what a Newton, a Leibnitz, or an Alexander Humboldt, said or wrote; for all the facts of natural philosophy, no less than those of mathe­matics and history, are realities, which cannot be denied, changed, reformed, or demonstrated away from the realm of nature, in which God was pleased to place us. If anybody would prove by some passage in the Bible, that 3x3=8, or that it would be eight at some future time; or that the two sides of a triangle are, or will be at some future time, smaller than its third side: we would say,

  1. Either that mathematical principles are false; or that
     
  2. The Bible is in this respect falsified; or that
     
  3. The expounder made a wilful or accidental mistake.

But we take for granted, with our ordinary mode of reasoning, that the principles of mathematics are correct, and that the Bible is a divine truth as a whole, and in all its particulars; consequently the fault must be in the expounder, and in him only; and I do not think that any objection can be made against this conclusion. All laws of nature, and all experience of history, are as true as that 3x3=9, or as the principle, that two sides of a triangle are larger than the third; no one, even not the most orthodox, can prove the opposite; wherefore we must come to the conclusion, that as dogmas have been taught, and even <<494>>proved by biblical texts, which are contradicted by the laws of nature, or by the facts of history, whoever has so expounded them, must have taken an erroneous view of his subject, or has misinterpreted the word of God. I readily admit, Mr. Editor, your position in regard to mental, moral, or transcendental philosophy, which is formed, reformed, and deformed, by nearly every school; and which must of necessity change to alter its views, if they run counter to any new discoveries, or the events experienced, in nature or history; but as regards natural philosophy (even logic and psychology) and history, I will maintain my position, unless I am convinced of the contrary; and if you do not succeed in doing so, my views on reform, progress, development of Judaism, and even my views on resurrection and Messiah, are proved by the logical consequences of my position respecting natural philosophy and history.*

* We shall be willing to argue the question, whenever Dr. W. points out the fallacies to which he refers; since we do not comprehend the ground on which he speaks, that nature and history oppose the dogmas of Judaism, as received among us.—Ed. Oc.

You admit, that all speculative sciences must be disregarded, when they are contradicted by immutable realities; and taking (as I do) Bible to be an immutable and unchangeable reality, because it is the word of God, for all men and in all ages, you reject the speculations of Hegel, Jacobi, Schelling, etc. inasmuch as they are incompatible with the Bible. Please, sir, permit me to reason in the same method. If the expounders of the Bible teach us doctrines incompatible with the laws of nature, which are the works of the same eternal God, or to the experience of history, which is the realized will of the same benign Providence: I am bound to reject them, in order not to be forced to doubt the authenticity of the Bible, or to suppose that Infinite Wisdom contradicted itself in Bible, nature, and history.

It is by no means a matter of indifference to me, what the Talmud states or how the Midrashim think on the Bible; though I consider everything which is of a human origin liable to mistakes, fallible in many respects, and therefore subject to a sound and scientific criticism; and though I have found plenty of doctrines and opinions in the works of antiquity, to which I am <<495>>honestly opposed: I, nevertheless, venerate these incomparable treasures for their great value as a whole; I discover in them the views of our fathers concerning our sacred possession; I find in them sound and practical wisdom, noble and liberal principles, true and honest comments on the Bible. But where the Talmud comes in conflict with the facts of natural philosophy, and their logical consequences, or with the events, as experienced in history, and their natural results, I am fearless on the side of truth; hence, where the Talmud imposes upon us doctrines or the observances of ceremonies, which are foreign to the Bible, and which infested us for many centuries with the spirit of intolerance, and of separation; which degraded religion into a compendium of blind and insignificant rites; which depressed the youthful spirit of Judaism, and drove thousands from our community; or where the Talmud comes in conflict with the demands of our age, which, if listened to will bring destruction and ruin in its train;  there I am fearless on the side of reform; and if thousands of learned or not learned doctors say “The Talmud is divine,” I must a thousand times pity them, that they did not look deeper into the matter, or that they lack the moral courage to speak the truth.

It is by no means indifferent to me, what our Maimonides, Nachmanides, Jehuda Halevi, Aben Ezra, said or wrote; for they were pious Israelites, honest and upright men, investigators in the field of science and speculative philosophy, deep scholars and powerful reasoners; and though Aben Ezra or Don Isaac Abrabanel come at times in conflict with Rabbi Akiba, Gamliel, or even Hillel, we have no right to decide in favour of the one or the other, because of his authority which makes his opinion preferable; a chapter of one of those philosophers deserves the same regard and attention, and is entitled to the same authority, as a section of the Mishnah. But still they were men fallible, as well as the Talmudists; and as Maimonides was misled by the Grecian philosophy, to think all the celestial bodies to be living beings, or inferior angels, they were liable to commit other mistakes.

We must therefore come to the conclusion, that all speculative sciences, those of Kant, Locke, Wolf, Fichte, <<496>>Jacobi, Hegel, Schelling, &c., as well as those of the Tannaim, Moraim, Geonim, and Moorish Jewish philosophers are true, so far as they can stand a trial in opposition to the Bible; that their views on the Bible are true, so far only as they can stand a trial, if weighed against the facts of natural philosophy and history, and their logical consequences, which are the rock (Zur) on which God placed Moses, to show him the glory of the Most High.

If you will permit me, I mean to continue my reply in your next.

Please, sir, to accept the assurance of my warmest friendship and highest respect.  

Yours,
ISAAC M. WISE, D. D.

Albany, November 13, 5611.