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בס"ד

Introduction

 

When we issued our last number, there was an uncertainty in our mind whether we should make our appearance again in the field of periodical literature. Hitherto we had a public station with which the editing of a religious journal could readily and properly be united; for, independent of a deep personal interest which every Israelite does or at least should feel in his own religion, one who holds an official station among his otherwise equals, over whose spiritual welfare he is bound to watch, and whose moral training is a part of his duties, can speak with more authority than one who is not so circumstanced. But there is one peculiarity among Israelites, which is, that the privilege of teaching the people is not the special task of any particular class; whoever has the word with him may freely step forward and admonish and instruct his brothers, either by writing or the free spoken word. It is not with us the imposition of hands nor the investiture with a peculiar dress which stamps a man as a teacher or judge in religious matters; but the knowledge of his subject, the moral and religious worth of his character, which are gifts from above or acquirements of his own, of which no public vote can deprive him and to which the applause of a world can confer no additional claims to entitle him to diffuse the knowledge he possesses among his fellow-men.

Had we now followed our first impulse we should have retired from the editorial chair on quitting our office. The freshness of <<2>>youthful feeling and the buoyant emotions of early manhood are but too apt to evaporate with the disappointments attending the labours and trials of public life; hence in quitting the latter, we had ample excuse that we had done enough and suffered yet more to entitle us to withdraw into absolute retirement without being guilty of a disregard of our duty. But had we so yielded to the first outpouring of wounded feelings, we should not have satisfied our sense of obligation which Israel at large has upon all her sons.

We Hebrews have waged a constant warfare against the opinions of mankind; but little love and sympathy have been felt for the noble cause we have always been defending; and what is worse, the very men who exposed themselves most, who risked their freedom, their life, their reputation, were not at all times those who were most esteemed by their brothers. Envy, jealousy, detraction, and calumny often embittered their lives and shortened their days; only when death had sealed their worth the eyes of the world were opened, and they acknowledged those as benefactors, whom, when among them, they would barely recognise. Still, should such a prospect have no terror for the defender of the truth. He is not the bravest soldier who returns from a hundred battles without a scar on his brow; in the same manner would it be no merit before the great Judge, if all his servants would be living at ease and in affluence whilst they taught and reproved mankind.

There are higher enjoyments in the privilege of diffusing knowledge than mere applause and commendation can bestow; there is a satisfaction in knowing that one obtrudes himself noiselessly, in remote quarters, upon isolated hearts, ands peaks to them the words of faith and of consolation; and if therefore, ingratitude should infuse its bitterness even into the very water we imbibe, there are bright gleams of sunshine which outweigh all vexation and disappointment. If indeed Israelites had been true to each other; if they had cherished the noble spirits who devoted themselves to the public good; if they had loved every one his brother the Hebrew, and regarded him with kindness and indulgence: what a glorious prospect would now be before us! our beautiful sanctuary would not have fallen a prey to the flames, and the Roman legions, had they been <<3>>a thousand times more numerous than they were, would have exhausted their heroic courage in vain before the walls of Jerusalem.

We should have been invincible, and the admiration of the world would have been given to the majestic development of our holy faith, in its effects as a purifier of human nature and as best establishing peace and virtue on earth. That our state perished, though it fell not without glory, proves that the same want of union prevailed in ancient times no less than now; and hence no one can think himself singularly unfortunate at finding himself an object of distrust, where he fancied himself entitled to a general confidence.

Whatever cause of complaint, therefore, we have against many individuals, we have none against the cause of Israel. Our faith has paramount claims on us, on our time, on our gifts, whatever they may be, and there could hence be no justification for our withdrawing altogether from the public eye, whilst there was a possibility of sustaining a part of our position, though it has become confessedly greatly diminished by the changes which have taken place. Perhaps if we come before our readers in a private capacity, as a labourer merely in the field of literature, without an official standing which would argue a personal interest in the Synagogue, we may receive more attention, and our words may sink deeper into the soul. If this should be the case we shall truly rejoice, and be thankful indeed that we have at length found a means of bringing religion home to many who otherwise might have remained strangers to it.

There is something in the spoken word; it takes the spirit captive by the insinuating modulation of the voice; by the vehemence of appeal; by the unexpected turns of eloquence. You find yourself subdued for the moment; you are carried along by and with the orator; you yield to him without, perhaps, knowing how the change was wrought in you. But, when you see him no more, when the echo of his voice has died away, you forget that you had been subdued, and you riot again in your former iniquity. Whilst, therefore, the written word lacks all the impressiveness which oral communication does impart, it has one superiority,—it remains fixed; you can reperuse it, if you have not at first comprehended it fully; it is before you, appealing to you <<4>>again by its presence to weigh well its import and significance; and if has once wrought conviction in your mind, you may be sure that it will not be speedily obliterated; your reason has been won, your imagination had no part in it. It was no doubt, therefore, that the prophets were required to record their inspired addresses after they had been loudly proclaimed in the midst of popular assemblies: they were to teach their contemporaries; but the latest generations should also be urged on to holiness by those fervid phrases, by that rapid and overwhelming invective which in vain seek for their equal in the writings of other men.

Another advantage is the diffusibility of written words. The hearing of an address must necessarily be limited by the size of the building in which it is uttered. Reports of what has been said may be more or less inaccurate; consequently, in the first instance the effects of the best sermons even must be exceedingly circumscribed, although by inciting others to pursue a course of study in the law, they may secondarily bring others to engage as labourers in a cause where the reward is always small on earth, and the toil great and unceasing. But let these words be committed to writing, and they become at once a universal property; no one can tell into whose hands a written or printed page may fall; how it may in some distant land calm the mourner, assuage the anguish of the self-convicted sinner, stimulate to action the faithful who is solitary in his piety in a large city, and in short be the means of reformation and hope in all the ways in which the word of God shows its efficacy.

If, therefore, we even admit that we overrate the importance of our agency in employing the press for the diffusion of religious knowledge, we trust, nevertheless, that we are not guilty of arrogance in assuming that many would have been sorry if we had relinquished it when quitting office. Our readers can judge better than we how we have conducted our magazine for the last six months since we retired to private life; we have not burdened them with a recital of our trials and difficulties; have not appealed to their sympathies, but have spoken of things as though we had suffered no wrong from others; and our instruction has been the same as usual, and we fain would hope that we have not dimi<<5>>nished the interest of our work.

Various attempts have been made to establish religious journals, both in America and elsewhere; but whilst they bear so little the stamp of Judaism, except as it regards our literature; whilst so little practical and theoretical religion is discussed in them; whilst they studiously avoid all collision and controversy, unless it be a personal attack at times upon another Israelite: we cannot think that The Occident is superfluous or useless, speaking as it always has done of matters concerning our nation without regarding whether it infringes on the field of controversy, or offends the prejudices of a vast majority of mankind. Fear and timidity are but poor exponents of the liberty of the press; we do not, however, aim to make war, but to defend our own practice.

Many Israelites who are our readers, live singly in distant villages all over the Union. They are constantly assailed for their adherence to Judaism and asked to join one or the other church. Do not such as these deserve our consideration? are they not to be fortified against such appeals—against such attacks? They have not the opportunity to hear Jewish preaching, even if it were more general among us than it is; and, having no access to books which treat of our religion, they would be exposed to the danger of allurement unchecked, and unaided, unless by means of a periodical or popular works which may be able to compensate for the absence of a teacher. We are happy indeed to receive occasionally the assurance that our magazine has been of some service to persons situated such as those we speak of; and this will stimulate us to continue in the course we have hitherto pursued whilst we have the opportunity to do so.

One feature which we have adopted, has been occasionally condemned, that is, to let our opponents speak in our pages; and fears have been expressed that articles of this sort might affect injuriously unthinking persons, since the refutation does not always accompany them. But in this view we beg leave to differ from our friends. Truth cannot be exhibited in greater strength, than by exhibiting the weakness of its opponents; as the Spartans made their slaves drunk to show to their free citizens the disgustingness of inebriety. True, orthodox, Judaism need not <<6>>fear the open attacks of all its enemies. It is only when it is secretly undermined that its followers are in danger. Hence we are always willing that objections be stated freely; for in this way we can answer what is objected to us, what arguments are used by our opponents, and hence if they can be replied to; it proves that they are not so formidable, and that our religion is true notwithstanding such objections. We confess that at times we have not recommended a reply to objectionable pieces; but when this happens, our readers may be sure that the answer was contained in a previous number, or that any person could frame one easily for himself.

Hence we shall not exclude controversy altogether from our pages; though we shall not allow it as much space as we have occasionally done. Upon the whole we shall pursue the same course of publication as hitherto, and shall consider the entire scope of religious literature the field in which we may move. Our past course must be our security for the future; and we trust that we may retain all our old readers, and obtain, moreover, many new ones. It is more pleasant to work for a large multitude than for a limited number; hence we confidently expect that all who wish our magazine to live will aid us both by their literary contributions and by inducing their friends and neighbours to become subscribers. By such means only can an independent press be sustained, and the subject is one of sufficient magnitude to appeal to the good wishes of all Israelites.