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בס"ד

The Jews and the Mosaic Law

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Chapter 1

Conscience and Revelation.

In proving the truth of Judaism, or, to speak more correctly, the laws and ordinances contained in the Mosaic writings, and the books of the prophets who were the successors of Moses, it is necessary, first, to prove the truth of Revelation in general, and next, that what is commonly called the Old Testament, can be true, without at the same time admitting the authority of the gospels and epistles of that book, known as the New Testament.

Let us then enquire:—

"Is it rational to believe that the Almighty revealed himself to the children of Israel, as related by Moses; and is this assertion of the Jewish legislator borne out by historical facts?"

The greater number of thinking men of our own days and of past times agree in asserting, that a revelation, so called, does really exist; but they differ very widely as to the nature of this revelation. The notion of the heathens, that the gods lived in familiar intercourse with men, and taught them the necessary mode of worship, has long since been given up by a great number of nations, who have adopted, in the place of heathen mythology, the tenets of the Koran or the Gospels; but immense bodies of men, and who are far more numerous than Christians or Mahomedans, yet believe in the just mentioned theory of revelation. — Another set of men, amongst whom the Jews stand pre-eminent, believe, that the Almighty, Eternal and Only God made his will known to men, singularly pious and resigned to His will, and sent them as messengers to the rest of the world, to make known certain laws and regulations by which mankind should be governed; and to this idea the Christians and Mahomedans also adhere. — But there are some men who suppose that no such revelation was ever made; that is to say, that God never spoke to any man; but that He has revealed Himself, that is, has made Himself known, through His creation, and has at the same time implanted within the bosom of every individual of the human family a certain and infallible guide to righteousness, which, when attentively listened to, will invariably lead a man in the path of right and justice. — The notions of the Pagans it is useless to examine here, as there are none amongst us who profess them; and then again, their nothingness must be admitted, if any one of the other two systems can be established as the correct one. And as those, who acknowledge only what they call the inward revelation, deny the necessity even of any other, it remains to be examined if there be actually such a thing as the infallible voice within, or, as it is commonly styled, conscience. If it should, therefore, be found, that conscience, properly so called, does not exist, or is inadequate to effect the purpose of a general revelation, that is, to teach every body under every circumstance the same; it must follow that conscience, or the inward monitor, cannot be the sole revelation; as, in that case, no universal standard, unvaried and infallible, of right, could be in existence; we should therefore be obliged to arrive at the conclusion, that there must be somewhere an outward revelation, or, in other words, a promulgated law, which must be the universal standard of right; and it would next be our business to seek, where this outward revelation, this promulgated law of God, could be found. — Since, however, it is very often asserted, that man can arrive at a knowledge of right of his own accord, we will briefly examine if this can be true, or if there be not some facts which clearly prove the contrary. Suppose that conscience were a proper teacher, and would always punish with inward remorse every aberration from the path of right: we might then place an implicit reliance upon it, and thus our own unassisted reason would be the only revelation necessary. But is it true that all men, when left to themselves, will think alike? Whence, then, the horrible modes of idolatry, which shock us so much in ancient, and even in modern, history? But grant even, that superstition may be made an engine in the hands of designing and interested men, to induce their fellowmen to disregard the voice of conscience, and follow the mad inventions of others; yet what can be urged in favor of inward revelation, when we find whole nations addicted to certain actions, which are condemned as unjust by others? It is well known that an ancient Greek legislator thought parricide such a monstrous crime, that he did not even specify the punishment, believing that no human being could ever be guilty of a crime so heinous and unnatural. But, for all that, we find that a certain [native] American nation do not regard the killing of their aged parents in this light; for when a man is grown too old, according to their notions, that is, as soon as he has become unable to shift for himself, a grave is dug, into which he is compelled to descend, and is then strangled or tomahawked by the young men, who do this atrocious deed with the utmost unconcern, and even think they do him a service. — The free-thinkers also say, that incest is so contrary to the well-being of society, that it would not be permitted, although there were no prohibition against it to be found in the Bible. But even this is not true; for the Grecians, Persians, and Egyptians, the most refined nations of antiquity, married their sisters, or other near relations; and amongst the Lacedaemonians it often happened that the same woman was the wife of two men. Amongst the Romans, also, incest was not very rare. — Most savage nations are addicted to stealing; and the Arabians of the present day will rob you, and entertain you very hospitably, after having emptied your pockets. They very often accost a traveller with — "Thy brother is hungry, thy sister is naked, and as thou hast food and clothing to spare, it is but right, that thou shouldst give us, what we want." It is true, they return you enough to defray the expenses of travelling; but they are very careful to take first, whatever suits them.

The foregoing instances are undoubted facts, and they must go a great way to prove, that one set of men almost invariably thinks that right, which the other thinks wrong and criminal. Civilized nations of modern times detest theft, murder and incest, and believe them to be dangerous to the public welfare; whilst barbarous people commit these things without ever once dreaming, that they are doing wrong: nay even civilized nations of antiquity were not altogether exempt from some of these crimes at least. The unenlightened part of mankind of our own times have hardly any idea of what is, amongst Europeans and Americans, considered right and wrong: they frequently are generous, brave and hospitable; but we seldom or never find them possessed of those noble qualities of the soul, that nice sense of duty, which animate those who have drunk of the refreshing fountain of revelation. — But to return to our proposition: will it be said that the Hindu believes himself impelled by conscience, to sacrifice himself to his idol, the Juggernaut; or that he does think it wrong, uninformed as he is? Does the conscience of the European permit him to commit suicide, or not? Does the ignorant Arab think, that he commits any crime by robbing the wayfaring traveller? And did the Spartan woman suppose herself guilty of any sin by adultery?

The greater number of my readers, whatever their opinion relative to revelation may be, will agree with me in asserting, that it is the greatest sin to sacrifice ourselves or any other person to an idol; that suicide can hardly be defended by those even, who deny a future state; and I am sure, that there are not many honest men in civilized society, who would defend robbery with the same reasons the Bedouin gives for his depredations. — We have thus seen, conscience allowing theft to the Arab, and self-destruction to the ignorant Hindu and the desperate European, when he has lost his all, or ruined his neighbor; but that to the generality of mankind conscience forbids theft and the destruction of one's own life or that of another. It follows, therefore, that the conscience of one man justifies what another's very justly condemns. Can it then be said, that we may without fear give ourselves up to the guidance of our own reason (conscience), unassisted by the word, the written word of God, and do, what we of our own accord deem to be right? Will the philosophers allow every man to do what he likes? O no — they will say: "That action will endanger your neighbor's safety, and this will be disagreeable to the majority of the people." This is all very well, but what can they say against incest, suicide and gambling, where one or more men injure themselves alone, without harming any one, except he be a party or accessory to their deeds by his own accord? If I have a large sum of money, and another man chooses to stake an equal sum against me, what right, it may be asked, have these philosophers to forbid his doing to? Does he, or does he not, injure society at large, if he loses? His conscience does not forbid it; he says, "My own reason tells me, it is perfectly right, that I, knowing what I am about, may lose all I possess, if it pleases my fancy." This, it must be obvious, is a fair defence of gaming with those, who acknowledge no other monitor, than that still voice within us, called conscience; but notwithstanding this, none is more loud in condemning this really detestable vice, than the philosopher, who denies all revelation. But does not any restraint, laid upon a man in this respect, limit the observance of what the dictates of his conscience or reason allow him to do? So then we find, that not even freethinkers can allow us to be guided in all concerns of life by the dictates of our own reason alone. But we hear them say: "Since every man is not endowed with the same reasoning powers, and since all are not equally virtuous, not every man should be allowed to follow the bent of his own inclination, since this would be injurious to society; but he is to submit to those rules and regulations, which wiser and better men, than himself, have prescribed to him." — But is this fair? From what source does the philosopher derive the right to dictate laws to mankind from his study? How can he convince every one, that he is in possession of more wisdom and virtue than every other human being? How then dares he to appropriate to himself the privilege of thinking for so many of his fellow-mortals? — Now grant for argument's sake, that his superior wisdom and virtue, which are universally acknowledged, entitle him to this pre-eminence by the common consent of his contemporaries. But we ask, whence proceeds his wisdom? Has he obtained it by intuition? Is his knowledge derived from himself, or from some superior Being? Do his superior endowments make him more than man? Do they render him immortal? Do they make him infallible? Is he no longer liable to err because he is wise, because he is learned? Is his virtue of that kind, that it never yields to temptation? In short, can he cease to be man? No — he is still a mortal, prone to err, and he must at length descend to the grave, and there his body, as well as the remains of the most ignorant of men, will become a prey to worms. — Shall we then rely for our moral instruction upon a man — one destined to die — one, who cannot change even the smallest particle of nature — one, who, no less than the humblest of mortals, must look with astonishment at the great works of the great Creator? From this great Creator the wisdom of the philosopher is derived; it is He, who favored him with more knowledge, than other men, and to Him his spirit must return, when his body is laid to moulder in the grave. Shall it now be said, that we are to listen to the instructions of the creature, but disregard those of the Creator? Or can it be supposed, that the almighty Author of all could not make as good laws for the government of mankind, as the man, to whom He has imparted but a small share of knowledge? Shall we shut out the light of the sun, because a taper also can give light?

But, ask our opponents: "Is it rational to suppose, that the Creator did promulgate His laws?" Yes, and we may be so bold to say, that the contrary opinion must of necessity be absurd; as from the preceding remarks it will be apparent, that our own reason is not sufficient to show us the path of right; for that what is called conscience does not, cannot influence all alike, and consequently cannot be the universal standard of right, since it leads different persons to different conclusions. This being admitted, (and the experience of every man will prove it so,) it must follow, that unless there be a revelation, that is to say, a declared and known law proceeding from God, the world is left without the knowledge of right and wrong; and thus the deniers of revelation must accuse the Deity of the greatest injustice, in creating so many beings, endowed with reason, and leaving them to proceed without a rule or guide, like a ship, tossed upon the billows of the tempestuous ocean, without rudder or compass! — Let us then ask every thinking man, what is most reasonable to believe — that God made his will known to mankind, that they might have a road to lead them on to happiness, or that He left them to grope about in darkness? Can it be believed, that He, who has provided for the smallest insect, which is invisible to the human eye, should leave His noblest work so unprovided, so destitute, so miserable? Did He give him an intelligent mind to make his station the more wretched, the more forlorn?

If philosophers would only reflect, to what ends their reckless denial of all revelation must lead them, I am confident, they would pause and shudder at the sight of the fathomless abyss, to which they so thoughtlessly hurry on themselves and others. They would not then so often think lightly of the word of Him, who is no less their God, than the God and Creator of the whole universe.