The Jews and the Mosaic Law
By Isaac Leeser (1843).
Remarks Upon the "Present State of the Jews," in the Quarterly Review, No. 75.
Almost every writer upon the condition of the Jews has indulged himself in showering plentiful abuse upon their moral and religious character, vilifying their institutions, and denouncing their teachers and Rabbins. The Jews themselves have commonly been stigmatized as dishonest in their dealings, and only desirous of engaging in small trade out of aversion to agriculture, manual labor, and the sciences. It is unfortunately true, that most of my brethren in faith are thus engaged, but let us enquire if the fault be theirs. Let us for one moment recur to our history since the destruction of the second temple, and we shall find reasons enough to account for the present state of the Jews. That part of our nation settled in Syria were agriculturists and mechanics, as long as they lived unmolested; they were respected and enlightened, and not alone made the Talmud their study, but made also great progress in the other sciences, particularly astronomy, of which the Christians must confess has been very ingeniously constructed; and several schools, particularly the one in Suria, were long and justly celebrated. But a barbarous people now occupies this fair land, and the Israelites groan under the heavy oppression which the eastern rulers impose upon them.
The Jews settled amongst the Christians were uniformly hated and detested; every oppressor considered them as lawful prey, and both king and beggar trod them under foot. No Jew was allowed to enter a university; no Jew could be member of a guild, without being which he could exercise none of the mechanic arts; what then was left him but to turn his attention to trade? Could every one be a wholesale dealer? Surely not. Is it therefore wonderful, that by degrees the greater part of our nation became small-traders, shopkeepers, and peddlers? Some in this way amassed considerable fortunes, and, in consequence, turned their attention to increase their wealth, without the trouble and vexation accompanying the aforementioned occupations; and thus they became money-changers, and because they loaned money on interest, were directly called usurers. The Christian nobility, nay even kings, became indebted to them, and they acquired in this manner an ascendancy, which was otherwise denied them. I will not dwell upon the many hardships we had to endure; how many persecutions we had to suffer, particularly in England, France, and Spain; how we were driven from town to town, and from country to country; it was then that flocks of Jews, or "swarms" as the Quarterly so elegantly styles them, fled from these countries into Germany and Poland, where, though oppressed, they could at least hope to obtain a resting place for their wearied limbs, where they might dwell to acquire fresh strength to be able to endure new sufferings. It was then that the emperor of Germany took the Jews under his own protection; it was then that king Casimir of Poland granted unto the people of God those privileges which they yet enjoy there. But even in Germany and Poland we were obliged to suffer much, and many of us were slaughtered, and as the Hebrew elegy expresses it: "The blood of the parents was mingled with that of the children; that of the teachers with the blood of the scholars; and the blood of the bridegroom with the blood of the bride." We were considered as an inferior race, every one spit at us, and no one felt pity for the miserable remnant of a great people. It is true we cheerfully went to meet our death by fire, by water, by the sword and the gallows, nay many suffered themselves to be burned alive, rather than forsake their faith. Our enemies would compel us to acknowledge a god unknown to our ancestors, but we gave up our lives, exclaiming: "Hear, O Israel, the Eternal our God is the only Eternal Being!" rather than by changing our belief, live highly honored and respected by the world, but despised by ourselves. In all these great sufferings the voice of the Rabbins was heard encouraging their flock to submit cheerfully to the decrees of Heaven; and they suffered every thing rather than cease admonishing and teaching the common people. And could they acquire glory by martyrdom? Had they any principles of their own to establish by their death? No, so far from either of these two usual incentives to martyrdom having had any influence with them, their individual names are almost forgotten, except by a few of their brethren; besides no history of martyrs ever existed amongst us: where then was the glory they could hope to acquire? And they died for the faith of their ancestors that faith acknowledged even by the lowest of the house of Israel; where then were the doctrines of their own, the Rabbins would expect to establish? Who, now, can say that aught but the best motives prompted them to sacrifice their lives? Who can say that their object was not solely to sanctify the holy law, but the willingness they showed to lay down their lives when they were no longer permitted to observe its precepts? The lives of the Rabbins have been uniformly moral and pious; and it may puzzle even the learned writer in the Quarterly Review to find the Hebrew Rabbins act like some of the many Christian bishops and pontifs have done. No Rabbin, I venture to assert, ever went forth to battle, to fight in the train of a conquering prince; no Rabbin ever ordered the eyes of an opponent to be put out, as one of the early popes is said to have done. Upon the whole, the lives of the Rabbins may, without danger to their reputation, be compared with those of the best of the Christian divines, and I even dare say, that in most cases the Jewish Rabbins will be found to have been the best men. It is not my object to throw odium upon the teachers of Christianity, far from it, for there are many good and valuable men amongst them, many both in ancient and modern times, who wished and did well to Israel; but only to rescue the memory of our own pastors from the reproach and contempt which the Reviewer and many kindred spirits would so gladly bring them into. If what I have said of the Rabbins be true (and I challenge the world to deny it,) all astonishment will vanish, why the Jewish theologians exercise such a powerful influence over all their brethren; why their opinions are listened to with such profound deference, and why every Jew should aim that his son should become one of the sacred fraternity.
Every person, who dispassionately reads the article alluded to in the Quarterly Review, must be convinced that the writer of it was actuated by, I may say, a deadly hatred to the Rabbins; for what other motives would he have for calling the great Moses Mendelsohn, of blessed memory, an infidel! Has the Reviewer ever read his letters to Professor Koelbele, in which he defends himself against the charge of being a deist? True, he left Koelbele in possession of the field; but was that because he could not answer him? Certainly not; it was what Mr. Mendelsohn publicly announced, that, should Mr. Koelbele think proper to answer him, he (Mendelsohn) would not think him worthy of a reply, as the letter he was then writing must of necessity be a sufficient answer to all the other could say. I only quote from memory, not having the book at present; but I am sure that I have stated the substance correctly. Let any man read the works of Mendelsohn, and let him then pronounce judgment, and I do not fear that he will find him guilty of the foul charge of the Quarterly Review, Mr. Mendelsohn's memory did not need a defense from so obscure an individual as I am; but I could not suffer his calumniator's assertion to pass unnoticed. For Moses Mendelsohn has done more than any other individual who has lived since the days of Maimonides and Yarchi, for the improvement of his fellow-believers. May he rest in peace, and may all be confounded who speak evil against the righteous.
I will not enter into a systematic defense of the Mishnah and Gemara, as I may leave them to defend themselves; the most profound wisdom is discovered in these books, which have always been cried down by infidels amongst ourselves and Christian writers. But though it has often been asserted that the Talmud is a blasphemous work, I utterly and boldly deny it. How often must it be said, how often shall it be repeated, that the Talmud contains allegorical sayings, parables, or fables if you please? Have not the Jews and even the enlightened and liberal amongst the Christians often said so? And the Count Stolberg acknowledges, that the Talmud contains some of the wisest sentiments found in any book whatsoever; and surely he could not be supposed to be in any degree biased in favor of our Rabbins, as he had forsaken the protestant and joined the Roman Catholic church, and I suppose it is well known, that the Romans are no very particular friends to the Jewish doctrines; nor can the count be accused of any attachment to them, although he was compelled to make the above admission; and of this all his numerous writings, after he had become a catholic, will bear ample testimony. But I leave my subject: what I mean to assert is this, that the allegorical sayings of the Talmud must not be considered as if the Rabbins believed that such things had actually happened, but only as fables, which, under the appearance of marvelous stories, conceal good and wholesome truth; and they adopted this allegorical and hyperbolical mode of conveying their sentiments, as in many instances it might have been dangerous for them to speak plainly.
That the doctrines of the Rabbins enjoin implicit resignation to the divine will, every one will acknowledge who has the least acquaintance with them. The Rabbins also taught the immortality of the soul, before the Christian religion was yet in existence; the doctrine of reward and punishment after death was promulgated by them, as was also that of the resurrection of the dead. They did not, however, teach these glorious truths as inventions of their own; but they brought arguments from the law and the prophets in support of their assertions, and proved, at the same time, that the doctrines of immortality, reward and punishment after death, the resurrection of the body, and the subsequent beatitude of the righteous, were taught to the children of Israel by our teacher Moses (of blessed memory) himself. Would any man then in his sober senses call such men blasphemers? Men who taught the law without receiving any emolument for so doing, and who literally fulfilled the commandment which God have to Joshua: "And thou shalt meditate therein, day and night."
Oh, shame! Shame! That there should be found in England one man capable of harboring such a thought. Could the following from the Proverbs of the Fathers, have been written by blasphemers?
"Rabbi (Yehudah) said, Consider three things and thou wilt not sin; know that there are above thee an all-seeing eye, and all-hearing ear, and that all thy actions are written down in a book," (namely, that no action of man will be forgotten.) Abot, chap.ii § 1.
"Akabia, the son of Mahallalel, said: Consider three things and thou wilt never come in the way of sin; whence thou camest, whither thou art going, and before whom thou art destined to render an account of thyself, and appear to be judged. Thy origin was impure; thou art going to a place where thou wilt be devoured by moths and worms; and thou must lastly render an account of thy actions before the King of kings, the Holy One, to whom be praise, by whom thou wilt be judged." Ibidem, chap. iii. § 1.
I could select many other passages from the Mishnah and Gemara fully as beautiful as the foregoing; but I deem it useless, as the candid mind must be convinced by what I have said already; and the prejudiced man will not be convinced, though I should write volumes.
I hope that I have thus proved that the Rabbins taught only the ways of piety; and that, so far from their deserving abuse, they merit praise and commendation for their perseverance in perpetuating the doctrines of our holy faith amidst the thousands of difficulties they had to encounter, and the almost insurmountable obstacles they had to overcome. When they found that all the avenues of learning were closed against the Jews when they saw that their brethren were driven to occupations which were hateful to them whilst the Israelites yet lived in their own land: they endeavored to perpetuate the knowledge of our holy law amongst them and they succeeded. And though many were engaged in useless disputes and too minute researches, particularly in Poland, yet do we find many a great man, even during the times of persecution and trouble: for instance, Abarbanel, Orobio, Solomon Hanau, Menasseh ben Israel, and at last Mendelsohn, and a number of others, whom I could easily enumerate, but I only choose the most prominent our of the many who present themselves. Owing to the exertions of the wise men amongst us, who were the instruments in the hand of God to effect his great and unsearchable purpose, and to the natural firmness and strength of the Jewish character, we preserved our independence of mind and our bond of union, amidst all the persecution and calamities we had to suffer by the divine dispensation. But was it pride which upheld us? Or was the finger of God visible in our preservation? Evidently the last; for how should pride be powerful enough to effect that in us which it has failed to do in any other nation of antiquity? Was the Roman less fierce than the Jew? But what is the Roman of the present day compared to him who checked the successful Hannibal after the battle of Cannae? And though we also have lost our national independent government, yet there is that within us which will make us reject with scorn all the alluring invitations, held out by the nations of the earth to join them although they live in palaces, and stride triumphantly over the fallen sanctuary of Jerusalem, the residence of the Holy One of Israel; for we are upheld by the promise of Him who spoke and the world was called into existence, that He will have compassion on us, and restore the remnant of His people to the land which their forefathers inhabited. We have the promise of God that He will never forsake us, for it is written: "If the heavens can be measured above, and the earth beneath, then can I forsake Israel." And is it then pride alone that keeps us united? Contempt for our oppressors? No, it is the confidence in revelation, the certainty that our day too will come.
The pressure has already been removed in part, and in many countries do the Israelites now dwell in peace, secure, for the present, under the protection of the governments in whose dominions they live. The age of darkness and oppression, I hope, has passed away; and already we begin to show that we are capable of excelling in the arts and in nobler professions than small-dealing. We formerly were only the most successful merchants; but already there are in Germany men who have distinguished themselves as philosophers, mathematicians, poets, historians, lawyers, and physicians. The Bible has also been translated by Jews, natives of Germany and Poland, in a manner never before equalled; and the names of Friedlander, Ottenosser, Heidenheim, Meier Hirsch, Eichel, Frankel, Steinheim, and many others, are advantageously known in the literary circles of the continent of Europe. In England, Hurwitz (at present the professor of the Hebrew language in the London University) and Samuels (the biographer of Mendelsohn) have produced books, which are read and admired; and though I am not acquainted in France, Italy,and Holland, I doubt not but that the Jews in these countries have not remained behind their brethren in Germany, England, and Poland. Though the reviewer mentions the revival of science among the Jews, he only names Professor Neander, one who has left the faith of his fathers and embraced Christianity. Is this fair dealing? Are there no more men of fame amongst the German Jews than this apostate? It is about as fair as if a future historian should mention Benedict Arnold and William Hull as the most distinguished American generals and patriots, or praise Richard the Third and James the Second as the best of English kings. I only remark this to show with how much candor the Reviewer treats us.
Many Jews, particularly the younger part, have given up trade as their sole occupation, and turned their attention (particularly in Bavaria) to the learned professions and the mechanic arts. But in the latter they have, for the present, many difficulties to encounter, as the Christians are for the most part unwilling to take apprentices or journeymen who will not work on the Sabbath (Saturday). Yet, under all disadvantages, the Jews are doing tolerably well; thus clearly establishing that it was not their fault that they were engaged in small-trade for so many centuries.
The Reviewer says, that the females were kept in profound ignorance, and treated as an inferior race, and that, moreover, the only book they were permitted to read filled their heads with impure ideas. Since I have already shown how accurate the information of the Quarterly Review is, it will easily be believed that this assertion concerning the Hebrew females is equally true with that concerning the Jewish Rabbins. In the first place, it is untrue that the females amongst us are, generally speaking, worse educated than the Christian females. They are early taught reading and writing, as far at least as my information extends; many religious works written in Jewish German [Yiddish], for the most part expressly for them, were formerly read by them with the greatest attention; and, as far as I have read them myself, they are not only calculated to give them instruction in the ceremonial part of their religion, but also to convey to them their moral duties in a language at the same time easy and familiar among them. At present these books are gradually giving way to others written in pure German: and I have no doubt that in a few years these alone will be in use amongst the female part of our nation. The Reviewer next speaks of extracts from the Old Testament, which, he says, they have commenced putting in their hands; but I am happy to be able to inform him, that this would hardly be necessary, as the Bible, the entire twenty-four books of the Old Testament, has long ago been translated in German, and printed chiefly for the use of females; and we had in our family a folio Bible of this kind, printed in the year 5439  of the Jewish era, and consequently is now (5589 ) one hundred and fifty years old. The chastity of the Jewish females is well known; and hardly ever does any one hear of a Jewish lady violating her marriage vow. The Jewish female is considered inferior to the man [sic!] only in so far as she is exempted, by the nature of her sex, from the greater part of the affirmative commandments of our law; and three commandments are exclusively incumbent upon her, which it would be needless to mention, as they are well known to all those who are in the least acquainted with the Jewish ritual. The female, in fine, is treated by the Jews with respect in countries where the female is respected by the other inhabitants, though I can not tell how they are treated in the Barbary states, Turkey, and other parts of Asia and Africa; although I can freely say, that it would be contrary to the principles of the rabbinical Jews to treat their wives and daughters ill under any circumstances whatever; which can be proved in the most positive manner from many passages in their writings.
To what the Reviewer alludes, in speaking of the education of boys, as tending to corrupt their morals, I cannot tell; however, I can assert with the strictest regard to truth, that all I have learned at a rabbinical school (and I went to no other until I was thirteen years old,) only tended to teach me how to govern my desires, and curb my passions; and I may say that I know of no Jewish school in which the strictest moral doctrines are not daily and hourly inculcated, fully as well as in any Christian school; and I may be allowed to judge, having been in them both in Germany and America.
I am glad to see that the learned Quarterly Reviewer has so well studied the works of the famous Eisenmenger, and the very acute Antonio Margarita. For the benefit of those who may not know it, I have to state, that both men, as is generally believed, what are commonly called converted Jews; the first was a German, and died about the commencement of the eighteenth century, or maybe a little later; the second was, I suppose, an Italian, but I have not the pleasure of an acquaintance with him, though that is no great pity, since the Reviewer is kind enough to inform us that this luminary lived in the sixteenth century. It is, indeed, a pity that these learned men no more exist; but we have yet the consolation to know, that they have so worthy an imitator as the London Quarterly Review. To be serious, however, the charge that perjury is permitted to the Jews, and that they annually, on the Day of Atonement, have a formula in their prayers absolving them from the keeping of any oaths they may make during the year, is one on a par with the other charges already noticed, and I hope that, from the little knowledge I have of the writings of the Rabbins, I shall be able to refute it, and prove its falsehood. In the first place then let me premise what the Rabbins think of the Day of Atonement; this opinion is found in the last chapter of Yoma: "The Day of Atonement can only be an expiation for sins between God and man; but for sins between man and man the Day of Atonement cannot be an expiation till the offender has pacified the offended," (that is, has made complete restitution if the offense was a fraud or the like, or retracted slander, or made other atonement, according as the nature of the case might require). Can it now be supposed, that the Rabbins, who taught such doctrines as the foregoing, should for the same day institute a prayer, by which perjury was allowed to the Jews? Can it be possible, that any set of men can say that you must satisfy your neighbor before you can be forgiven, and at the same time permit you to swear falsely against him in a court of justice, and thus do him perhaps the greatest possible mischief? But no, the Rabbins never intended that one man should wrong the other, much less was perjury considered by them as permitted, as will be evident by just referring to their writings on this subject.
The prayer of "Kol Nidre," to which the Reviewer alludes, is in the following words (as translated by David Levi):
"In the celestial tribunal, and in the terrestrial tribunal: by the divine permission of the ever blessed God, and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with those who have transgressed."
"All vows, obligations, oaths, anathemas, excommunications, execrations, expiations, and fines, which we have vowed, sworn, devoted, excommunicated, or bound ourselves by, from the past Day of Atonement unto this present Day of Atonement, which is now come in peace. Our vows are no more vows; our oaths cease to be oaths; our anathemas are no more anathemas, and our obligations are no longer binding."
"They all shall be null and void, without power or confirmation. And it shall be forgiven to the whole congregation of Israel, and to the stranger who sojourneth among them; for all the people did it ignorantly."
In a note to the foregoing, the learned David Levi says:
"That the reader may not be led to misconstrue this form, I think it necessary to observe that the vows, obligations, oaths, &c. here mentioned, are such only as apply to a man in his economical state, as mentioned in Numbers, 30. 2,3,4,5,&c.&c.; but have not the most distant relation to his social character, and the transactions between man and man are sacred, and cannot be dissolved but by the mutual consent of the parties. And so zealous are our Rabbins in inculcating this doctrine, that they firmly believe that there can be no hope of pardon on the Day of Atonement for such as have injured their neighbors, unless they make full restitution to the party wronged, and crave his pardon. From all which it is manifest, that we abhor the idea of any man's freeing himself, by means of this form, from any oath or covenant which he has entered into with another, as some have ignorantly thought, and thereby brought unmerited reproach on the nation."
If any man considers the above formula with attention, he will easily discover that it relates solely to the vows, &c. made without due consideration, made, for instance, in the moment of excitement, and perhaps forgotten as soon as made. Though such conduct is abhorrent to the spirit of our law; yet we must consider, that "not to angels the law was given;" we are human beings, and this liable to sin, and in consequence of the frailty of our disposition we frequently made promises and vows, the execution of which we defer from time to time, or it may be, neglect altogether. For this reason did our Rabbins institute the prayer of Kol Nidre, in which we pray the Pardoner of the iniquities of his people, to forgive us for vows, promises, oaths, &c., which we have unwittingly made, and the fulfillment of which we have forgotten, (or may forget,) either because they had escaped our memory, or because to act as we had sworn would have occasioned us to commit a sinful action. I hope that I am understood, as what I have advanced is plain and self-evident. Before, however, I dismiss this subject altogether, let my inform my readers, that the foregoing formula is that used by the Portuguese Jews; but the German Jews say instead of "From the past Day of Atonement, &c." the following: "From the present Day of Atonement until the next Day of Atonement, which may come to us in peace." This difference between the Portuguese and the German Jews only caries the form, but not the intention of the prayer, as the one pray forgiveness for the unnecessary vows which they may make unintentionally during the following year. Had the Reviewer now only consulted the rabbinical writings themselves, instead of Eisenmenger and similar authors whose interest it evidently was to abuse the religion they had forsaken: he could never have been guilty of thus slandering the Jews, and he would have acknowledged, that the Kol Nidre has been introduced amongst the prayers for the Day of Atonement with the greatest propriety, and that it must have been a beneficial tendency, instead of the pernicious one which he (the Reviewer) and other Christian writers seem to dread. I have noticed this charge of the Quarterly Review more at large, as the general belief of it might do us incalculable mischief, and might easily tend to augment the fearful catalogue of prejudices already existing against us.
I should be very glad to stop here, having, I think, sufficiently cleared our Rabbins and brethren in general from the imputations which the Quarterly Review has cast upon their moral character; but if I should now suffer his assertions concerning our religious feelings to pass unnoticed, it might be supposed that there at least the assertions (for arguments I cannot call them) of the Reviewer are well founded, and that in consequence we Jews are in fact a blind flock led by blind shepherds. I must, therefore, endeavor to set him right, but I shall say as little about Christianity as possible, since I do not wish to grow abusive in my turn, and I beg therefore, that whatever I may say should be considered as extorted from me in defense of my faith.
It is well known to those who believe in a revealed religion, that the code of laws by which we Israelites endeavor to direct our course of life has been handed down to us from amidst thunder and lightning on mount Sinai, when all Israel heard the voice of the Almighty proclaim: "I am the Eternal thy God, who have conducted thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery." Moses, the son of Amram, was chosen by God to be the mediator who should teach the children of Israel "just statutes and commandments," which should endure for ever; for in many places of the five books of Moses do we find, that these were to be the laws which the latest posterity of Jacob should obey. How can any man then have the audacity to style our religion a false one, without at the same time admitting that he does not believe in the sacred truths of the Bible? Shall any man say we are wrong, are infidels, because we will not forsake our religion? Because we will not consent to change our Sabbath for the Sunday, when God instituted the seventh day as a perpetual covenant between Him and the children of Israel? Because we will not mingle with the nations of the earth, to marry their daughters, and eat of the flesh of the swine? Because under every vicissitude we have firmly maintained our national character? But we care not what the world may think of us, as long as we are convinced of the rectitude and the permanency of our religion, which God has inscribed on the tablets of our hearts, and established so firmly in our minds that all the powers of hell are unable to remove it; for the prophet, in the name of God, tells us: "And my words, which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, the mouth of thy children, nor the mouth of thy children's children, from now and for ever." Whatever of moral beauties the Christian religion may have, ours is no less beautiful, no less effective in raising our ideas from nature to nature's Lord. To love Him, to confide in His goodness and special protection, is commanded to us in almost every page of the Mosaic writings. To love our neighbor like ourselves is no new doctrine of the gospel, for this obligation was known already ever since the promulgation of the law, which commands: "And thou shalt love thy neighbor like thyself." Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel, spoke of the resurrection and the life everlasting, and reward for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked. What are then the glorious truths which the Christian religion, for the first time, made known to a world sunk in darkness? I am absolutely unable to discover which and where they are, and I should, therefore, be much indebted to any professor of Christianity who could point out any moral doctrine which was not long previously taught by our prophets and Rabbins.
We do not believe in the necessity of a mediator between God and man, in so far as related to the sacrifice of the Messiah; for it is a settled opinion amongst the Jews, that the Messiah need not die in expiation of their sins, as a strict observance of the divine law and a confidence in God's protection will lead a man to everlasting happiness, according to their belief. But we find in the first chapter of Job that Satan is the accuser of man, and that he recapitulates the sins committed on earth in the heavenly tribunal; and in Daniel we find mention made of protecting angels, and of Michael particularly, as the protector of Israel. Now it is the general opinion of the Jews that the protecting angels will defend man when Satan accuses. Having premised this much, I am confident that the following will be understood, which is an extract from a prayer read in the German Synagogues on the New Year's Days and the Day of Atonement:
"May He, our Lord, yet remember to us the love of Ethan (Abraham), and for the sake of the son [Isaac] who was bound upon the altar, command our accuser to be silent; and for the sake of the piety of the righteous (Jacob), may He today pronounce favorable judgment upon us, for this day is holy to our Lord. Though there be no one to speak in our favor against him who relates our transgressions, mayest thou yet tell to Jacob the words of law and judgment, and justify us when Thou judgest us, O King of justice!"
The meaning of this is, that although our sins be so great that they can admit of no justification, we yet throw ourselves upon the mercy of God to forgive us, though we be not worthy of this great goodness.
This is the prayer, as I suppose, alluded to by the Quarterly Review; but how different a meaning it has from that the Reviewer gives is, I leave every person to judge for himself. The Jew sees in his God a just judge, who will punish all transgressions; but whose wrath he can deprecate by sincere repentance, and amelioration of his course of life. And our Rabbins teach us that repentance, accompanied by contrition of heart, is available on the deathbed of the dying sinner, and that "many a men," as they say, "has bought his world in one hour," meaning, that many have gained happiness in the world to come by repentance on their deathbed. Is it, then, true, that to the Jew the future is shrouded in impenetrable gloom that he has no means, according to his belief, of satisfying his Creator? No; he has hopes equally well founded, at least, with those of the Christian; and he may, like him, look upon a bright and glorious futurity. Since, however, the Christians seem to think our end so miserable, I hope that I may not be considered presumptuous in describing the death scene of my nearest relative, namely, my father. He had been suffering at intervals, for nineteen years, the most excruciating pains, when the end of his days came near. He had been confined to his bed for three weeks previous; and I had left him to go to the house of one of my uncles, who did not live far off. About nightfall my father felt all at once his strength failing fast, and he therefore sent for me to give me his last blessing and his last injunctions, as it is customary amongst us. I cannot describe my feelings, which were very acute, though I was but fourteen years old, when I approached his bed. He laid his hands upon my head, and pronounced the blessing with which the dying patriarch Jacob has prophesied the Israelites should always bless their children, and the blessings with which, by the ordinance of God, the family of Aaron are commanded to bless the congregation. (See Numb. vi.) My father saw how much I felt, and how deeply I was affected; and he therefore said to me in the most collected and calm manner: "Weep not for me; for my being longer in this world would be but painful to me, and of no use to you, being no longer able to do anything for you, though I should recover. As for yourself, be an honest man and a good Jew, and God will never forsake you. Now go, my son; for your remaining any longer with me might disturb me, and distress you too much." I then left his presence, as it is considered improper amongst us for the near relations of a dying person to remain in his presence, that his devotion may not be distracted in his last moments, if he sees before him those who are dearest to him on earth, and whom he is so soon to leave behind him, to combat for an uncertain period with the ills and temptations of life. Soon after I was gone, the members of the Jewish congregation began to assemble to pray at the couch of their dying brother. He prayed with them as long as he was able, then laid himself composedly down, and departed this life without a struggle. Those who saw his death, and those who heard of it, said: "May my end be like him." Thus died my father, and though poor, he left a reputation unsullied, and a memory respected by Jews and Christians. I could bring other proofs of the truth of my assertion, that the Jews can die calmly, and look with composure upon futurity; but enough has been said already to disprove what the Reviewer has said on this subject also.
I shall not notice what other things the Quarterly Review says about the rabbinical Jews, or about the Caraites, as I know but very little or nothing concerning the latter; but I cannot pass over in silence what he says in his concluding paragraphs about the mode of treating the Jews in the countries where they are settled. He says there are but two alternatives: either to drive them out altogether, or to convert them by degrees to Christianity; as he thinks it unsafe and unwise to grant them civil liberty as long as they remain Jews. He does not seem to be inclined to drive us altogether out of Europe, as that would, by the way, be hardly possible at the present day; since, in consequence of most of the governments being largely indebted to the Jews, they would be obliged either to pay them immediately what they owe them in money, which they cannot do, or not to pay them at all, or to kill them, which they will hardly dare to do. But he believes that it ought to be tried to convert them by gentle means to educate them so, that the affection they feel for their ancient religion and customs might be weakened, with a view to induce them to embrace Christianity. But to do this, the ameliorating societies must obtain the consent of the parents to educate the children in the manner proposed; for I do not believe that any man would advise to inveigle the children away from their parents or to steal them or to compel them or to seduce them clandestinely to enter a missionary school, although these methods have been partly resorted to. No honorable man can dream of proposing such diabolical plans, and to obtain the consent of the parents themselves to make their children apostates is impracticable, as long as the adults are Jews. The only chance, therefore, the bringing about the conversion of the Jews, is to draw the adults within the pale of the church. I cannot, however, conceive how the Reviewer means to effect this; for compulsion he himself will not listen to; persuasion will not do; abuse will not convert us as the Q.R. may have experienced himself; to reason us out of our opinions has been tried with little success, as all the arguments brought against us have been again and again overthrown. What then remains to be done? To bribe us!! This seems to have been the darling plan of ameliorating societies and piously inclined governments of late years. This is to be done in two different ways, either to pay a bounty for apostasy, say two thousand dollars a head, or to give offices to such men of talents as choose to become (outwardly) Christians. The first plan has been tried without success; the American and London Societies A.C.J. have spent immense sums of money, and obtained a few vagabondish fellows and some few designing men as recruits; but as we have heard so little lately about the proceedings of these societies, we are forced to believe that they have either contracted their sphere of operations, and work more in silence than they used to do, or that they have even dissolved and adjourned their meetings "sine die," for want of encouragement from the Jews. To bribe through means of office has also been tried; and I am glad to have it in my power to inform the Reviewer, that it has succeeded hardly any better than direct bribery. A little while before I left Germany (1824) I was told, that a young gentleman, after he had finished his studies, applied to the Prussian government for employment. He was answered, that he if would turn Christian he might be appointed to the office he solicited; to which he is said to have indignantly replied, "I have learned enough to be able to teach boys, and I need not your offices, if I must forsake my faith to obtain them." And so it has always been. Though Maria Theresa and other European sovereigns tried, by the most alluring offers, to fain the Jews over, they have never been able to succeed even partially. This is no idle declamation, but positive fact, as all those must know who are in any degree acquainted with the internal history of Germany. The governments of Europe, therefore, having tried the plan which the Quarterly Review recommends, and deeming it impolitic to oppress us any longer, knowing at the same time, that, if emancipated and left to ourselves, we are able and willing to render the state some service, have in many instances commenced putting us on a level with the Christian population, and this has been already effected in Holland, Bavaria, Saxen-Weimar, and some of the other German states; not to mention the republic of the United States, where we enjoy equal rights and privileges, without any injury to the Christians.
I have lately received a letter from an old and intelligent gentleman in Germany, which states, that King Louis of Bavaria gave not long since 20,000 florins, equal to $8,000, towards the establishment of a Jewish seminary of learning; and that about two years ago a college was established in Münster, the capital of the Prussian province of Westphalia, for the education of young schoolmasters and mechanics among the Israelites. In this institution are taught the Hebrew, German, Latin, and French languages; the Bible with commentaries, the Talmud, mathematics, history, natural history, logic, geography, &c., besides the ornamental branches, as singing, music, and painting, This school is in a flourishing condition, though so short a time only has elapsed since its establishment; and the teachers are both of the Jewish and Christian persuasions, thus proving that we can live in peace with Christians, without amalgamating with them. The school is patronized by the Prussian government, which has lately shown itself very desirous of advancing education amongst us, without tacking any degrading conditions to its benevolence. What is most remarkable with the above college, is, that it is established in a town where, no more than twenty years ago, no Jew was allowed to located himself permanently; and before its establishment the Jewish young men were permitted to study in the gymnasium of that place, where they were just as much honored as any of the Christian students, of which fact I can speak with the utmost confidence, having been myself a scholar there for two years and a quarter. In short, in spite of the efforts of our enemies we have continued to flourish and to acquire greater respectability for the last thirty years, and we shall continue to advance as long as we deserve the blessing of Heaven!
I could add a great deal more, but I am afraid that I have said too much already; but I beg every one who reads the foregoing, to pardon my loquacity, since I hardly could say less against the many allegations of the Review than I have done, without being obscure or altogether unintelligible. I dare not even hope that I have succeeded in convincing the Christians of the truth of what I have said; for it would certainly be very strange if a young man, who, moreover, had not the best opportunities of acquiring knowledge, should be able to overthrow a writer in the London Quarterly Review, who, for aught I know, may be a professor in the Oxford university. But if I have succeeded in allaying a little of the prejudice existing against us, it will be ample compensation for
A Native of Germany.
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