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Readings for the Old

No. IV.

My ostensible purpose in preparing a few lines for “The Occi­dent,” in each publication for the last few months, has been to call the attention of those of our community who are the heads of families, that example is far better than precept; that the latter is worse than useless when unaided by the former; that the former may answer the desired end without the latter; but that both should go hand in hand in the work of education and re­generation. The subject has been treated by much abler pens than mine; yet, while I have life and ability, I consider it my duty to endeavour to aid the cause of religion; and well shall I be repaid for my trouble, if I can but lead one from the suicidal practice of wilful iniquity. What can be thought of the glaring inconsistency of a man who exhibits a desire to bring up his children as Jews, while he lives in open defiance of our most sacred rights? Can he reasonably expect that they will do other­wise than follow in his footsteps? If up to a certain age they <<19>> should from dread of punishment obey his instructions—by observing the Sabbath, abstaining from forbidden food, attending Synagogue at times of service, wearing tephillin, &c., &c., he cannot expect it of them as soon as their judgment points out to them the fact that his principles and practice differ so widely; or if, from unusual circumstances, they should, after they have grown up, still consider themselves under his control, it must induce them to practise deceit; for they most assuredly will say, “My father cannot think it necessary or desirable that his pre­cepts should be observed, or he would follow them himself; but as it is my interest, I will still appear to do so.” Thus, the parent has not only failed to make his child sincerely religious, but he has taught him to be deceitful, a vice which, sooner or later, will prove a curse to him who taught it, and entangle in the inextricable maze of sin those who make it their rule of action.

Yet we must suppose that the parents desire that their child should be a good Jew, or they would not teach it the first principles of Judaism, and follow up the instructions by enforcing an ob­servance of its forms; yet, how sadly mistaken are they in their choice of means. I know some parents who defend themselves by saying, “During childhood, I will see that my offspring do right; after that they are accountable for their own actions, and must select their own path.” This is right and true as far as it goes; but do such parents ever think that while they are seeing that their children do right, they should be sure that those children never see them do any wrong? Do they reflect how ob­servant children are of all that passes before them? of all they see and hear? (we cannot have a greater proof of this than the fact, of daily occurrence, and for that reason unnoticed, that children of three years of age will have acquired a knowledge of hundreds of words and their meanings, merely by the aid of their hearing and sight) that a great portion of the accounta­bility will be required of the parent, whose duty to God, to him­self, and to his children, imperatively demands good example as well as precept at his hand? In short, nothing should be said or done before a child, that we would not wish it to say or do; and <<20>> it is the forgetfulness or neglect of this golden rule that produces so much sin. A child will be taught a portion of the Bible either at school or at home, strictly enjoining the observance of a particular precept; its ductile mind has scarcely learnt it by rote, than it sees it set at nought by its parent; nay, it will sometimes hear that parent speak slightingly if not jeeringly of it, saying, “that it was all very well for the time;” that “if Moses had known how good such things were, be would not have forbidden them,” &c. Now, at the time it hears this its faculties are scarcely formed; it has not yet arrived at an age when its knowledge assures it that the command is divine, while the desecration of it is human; but it must, of course, give the preference to its parent’s judgment over what is merely read from a printed book, of the divine origin or nature of which it can as yet know nothing. What then must be the result? It avoids breaking the commandment in its parents’ presence, but it seeks and embraces the first opportunity of doing so in their absence; this shortly becomes a habit, until, when grown up, it no longer looks upon it as criminal in itself, but still plays over the same farce with its children that was practised towards it in its days of childhood.

Pause, oh! ye parents,—ye guardians of the precious souls of your offspring. Reflect! weigh well the awful responsibility you incur; as by your evil example you commit a double crime, that of disobedience in yourselves, and the immeasurably greater one of polluting the pure and innocent minds of your offspring—a crime without end, stretching forth its baneful roots, and poisoning the pure source of human happiness from generation to generation. You would shudder at the bare idea of teaching your children a direct sin; of instilling into their minds that there was no harm in stealing, in lying, in swearing, &c. Yet all this, and more, many more heinous and enormous sins do you teach them by your example; for in the train of deceit follow an endless catalogue, frightful to contemplate—but, oh! how agonizing to think of as the fruit of our own evil and misguided inclinations. For your own happiness’ sake, and that of your children; for the sake of present humanity and of unborn myriads of your fellow‑<<21>>creatures, abandon your sinful course; cleave unto the law of God by word and deed; let your actions be such during your sojourn on this earth, that when the awful summons hence arrives, you may peaceably and calmly depart this life of trial and suffering, prepared to appear before the tribunal of the most high God—the Judge who shows no favour or partiality, and whose verdict is as unchangeable as it is just.

Sexagenarian. Philadelphia, Dec. 15, 1851.