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Vol. X. No. 7
Tishry 5613 October 1852

The Claims of Christianity

In our May number, we briefly announced the appearance of a pamphlet on the Claims of Christianity, for inducing apostacy in Israel. But, brief as our notice was, the “Protestant Churchman” gave a <<328>> review, of three columns in length, by a correspondent, under the signature of Iota, on the 19th of June last. Honestus wrote, as rational, a rejoinder, which, we understand, that paper, with the accustomed illiberality of sectarian organs, declined to insert. The author has, therefore, sent it to us, and we afford him cheerfully the opportunity of laying his views before our readers, who, we trust, have the subject deeply at heart, and have sufficient impartiality to judge boldly between the claims set up by the professors of the new religion (new when compared with ours), and the ancient code of Moses, which is based upon the universal principle that, before God and the law, natives and strangers are alike.]

I have ever considered that the mode of defence resorted to in behalf of any cause is a pretty sure standard by which a correct opinion of its true merits may be formed; and, judging on this principle, the course adopted by your correspondent “Iota,” in his attempts to prove the fallacy of my argument and to sustain his own, is of that peculiar nature, calculated not only to produce no very flattering impression in this respect, but absolutely to strengthen mine, by establishing the theory on which all I have adduced is founded. Truly may I add, “Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee.”

Throughout all that has been advanced in the little work under discussion, my aim has been to express myself in a way that would admit of the least scope for speculation as regards my meaning. The introductory remarks state, “That nothing, having a direct or indirect bearing on the question will be advanced, unless substantiated by tangible and recorded facts that cannot be disputed.” This policy, I believe, has been strictly adhered to, and no inferences ventured on but those that have been arrived at from such sources. Whether my opponent, in this case, has done the same remains to be seen. There is one peculiar feature, however, running through the article published in the “Protestant Churchman,”—no novelty, by the by, in cases of this description,—speaking in a language not to be mistaken, and which any unprejudiced person, comparing notes on the matter, will at once discover,—that is, the way words are tortured out of their plain meaning for the purpose of adducing constructions totally at <<329>> variance with any application the English language is capable of.

The coolness with which things that I have no knowledge of are imputed to me, is really amusing in its way;—such, for instance, as my having a low estimate of my own production, and the speculations in regard to my being a “Rabbinist,” a “Caraite,” or a “reformed liberal;”—“some things in the pamphlet look like it,” it is asserted. I should, however, very much like to know what they are. But as one good turn deserves another, and “Iota,” in the plenitude of his good nature, concluded to “help me out,” as he says, I will at once set his mind at rest in regard to my being “consigned to Tophet at its hottest,” by stating, I am, in all respects, an orthodox Jew, in the full meaning of the word. I will here, however, take the liberty of hinting that, if necessary, I could readily make a much shrewder guess as to what he is;—but let that pass.

I will at once proceed to investigate how far facts,—and they are stubborn things,—will substantiate the leading points in the arguments brought forward against me in the “Protestant Churchman.”

It is gravely advanced that, “within the last sixty years, a great change has come over the sentiments of the Christian Church in dealing with us Jews; the principle of toleration,—mark you!—has extended itself to outcast Israel.” “Can such things be, &c.?” I shall now endeavour to show what all this is worth, “not, as stated, by confining myself to one class of persons, and that the worst,” nor by mere bold assertion, which amounts to nothing, unless supported by some tangible proof; but by that which will speak in a language not to be misunderstood, however some might desire it.

Rome, April 5th.—The government of Tuscany has submitted to the Court of Rome a new plan for public instruction. A paragraph in this plan excludes the Jews from becoming physicians, and from occupying a seat on the bench.”

Next, here is an extract from a speech delivered by Dr. Massie, showing the cruel and barbarous treatment experienced by the Jews in Rome, published in the “Friend of Israel” for April: “Rome is still foaming with wrath against Israel, as in the <<330>> palmy days of her crusades. Within the Papal dominions the Jews are trampled upon most unmercifully; their trade and commerce are checked and trammelled; their property is subjected to the most partial and heavy taxation; their persons insulted with impunity. They are shut up in the dirtiest and unhealthiest locality, within a very limited space, called the Ghetto, where their increasing families are piled up together, as they occupy the same space which was allotted to them centuries ago. Their gates are shut up at the setting of the sun, and none can get out till morning. Their children are sometimes stolen from them to have them publicly baptized on the Saturday before Easter.”

Paris, May 5.—The ‘Archives Israelites’ says : At the moment of our going to press, we hear that the persecution of the Jews has reached its climax in the Cantons of Basle, both city and country. The Jews must leave before the 8th of May. Among the proscribed families are some who have been settled there more than fifty years.”

From the “Jewish Chronicle” of June 11th.—“Frankfort-on-the-Maine, May 16.—The Jews cannot receive an appointment in the finance and government offices, and can, therefore, not be admitted to the representative assembly and the senate.”

Hanover, May 24.—It is the intention of the government to deprive the Jews of their political rights which they have enjoyed since 1848.”

I could fill a small volume with similar specimens, illustrative of the beautiful way in which the principle of toleration is carried out towards us Jews; according to some people’s notions, without referring back to a greater number of weeks than years, as stated. Only it is a pity we do not properly appreciate all this Christian sentiment of modern times;—not that I dare for a moment flatter myself with the idea that aught I have shown in the matter will satisfy our friend “Iota,” if the work under discussion has failed to do so. If, in the face of the numerous instances advanced, not restricted as they are to any particular class, country, time, or place, he has the modesty to state, “I have confined my illustrations to one class, and that the worst,” and that the “main ,argument is based upon the conduct, during previous ages, of <<331>> Christians towards Jews,” when a reference to the work itself will show that throughout the whole host of recorded facts which forms the principal burthen of its pages, there is instanced only one of ancient date, and that the conduct of Christians towards Christians is pretty well gone into, to show that this sort of thing always has, and does now, form no very attractive feature in Christianity; in proof of which, the clergy of Catholic and Protestant churches, from the Bishop downward, are fully cited. If he considers this “confining my illustrations to the worst class,”—giving him the full benefit of his own language,—the inference is certainly not very flattering to the cause he defends. But what will he say to the following little morçeau in the “Times” of the 24th and 28th of June?

“Among the items of interest, by this arrival, is the proclamation of the British Queen against the public display of the ceremonies and paraphernalia of the Romish Church. This document may appear to some readers in this country as rather a remarkable one for the middle of the nineteenth century.”

Switzerland.—The Roman Catholic religious population in the Canton of Tessino are superseded, and their property confiscated by an order of a General Council.”

There is not the least necessity to limit the illustrations to establish the position I have taken; they are plentiful enough, and fully endorsed by Christian divines of the highest authority, in their unsparing denunciations of each other, as already shown by me when citing facts on the subject. In the zeal of religious criticism, however, doubtless these trifles were overlooked. But the idea of defending anything of this kind by turning round to accuse another faith, is really a very novel way of attempting to get over the difficulty. It is quite time enough to analyze the character of Judaism when any effort is made to thrust it on the notice of others for acceptance; but as for calling its acts in question in order to form a standard by which to justify the outrages of Christianity, it appears to me nothing more than attempting to evade the point at issue. Let them be as objectionable as you please: how is that going to upset the conclusion the facts I have brought forward prove? or how can this render <<332>> the acts of Christianity a whit better? Notwithstanding my worthy Mentor may doubtless be a very good calculator (which seems more than likely, when the nicety with which he arrives at even numbers in enumerating proselytes is taken into consideration), I more than surmise that he has fallen into a little error in his figures with regard to those twelve thousand apostate Jews in good standing; and I defy him to the proof of this.

And I will here take the opportunity of explaining the causes that produced the state of things boasted of in the greatly-exaggerated account from Berlin, which, at the same time, will go to support the position taken from the first, in regard to worldly interest having more to do with such matters than many are willing to own. In 1811, the King of Prussia removed the disabilities that excluded Jews from entering colleges to study the sciences, which in that part of Europe also include agriculture. As might be expected, a great rush was made for the purpose of benefitting by this hitherto forbidden advantage. In 1815, however, his Most Christian Majesty of Prussia, for reasons best known to himself, ordained that professing Jews should hold no public office, no matter how great their merit might be; and thus were the Jewish youths reduced to the dilemma of either foregoing all their future prospects in life, or to embrace Christianity. Many could not withstand the temptation; and thus is the cause of all this Berlin apostacy accounted for, which, under the circumstances, is anything but a matter for boasting.

A very singular feature will be found to exist throughout the ranks of these converts to Christianity; and that is, they are, for the most part, composed of Germans and Poles. How comes it that Americans and English are so scarce among them? I presume there must be a reason for this. Now, produce a dozen who have made a sacrifice of worldly interest by the change. Numerous instances have come to my own immediate knowledge of the imposition practised by these men. There is one now residing in Newark, who has made a comfortable little business by being baptized on four different occasions in as many different countries. One of the London papers contains a case of this kind, no later than the 21st of May last, of so flagrant a nature as to call for judicial inquiry.

<<333>> A great dearth of material to boast of is exhibited, when it is assumed that “the pressure of such efforts as these” gave rise to my little production. Did I represent any body of persons, there might be some ground for such an assertion; but having distinctly stated the reverse, thus taking the whole responsibility on myself (if there be any), for the purpose of preventing any constructions of this nature, I cannot but feel surprised at the want of policy here exhibited, in exposing a decided weak point.

Of the six individuals held up as patterns in the way of converts, I will state: Delitsch never was a Jew. Caspari having been dead now upwards of one hundred and fifty years, very little is known about him. Not so, however, with Wolff (who, by the by, had better been omitted),—a man of very limited acquirements, who managed to make a good speculation out of the business by marrying a lady of title. Cappadoca and Da Costa, I believe, were Dutch physicians, who had an eye to business, which they benefitted materially through their conversion. Neander, the gem of all these samples, was a decided genius, of great intellect; but even this fact will not go for much, as he could only be called a nominal Jew, merely on account of birth. He had been brought up by an uncle, in whose house he never had an opportunity of seeing any kind of religion, and was sent to college, where he was baptized when a mere lad.

I now wish to notice the statement concerning the ferocious spirit with which the pages of the work are said to be burning. All I have to say in reply is, if a recapitulation of Christian acts, which forms the burden of those pages, produces such an effect, it requires no argument to show where the fault lies. Permit me also to add, that coupling the terms “coarse and ferocious” with the “feeling that nailed Jesus to the cross” is in very bad taste. I believe it is represented by your people that God sent a third of himself on earth, to undergo a certain punishment in order to save mankind. Now, according to this doctrine, the Jews, as I take it, were the chosen instruments selected to assist in carrying out this divine scheme. They must, in fact, have been the agents of salvation; for, had they <<334>> not have done so (and you must then admit the possibility of resisting the Divine will,—an impossibility), they would have rebelliously thwarted this delightful consummation; though the question might arise as to the sad lot of all those who died anterior to this:—yet let that pass. One thing, therefore, appears certain: instead of reviling Jews for that over which they could have no control,—viz., nailing Jesus to the cross, in accordance with his own design,—Christians have cause to be thankful, as, otherwise, it has the appearance of their calling all this plan of Providence for their benefit in question.

The statements concerning the Rabbinical law, and the three classes into which Jews are divided, are altogether erroneous. The term “reformed liberal” is certainly new to me, if intended for those who have altered portions of the ritual, and varied in some minor points which interfere not with the vital spirit of our faith. Allow me to state that they do not reject the Rabbinical law as I understand it. Division is as incompatible with the true principles of Judaism as unity is with Christianity. On this unity the whole fabric rests; and I am yet to learn that anything having a different tendency has been attempted. As for the Caraites, they have never* been acknowledged as coming within the pale of Judaism. The Talmud, or Rabbinical law, is nothing more than a guide for the application of the law of Moses, written by the learned men of those times, and without which Judaism cannot be carried out. For instance, when the legislature enacts a law, it requires the judges to expound the same in accordance with the spirit of its policy, so that it may fully accomplish all the ends aimed at. The Talmud also was intended as a barrier to keep out innovation; and it presents the arguments, together with the individual opinions, that each subject gave rise to, “many of which veil some hidden meaning, which at that time was perfectly understood by the disciples of the Amoraim, but the key to which has been lost when verbal exposition and instruction were forced to give way to letters;— a fact of which those who are acquainted with the system of ancient Oriental philosophy are fully aware.”

* We do not share this opinion of our correspondent.—Ed. Oc.

<<335>>The argument  regard to my quoting the precepts of the Gospel for condemning the conduct of its followers, is certainly a very ingenious attempt to turn the tables. The fact is, I wished to test Christianity by a standard of its own setting up, without entering into the question of its merits; for the sake of argument, giving it all it can claim, in order to show what all this is worth—not by mere assertion—but by existing facts; not by a few examples limited  to any particular country, or confined to Jews, but to one AND ALL, who do not feel willing to subscribe in every respect to what its teachers dictate. Notwithstanding the insinuation of unfairness in confining my illustrations to a limited few: I am surprised at the want of common prudence, to say the least of it, that could induce a representation so easily disproved. The reason I conclude the Gospel has no claim on me is, first, because I consider the deductions made from it in regard to the Godhead sacrilegious; and secondly, because I have a book of prior existence, to which this Gospel stands indebted for the whole spirit of those moral principles and beauties so continually vaunted of, as though all these things were not known and practised long before it was created or thought of; I need not to obtain that second-handed from strangers, which has been borrowed from an original of my own,—the book of Judaism; as I hazard little in demanding, produce any Gospel beauties of the description in question, that have not an anterior existence there. There are many good precepts to be found in the Koran; and notwithstanding they may be in different dress, I recognise them as old acquaintances. I can admire them in the abstract, without subscribing to the whole of Mahomedanism, as a necessary consequence. Had I any cause to rebuke those professing belief in this book, who yet act contrary to the spirit of these things, I conceive the most direct way of doing so would be to call attention to this fact.

But l am told: “It is unfair to infer the character of Christianity from the conduct of its professed followers.” What in the name of common sense can I judge by then?

In answer to the assertion that there is not the difficulty I have stated, in joining the Jewish church, I remark that the <<336>> question can be easily determined without reference to my statement; let any one apply to some of our legitimate ministers for that purpose, and see what answer he will get. But it is the term apostate that my worthy antagonist feels most sore about; “it likes him not.” I must say it is an awkward-looking word in print, and does not read very well; yet, nevertheless, there is no getting over it.

Walker defines apostate, “one who has forsaken his religion.” Now, when a Jew becomes a Christian, as a matter of necessity, he must do this, and vice versa. But as to my feeling surprised at being told that I am one, and that my pamphlet shows it, I beg leave to state, after having seen the cool assertion that “Rabbinism is as distinct from the law of Moses, as Christianity from Mahomedism,” I am prepared for anything; nothing will surprise me after that, though I should be called a Hindoo.

What follows is rich in the extreme. It is gravely stated, that “The Jew converted to Christianity magnifies the law;”—does he? (he certainly does the Godhead). To curtail is certainly then to enlarge!—Excellent! But what part of Christianity, may I ask, is alluded to, by which “the converted Jew does not abate”—ay, that’s the word—“from the high requisites of the Great Lawgiver?” You see the term Christianity opens such a wide field for speculation. Is it that part which illustrates so well the command, “Thou shalt have no other god before me?” or that which “Bows down to graven images?”—or that which “Does not abate from the great Lawgiver’s requisites, in regard to forbidden food?”—or perhaps it may allude to that which abrogates the Sabbath? But possibly I may be told, notwithstanding the distinct injunction “to keep the seventh day holy,” it means the first; very good. I presume the argument to be equally legitimate in regard to seven being one, as one being three.

I am not now to learn that any doctrine that savours of religious charity, in breathing the spirit of toleration and mercy, is unpalatable to orthodox Christianity; such things have no place within its precincts. For instance, I am told it is “religious indifference” to believe that God, in his infinite mercy, will judge our actions by the motives that actuate them, and will not <<337>> punish us for that which we do in good faith; if this is religious indifference with Christianity, I am proud to say it is not with Judaism, or I should blush to own it. And if I am then informed the Bible warrants the position taken, all I can say is, we do not understand the Word of God alike; but put a very different construction on the language contained in that holy Book, more keeping with its divine origin. If the passage cited, “Cursed be he that conformeth not to the words of this law,” be applied according to “Iota’s” views: he is placed in rather an awkward position; for he certainly cannot show that he conforms in this respect. But, in his own words, to help him out, can he not see that this is addressed only to those to whom this law was given?

Consequently, Gentiles who have thought proper to adopt such parts of it as suited their fancy, cannot be said to come within the scope of its meaning, and consequently are not supposed to have that responsibility which rests on us. The passage that follows, has reference to Jews only, and therefore harmonizes in every respect with the objectionable doctrine cited, viz.: “selecting that path which parental creed points out.” But it is asked, “Where does the law make such reservations?” In order to settle this point beyond cavil, I will quote from the character of Hebrew Legislation, published in the Hebrew Review in 1836: “Affiliated strangers become brethren aliens, who, without taking upon themselves the observance of the whole law, wish to dwell among the Israelites, are looked upon and treated as friends. The Hebrew allows no absolute power to any particular individual, nor to any particular class. Whatever the law does not forbid, he is at liberty to do. The Bible says, ‘For all people shall walk every one in the name of his God, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever.’ (Micah, chap. iii.) Now what says the Talmud? ‘The righteous of all nations have a share in the life to come.’” I presume this will set the question at rest in regard to Jewish views on this subject.

But the extreme modesty of the concluding remarks, where an implied compliment is insisted on, “in spite of myself,” as stated, is really about the coolest way of reversing the order of things, and taking an argument by the horns, as it were, I ever <<338>> witnessed. It then goes on to state, I “reason from these principles, i. e., Christianity, as if they were those of my own system.” I believe I can do so with the greatest consistency; first, because I am thus fighting people with their own weapons, and taking them on their own ground, which one would think could hardly be cavilled at, and must be satisfactory to all: secondly, as they owe their origin to “those of my own system,” it is the most conclusive argument I could use; for if men are so much indebted to the Gospel for these things, the Gospel occupies the same position in regard to the Bible.

I really cannot close without noticing a very simple remark in regard to Jews sitting in the British Parliament. It is well known that Jews have filled official positions equally important in themselves, and it is only clerical influence that prevents them in this instance. The Commons of England have not the slightest connexion with Church affairs, the Bishops attending to all such matters. But it is really laughable to reflect, that this illiberal law was made in the first instance without reference to Jews, but to those of their own people, who are the primitive source of all Christianity,—the Roman Catholics. And how long is it since they have been admitted there?—and who exerted all its powers to keep them out? The most Protestant Church of England! So that this allusion is rather unfortunate, as the argument works the wrong way.

I have endeavoured to answer the most important points in Iota’s arguments as minutely as the limits of a communication for a periodical would admit of; and but for this, I should have taken a much wider range, particularly as regards illustrations. I could have wished also to touch on that work, “which has shaken the faith of hundreds,” written by Dr. McCaul, as I am in possession of ample material to do so. But as time and space are rather averse at present, I must waive that gratification for some more auspicious moment.