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A Retrospect and an Expectation.

by Isaac Leeser

It is so much customary among editors to say something concerning themselves in the commencement of a new volume of their respective works, that we cannot well avoid doing so likewise, although we have not much to advance which would interest our readers. Still an unbroken intercourse, continued for a period of two years, with our many friends, has, we trust, made our periodical visits of some interest to them, and we hope that the Occident is not unwelcome, nor unread in the houses of its supporters. We do not say that we have done much in the way of learned essays, deep philosophical researches, or startling theorizing; but this we know that we have honestly sought to give our readers an impress of the events and doctrines of Judaism, as far as they came within our knowledge. We have presented sermons, which detail the doctrinal principles which we entertain as peculiar to our people; exhortations which invite man to lay hold of virtue as the chief treasure of life; we have also furnished some historical details; a little controversial theology; some light reading; a few criticisms; such news items as were of general interest; allowed several valued correspondents to address our readers in their own manner upon subjects of various kinds, and withal we have given currency to our own opinions without hesitation yet without arrogance, and have in this respect merely claimed the privilege, which we accord to others, that of liberty of speech in the fullest sense of the word.

Still, though we always have thus endeavoured to make room for all communications deserving from their literary merit an insertion, we have in a few instances been compelled to exclude the favours which had been sent us. No doubt some of the writers of these articles thought it strange in us to act in this manner; but there is a limit even to freedom of discussion, which cannot be exceeded without some danger. To be brief, every subject does not admit of a public discussion, and our editorial articles might perhaps bear a greater stamp of originality and freedom could we think it right to assume that bold tone which some of our correspondents have done in their contributions; we could thus to a certainty startle our readers, and perhaps claim and obtain a greater share of attention than we now do. But we cannot think that in thus writing we should be discharging our duty; it is the correct instruction of the reader which a religious periodical should ain at, and mere boldness and novelty are certainly not calculated to effect this. If correspondents then assume the right of speaking in a tone which we could not indulge in if we were to write on the subject, we have but one of two alternatives to choose, either to alter their pieces, which would probably not suit their views, or to exclude them altogether. In the first case we might be charged with giving garbled articles, or mutilating important passages to suit our peculiar views; in the other case we can be accused only of an act of impoliteness, or of being blind to the merits of the papers submitted to our inspection. Painful then as it is, to be supposed to act from want of courtesy or proper discernment, we must occasionally submit to this impeachment of our manners and intelligence, sooner than offend against the propriety which belongs to a religious journal, and this one relating to the Jewish faith. We Jews are surrounded by so many jealous eyes, so many influences are constantly at work to injure our religious system, that they who wish to lead the brethren ought to be very careful of what they let be brought before the public eye. A hasty word spoken is soon forgotten; but a printed letter remains, and may more or less influence public opinion. It will not do to say, that an article may be inserted as a matter of complaisance, that it can do no harm, because it will soon be forgotten. This is false reasoning. We are not at liberty to calculate how many may become affected by a publication; if one is reached, there is, either good or evil done; and we cannot therefore permit any thing to go forth on an evil mission, if we can prevent it, if even but one, and that the humblest, might be injured. We beg some of our last year’s contributors, whose articles were omitted, to reflect upon our apology, and apply as much of it to their respective productions as may relate to them, and then to excuse our neglect, in case any thing we have said can by any possibility remove the ill will they have conceived from their mind.

As regards variety, we have faithfully endeavoured to provide all that was accessible to us, though we regret that we have not been fortunate enough to obtain that early access to foreign literature which is so much desired both for our readers and our own person. We have endeavoured by every means in our power to procure the literary journals conducted by Israelites on the continent of Europe; but they remain so long on their voyage, and are then so irregularly sent, that upon their arrival they are comparatively valueless, and have therefore to be passed over in expectation of the speedy receipt of later materials. Even our contemporary in Great Britain, the Voice of Jacob, reaches us very irregularly, and this generally after our paper has gone to press; whereas by the rapidity of intercourse now existing, by means of mail steamships, we might obtain every two weeks, for eight months in the year, one paper at least, conveying whatever of interest has transpired in England. But hitherto our request to favour us in this way has not been acceded to, and we therefore, in this public manner, again ask of the proprietor of this print to use his endeavour to oblige us, if he can, in the manner indicated above.—In addition, however, to all this, we must say candidly that to the American reader the European journals contain very little of interest, they are often occupied by mere local concerns; report of laws relating to particular places; essays on occurrences in certain towns, of no moment beyond the spot where they occur; or the literary contributions are of so heavy a cast as not to be calculated to please the general reader. Occasionally, however, there are articles of the highest interest, which might advantageously be transferred; but as there is no certainty when the completion will reach us, we have been compelled to abandon making use of them. Our readers, however, may depend upon being furnished with all transactions regarding our people and religion which are of permanent value, and that we shall read the works coming to us in such a manner as to enable us to impart more interest to what we offer for their perusal. We say this not so much to offer an apology for our deficiencies, as to give our readers some idea of the difficulties we labour under. Contributors are not very numerous in America; each person is too busy generally to trouble himself much about literature; and often those who have both leisure and talents are too modest to appear before the public or else are unwilling to submit their productions to the censorship of an editor. Put we beg such, once for all, to remember, that if they find it in their power to enlighten their fellow-Israelites, and decline doing so from a foolish bashfulness, they are to a certainty not doing their duty; we want many to bear testimony to the truths we have received, and the more there are who testify, the stronger will the truth appeal for support to the many. Besides, they need not fear our criticism too greatly. We are too well aware of our own imperfections to be needlessly severe upon others; and if we reject or criticise an article, the writers themselves shall be satisfied that we did it not from frivolous motives.

We cannot indeed boast of much success, if a large circulation is the test of the success of a work. There is unfortunately a very large class of Israelites in this country, perhaps the greater number, who do not understand English. Many of our German countrymen emigrate hither to better their condition; and neither their education at home nor their pursuits here are such as to give them any taste for English reading, if even they may have made some progress in German. Hence a mangazine conducted in the English language is to them a sealed book.—It has happened, therefore, that our public is an extremely limited one, perhaps smaller than ever was appealed to to support an especial publication; and since among this limited number there are some who do not agree in sentiment with the editor of the Occident, and cannot therefore be expected as a matter of right to support him in the dissemination of his views, there is on the whole perhaps as much cause for surprise at our success so far, as regret on the other hand for the diminution in our list at the close of the first year. We may however state here that since the commencement of the second volume we have almost every month received a slight accession to our list, as was exhibited in our last number; and this accession, small as it, is, has enabled us to continue at our post for another year at least.

This now brings us to speak of our expectations. We expect, then, with the aid of Heaven, which we trust will not be denied us, to pursue the same course we lave done hitherto, to conduct our work energetically and independently of all influences save those of reason and religion. We know of no parties, and though we may be said to belong to a party ourself, we mean that called the orthodox party in Judaism, it is only that we profess in the main what our fathers professed and what we have been taught by those good men who superintended our education. If this is being a party-man we confess guilty to the charge; but beyond ,this we regard alike all professing Judaism, as belonging to Israel, and though we do differ from their views, especially from those who so perseveringly endeavour to sow dissension in our community by their unwise and hasty schemes of reform, we shall be the last to permit their being rudely assailed or driven by useless severity from the pale of our blessed church. It was not so in olden days; toleration of each other’s sentiments was the characteristic of the early sages of the Talmud, as their very disputations and controversies amply prove; and hence we do not see why in our days we should become less tolerant and fling defiance at each other as though we were mortal enemies. We would however at the same time request our few reform readers to bear with us patiently; not to excite themselves with a useless anger at what occasionally may be written by us. They take the fullest liberty of discussing the sentiments of the ancient teachers of Israel; their ministers denounce, unless we greatly err, the false views of those who differ from them; they permit themselves to establish new forms, evidently the inventions of men, which have not even the stamp of antiquity to sanctify them, nor the seal of uniformity among the many little branches of reformers to give them respectability; why then will they not let us enjoy the liberty of discussing the merits of these attempted changes, especially if they by their own course compel the editors of Jewish journals to notice them? They may believe us honestly, that if we could by suppressing such deplorable details of disunion as occasionally reach us, prevent them from being made public, we would to a surety never allude to them; we love the glory of Israel too much, to let the daughters of the strangers rejoice over their defect through any agency of ours; but as this cannot be accomplished, since the details reach the ear of the many through various channels often inimical to our faith, we likewise must lay them for our own part before the public; and, in doing so we would be recreant to our duty, were we to let them appear without some expression of our dissent and condemnation. We appeal to the parties themselves whether we have not exhibited their acts and opinions candidly and faithfully; and only once our words were liable to a misconstruction, and then we have admitted an exposition of considerable length by one of their overt members.

Our course is before the public, and self-praise, therefore, would be as ridiculous as out of place; but this much we must say, that unfairness is not one of our characteristics, and in this our readers will, we doubt not, agree with us. One of our private correspondents wrote to us, that we have been less liberal of late than in the beginning of our career. We regret this imputation greatly, whilst at the same time we are not conscious of deserving the implied censure. Perhaps we have had of late more occasion to speak of the course of the disunionists among us; but surely a candid expression of our sentiments, sentiments, by the by, which we always maintained, whilst some of the very persons who are reformers now may have formerly considered us too liberal, cannot be of right looked upon as a proof of illiberality towards others. We greatly fear indeed that those who most cry out about toleration and freedom of discussion are the very persons who cannot bear the role applied to themselves; yes, freedom in others “alters the cast” considerately. Now we are not so foolishly vain as to expect to be praised by every body; hence we are prepared to meet such censure with becoming submission; but at the same time we are not so weak or vacillating in our views that we shall be terrified from the pursuit of our line of duty as we understand it. We profess to conduct a Jewish journal, which respects the decisions of our sages and holds fast to the ancient doctrines of the church, even the whole Maimonidian creed; hence no one can consistently expect any thing to be advocated which is opposed to these principles. Fear we have none; this work was not undertaken to advance our pecuniary interest; without being wealthy, we are enabled to dispense with the profits which even a large circulation might add to our limited means; hence neither on the score of principle nor interested motive can we be induced to submit to unjust dictation, and the censures, therefore, of those who disapprove of our course, will remain unheeded, if they have nothing else than mere denunciation to bring as a charge against us. We are, however, very anxious to secure the good opinions of all who may favour us with their support, whether they be Israelites of every shade of opinion, or gentiles who may resort to to our pages for information concerning the Jewish ideas on religion; and we shall therefore take great care not to offend any one wilfully by unfounded statements or gross illiberality; we must, however, beg to be understood, that in speaking of what our religion demands, we cannot stop to investigate whether the views expressed may appear liberal or not; this is not our province, we must say what we believe truth, and as respects the illiberality thus chargeable to our system, we are sure that it will in its worst aspect compare favourably with any other. Hence we are not so ridiculously apprehensive as some are, for fear of drawing censure to our religion; it is able to bear all the reproaches which can be brought against it, and there is no occasion to conceal any ideas which it enjoins.

We have but few promises to make as regards the future. The past must be our guarantee; and we hope that the favourable opinion conveyed to us from so many quarters, distant as they are from each other, separated by oceans, and in various quarters of the globe, will yet be accorded to us for the future. At all events we shall endeavour to deserve it; and let us be called a recreant to our trust if we ever betray the confidence which so many friends have bestowed on us. Many as have been our disappointments in life, we are truly grateful for the many favours we have received, and not the least for the many kind friends who have ever been ready to sustain us in every enterprise connected with our religion we have embarked in. This consideration has cheered us through many an hour of bodily suffering, and we would fain hope that we have not laboured in vain, and that our life may not have been spent quite uselessly. We have got ardour enough to go on, and faith enough in the goodness of our cause to persevere, despite of temporary checks and disappointments; and our friends may rely upon one thing, that whether in the sphere of an editor, a minister of religion, or a private individual, they will never find us absent from our post when our services may be needed for the good of our faith, a which we believe the good of all mankind; and though many may be more successful, and many more able and learned and deserving of success, no one shall endeavour to be more faithful to his trust than the humble individual who thinks it his highest glory to be a son of Abraham, and one of the heirs of the destinies of Israel.