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בס"ד

Questions,
Put by a Clergyman of Ruan, and Answered by H. Saul Levy Morteira

(Communicated by J. R. Peynado, Esq., of Hackney, England.)

(Continued from Issue #8)

XIV. “What temporal benefits can they expect from the Messiah who die before he comes?”

This same inquiry Isaiah made of the Lord (26:13): “Oh Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us, but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore thou last visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish:” as though he had said: “We have endured many evils, and in misery have we died; how can we enjoy in this life the happiness which thou wilt confer on the nation, seeing that the dead do not rise again?” The Lord replied (19): “Thy dead men shall live. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” This is the good that those who die before the coming of the Messiah may expect, trusting to the divine promise. The same reply is given by the prophet Malachi, 3:14. Speaking to the people in the name of God, he says:

“Ye have said it is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts?” The Lord replies (18): “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.” This passage, which says, “Ye shall return and see the difference between the godly and the wicked,” signifies a return to this world, a resurrection. This is an ample answer to the question.

XV. “At the final judgment, what benefit will the Messiah be to the Jews, and what will become of them in the other world, since they and all men must die, and the world come to an end?”

As the querist supposes, that the belief of the Jews in their Messiah is the same as the Christians in theirs, he falls into many difficulties; but when he learns that the redemption of our Messiah will be temporal, and not spiritual, as we have said is our answer to the second question, the present will be answered: “At the day of judgment, and in the other world, there can be no necessity for a Messiah.” This is assuming it as a fact that the world will come to an end, a point which is by no means so firmly proved but that there are many objections to it; it is not by any means an article of faith, and God only knows what will be.

XVI. “Whether the Jews have at present the Hebrew text of the holy Scriptures in its original purity?”

In answer to this question we need only state, that all the Hebrew Bibles which are in the world agree, and do not differ in a letter or a syllable, a clear proof of the truth of the Scriptures; for, although the Jews are dispersed over all the world, the Bibles are all alike, without any difference; and that there may not be any doubt on the subject, we refer to the testimony given by eminent Christian authors. St. Augustine, in his work De Civitate Dei, B. 15, ch. 13, says: “It cannot be supposed that the Jews have in any way falsified the holy book.” In support of which assertion he brings many reasons. The first is, that it appears improbable that all the Jews all over the world should have conceived that wicked project without there being one who should oppose such an enormity and sacrilege as the attempt to adulterate the holy Scriptures. Besides which the ancient and modern Hebrew copies have been found to  agree exactly in every point, though written at various times and places, which vouches for their purity. Neither is it to be supposed that a people, so little esteemed in their captivity, without any other property than their sacred books, should corrupt them, to gratify their ill-will or hatred towards any other people or nation. These are the words of Augustine. Jerome affirms the same in his book of Hebrew Questions; Beda in his sixth of the Ages of the World; Thomas d’Aquinas in his work on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, ch. 9. Alexander of Imola, in his Consolations, defends the same truth. Augustine calls us “the ancient guardians of the holy books, in his Exposition of Psalm 40, and confirms it in Civ. Dei, B. 18. One acknowledgment is better than a host of witnesses.

XVII. “Is it lawful for a Jew to explain the holy Scriptures, and adopt the meaning which appears to him correct?”

When God gave the law on Mount Sinai, where all the people heard the voice of the Lord delivering the Decalogue, He bid Moses tell them to return to their tents, and for him to remain to learn the divine will, that he might afterwards instruct the people; as it is said in Deut. 5:30: “Go say to them, Get you unto your tents again. 31. But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which thou shall teach them,” &c.; then Moses remained in the mount forty days and forty nights, in which time the Lord taught him that explanation of the law which we call oral or traditional, which he taught to the elders of Israel, and particularly to Joshua his disciple, and it was transmitted in this manner from mouth to mouth. This tradition or oral law the law commands us to observe under pain of death, as appears from Deut. 17:8, where we are commanded, when any case arises too difficult for our judgment, that we should refer it to the priest or judge, and conform to his decision under pain of death. This tradition we possess to this day in the Mishna and the Talmud, and the Scriptures must be explained according to them and in no other manner. And of the true line of tradition we have proofs in many authors, to whom I refer the curious; and this is a sufficient answer to the question.

XVIII. “Who has authority to enforce the observance of the law, and to punish transgressors?”

By the passage quoted in the answer to the preceding will be seen who had authority to act in legal matters, where it says, “Thou shall arise and go to the place which the Lord thy God bath chosen.” This means the great senate, consisting of seventyone senators (the successors of Moses and the seventy elders), which attended in the temple, and of whom it is said, “Thou shall not deviate from the sentence which they shall show thee to the right nor to the left.” This senate was obliged to give any prophet who was acknowledged for a true prophet a dispensation for a limited time from all the commandments of the law except the prohibition of idolatry, and sins of that description; for in such cases we are under obligation to put to death those who should tempt us to commit them, as it is said in Deut. 13:2-6. To this senate, and to others which were instituted in other cities of Judah, it belonged to punish delinquents and transgressors of the law, every one according to his crime, as is fully explained in the Talmud, article Sanhedrin. But since the time when, for our sins, we were carried away captives from our country, and dispersed into different parts, when prophecy has ceased, and the Sanhedrin no longer exists, no one has authority to decide on any question of the law, except according to the dictates of the Mishna and the Talmud, left us by those great men as a precedent in what was done in those days. With regard to the punishment of those who transgress the law, with exception of the punishment of death, which our law does not allow us to inflict out of our country, all the other punishments are inflicted* by our judges, elected by the congregations of Israel, in all the places of our dispersion, and according to the authority allowed them by the princes to whom they are subjected. 

* Not so now, in all European countries at least.

XIX. “The Hebrew who has turned and lived as a Christian, and died as such, whether he will be saved or condemned for having deserted the law of Moses?”

Having determined to answer these questions in mild terms, and not to give offence, I will not overstep that determination, and will only translate two verses of scripture, word for word; the first showing the eternity of the covenant of God with his people to all generations, saying (Deut. 29:14): “Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; (15) but with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not herewith us this day.” The second to show the everlasting pains which the Lord denounces against those who break his covenant and forsake it, saying: “He who acts with a high hand among the citizen and the stranger has despised the Lord and broken his precepts; that soul shall be cut off from his people; his sin is on him.” Let this suffice in part of the much that might be said.

(To be continued.)