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Education for the Ministry


In our last we proposed a High School for the education of Jewish children. No one will dispute the propriety and usefulness of such an institution, though there may be many who fancy it best for their children to be educated in public schools, in company with those of other persuasions; and they may perhaps point to Germany, where all the principal ministers of the present day, the thousand and one doctors of philosophy with which we are now ridden down, receive their finishing education, after having been in a certain manner apprenticed to some rabbi, eminent for his Talmudic attainments, to acquire just as much Jewish learning as they absolutely require to be called rabbis. But if this were all the objection, we think we could not obtain a stronger argument favour of our proposition, than this very fact does furnish; for it requires nothing but the mere statement to establish the lamentable fact that, since we had university­made doctors of philosophy at the head of our congregations, these have gone down fearfully in the knowledge of their religion and the fear of the Lord; dissension and disunion have usurped the place of concord and brotherly love, and a reform, the offspring of a sickly sentimentality, an affected fear of appearing isolated from the rest of the world, and the consequent ardent desire to become as like to the generality of men as possible, has been attempted, or at least proposed in every direction. We do not charge all our doctors with such unjewish feelings; but only that the great numbers of the new theories with which we have been afflicted of late owe their origin not to the wishes of the people, for whose ostensible benefit they are proposed, but to the desire for notoriety which influences our leaders, and urges them on to be in advance of their contemporaries in all the movements of the age; and moreover we charge this treason against Judaism to the manner in which these learned doctors have been reared; either to their having imbibed under the lectures of professors of philosophy and history infidel notions inimical alike to all revelation, or to their having become so drugged with the constant repetition of invectives by their bigoted gentile teachers against the great lights of our nation, that they have learnt to be enemies to Israel, instead of proper expounders of our laws and customs. We must guard our  “precious vineyard,” the כרם חמד of the prophet, from the madness of such vintners, who would chop off the fruit-bearing branches, tread under foot the ripe grapes, tear up many a tender sprout altogether from the soil, and break down the defences and the gates calculated to preserve it from the inroad of its enemies. The reform mania, we contend, has arisen from the very defective training of both teachers and laymen (we use this word only to distinguish  the flock from the pastors, not to confer on these an especial holy character, for “all the congregation are holy, and the Lord is among them;”) but especially to the loose manner in which our learned expounders have been instructed to regard the giants of the law, who preserved that high degree of mental elevation of the Jewish people, when the oppression of tyrants of all shades of civilization and power, from the heathen to the protestant, from the naked sheik to the sovereign pontiff, were leagued to extinguish as it were the last single spark of our spiritual light, to which in their fancy they had reduced our suffering brothers. It were folly to deny the merits of our ancient rabbins in the cause of education, their unflinching fortitude under suffering, the joy with which they were the first to share all the hardships which befell Israel in their days; and happy would we be could we record our conviction that the men of the present hour had a tithe of that enthusiasm, fervour, and truth which characterized those of bygone ages. We will be candid enough to say, that we do not maintain that, because these old teachers were as great as their lives have proved them to be, they are for that cause infallible in their judgments; not so; they were equal in scientific attainments to their contemporaries, they were perhaps somewhat in advance of them; but it would be ridiculous to expect that they should have laid down regulations which later discoveries in medicine and philosophy have  always confirmed in every minute point. Hence, it is possible enough that some assertions of the Talmudists and their successors cannot now be affirmed as altogether correct, since modern discoveries have proved them to be unfounded. But this admission does not rob them of their well-earned reputation of great attainments; any more than Franklin and Delambre, Newton and Laplace, Priestley and Davy, were the men of their age, although unacquainted with the locomotive engine, the magnetic telegraph, and the other inventions of the latest times. We wish our teachers to be treated fairly; they were men, therefore fallible, although the subject of their study was the law of God; we do not claim for our church as the Catholics do for theirs, that a council of divines cannot err; this is merely the prerogative of the prophets; any other men, no matter how great, are not inspired; and although we believe that the Lord by his influence will never let his chosen people sink so low by wrong instruction as to become strangers to his service, He still will permit struggles and differences in minor matters, no doubt in order to give us an opportunity to fulfill our mission faithfully, and to do something ourselves to elucidate the religion which we have received as our heritage from heaven. We do not deplore the differences of sentiment entertained in our religion, either in ancient or modern times, nor do we pronounce a judgment of heresy over the dissentients, provided they do not go wickedly to work to pull down whatever our fathers have taught us, and follow blindly the guidance of strangers to Israel, whose instruction is only fraught with evil and disunion unto us. The sages of the Talmud no doubt taught in the spirit of the traditions which were originally confided to us; but as they themselves do not claim for all their ordinances divine authority, it is not therefore necessary for us to claim it for them; they ought, at all events, to be placed upon the same level with all other authorities, ancient and modern, and we are sure that by standard  they will generally stand firm and justified in our judgment; and more is not needed for the maintenance of the purity of our religion.

But how do many of our moderns act and speak in the premises? As though they alone had a privileged right to all the wisdom; as though the ancients knew nothing, and that it is not worth one’s trouble to investigate their writings; and not alone this, but the greater the unacquaintance with these treasures of our people, the louder is the cry of denunciation. We contend, in connexion with this, that the rank folly and irreligion which we thus condemn owe their origin to a state of things existing not within Judaism, but beyond its pale; and that however modern improvements in arts and sciences might have produced some alteration in the view of things by those who have made the discoveries of later philosophy their own, they never would have ridiculed their predecessors for not having known what was not accessible in their day: had it not been that the errors of monkish superstition were dragged to light in an age which has just elapsed, by the men of science of the last century, who exposed the false conceptions their priests had entertained in all that relates to human life; and hence, as our writers had committed some faults, the scholars of these advocates of improvement joined in the crusade, not against the dogmas of the gentiles, but with a marvellous generosity, against their own shining lights, the shadow of whose fame they never could expect to attain to by all their puny strivings. At first these knight errants were unheeded; their influence was confined to their own narrow circle of congenial spirits; the chairs of authority were occupied by men of the old stamp, and hence the poison which was not diffused could not infect the great household of Israel. But the pious of former days have gradually one by one quitted the stage of action; they descended many of them full of years and honours to the sepulchre of their fathers; and now let us see who occupy their places, we do not speak of all, but there are surely many who are the very reverse of what they should be; they call themselves rabbins, and deny all rabbinical authority; they denounce the Talmud, and their resolves are deduced from a misquotation of this very work; they profess a desire to bring the law back upon the Scriptures, and still they do not admit the plenary inspiration of the Bible. And how do they obtain their places? by governmental influence in most cases; and how their education? from Christian universities. We again say, that we must not be understood as denouncing all the rabbins of Germany; but we are within bounds when we say that the modern training has had in general a pernicious effect; and that the majority have escaped total corruption, and that very many are an ornament to their calling, is a proof that the good stock of Israel is too indestructibleto suffer permanently from antagonistical influences.

It is not necessary for us to enlarge on the subject; our pages have, in the reports we have given, furnished evidence enough of the violent assaults our religion has suffered of late from those who were ostensibly enrolled amidst its defenders; and if we are right that a faulty system of education has produced this melancholy result: we are fully empowered to call upon all lovers of Jacob’s faith, scattered over England and America, to endeavour to provide a remedy within themselves, so as to obtain the necessary means of religious education, without resorting to distant countries for their ministers. We do not speak of rabbins, or the higher religious authorities; for these: we shall probably have to procure from the eminent men abroad, under all circumstances, for a long time to come; we only allude to the local religious teachers and servants of the Synagogue, whose influence does or should extend to the farthest and minutest ramifications of society. We want those who can teach the people at all times; who can defend their faith against the assaults of those unfriendly to it, be these who they may; and those, at last, who have sufficient weight of character to be able to reprove vice and irreligion, be they seated on the throne or the inmates of the beggar’s hovel. Now, we contend that precisely those countries where the religious sentiments are the strongest, because there exists the largest amount of personal freedom, England and America, are the very ones where we ought to educate our young men to become at length the guides of Israel, for the many congregations which will require their services; and had we a choice, we would rather select one who had less information, and more weight of good character to recommend him, than the reverse. Yet we must hope that we shall be able to procure men who are entirely qualified for the sublime calling of guiding their fellow-men, whose talents and acquirements are of the brightest, and whose characters are of the purest; men who may stand preeminent amongst the people, like Saul of old, “higher than all, from their shoulders and upward,” shining marks, fit to go out and to come in before the congregation of the Lord. There is no difficulty of finding persons of sufficient capacity; but we must procure the means of eliciting all they are capable of; and this can only be effected by a thorough training under men who themselves possess the true spirit, and are neither tinctured with a blind devotion to ancient prejudices, nor tainted with the madness of the day, which sees its glory only in destruction, to which ruins are a welcome sight, and every thing firm is an abomination. We require, in brief, enlightened men, who are fit to cope with the spirit of the age, whatever this may be; who are Jews from birth and conviction; who value their high birthright as sons of Jacob too much to barter it away for a senseless, soulless, infidel philosophy, and who disdain to borrow rites and customs from gentile churches, to assimilate our worship to theirs; steadfast moralists, who can contend even against their own congregations should these wish to introduce what is prohibited to us; valiant men, who know of no party in their flocks, who can resign their living, as the minister’s office is often called elsewhere, if the least truckling is to secure it to them; in brief, Israelites after the model of the prophets, who see the greatest good in the service of their Maker, and desire no greater reward than his blessing and approval.

Modern times have produced few such; and the seminaries too are wanting whence such can issue. We again ask our readers, Will they endeavour to help the cause of our religion, in rearing persons who have the mental fitness to become duly qualified to become servants of the Most High, and guides of their brothers? But not ministers alone would thus be educated for men to be trained for other learned professions, mercantile pursuits, agriculture, and the mechanic arts, could and would enter the seminaries which we here advocate, and qualify themselves, by a religious, scientific education, to grace any walk of life they may deem best suited for their tastes and talents. Why should not the physician be deeply versed and ardently attached to his faith? why should not the advocate enrich his mind with the holy things of Israel, and be full of the spirit of truth to guide him in the arduous labours of his profession? why should not the agriculturist, when his toil in the field is ended, retire to his closet and contemplate understandingly the wonders of the law of his God? why should not the handicraftsman be able to stand up among his fellow-workmen and explain to them understandingly the reasons why he adheres to the faith of Israel? and, in short, why should not every Israelite be able literally to fulfill the injunction: “And thou shalt teach the word of the law to thy children?” We know no earthly reason why this should not be; but we do feel it to be the bounden duty of all of the seed of Abraham to be taught how to worship, how to fear their God; to be able to defend the sacred cause which is entrusted to them; to labour for the spiritual welfare of all who, with themselves, draw their being from the ancient and honourable stock of the patriarchs. And yet where are the seminaries which are to diffuse the kind of knowledge which is to have this effect? Show us one school in all the extent of the Union and the West Indies, where a general education, combined with a thorough religious training, can be obtained, and we will be satisfied to say that something has been done. But we cannot designate a single institution which will come up to the requirements of the age, and any thing short of this is not sufficient for our purpose. It is idle to expect that individuals, no matter how endowed they may be, will be able to do aught in the premises; the people will have no confidence in private establishments, and mere boarding-schools, those even which are conducted on the best principles, cannot become the remedy for the defect which we are describing. The people at large are to be  benefited, and the people at large must devise the means and plans, if ever successful education can be established among us. For the first step, it would be best to confine the execution of the idea here shadowed forth, to one single establishment, to serve as a general High School and a nursery of teachers, who, after completing their scholastic course, would be able to commence preparatory seminaries in all congregations of Israelites throughout the land. To give this establishment sufficient standing, a collegiate charter should be obtained for it, to enable it to confer the usual degrees of academic honours; there could be no great difficulty attending on the obtainment of such a privilege in the states of Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania, for the present the most central points for the purpose; and even this little circumstance, the entire freedom with which we could develop a perfect system of Jewish education uncontrolled by governmental influence, is a mighty reason why we should endeavour to secure a college for ourselves, since in no European country, except England, could we hope to be so favoured, and in the latter state the expenses of a charter and the first initiatory steps would be enormous, compared with what they are in America. In France everything is under government, and in Germany we doubt whether under any circumstances a Jewish college would be allowed; we mean a college which could take rank alongside of the established universities. But here a charter would cost very little, and its obtainment is almost a matter of certainty; and it would then depend altogether upon the managers and teachers whether their school should or should not take a high rank amidst the other learned institutions of the country. That we have talent of the first class among us to shine in the teachers’ chair, is not to be doubted; let us only require it, and it will be forthcoming; but even if it were otherwise, we could employ competent gentile teachers for all the scientific branches, till such time as we could supply their places by our own members. But even then we would not, for our own part, be so exclusive as to refuse employing the most capable, be their religion of whatever kind it may; for the purely Hebrew branches alone  are Israelites required, and such as are properly qualified can be readily obtained either here or abroad, so soon as sufficient compensation can be given them to afford them an honourable support.

Now as regards the raising of the means, we beg to offer the following suggestions. Let there be formed in every congregation, among those who feel the proper weight of the subject, a committee of management; whose business it is to be to agitate the question among their  townsmen, and to obtain subscriptions. Let one of each committee be entrusted with the duty of corresponding with other towns, so as to elicit a full expression of public opinion. Let persons of means be called upon by these committees to ascertain how much they are willing to give as a permanent fund, and how much as annual donations, no money to be called for until the plan is likely to be carried into effect. Whenever it is discovered that the funds subscribed for are likely to be enough, then let delegates from the different committees and subscribers meet at some central place, to constitute a Board of Trustees, in whose hands the management of the school is to be placed, both as regards the administration of the funds and the election of teachers, as also the promulgation of a code of laws which is to regulate all subjects connected herewith.—It will be useless to specify at present the necessary details; our object being merely to point out the means of making a commencement; and we leave it to the wisdom of others to follow up with counsel and action a matter so necessary to the religious welfare of themselves and their fellow-Israelites. To our view it is the greatest good they could confer upon their young relatives, to provide them with a school where all that would be taught them should be useful; where they should have to forget nothing that is once presented to their consideration; where, in brief, they would be trained to love God and to honour their parents, to become useful citizens and true Israelites. The scheme is nowise visionary; it is reducible to practice; and let us then invoke the blessing of God, that He may so turn the hearts of our brothers, that they may hasten to realize the anticipations of one who, whilst he is proud of his origin, feels that education and mental progress are the only proper means to prove to the world at large that Israel is a people holy to the Lord, the first-fruits of his increase.