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בס"ד

The Appeal Case of the Charleston Congregation.

(Continued from p. 55.)

The early Israelitish settlers in America, we refer to those chiefly in New York, Newport, Charleston, and Savannah, were conforming to the Portuguese ritual, the very Minhag Sephardim of which Judge Butler speaks; and the German Jews, or those acquainted with the Minhag Ashkenaz, who happened to be among them, likewise conformed to the same standard, for the very good reason, that, as there is no doctrinal difference between the two classes, and but a slight variation in their ceremonial observances, owing more to local causes than a religious difference, and the variation existing in the prayerbook, the liturgy, not being of that momentous order as to induce the few Jews then here to establish different congregations: They could readily harmonize in their public worship, though actually “some came from Poland, and some from Spain.” The very difficulty of which the learned judge speaks did occur; and what was the consequence? For more than a hundred and fifty years, there was but one congregation in New York; we forget how long the same was the case in Philadelphia, where the establishment of a congregation  was long posterior to New York; ninety years in Charleston, and in the same ratio in the few other places where Israelites dwelt in the early period of this country; and “whilst professing to be governed by the same rituals, they actually did find themselves fully able to understand each other in their observance of them.” The manner of proceeding was probably this, and though we speak from probability only, we are sure that we do not make a misstatement. The majority, or the most influential and learned, belonged to the Portuguese ritual, and when the question arose as to the manner of celebrating the offices of religion, the liturgy, which is known as that of the Sephardim, was adopted. It must by no means be inferred that there was any relinquishment of principle in this union of persons from different countries and of different habits in regard to public worship; for, as said already, the prayer­books of both the main divisions of Israelites, and all minor subdivisions of the orthodox school, contain all the same material prayers, and are distinguished only in the poetical pieces of more modern days, though ancient when compared with protestant Christianity, and the variation in the phraseology of the other prayers which all have in common. The writer of this, himself, was educated in his native land, in the custom there prevailing, to wit, the German; but he never felt it any difficult matter to harmonize with the worship which he found established in his first place of sojourn in this country, Richmond; nor did he ever consider it any violation of conscience to employ the prayer-book of any congregation, be this the German, Polish, or Portuguese, where he happened to be. It is truly unfortunate, that, where so little real difference exists, there should still be established congregations of different denominations; but this is consonant with human nature, that each person will insist upon what he is the best acquainted with, without often weighing whether by so doing he does not actually retard the progress of the cause which he considers the best. Judaism would truly flourish were our minor differences lost sight of; but this may not be expected for a long time to come; hence we must be satisfied to let things take their course, and endeavour to bend existing circumstances, with Heaven’s blessing, to the best possible advantage of our cause.

But we are wandering somewhat from our subject. When, therefore, the Jews of Charleston, among other congregations, united for the formation of a Jewish form of worship, they could have legitimately adopted any one of the customs to which the Israelites usually conform. But, having once made their selection, they were all bound to abide by their choice, especially, as they enacted as the fundamental principle ín their constitution, (which being made under the charter obtained from the legislature of South Carolina, Judge Butler calls a by-law,) that no change should be made in that instrument, unless with the concurrence of three-fourths of the members present at a meeting, and that such meeting should have been convened for the particular purpose of altering the constitution. We quote from memory; but we are safe in thinking that we state the case correctly. There is, accordingly, but one method of revoking the article relating to public worship, no less than that referring to the mode of electing officers and members; and if this must be done in the manner pointed out by the constitution, the other must undergo the same ordeal, or else it stands unrepealed. To read Judge Butler’s remarks, one would be led to believe that the constitution of the congregation at Charleston was of so ancient a date, that the present members could not possibly understand the forms of their remote ancestors who founded the Synagogue, and that hence there might possibly be a process of getting rid of them other than the requirements of the constitution, without conforming to which, otherwise, no one has a right to say a word in the premises. But really it is surprising to us, that the highest judicial dignitary of a sovereign and enlightened state, should talk such nonsense. Before the Judge had committed himself thus, he ought to have examined, at least, the members of the congregation, whether or not they understood the “ancient rites and forms as they were practised by their remote ancestors who founded the Synagogue,” and whether those ancestors were indeed so remote as to produce such a lamentable lapse of memory. It may be urged, that the state of the law-suit did not permit such an examination to be gone into; very true;  but then there was no warrant either to bring the subject thus prominently forward in the opinion of the court. This was only to refer to the case as proved, not to a philosophical notion respecting Judaism, which had not been put on its trial, however this view might agree with the Judge’s preconceived opinion. The matter established by evidence was, that four out of seven trustees had, in the absence of the legal president of their body, proceeded to elect certain persons as corporators, which persons were then on trial under the appeal respecting their claimed rights to take part in the concerns of the corporation. It mattered not to the judges to whom they appealed, whether they were Jews or Turks, members of a Synagogue or a society of bankers; in any case, they claimed their right as citizens of the State of South Carolina, and if the laws were against there, they of course had to submit; and to this point the opinion of the court shuld have been confined, since to that only they were permitted to give evidence before the inferior tribunal, which, the opinion avers, acted correctly in refusing to hear or read other testimony. But as respects the truth of the philosophical notion, the court erred amazingly. The origin of the Synagogue of Charleston is of so recent a date, that the present is but the third generation from its founders; consequently there can be no plea of forgetfulness urged as an excuse for abrogating the mode of worship established about a hundred years ago only; and then we doubt whether the majority of the Israelites at present in that place are not as well acquainted with it as were “their remote ancestors;” and hence there had occurred nothing to make one apply the maxim cessante ratione cessat ipsa lex; (when the reason ceases, the law itself ceases;) the reason for maintaining the form of worship under which the predecessors of the present corporators had united into a congregation yet exists; the unwillingness of a portion to abide by it is no correct motive for putting it aside, except by the constitutional method pointed out in the charter and by-laws; and till this be applied there is no possible way of rendering it inoperative by the mere will of the minority or even a majority,—one absolutely less than that pointed out in the articles of agreement under which the parties to the covenant act as a corporation.

(To be continued.)