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בס"ד

Demand For Education.

 

We are pleased to state that the various articles which we have from time to time written upon the momentous subject of training the youthful mind, have not failed to awaken public attention, and to elicit some inquiries as to the mode of accomplishing the manifest duty devolving upon all Israelites in the premises. It is evident to the most careless observer, that a change is gradually working its way upward to the contemplation of American Israelites, and if not now at once, the time is approaching when they will demand to be taught more clearly than hitherto the ways of the Lord. We repeat, in passing, that a native of this country never had a good opportunity of penetrating into the recesses of our literature; the Mishna, Talmud, Possekim, commentaries, and grammatical works, have always been to them sealed books, and but few had even an opportunity of making more than a mere entrance into the field indicated—one of so vast an extent that a lifetime scarcely suffices to cultivate it as its merits and importance deserve. Every scrap of information is sought for from Europe; any ideas above the mere reading of the Hebrew and a little translation, has to come to us from over the water.

Much praise, we acknowledge, is due to the natives of this land, and especially to the female portion, for their generally pious feelings, and unostentatious devotion to the religion of their fathers. Still no one can deny that very large numbers have fallen off into irreligion or association with gentiles, which to a certainty would not have occurred, if we may judge from accompanying circumstances, had their education been different. We think that we have remarked before, but it will not be amiss to repeat it here, that the great holiness of our religion is demonstrated in the strongest manner by the fact that, despite of the neglect of its professors in this country, it has gone on increasing, and taken deeper root in the heart of many, though not a few have become tired of bearing the burden of the faith of Jacob. But does this admission prove that our predecessors were right in neglecting education? that they were justified in leaving it, so far as they were concerned, to mere chance whether their children should learn Judaism, Christianity, or some vague, philosophical dogmas as their monitor through life?

Look at the hours, nay years devoted to the acquisition of a very moderate proficiency in music and drawing, to a graceful manner of dancing, to an imperfect knowledge of French and ancient languages: and then tell us, if you can, whether our blessed religion receives any thing like a fair proportion of care and study. We do not wish to open a crusade against the plea­sures of life; we do not desire to deprive it of the graces which embellish social intercourse; we are not of those who endeavour to look upon every thing as sinful which appertains not to eternity or its concerns. But we candidly say, without any fear of giving offence, that worldly things engross too much—yes, beyond measure—the attention of Israelites. It would be regarded as mean in a wealthy father not to give his daughters an ample opportunity, at least, to acquire the science of music, and to learn French, say for a space of ten years at the smallest calculation; we will not mention at what an expenditure of money, for all know at what price these and other like acquirements are purchased. But how many are there who are willing to spend as much time and treasure to teach their sons and daughters the noble science of fearing God, and the elevated language in which our blessed Scriptures are composed? And yet what is of more consequence, that a young lady should bear herself gracefully in a ball-room, or be wise in the all-important business of salvation? that a young gentleman should converse in a foreign language with ease, or that he should be able to explain to himself why he is a Jew? We do not denounce a knowledge of worldly accomplishments, we repeat it, not to be misunderstood; we only require that they are not all which our younger branches have a legitimate right to demand at our hands.

There may be many a parent now—yes, we do not doubt the fact, therefore we will correct our expression—there is many a parent now living, who blames his child for having left the Synagogue by either one of the ways in wich apostacy is accomplished; and still he felicitates himself in his heart that he has taught his offspring that they should value themselves as Jews, and be consistent in their religious conduct. But let us ask such a one, whether he has fulfilled his duty by this grand amount of religious education. His daughters he allowed to hold exclusive intercourse with non-Israelites; either poverty or wealth has thrown them in circles unfavourable to Judaism; and what had these young, inexperienced females to cling to as a defence for their religion? If poor, they perhaps had never the chance of obtaining any instruction in  Hebrew, or the simple elements of the Jewish faith; and you wonder that their conduct does not correspond with the requirements of the religious life of an Israelite! If rich, the unfortunate victim of fashionable folly is early thrown into the midst of flatterers, of men and women whose chief business seems to be to corrupt the understanding and to destroy the noble feelings of the youthful heart. And how is she to resist the dangerous assaults thus levelled against her? Her head is filled with schemes of pleasant dissipations; her whole training has been to render her brilliant at the piano or harp; she has been compelled almost to seek excellence at the execution of an Italian bravura, to torture her voice to produce certain unnatural combinations which some intricate composer has written for stage actresses; she perhaps converses in French or Italian; she may also draw like a school artist, and her dancing may be upon the model of some celebrated foreign master who has acquired  fame and fortune by teaching “the poetry of motion;” she has perhaps heard her father or mother say that the Jews of her town are not worthy to seek an alliance with one so highly born, so honourably connected, so gifted with wealth, so skilled in accomplishments; and what is the result? Nothing less than you might expect; for whilst Jews are carefully kept from her father’s house, others are freely admitted; men and women of fashionable training; the children of wealth and family pretensions, are gladly welcomed, perhaps with sonic obsequiousness, as the price for being received into such an exalted sphere; and the young lady, ignorant of religion, spoiled by flattery, instructed by all the circumstances which surround her to despise those of whose religion she nominally is a member, escapes clandestinely from the paternal roof, and unites herself for life to some votary of fashion, the admired of many a respectable belle, and loses as his wife all love, all desire for the faith of her fathers. And should she sooner or later discover that she has wedded herself to misery, that the man of her giddy choice has no sympathy with her feeling, that he despises the Jewess and hates her prejudices, though he vowed to love and protect her through joy and through sorrow; should she mourn when her sense of duty is re-awakened, after the fascination of a few months or years of trifling pleasure have faded away, in the bitterness of anguish at seeing her children taken from her, and instructed in a belief which her very soul loathes: who, we ask, was the cause? who is to blame? is it the unfortunate who pines away in splendid misery, or the sinful parents who, in hypocritical self-sufficiency, blame their unhappy child for disobedience to parental authority, and forgetfulness of her ancestral religion?

No one can understand us as saying that we hold the transgressors themselves as guiltless; God forbid that we should, by any expression of ours, excuse any deficiency in duty, since the Bible is so accessible to all, that if even parents do not their full duty, the children have nevertheless some opportunity, at least, to learn what is required of them. We only mean to exhibit the natural consequences of well known causes, and to show how readily and legitimately parental neglect or inability to provide proper food for the mind leads to great transgressions on the part of the children. We have only slightly sketched two simple cases; we could add a hundred more; and do they not bear out fully our proposition, that there is danger to leave the spirit without a proper guide in the troubled scenes of life? If our lot be one of poverty, we require a strong, well-defined trust in Divine Providence, a firm persuasion that in the path of duty we are always safe, though the world around us may present but few bright spots for our eyes to dwell upon. And when this conviction has become intimately bound up with our existence, we can be virtuous though poor, respectable though humble. And the working man, the labouring female, although in the service of their fellow-mortals, and receiving mere wages for their daily toil, lack nothing whatever of rising high in the scale of merit, of that acceptability before their Divine Father, which if the highest attribute of perfection which human nature can reach, a position far outweighing, because more valuable, all earthly greatness. But if divine goodness has given us ample means, then we require, equally as much as in poverty, the support of well-founded religious hopes and assurances of mercy from above. No life is free from vexation; through the ordaining of supreme Wisdom, no house is exempt from the visitation of sorrow and disease; every thing is unstable; the joy of to-day may be the heart-rending grief of tomorrow; how necessary is it, then, to become acquainted, under these circumstances, too, with the healing balm, with the priceless medicine which the religion of God so bountifully offers to all who will but put forth their hand and accept the same—so to say, pluck the fruit of the tree of life, which stands invitingly for them in the garden of existence, and eat and live for ever.

To accomplish this, however, the mind must be trained to appreciate the beauty of holiness; the soul of man is susceptible of every impression, just like the ductile wax or the melted metal will receive the impress of any figure stamped on their surface. Man is inclined to religion; he feels his powerlessness at every step of life; still it is certain that he can be made to imbibe one principle as well as the other. It all depends upon the colouring, if we may apply the word in this connexion, which he receives in his infancy and younger years. There are, no doubt, very often changes wrought,  after men and women have grown up to maturity—some opinions are adopted whilst others are rejected by persons of mature intellect. But the process is difficult, the occasions rare, comparatively speaking, where it is radically accomplished. So many sweet illusions linger round the ideas inculcated in infancy, even errors of early years seem to be so invested with the halo of truth, that the mind is naturally unwilling to disembarrass itself from their embrace; we therefore fold them the closer to our heart, when we fancy that a stronger light shed upon them would compel us to let them part from our spirit for ever. A Jewish child can, therefore, become corrupted by the doctrines which we older Israelites justly deem false and erroneous, as that of any other parentage. The Law is indeed our inheritance; but it is like lands fit for cultivation, which must be carefully plough and tilled, if they are not to bring forth thorns and thistles instead of wholesome food for the sustenance of man. No agriculturist will leave to the care of the birds of heaven the sowing of his furrows, though they may, by chance, in their flight, bear in their mouth nobler seed than he is able to obtain for propagation. So it is ever with education;—chance is a poor guide, even if it offers the hope of brilliant results. It must be the business of all having an interest in the human family—and where is the misanthrope, or solitary hermit even, who has not?—to do their utmost to diffuse, in their circle at least, what they believe to be truth and holiness; and as in our case, to provide the means that the children of Jewish parents may become Jews by conviction no less than Israelites by birth. We repeat, that if our children are freely allowed to go to gentile schools, they will acquire so many shadings of other religions, that the splendour of their own will be obscured; for, granting even that our children should not he required to read the Koran or New Testament, and listen to the commentaries which gentile teachers will naturally offer, they will still be subject to the constant influence of fellow-scholars of a contrary faith, who, as may readily be expected, throw ridicule upon our views, or apply persuasion (for even young children are often missionaries, or rather, imbued with a missionary spirit) to cause them to depart from their own faith. We do not denounce our acquiring knowledge in the high-schools in the sciences and languages, nor do we wish to say that our small children should grow up in ignorance where there are no Jewish elementary schools; we are only arguing as to the necessity of having, especially the latter, of our own, that our offspring may enter them as uninstructed infants and quit them full of the spirit of wisdom, which wisdom is the fear of the Lord, because they will have listened, from day to day, to the words which fell from lips of men who know their Creator and delight to call themselves by the name of Jacob. We want establishments where the rich and the poor can both assemble, and have one shepherd to guide them on the pleasant path of truth—one approved and faithful servant of our great Master, who will honestly inform them the way they should go and the deeds which they should do. And then, when the time arrives for the boy to go to his trade, to his farm labours, to his business, or to his study, or even to his menial service, if that be the lot assigned to him by Providence, he will be willing and able to discharge whatever duties may devolve on him in his calling, and carry with him, through his whole existence, that monitor which he has laboured to acquire in his school-years, and be, therefore, a fitting associate for all who are good, and who deem moral excellence the paramount passport to considerations, and he will honour the name of Israel because he observes, from an inward conviction of their truth, the duties which his parents taught him in his early years.—And the girl, too, if she has enjoyed a similar education, let her lot be humble or high, will enter upon life with different sentiments from the one who knows religion only by name; she will be ready to meet cheerfully the trials and labours which all must encounter; and be in every respect capable of treading in the footsteps of those thrice-blessed women who dwelt in the tents of the Patriarchs, and became the mothers of the tribes of Israel. Is not such a position one to be envied much more than to be for a brief season the admired beauty of a fashionable circle, to be soon cast aside before the bloom of youth has commenced to fade, in order to make room for a new reigning belle, whose empire will again speedily terminate? But social pleasures need not be neglected because the soul has drunk in wisdom, and because the heart is daily lifted up with adoration to God. We can be thankful amidst the festive throng, and all pleasures can be truly hallowed when presided over by that adoration for our Father which is ever present to the feelings of the truly wise.—All this can be accomplished by a combination of the energies of the people, who, if once made sensible of their permanent interest, will not rest satisfied with any thing less than a complete revolution in our system, or rather want of system of educating our children. No one who understands life will venture to assert that all evils will or can be avoided by the course we have indicated, if even every child in America were from the cradle brought up in the strictest manner and early instructed in our faith. This is not to be expected; for, as ever, there will be wicked persons in despite of all human efforts; but on the other hand, it is unquestioned and unquestionable that much can be effected by the means at our disposal, if we do not fritter them upon sectional plans and premature measures. Without wise deliberation and a union of efforts every plan must fail: it is not within the range of possibility, that crude notions can  bear practical fruits, nor that opposing whatever is proposed by one party, merely because thus proposed, can result in any thing but failure. Let, however, the friends of Judaism, be they of what country and sectional denomination, or standing in life they may, unite heart and hand in the good work; let them ask counsel of each other, and bear with each other’s prejudices till these can decently fall before a better enlightened public opinion: and there can be no doubt but—nay there is a certainty, that we shall see in this country, in every section of the large cities, schools spring up as if by magic, where our children will enjoy that education for which we have always been an advocate from our first commencement. The writer of this has himself felt so strongly the importance and benefit of such a training, he owes so entirely to it alone, under Heaven, what he is, and even that that he is permitted to speak to his fellow Israelites in this article in the manner he does, that he deems himself impelled by every rule of duty, by all the inducement of a holy and pleasant impulse, to urge upon all the practicability of providing for all Israelites the same means of benefiting themselves and others. There is mind among us, perhaps to a greater extent than in any other family of mankind; this is no idle boast, but the candid admission of many able writers and investigators; and it is but requisite that we should elicit it, and it will shine with a brilliancy of which we ourselves are perhaps ignorant at this moment. Nearly all the systems of education adopted in Europe may safely be pronounced as defective;—the force of circumstances has naturally imposed upon Jews many a thing of which they would gladly rid themselves if they were able; still the oppression which weighs them down keeps them reaching after fancies and impracticable notions, which they would disregard, were there limbs, so to say, freed from the fetters of outward forces. But here we have ample verge; no controlling circumstances, free room for the largest extension of our system. Let us hope then, that it will not be long before our religion will have its halls of learning and its primary schools, so that not one child will be left in ignorance of what it ought to be the first informed of, and continue in acquiring till the moment its education is finished.—The means are at hand; will they be employed?—We cannot answer this question; we leave it to our readers; to them belongs its solution. Will they be active in it? We trust that they will neglect nothing to accomplish it; and many blessings will attend them, and an approving conscience will assure them in their dying hour, that they have accomplished a task which their God has enjoined on them in his law.