Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library Shopping Mall of Zion AHAVA Hero Products 250x250

בס"ד

American Liturgy.

(Continued from p. 109.)

We learn from this principle that we have no reason to pray for the restoration of the sacrifices, wherefore, all prayers having allusion to such a restoration ought to have no place in our liturgy.*

* We most emphatically object to any such form of prayer, which, as proposed by Dr. Wise, should exclude the petitions for the rebuilding of the temple, and the re-establishment of the sacrifices. We believe in common with all orthodox Jews in the literal fulfillment of Scriptures; and we took a late opportunity to express these views through a sermon delivered in the regular discharge of duty in the Synagogue before the members of our congregation. We give it this month to our readers, as a species of protest against any neological opinions controverting true orthodoxy, which may be brought among us from abroad; and we beg several of our correspondents to excuse our postponing their favours this month in making room for something which we have written; a breach of politeness we are not often guilty of.—Ed Oc.

4. The reflective effect upon spirit and heart of him that prays is the proper object and purpose of prayer; in brief, the effect of prayer can only be subjective, but never objective; this is an evident truth, both as regarded in a. religious and philosophical light. This principle is also taught by the ancient commentator quoted already, ריב״ש to ברכות ל״ד where it is said אמרו על ר׳ חנינא בן דוסא שמתפלל על החולים וגו׳ in the following words: ראוי להזהיר לכל מתפלל המוניי שלא יעלה על לבו שהקב״ה שומע תפלה כדרך מלך בשר ודם שלא היה בלבו להיטיב לאיש פלוני כי אם להרע לפלוני ואח״כ התפלל או בא אחר בעדו במענה רך אל המלך והתחנן לפניו והמלך ישוב ממחשבתו. אך לא כן הקב״ה כי לא כמחשבותיו מחשותינו כי איננו בעל שנוי להסיר ממחשבתו והדרך ישנו אוד באמונתו שהקב״ה שומע תפלת כל פה הוא דוקא כשמתפלל שונה את עצמו במחשבה בדבור ובמעשה וזהו שומע תפלה וגו׳׃

“It is proper to remind every ordinary man who prays, that he ought not to think that the holy and Blessed One hears prayer in the manner of a king of flesh and blood, in whose intention it was not to do good to a particular person, but to do him an injury, and after which the king recedes from his intention through the prayer of the individual himself, or because another one for him has made a moving appeal to the king; because this is not the case with the Lord, for not like his thoughts are our thoughts, inasmuch as He is not given to change, to depart from his intentions; but the true method of the acceptability of prayer is, the firm trust that the Lord will hear the prayer of every mouth, only when the petitioner changes himself in thought, in word, and in deed, and only then is prayer received,” &c. God is the most perfect Being; therefore no change can be thought of in his divine character; since every change is a proof of imperfection. From which consideration we must then conclude that:

a. Hymns and praises in honour of the living God ought to be the chief, supplications and prayers for forgiveness and repentance the secondary and smaller portion of our liturgy. The Talmud itself is of this opinion, לעולם יסדר אדם שבחו של הקב״ה ואחר כך יתפלל (ברכות ל״ב) אבא בנימן ואמר אין תפלה של אדם נשמעת אלא בבית הכנסת. שנאמר לשמוע אל הרנה ואל התפלה במקום שרנה (רש״י קלוסו של ישראל) שם תהא התפלה׃

The Ribash (ריב״ש), whose orthodoxy no one will doubt, says even more emphatically to (ברכות דף ד׳) as follows:

כאשר נעמוד על סוף כונת התפלה נמצא שיש בה ב׳ בחינות. הא׳ לספר שבחיו של הקב״ה ולהאמין כי הוא יכול על כל שהוא מלך מלכי המלכים אשר בידו נפש כל חי. ויש עוד בחינה ב׳ שהיא הראשונה כפי סברת המונית והיא השגת תכלית מבוקשו. אך אין שנוי לפני אדון כל׃

“When we come to investigate the true intent of prayer, we shall find it to be twofold: the first is to relate the praises of the Holy One, and to impress ourselves with the belief that He is all-powerful, inasmuch as He is the Supreme King of Kings in whose hand is the soul of every living thing; and the second, which is the first according to the vulgar acceptation, is the attainment of what we petition for; but there is in truth no change before the Lord of all.”

After having thus laid down the opinion of the Talmud, the reverend gentleman gave his own views as follows:

The chief precept of our religion is “to be holy,” that is,  to love God, since this is true holiness. Inferior to this precept is the one “to acknowledge God,” which is expressed in the first commandment of the revelation at Sinai, “I am the Lord thy God.” If we really acknowledge God, we shall love Him and thereby become holy. Our holy Torah is the guide, through means of which we shall attain the summit of this divine idea. Philanthropy, kindness, and mercy towards every created thing, both the animate and the inanimate, uprightness towards the whole human race, and an absolute dominion over ourselves no less than over outward nature, are the ways which the Torah teaches us, in pursuing which we will acknowledge the invisible Deity, revealed to us in his divine attributes. We should be as kind and merciful as the law demands of us, inasmuch as we are participants of the benevolence of God displayed unto us; nevertheless, we shall never attain to his whole perfection, and thus reach the utmost limits of acknowledging Him; כי לא יראני האדם ויחי “For man cannot see me and live.” But we have pointed out in the Torah a means to guide us to the goal, toward the attainment of which our exertions should be directed, and this means is Prayer, and therefore is it the most perfect service, because it leads us directly to the acknowledgment of God; as we are told in the Law: “For the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart to do it.” (See also חובות הלבבות שער היחוד.) If our prayers be hymns and praises, the subjective effect will be the declaration of God’s divine character; but if they be petitions and expressions of our repentance for sins committed, our own follies and weakness will be the chief object of declaration, and indirectly we will be brought to the recital of God’s omnipotence and mercy. Therefore hymns should constitute the first, and prayers proper the second portion of our service.

b. If the effect of prayer is subjective, (that is, referring back upon the petitioner himself,) we require for their acceptance neither a mediator between God and man, nor the angels, or other spiritual beings. As we read in Deuteronomy, 4:7, “For where is the nation ever so great, to whom the gods are nigh, as is our God whenever we call on him?” So also teaches the Talmud (שבת ל״ב)ואלו הן פרקליטין של אדם תשובה ומעשים טובים “These are the pleaders for man, repentance, and pious deeds.”  The Ribash (ריב״ש) and the Rashba (רשב״א) express themselves strongly against all ideas of mediation.ורחמנא ליצלן מלחשוב מחשבה כזאת שצריך המתפלל לבקש מלפני מלאכי השרת שיכניסו תפלתו לפנים אלא הקב״ה שומע תפלת עמו ישראל בכל עת ובכל עונה׃ (ריב״ש שבת י״ב) “The Merciful One keep us from entertaining such a thought, that the petitioner needs to ask of the angels who serve in the august Presence to bring in his prayer before the Lord; on the contrary the Lord hears the prayer of his people Israel at all times and at all seasons,” וזהו זר לאמונתנו שהמלאך משמיע תפלה דבר זר (?) מאמונת נוצרים והגרים׃ (רשב״א שם)

This is the sublime character of our religion, conveying to us the purest and most perfect idea of the Deity and the nature of his blessed existence, and guiding us in the way of His own perfection. Our religion further presents to us the manner in which man can attain the utmost possible perfection, through obedience of the precept of revelation; for only this can he be called, “created in the likeness of God,” as he is declared to be in the history of the creation; so also only when we are obedient can we apply to ourselves the loving kindness expressed in the verse from Deuteronomy, 14. “Ye are children of the Lord your God.” We are thus notified, that of all creatures on earth man approaches the nearest to his Creator in intellectual power and perfectibility, and hence he needs no mediator to plead for him, and he can serve God from a free accord, and acknowledge Him from a pure conviction. No other religion possesses these sublime terms of truth, trust, and eternal hopes; and the Psalmist was thoroughly inspired with them when he said: “And Thou madest him but little less than angels.” But these elevated ideas might easily render us vain and haughty; we therefore require to be reminded also of our follies, weakness, transitoriness, and perishable state, and that we are nothing without divine aid; now this is to be accomplished through prayer and supplications for forgiveness, in order to impress on ourselves our entire dependence on the mercy of our God.

c. If the effect of prayer is to be subjective, our service ought to be conducted in the Hebrew language; for this it is in which our prophets spoke, in which the Psalmist sang, and the one in which our Holy Scriptures were first made known to us; yea, the mere sound of its words awakens in the heart of the Israelite a holier feeling and a higher inspiration, and brings him nearer to the worship of the Most High. There exists no language that possesses a character for such sublimity, beauty, simplicity, conciseness, ease, and life, as it does; it therefore forms the best vehicle for the expression of our ideas before God. Besides, the poetry of no other language has had so often and variedly for its object the existence of the Deity, or celebrated so solemnly the attributes and perfections of God, as the Hebrew has; nor is there any other poetry which possesses such richness of natural and picturesque descriptions of scenes of outward nature, which breathe love and admiration towards the Creator into the human heart. A language which is so perfect in its structure, and so rich in intellectual treasures, is therefore the best fitted to be the language of prayer. But as our heart ought to respond to the words which we utter with our lips, it becomes the evident duty of every child of Israel to acquire a familiar acquaintance with his ancestral tongue; and if any be ignorant of it, they ought to weep tears of regret, and apply themselves to study, as our forefathers did in the time of Ezra; but it is not to be thought of that for the sake of the ignorant we should sacrifice and banish from our worship the only language which is fitted for the prayer of Israelites.

d. All those prayers which involve punishment and vengeance upon the former persecutors of our people ought to be banished from our liturgy; since they can have no good subjective effect upon him who uses them. We ought to say with the ancient sage of the Talmud: יתמו חטאים ולא חוטאים מן הארץ ורשעים עוד אינם “Sins shall cease (not the sinners), from the earth, by which means the wicked will be no more.”

e. The regular morning service on the Sabbath should not continue more than from two and a half to three hours, including the sermon, and that of the festivals not more than from three to three and a half hours, (the Rabbi did not speak of a service without a sermon.) It is said in the Talmud that Rabbi Akiba, and Rabbi Tarphon, (Tryphon,) made their prayers very short when they ministered in the Synagogue, on account of not wearying the people. (משום טרחא דצבורא)

Here now, my orthodox brother, are the principles of Rabbi Wise according to which the new liturgy is to be framed. Here is a mountain of truths, information, and conviction, here are Torah and philosophy walking hand in hand. What can in justice be urged against these truths? I know of nothing. I hope, therefore, that the whole liturgy may be based upon these principles, and that according to them all the congregations of Israel may be led to adore our God, and that the consequence may be to unite all the congregations in America into one great and harmonious body, with revelation as their stronghold, and with peace presiding over their assemblies.

I am, your brother,
Joseph.

Note by Editor.—Not having yet received the projected forms of prayers laid by Dr. Wise before the late meeting of the Beth Din, (as stated in our last number,) in New York, we must be excused from offering any remarks upon the above details; but in the mean time we shall be pleased to give publicity to any well-written and temperate essay from any of our correspondents; only this much strikes us, that the whole of the learned Doctor’s plan is not new to us, having seen a good deal of it of late in the German papers, and that it is, what is more, not likely to be universally adopted for a long period to come. Especially do we think that the Sephardim congregations will be averse to change their form of prayer, which already contains all the elements required, and they will scarcely take in its stead the perhaps crude and ill-digested system which can be elicited by the few Rabbis now in America. However, we do not think ourself at liberty to withhold the outlines of the plan from our readers, first as a part of the history of the day, and then because it contains many valuable truths.