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בס"ד

A Call to Israelites.

 

Have our readers ever reflected on their religion? Have they ever thought deeply on their being Israelites? Have they ever experienced any particular pleasure in their faith? Have they ever felt mortified and grieved at public or private transgression?—or joyous and elevated at a view of some pre-eminent good which was done by them or others in their quality as Jews? If so, they can readily sympathize with us for wishing to elevate the moral and religious character of our fellow-believers, who with us have faith in the Unity and universality of our God. It is easy enough to profess believing anything: it requires no great mental exertion to call oneself a Jew or a Christian; but it is something very different to be able to give an intelligible reason to others, and not rarely to ourselves, for being that which we profess to be. If this is the case with Christians, who have every worldly incentive to be what they are,—who have a thousand channels of arriving at information respecting their religion,—how much more must it be so with Jews, whose interest and whose success in business often call them away from the Synagogue, either to fall into apostacy or indifference, and where the channels of information are neither so broad nor so general as they are with our neighbours. We do not stand now as we did fifty years ago, repulsed by the world and compulsorily living apart from our neighbours; denied access to their association, with but few exceptions, and educated among ourselves—first, no schools other than our own being accessible, and secondly, because we imagined danger to our religion to be lurking in the shape of secular <<422>>information and sciences. We well remember that this latter feeling continued to subsist even to the time that we were entering on the active stage of life, a venerable grandmother almost dissuading us from learning Latin, for fear of our thereby becoming less a Jew, and imitating the example of others who had lapsed into infidelity. And moreover we were the first Jewish boy who ever was permitted to enter the Latin school in our neighbourhood.

Thus being excluded on one side, and unwilling to mingle in society on our part, we Jews formed a separate circle, and hence conformity to our religious duty was easier inducted in the masses than now, when the walls of separation have either been thrown down, or are in the process of demolition. A new life, or a new phase of life rather, has been infused in our people, and it is a different struggle than the one formerly subsisting which is now before us. Formerly, during the midnight ages of the papal and feudal powers, we had to contend against oppression, wholesale slaughters, and exiling of thousands amidst misery and unspeakable sufferings. It was a dreadful contest of the unarmed, harmless few against the armed and vengeful millions. Our religion was the object of the contest; it was to be wrested from us at all hazards, and no mercy, no pity, no pardon could be expected for those who chose to think as their fathers had thought, and who deemed themselves bound to abide true to the God of Abraham. Nevertheless our suffering brothers conquered. Like a brave army on the field of battle, hecatombs of slain marked the bloody arena; but like that same army also, they bore away the trophy of victory, the revered faith for which they had contended against the world, and for which they had suffered; and it has survived in and through them, and we are left to glory in the constancy of the brave and dauntless Israelites, men brave though not with carnal weapons, heroes triumphant without the thunder of artillery, who preserved for us the only living principle of truth, the sole God and his blessed Revelation.

This was the result of the former struggle of our people; and it has ceased simply because the volcano has burnt itself out, and rests awhile while gathering perhaps new strength for a second and possibly more fatal outbreak. Perhaps the same scenes, the same atrocities may never reappear on the stage of history; but of this we know nothing. Only He who foresees the future can <<423>>tell what trials are yet in store for us before  the final triumph of truth and reason shall be witnessed on earth. But this we know to a certainty, that new trials have come to us, and we are called on to a new struggle, to contend on another battle-field equally dangerous to the Israelites and the interests of their religion, as were the burring stakes of Spain, the slaughters of Germany and England, and the exiles from France and other lands. It is the spirit of the age against which we are called upon to seize the arms of faith; and the struggle bids fair to be fierce and long, and perhaps more fatal than the His we had to endure from the actual malevolence of a hostile world in times gone by. Yet should any one ask us whether we would bring back, if we could, the time of exclusion with its comparative safety to our religion?—whether, leaving out of view the persecutions, we would desire to recall the periods of the seclusion in Ghettos and the denial of political rights?—which latter now are almost certain will be conceded to us in all Europe, with perhaps the exception of Russia—we would answer unhesitatingly “No;” but we merely state the truth when we assert that the period of transition in which we are at present is one of great danger, and we trust be trained to meet it, if it shall prove to us individually a time of triumph, as was to our falters the state of persecution.

We have longed for freedom of motion, for freedom of expansion, at a period when all liberty was sturdily denied to us. We begged, we entreated, we cringed in the dust to crave the smallest indulgence, and we found ourselves spurned by the foot of power as loathsome outcasts, whose very touch was foul contagion. This horrid state of bondage is, thanks be to God, rapidly passing away. We need not enumerate the lands where we are free already, nor those which are opening for us the doors of civil equality, as we fancy they are abundantly known to our readers. But we wish merely to say that a change is rapidly working its way in Europe, and many Jews have seized the moment of political agitation, of strife and contest, when man rises in his native might to hurl tyranny from its high-placed thrones, whence it looked with contempt on the masses beneath, to assert with arms in their hands their share in equality and freedom, for which their fellow-countrymen of other creeds are now struggling. Jewish combatants fell at Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, gallantly <<424>>sharing in the fierce battles which were to limit the prerogatives of the executive governments to the bounds best conducive to popular freedom. But it is precisely this ebullition of love of the country where we respectively dwell, which threatens to prove detrimental to our religious interests, unless those to whom God has given wisdom do their duty manfully and truly, to call the attention of the Israelites to their spiritual welfare, that it may not be swallowed up amidst the political agitation and commercial revulsions which are now impending over the civilized world.

Let us not be misunderstood, as even hinting, that Jews should not take the deepest interest in the affairs and prosperity of the land wherein they were born, or wherein they dwell; as though we said that Israelites should not sacrifice their treasures, their blood, their life, for the promotion of civil liberty and equality; as though we desired them to be idle spectators, whilst their country struggles to break its fetters, and to stand free and disenthralled before the light of the sun. Those who would judge our remarks as conveying this idea, would do us grievous injustice; we are as deeply enamoured of freedom, as the loudest declaimer, as the most ardent political agitator; we have as deep a love of country as the most thoroughgoing flatterers of gentile rulers; but we love more deeply our sacred faith, the blessed legacy of our forefathers, and we wish not to forget Palestine, whilst we sojourn in France, or England, or America; nor be unmindful of Jerusalem, whilst indulging in the elegancies of Paris, of London, or of any town in the Western World.

We contend that our religious interests are paramount to our political ones, and come, at the same time, in no actual conflict with the latter. But in the present whirl of passions which have been let loose over the world, the Jews are running the danger of losing themselves in the agitation of public affairs, and forgetting that they are men who have other duties to perform, besides voting at elections, and fighting in battles; that the possession of a few political offices, which barely allow the incumbent the bread he eats for his wages, is not the ultimate good which a man is to desire; that there are higher appointments, nobler desires, than those flowing from king or republic, from Caesar or from Rome. The Jew has yet the same destiny which he had <<425>>under the reign of terror to which he subjected; and the present actual or approaching freedom of mingling as a Jew with the masses, does not of right empower him to cast away his privilege of being one of God’s chosen people.

This he is in spite of himself. He may ridicule the form of our prayers, which says, “Thou hast chosen us from all people, Thou hast loved us, and favoured us, and exalted us, above all nations, and Thou hast sanctified us with thy commandments, and brought us near, O our King! unto thy service, and hast called us by thy great and holy name.” They may say, that it savours of arrogance to suppose that we are any better than other sects, or that we have received any peculiar privilege or mission more than followers of other religions. But does their ridiculing change the fact of the thing’s being so? Does their infidelity in the least derogate from our being the light of mankind, always, as yet, far in advance in all matters belonging to an enlightened faith? The possession of the Scriptures from time immemorial stamps us as the heralds of a sound philosophy and a rational knowledge of the ways of Providence; and since the world has borrowed our religious instruction, and adopted it partly as its own, it has not, in the least, derogated from our position of being the favourite messengers of the Most High, in his spreading through us a knowledge of himself to mankind at large. The history of the world proves our importance as public teachers; and it is therefore no undue pride on our part to claim for ourselves that position which history assigns to us, if it speak at all the candid truth. It shows, therefore, no great self-respect on the part of our men of the day, to make now an affected sacrifice on the altar of popular patriotism, by disclaiming their separate Jewish nationality, as little as it became them but lately to flatter, basely flatter, tyrannical royalty, for according to them the least favour, for letting drop into their hungry mouths some few stray useless crumbs from the royal tables.

Mow supremely ridiculous must it appear to intelligent Christians to hear Jews say that they only desire to be Frenchmen, Englishmen, Germans, or any other modern tribe, as though everybody knew not that the prophecies of a restoration and a redeemer were too deeply implanted in our hearts, and too evident in Scripture, to be talked  away by Jewish aspirants for <<426>>public offices. How much nobler, and more agreeable to truth would it be were they to declare, in consonance with our religion, that the Jew is attached to the state where he lives by the express command of Scripture; that he loves the soil of his nativity, because it is his native land; that he is obedient to the laws legally enacted, because it is with him a matter of conscience, as he is taught, דינא דמלכותא דינא “The enactments of the realm are valid enactments to the Israelites;” that next to his religion, he is bound to respect the authorities of the state, without concerning himself with the form of government; at the same time that he rejoices in the diffusion of freedom and equality, as these are the exponents of the holy religion which he received by inheritance from the time of Moses. That therefore he is both from principle and feeling a patriot and a lover of peace, which character does not conflict with the high destiny which awaits his religion, and in consequence his own fellow-descendants from Abraham, the bearers of this peculiar system of faith and conduct.

Should such an avowal satisfy our Christian neighbours and win their esteem, well and good; it will be doubly pleasing that in our candidly avowing our principles, we have secured the confidence and good-will of our fellow-countrymen. But even if they were not satisfied, but should continue to entertain their ancient ill-will towards God’s chosen people, what of that? Are we now to bury into oblivion the principles of Judaism, because we run the danger of a little popular odium, which can do us little or no injury, save the non-participating in a few public offices, whereas we in our predecessors could avow them boldly when all was at stake for our avowal? when the prison, the rack, the scaffold, were the reward of our professions, or when exile and confiscation were the mildest punishments we could hope for? How miserably low sinks this modern infidel disavowal, compared with the ancient lion-hearted heroism; how insignificantly small appear the office-hunters, (for they are nothing better,) of the present hour, when contrasted with the unflinching men of iron nerve and unbending resolution, to whom the world was nothing, so it concerned their Maker’s service!

And yet, as our readers can readily tell themselves, it is the transition from the bare privilege of living on the earth to an <<427>>assumption of equality with all other men, which constitutes our danger, strange as the fact might appear, did not history and experience confirm the truth of the sad and humiliating story. Men who could have become exalted, the highest in the state, on forswearing their religion, and who were condemned to death for refusing to yield it, as were the Jews in former days, now, in the persons of their descendants, regard it as nothing, cast it off as a worthless bauble, because its profession might savour of incivism, when they run no danger or disqualification whatever for avowing their sentiments boldly. Perhaps you will say, they do not believe any longer in the Messiah; they desire no farther any return to Palestine; their places of worship in Paris, in Frankfort, or Petersburg, are their temples, and these respective places their Jerusalem; wherefore we presume the Emperor of Russia, the Queen of England, and the temporarily elected rulers of the republics, are their messiahs. Likely enough; but is this all not rank infidelity? a total rejection of evident biblical predictions? or enforcing an interpretation hostile alike to the letter and spirit of the seers of Israel? Nor do we care who the authors of such heterodox views are; whether they are those the most or the least renowned for learning and piety; nor can we be ridiculed out of our notions, on the plea that they belong to antiquated orthodoxy, befitting ages of darkness, and  opposed to modern enlightenment.

There is but one truth in religion; and if a thing was true in the times of the temple, it is not the less so now, that twenty-five centuries have elapsed since Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Zechariah, and Malachi foresaw and foretold a glorious future. Antiquated orthodoxy! do you hear that? Judaism has become old fashioned; our new modistes have decreed a new-shaped dress for it, something which will make it more amiable-looking; they desire a new cloak and hat for it, so as to hide its old-fashioned features from the offended sight of those who hate everything that is venerable for age and the hold it has on the affections of mankind! And must our religion be thus treated? has it truly ceased to be useful, holy, and full of saving power? Is there any sign of antiquation, decrepitude, or senile decay about it? But investigation will not bear one out to say that the universality of God’s power is not true now; that the fact of a public delivery of the Decalogue has ceased to be <<428>>a fact; that the prophecies which were true in the days of Isaiah, are not true under the rule of Nicholas of Russia, and Victoria of England.

We will concede that some observances have by degrees crept in which, though abolished, would leave the main pillars of religion untouched, and the building of our faith undiminished in strength and beauty. But the tendencies of the time are not to get rid of superfluities, but of essentials likewise; there seems to be prevailing a rage for change, for pulling down, for contradicting ancient opinions, for uprooting what our forefathers have planted. And for what is all this to be done? Can you tell us, kind reader? Perhaps not; but we fancy that we can trace the cause of the effort in the effect it has produced on its promoters; they wish to break down, not alone the political barriers, but also those of religion, which  divide the Jew from the gentile; they claim equality in the eyes of the law; and to prove themselves worthy of the boon, they will show that they themselves have got rid of ancient prejudices; and straightway all that presents the least obstacle to an amalgamation of the races must be got rid of; and thus the household of Israel would rapidly approach its separate existence should such counsels prevail. This, some may say, would be no injury to the happiness of mankind: they may aver that in times gone by, before the rights of man were correctly understood, it may have been well to have on earth the Jewish nation, as the depository of useful ideas and a belief in a pure Deity. But irrespective of this not being any reason for our own desertion of our standard, we may ask in reply, Who will warrant us that the disappearance of the Jews may not at once prove fatal to liberty and enlightenment? who can assure us, that with the dissolution of the family which so long treasured up and preserved a correct knowledge of worship, superstition may not again seize on the earth and its inhabitants? We may safely abide an answer which can never be rendered so as to satisfy our misgivings; hence on the score of humanity also must we resist the abandonment of any principle which might endanger the permanence of the Jewish nation as separate and distinct among the families of man.

Now, as a firm believer in the truth of the divine promise, we have no fear whatever of the continual presence on earth of the Jews; they will never disappear totally. But the danger which <<429>>impends is that to individuals, as was the state of persecution to which we were subjected in Spain and elsewhere. Whole families disappeared, by being united first by force or fear, to their Christian oppressors; but succeeding generations did not return to Judaism; and even now there are thousands of families in Spain, Portugal, and their colonies, who avow their Jewish descent, who disbelieve in Christianity, and are yet unwilling to come back to our communion. To be sure, immense numbers, when we consider the difficulties to which they were subjected, did return to the ancient faith, and founded the congregations of Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and subsequently of Jamaica, the West Indies, and the English continental colonies, now the congregations at New York, Charleston, and Savannah, and the extinct one at Newport, Rhode Island; but for all this, a far larger number of individuals of Jewish descent are still in the countries above named, and it is only to be decided by the future whether they ever will be rescued until the coming of the son of David, from the midst of the worshippers of error. The same danger may fall to the lot of many families now Jews by the new notions of political fraternization; whilst not all will be drawn aside, as we are promised through our prophets.

It is to arrest the evil of false doctrines which are so boldly preached up, that it behooves all true men of Israel to arouse their utmost exertions. Why should so many be cut off from the household of Jacob, when we could insure their abiding with us? Would we not be equally guilty with them if we do not labour to arrest them in their apostasy? We hence appeal to all those earnest in the cause of our religion not to be satisfied with merely doing their individual duty; but to endeavour also to scatter the light of truth to others around them. It is, perhaps, next to impossible to make an impression on those already grown up, who have the world in their hearts, who value nothing which does not contribute to their personal aggrandizement. But it is, nevertheless, worth our while to make the effort to impress a better feeling on the people. Do we know whether they are beyond reach? can we be certain that many may not be converted to the Lord, if we make the same efforts which the gentiles do to preach faithfully their religion? If we diffuse books, tracts, and disseminate knowledge, and as it were compel <<430>>people to think? We have done everything but this; we have studied sciences to become great among men; we have laboured to remove political inequalities; we have striven hard to force upon others our peculiar views of reform; but show us that class of leaders who have preached unitedly their faith without any other prospect than winning souls to heaven, and we will say that we are wronging our public men as a body. Individually there are many who have nobly done their duty; but they have always stood too much alone: a concert of action is required, that one may not pull down what the other builds up.

But above all, the youth of Israel ought to be better protected than the preceding generation has been, especially in this country. It should not be left to chance whether they obtain any Jewish education or not; they ought to be early indoctrinated, early guided in the path of duty, early taught to feel for their faith, and to glory in its practices. We should make them Jews in every feeling and thought; we should induce them to love their people, and to think the poorest and humblest equal with them before the Lord; to value political greatness and wealth as nothing, if their acquisition should make them absent from the house of our God, and strangers to his worship. We ought to labour with might and main to bring back the ancient feeling of self-sacrificing devotion, which enabled so many martyrs to remain firm even unto death; and by this means we should effect a beautiful conformity among all who may come here after, that they would never deny the truths they have received out of complaisance to public clamour, despite of the charges of inhospitable seclusion on our part in the new remodelling of society, which is now in progress, any more than our fathers were terrified by greater and more diversified terrors.

We again repeat, the present is a time of danger to Israel; and our men of faith ought to labour to avert it with God’s blessing; and we say they do not do their duty, unless they exert themselves, commensurately with their powers, to do something for the upholding of the holy sanctuary, of which we are the appointed guardians.—With these views premised, we beg to call attention to Dr. Wise’s circular, which he has sent to us, in respect to the proposed meeting of Israelite ministers and laymen, which we hope will convene in the ensuing spring.