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


The Communication of “Truth.”


In our last number we gave insertion to an article written by a correspondent signing himself “Truth,” (אמת) condemning in toto our whole course in conducting the Occident, censuring us and our contributors in no measured terms. We gave our correspondent a hearing upon the principle that whoever has anything to offer to the consideration of Israelites shall not lack a medium of conveyance for his thoughts, if our magazine can provide it; and as our own acts, commissions, and <<90>>omissions, as far as they concern the public, are also proper subjects of animadversion, we see no valid reason why we should spare our personality, whilst exercising the right so often of speaking in terms of condemnation of other men. Many may perhaps think this a strange sort of impartiality; but with us just censure is a thing which we do do not consider ourself authorized to escape, and if it be undeserved, then it is evident it can do us no injury whatever. At the same time the publication of the article in question has induced several esteemed correspondents to come to our rescue, and it has thus given us the gratifying assurance that all our labours have not been directed into the wrong channel, and that, however there is much in our proceeding which doubtless deserves reprobation, we have not altogether missed the object of our undertaking. We will now in our justification give the principal portion of two letters received since our last, partially to correct some errors, and partially to give publicity to certain new matters thus introduced to the notice of the reader.

To the Editor of the Occident

Reverend Sir,

In the April number of the Occident I read an article by one who adopts אמת for his signature; but it is the first time that I see “Truth” contradicting itself; and indeed a fictitious truth is the newest of all the phantoms of modern times. Permit me, sir, to make a few brief replies against the article in question. Truth asserts (p. 5,) “The Occident cannot signify news, or light from the western states, but—to instruct the Israelites.” I suppose, in my humble opinion, that is the chief problem of a Jewish journal to represent the present history of our people whenever it is accessible, (all other articles being mere additions to give grace to the work,) and a history of Hebrew literature of the day, and the causes and consequences of the ruling spirit of the age. “Truth” will discover the motto of the Occident corresponding with my views about journalism, when he merely carefully considers the old Latin proverb, “Historia mater vitae est.” History is indeed the best teacher of life, and the safest guide through its cares; history is a second and distinct revelation of God. The Lord placed Moses on a rock, whence he should learn to know God and his divine attributes; Maimonides calls that rock Nature, and I add to it History, since both reveal to us the God of Israel in his majesty and glory.

Truth says farther, “And thirdly, how to conduct themselves towards <<91>>their neighbours, which latter duty includes, according to the Talmud, the observance of the whole law.” I most emphatically object against such an impious assertion; where, O Truth! are Sabbath, Festivals, Shechita, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Zizith, Milah, Pidyon Bechor, Matzah, and many other commandments understood under the precept “Love thy neighbour as thyself?” He translates the words of the Talmud, ואהבת לרעך כמוך זו כלל גדול שבתורה “And thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself is the principal command of the law;” but every one must understand that the ש of שבתורה would in that case be superfluous; I presume it ought to be rendered, “Love thy neighbour as thyself is one of the grand principles of our law;”* for there are besides this other principles and fundamental rules, as “Thou shalt love the Lord;” “Be ye holy,” &c.; but they are above the comprehension of many people, as was the case with the proselyte who wanted Hillel to teach him the law whilst he could stand on one foot, wherefore he was referred to neighbourly love as the basis of our faith. Does Truth mean to assert that we shall learn to love our God merely to become fit and willing to love our neighbour? But, sir, we are to love our neighbour (as a religious duty), in order to learn likewise to love our God: the latter is therefore a higher and nobler principle than the former. Or does he suppose, that we shall be holy in order that our manners and feelings towards our fellow-mortals should be pure? whereas this is but the beginning, the end being that we should love God with a spotless heart and a pure mind.

* In justice to Truth we will remark, that Johlson in his אלומי יוסף gives the same definition of the saying of Rabbi Akiba; at the same time a proper regard to the construction of the phrase with ש would still say that the love of our fellow-man is the great principle of the law. But omit the relative, it may mean, that this duty is a great principle of religion. By the way, the men of modern times have employed the aphorism of the wise Rabbi to elevate the social above those properly termed religious duties; whereas, Rabbi Akiba meant to convey no such thing, as the history of his death amply demonstrates, when he said that he always longed to be permitted to prove that he could love God under all circumstances, with his heart, soul, and might, even when life was to be taken; and he expired with the blessed unity of God resting in his lips, amid the most cruel tortures of the Roman tyrant. He then wished to convey by these parallel ideas that religion proper knows but of two principles: the one is to love God above all, and under all circumstances and trials; the other to love our fellow-beings. Of course this view does not place the social duties above those which belong to revealed religion, and exhibits Judaism as the perfection of divine wisdom.—Ed. Oc.

Truth is exceedingly blamable for charging by implication Dr. Lilienthal for an attempt to break down the fences of our sages. <<92>>Where are his proofs for this assumption?* If the laws of the country permitted it would be well to establish a censorship of the Jewish press of America, and appoint Truth as censor, and we should soon have a periodical which would not reflect any light of modern days.

* In a subsequent letter to us, Truth disclaims any intention of charging Dr. Lilienthal with conduct so unbecoming his station; it was merely Dr L.’s articles in the Occident, on the Russian Jews, which he considered useless.—Ed. Oc.

Truth next attacks the insertion of the advertisement of the Charleston congregation; he is averse to their manner of reading the Scripture, and he condemns it because the annual reading of the law was already instituted by Ezra. But נקרא ומתורגם “It is read and translated,” is also an institution of Ezra ; so also כל אדם קורא לעצמו “Every man reads for himself;” who authorized us to depart from these institutions? none under heaven; not even Truth himself. Why does he not declaim against their organ, their English prayers, &c.? are they not deserving of any notice? He particularly dwells on their violation of the second day of the festivals; and on page 8 he says, that God commanded “You shall not add to nor diminish from the law.” “Thou shall not turn from the word to the right or to the left;” and then gives the reason for the second days of the festivals שלחו מתם; it is not worth while to criticise Truth herein. I will not justify the steps of the Charleston congregation: I will but show how short-sighted Truth is; there are much better reasons in the Mishna for the second festivals; but he seems to have overlooked them; besides, these reasons do not contradict the very precepts quoted by Truth; and yet he strangely has lost sight of them.

Truth also inveighs against the articles of Talmid and H. G., thinking that they should have discussed their disagreement in their own study privately among themselves. But these articles were evidently published to put to shame all those very wise and sapient erudite gentlemen, who are not mindful enough to write a single word in defence of their own religion. Truth refers Talmid to the חכמי התלמוד; but, sir, what say these same wise Talmudists? Say it, if you know it, that the public  may also learn it, and Talmid thus be confuted. A Jewish Journal publishes articles militating against Judaism, which articles are altogether based upon an erroneous assumption; the editor publishes them to awaken the sleepy watchmen of the western hemisphere to defend their faith and—O pity! O tempora! O mores! there springs up Truth, and wishes a journal of this enlightened age shall fill up its pages with discussions aboutאתרוגים מורכבים and lard oil! and it shall <<93>>teach the people a better knowledge of the Hebrew, Gemara, and Kabbalah!—Kabbalah!—did you hear this? Are we Chabotnic Chassidim whom Dr. Lilienthal exposes in his article, but not half sufficiently? It is a pity indeed to meet such dark midnight under the sun of this all-exploring age, and I merely deem it my duty to expose to the public eye this midnight darkness. I should have signed this “Justice;” but I am truly your friend,

[Isaac M.] W[ise].

The second communication is from Mr. Emanuel Goldsmith, who also blames Truth for endeavouring to depreciate the value in a journal because its conductor does not manage it according to his preconceived views. We omit the introduction of Mr. G’s letter; as W. has already done ample justice to the same matter; he, however, corrects the translation of   which was rendered ששלחו מתם “The Sanhedrim sent from Tham,” by asserting “That we have no record of any place of the name of Tham in Palestine, nor is it mentioned among the places enumerated in the Mishna, where the Sanhedrim assembled after quitting Jerusalem. It is well known that the Israelites in captivity called all Palestine, generally, Tham תם, or Hatham התם, and it means then, that the Sanhedrim sent their message from Palestine to all trans-Palestine Jews, not to forego the customs of their forefathers in regard to the second days of the festivals.” Mr. G. then continues:

“Truth” also objects that it is improper to give publicity to disputes between the Jews and Christians, because they are useless; but our wise men have already admonished us to study carefully how to answer the opponents of our religion (ודע מה שתשוב לאפיקורוס); and who is more eminent in this respect than the Ramban (Nachmanides), the greatest Rabbi in Spain, and teacher of the Rashbah? And it was this eminently pious and holy man, who was also physician and philosopher, who exposed his life, and publicly disputed with Christian divines to defend the truth of our law. It is therefore evidently the duty of each Israelite, having the requisite ability, and especially in this country, where every man is at liberty to write what he pleases without danger of governmental interference, to go and do so likewise. It is my opinion, that the dispute between Talmid and H. G. concerns the main principle on which all the law hinges; for Talmid meant to prove, that man has no power to be good and to reform his conduct, for man’s heart is evil from his youth; and the whole Christian religion is based on this assumed principle, that through the man of Nazareth their hearts and the heart of all their posterity to the end of all future generations, was <<94>>circumcised, and whoever does not believe in him is unable to become holy and pure, and cannot attain future felicity.  But we, the congregation of the sons of Israel, maintain that it is perfectly within the power of man to be good or bad; and although I have not experience in these kinds of arguments, I will communicate what I have reflected on in this respect; and any error committed is not to be ascribed to the cause, but to my own insufficiency.

Talmid’s first argument is drawn from Deut. 30:6, “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, that thou mayest live;” and he says that on the verse, “And the Lord hath not given you a heart to know,” Aben Ezra comments, מאתו העלילה הראשונה meaning “from Him comes the first impulse,” and he wishes to argue from this that it is not in the power of man to reform his conduct unless the Lord first circumcises his heart. I will soon prove to him that he has entirely erred in this assumption. First, it is opposed to sound common sense; for if it were so, why are there written in the law, blessings and curses, and rewards and punishments? For if a man be compelled to act as he does, there could exist no greater injustice than that one should be rewarded the other punished; what difference could there be then between the righteous and the wicked, seeing that neither can have done anything from his own impulse? But the reverse of this is asserted in the law: “Behold I lay before thee this day—life and death—and choose thou life;” from which it is evident that free choice is in the power of man, whether he will be good or had.

But to prove that Talmid has not properly understood the meaning of Aben Ezra, I will merely state that in Deut. 30:6, he comments on these words: “For the former acts (עלילות) were not properly rectified; and after saying ‘Thou wilt return to hearken to the voice of the Lord,’ then will He also aid thee, and circumcise thy heart and the heart of thy seed; not like the circumcision of the flesh which thou art bound to perform thyself.” From this we can understand that the meaning of Aben Ezra is as follows: “After thou shalt have returned from thy own impulse to hearken to the voice of the Lord, and shalt have repented from fear, when thou hast seen that the curses have come over thee, then will He notwithstanding this, aid thee, and circumcise thy heart, that thou mayest afterwards return to Him from motives of love. Therefore, says the verse, ‘to love the Lord thy God,’ this being the highest degree of perfection; inasmuch as the law and commandments induce us to fear the Lord, but cannot carry us up to the point of loving Him, because man cannot love God unless <<95>>he knows his ways and deeds, and knows Him from his acts;” as we also say in the prayer for the new moon “He the Maker is true, for his work is true;” since we are not able to obtain a knowledge of the Creator except through his works. Moses, therefore, begged of God, “Let me know, I pray thee, thy ways;” and the prophet also exclaimed: “But herein let him who wishes to praise himself boast, that he knoweth and understandeth me, how I am the Lord, doing mercy and righteousness on earth.” But if a man commences himself to return to the Lord, though it be from fear only, then will the Lord aid him, and circumcise his heart, and assist him to become intelligent in comprehending the ways of the Lord, so that he may serve Him from love. And what Aben Ezra says in reference to the verse, “And the Lord gives you no heart to know,” “From him comes the first impulse,” is the truth; for the verse says, “a heart to know,” which is to know the Lord by his works, but it does not say, “And the Lord gave thee no heart to fear him;” because this is not the power of the Lord, but absolutely in the power of man, as our wise men declare! “Everything is in the power of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven.” Now, the words are “a heart to know;” meaning, you had not commenced to return even from fear; wherefor the Lord gave you no heart to know Him, to repent from love. What I have hitherto said of the fear of God refers not to the idea of fearing Him from his greatness, otherwise called reverence of God, for this is identical almost with the love of God, and they always exist together and are never separated; and of the King Messiah whom we hope for to come speedily in our days, it is said accordingly, “And he shall make him intelligent in the fear of the Lord;” I only referred to the fear of punishment, which is the first step.

Talmid likewise errs altogether in what he attempts to prove that the Lord occasionally does kindness to a man, and promises him good things, although this individual has not done the least to entitle him to this reward. The argument he adduces from Abraham, our original father, that we do not find that he had done anything good before God commanded him to go away from his land and kindred, is certainly unfounded. For if we put any confidence in the ancient traditions, Abraham already as a lad broke all his father’s images, and told all who came to buy there that they were nothing but wood and stone, without power to do them good or evil; he also was imprisoned in a city called Cuta, and the King sought to slay him, because he publicly proclaimed that the idols were powerless, and escaped from the grasp of the tyrant. (It is also said that he was delivered from a fiery furnace, wherein he had been cast because of his opposition to idolatry.)

<<96>>But without this the Scriptures testify that wherever he went he proclaimed in the name of the Lord, and made his godhead and unity known to all; and he was the first who, by the research of his understanding and intellect, discovered that there is a God, who rules over and directs all the world; and the Lord himself testifies concerning him: “ For I know him, (or, I love him,) because that he will command his sons and his house after him to observe the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, in order that the Lord may bring in Abraham that which he hath spoken concerning him.” In another place it is said, “In reward, because Abraham hearkened to my voice and observed my charge, my commandments, and my statutes, and my laws.” So also the Lord called him his beloved, because he had worshipped Him from love, superinduced by a contemplation of his works. And to prove to all mankind that Abraham was worthy of all the promises He made unto him and his descendants after him, He tried him with ten trials, and he remained steadfast under all; not that the holy blessed God required this proof, for He knew Abraham’s faith without it before the trials were imposed; but they were demanded to demonstrate to mankind his righteousness and rectitude of heart, because he did not withhold his only son, when God told him to sacrifice him.

This also is one of the reasons which Maimonides adduces in his book “Moreh,” when speaking of the trials of Abraham. When, now, Moses prayed to God at the time the Israelites had sinned with the golden calf, he said: “Think on Abraham, Isaac, and Israel thy servants;” and if Talmid’s views be correct that Abraham had done nothing of himself, but had merely found grace in his eyes, why should Moses mention him, so that the Lord should pardon Israel for his sake in this great iniquity, when he had done nothing of himself? Why did he not mention Noah, of whom it is said; “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord?” But the truth is, that Abraham had of his own accord risked his life to sanctify the name of the Lord, therefore will his merit be a plea for us to the end of all generations.

The other arguments which Talmid brings from Nehemiah  and others scarcely deserve a serious refutation; for we know that the righteous do not ask of the Lord anything except undeserved gifts (מתנות חנם),  although they have done good deeds, in reward of which they might ask a recompense, see Rashi’s comments on the verse “And I entreated the Lord,” Deut. 3:23; first, because they fear that any sin might prevent their being answered; as our father Jacob said, “I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and truth,” &c,; secondly, because they <<97>>do not desire to receive the reward of their observance of the commandments in this world.

We have now arrived at the last proof which Talmid adduces, on which he has built his whole superstruction, saying that no answer can be made to it; namely, that derived from the verse “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;” from which he endeavours to prove that the Lord does occasionally do good to man, and promises him blessings for himself and his descendants for ever, although he have done nothing whatever of himself. I will now prove to him that his argument is without foundation, and easily overthrown with but a small amount of skill, and say to him as Beruriah the wife of Rabbi Meir answered that unbeliever, who asked her: “It is written, Rejoice, O barren one who hast not borne children; why shall she rejoice because she has not borne?” with, “Look to the end of the verse, which says, ‘For more numerous are the children of the desolate than the children of the married one, saith the Lord;’” for it is too much the habit of Christians when desiring to bring any argument in favour of their religion, to adduce a single verse, or a single phrase, nay, even a single letter, and to magnify its importance, erecting thereon a superstructure, the like of which has never existed, without regarding what precedes or what follows, what is first and what is last. I will therefore explain the connexion of the various verses in the context. Moses had prayed unto the Lord to pardon the Israelites for the sin of making the golden calf, and that He himself might go with them; to which the Lord answered: “This thing also which thou hast said will I do, for thou hast found grace in my eyes, and I know thee by name.” Afterwards Moses requested: “Let me see, I pray thee, thy glory,” meaning “the ways and principles with which Thou governest the world,” for the glory of the Lord are his attributes; and he was then answered, “I will let all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim in the name of the Lord before thee, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;” and the word טובי my goodness, signifies as Rashi explains כל מדת טובי “all the attribute of my goodness,” for all the acts of God are good, although occasionally we suppose that they are evil, since the whole of them contribute to the ultimate good. Rashi says farther, “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,” &c.; there are times when I will be gracious and merciful, and there are again times when I will not forgive; Moses, then, did not know from this representation whether the Lord would forgive Israel for the sin of making the golden calf; but when the great <<98>>revelation of the attributes of God did take place, the Lord promised him that he would forgive them; and he said to him: “Behold, I will make a covenant; in the presence of all thy people will I do wonders, which have not been created in all the earth and all the nations; and all this people in the midst of which thou art, shall see the work of the Lord; for it is a fearful thing which I will do with thee;” and it is as Aben Ezra comments on this passage: “This shall then be as a written testimony that I have forgiven their iniquity.” This is the evident meaning of the text of Exod. 33. and 34., without seeking for a sense which the words themselves have not.

Let me now ask of Talmid, how can we derive from Exod. 33:19, the verse under discussion, the idea that the Lord promises here to man a goodness to him and his descendants for ever, although he have done no good thing from his own impulse which would render him deserving of the promised blessings, when the verse evidently only means to instruct us that at times the Lord pardons iniquity and occasionally not, just as his supreme wisdom may decree in justice? The foundation of Talmid’s argument being thus removed, the superstructure must also fall to the ground, and our Law will thus stand unmoved as a strong wall, its gates well fortified with bolt and bar; and all the proofs of Talmid derived from his first misapprehension, will not injure in the least our faith, which we Israelites must steadily abide by, without listening to the idle words of our opponents. Only let us in a true spirit return to the Lord, and deserve thereby the speedy corning of the redeemer.

Emanuel Goldsmith

New York, the Eve of Sabbath Tazreeang, 5608.