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

The Prospect.

 

Last year we published several papers under this general title, and we wish to speak again on the subject, to throw out, as usual with us, ideas for reflection, more than from a view to exhaust the matter in debate. We fancy indeed that the business and pursuits of most men prevent them from thinking deeply on any topic; every day brings its cares and its demands on their time; and hence public business claims but rarely their attention, simply because it does not concern them as much as their own affairs, not because they do not feel at their heart the importance of things not immediately relating to them. It is therefore evidently the task of a journalist to be suggestive of thought in others; he is supposed to have more leisure than his readers; and that he takes more pains to inform himself on the subject of his publication than they they do; and hence, though he may neither be nor claim to be wiser than they, it is to be expected from him that he will survey the field carefully all round, mark the prominent points, see where improvements are wanted, where defects ought to be removed, and then tell his readers candidly what he has found in the progress of his espionage. It is possible enough that he may not be well received with his budget of complaints and faultfinding; he may be accused of being what is vulgarly termed a croaker; he may be regarded as prejudiced, or enamoured of a peculiar fancy of his own, as riding a hobby on all occasions, and which he would gladly persuade others to mount out of compliment to his example; but if he is possessed of any honesty of purpose or <<374>>true moral courage, he must not be diverted from his purpose, but go forward with a singleness of aim straight on the path of his labours, speak out what he deems the truth, and urge again and again what he has discovered in the way of remedial agents, till he obtains a kind hearing, and a favourable reception for his ideas from those for whom he works. We for our part do not crave applause, gladly as we would be approved of by our friends; it is the cause of our faith for which we have seized the pen; and hence we will give our thoughts tongue; let the issue be what it may, nothing doubting that fruits will result at some future day, though for the present all efforts of the kind we are making should appear to be in vain.

Our readers must have observed no less than we, the rapid increase of Jews in this country, and that daily almost new accessions are made to our population; since nearly every ship which arrives from the continent of Europe, and many a one coming from England, brings over more or less persons belonging to our communion. Places where the Jew was formerly a curiosity, have now among their inhabitants some of our race; and the ideas which are our peculiar characteristic, formerly heard merely to excite astonishment, now are proclaimed from many pulpits in various and distant parts of the land, and daily more teachers of the word will be demanded to expound the law and the prophets to the faithful. Congregations are accordingly multiplying, as settlements of Jews are augmented, and even in towns where we have been for some years domesticated, more room is required for the worshippers than the former houses of worship could afford; hence the dividing of congregations is not altogether a matter of caprice in many instances, but one of necessity; and there even where a division took place in the first instance without necessity, and where the void thereby occasioned was at first severely felt, but few years elapse, and the places of those who absented themselves are more than filled by the rising generation, and new comers. We might instance, without being invidious, our own congregation. It is now eight years ago since a part of our members and seat holders determined on forming a new society with a different Minhag from ours, which being the Portuguese, and they having been used to the Polish, did not so well suit their views, although <<375>>many of them had been accustomed to it for years. The separation was indeed painful to us as an individual and minister of the congregation, for various reasons, since we deemed the cause alleged not sufficient to warrant a secession, and preferred one strong united body to a division into two weak portions. But barely had the new congregation been organized than new accessions came to us from various quarters; and when four years had elapsed, it was found necessary to enlarge the number of seats to the utmost capacity of our building; and the crowded state of the seats during the late festivals has caused persons to speak of the probable necessity there would be before long of erecting a new and larger Synagogue, so as to accommodate all those who may desire to worship with us.

This idea, it is true, will not be realized in all probability in a long time; still, its very suggestion makes good what we say, that the increase of Israelites in this country is so great that any secession is not likely to be followed by the destruction of any of the congregations now existing in the large cities of the Union. And whilst our own immediate community has prospered in the lapse of eight years, the new branch has also increased in vigour and numbers, and it will not be long before there will be consecrated a new and appropriate house of worship which has lately been commenced, as we have just learned from reliable authority.

A division also took place about a year ago in the German congregation of Philadelphia, and we hear both the parts are doing well in a congregational point of view. No doubt they will have to struggle for some time to acquire proper strength and extension for the effecting of useful measures; but with a firm resolve and perseverance in good counsels, all difficulties will be readily overcome. The same result as existing in distant congregations reaches us constantly. Thus in Cincinnati, barely has a new Synagogue been consecrated, when we hear that the old congregation speak of enlarging their building, it being too small to contain the worshippers demanding admittance; and whilst these two bodies already exist there, a third community has formed itself, and worships apart in a place of its own.

At Albany also in the Synagogue Bethel under the charge of Dr. Wise, the crowd was so great on Rosh Hashanah that many had to remain in the entry, not being able to gain admittance into the main building, and this <<376>>notwithstanding a new Synagogue was lately consecrated there, as our readers already know. In Montgomery, Alabama, as we see from the public papers, the festivals were celebrated with due solemnity, thus evidencing that the  new congregation established there about a year ago, as we informed our readers at the time, continues to pursue its godly course, marching in unison as witnesses of the divine glory. From New York also we learn with much pleasure that the Synagogues were crowded, some as we have heard to their utmost capacity, with attentive and devout worshippers. Thus evidencing that in both the seacoast and distant towns the same spirit has prevailed among the people, at the time especially devoted to praise and prayer.

We do not say all this in the way of vain boasting, to show to the world that we think ourselves righteous, and as having discharged all our duty; for no one more than we is aware that a great deal of evil exists among us, and it is on that very account that we exhibit the above information to the public, to excite attention and to ask their aid, under Heaven, to devise a remedy. We must again remind the public that twenty-four years ago, as we said on a former occasion, there were but five or six regularly organized congregations in the whole Union; now there are more, nearly twice as many, in the city of New York alone, and nearly every congregation in that place probably now exceeds the whole number of Jews then there. Notwithstanding this great increase; however, we have done little for Judaism or its propagation since that time. It is true congregations have been formed, and Synagogues have been built; in a few instances too, schools have been organized; but all this has not made the religion of Israel accessible to all; and the knowledge of the Hebrew has not been universally diffused among the natives of this land, in the manner it might easily have been done, had people been only earnest in their duty. Too many persons have been, besides all this, allowed to drop off from our communion, without the necessary efforts being made to restrain them; by which we mean that they had not been so instructed as to place their adherence to our faith upon some stronger ground than their being born Jews,—a motive not always powerful enough to restrain the passions, and to place a bar to the calls of interested views. The Israelites in this country are on a different footing <<377>>from those of almost any other on the face of the globe. In no other, except in Australia, are they living in many instances so isolated and removed from Jewish influence. Their neighbours and all their associates are Christians, at least nominally, though many of them cannot with justice lay much claim to a sincere conviction or an extensive knowledge of their own faith. Even in the larger towns where we mostly do congregate, we are in an exceeding small minority, in comparison with the other inhabitants, and are surrounded by influences totally hostile to the prosperity of our religion.

The churches are open weekly, and presided over by men who have the reputation for eloquence; the Jew is invited by his neighbours to attend, to be entertained and instructed by the fine speeches of these public teachers. He cannot well refuse to go, because, especially in isolated positions, it would look odd to be absent from church when all his neighbours attend, and perhaps might result in an injurious effect on his business; and in fact we have heard of instances where such persons had seats in churches, and were regular attendants, and contributed the same as the Christians to the expenses of the establishment. Now we do not say that we should not listen once in a while to a sermon from some Christian minister; without determining the admissibility of our so doing on religious grounds, we will admit it, as it has been done of late by men of piety and learning; but this does not say that we should attend church regularly and at stated periods like members of Christian societies, not to mention that it is sinful to be a pew-holder and contributor towards the support of a worship which we must deem erroneous. It is one thing to be charitable to the non-Israelite; to be active in serving all creatures of God in their distress; to know no difference of creeds when humanity appeals for aid; but it is something very different to support a worship other than ours, although we admit that Jews have always contributed towards building of churches for the sake of peace and harmony with their neighbours. Be this as it may, we contend that no Jew has a right to be a pew-holder in a church, though he may have contributed to its erection, or to be a stated attendant, thereby countenancing the idea that he is edified by the religious instruction there imparted. He has no right to say that he will listen merely to the <<378>>morality of the sermons, and leave the doctrinal parts to pass for what they are worth. This is all sheer nonsense; you cannot so separate the component portions of a sermon, nor will any honest Christian minister so arrange his discourses as to make the doctrinal subservient to the moral portion. He is bound to teach his faith as he is authorized by those who gave him the commission to preach; and we are yet to learn that there exists a single sect of Trinitarians who do not put simple faith far above all moral acts in the scale of merit. Besides it requires no small share of religious knowledge to separate the two elements, morals and doctrines, in a sermon; they are so intimately blended, that the former cannot proceed without the latter; they must be based upon the admission of religious truths at least they are so in all doctrinal sermons, and this justly, as we think; and hence the admission of the necessity of morals, upon the persuasion of a preacher, at once admits the correctness of the foundations which he lays down, or in other words, the correctness of his doctrines. Now to learn morals in this way is to claim that a Jew can observe his religion sincerely by founding it upon Trinitarian doctrines,—an absurdity which a child will hardly be guilty of in its reasoning, should it reason at all; and yet upon such insufficient grounds do some constitute themselves attendants at church, and still say they are sound in faith.

Our remarks may savour of illiberality; we know this well enough beforehand; and we are prepared to hear the question asked: “Are we to remain without religious instruction? is it not better that we obtain it from Christian sources than not at all?” And then we  shall be referred to the absence of pulpit instruction among us, as also to the superior eloquence of the gentile ministers above our own. Nevertheless we say, that Israelites should not attend stated meetings at Christian churches, by which they might endanger their religious conformity, or give the appearance of their defection to others. We will state at once that no Jew or Jewess need at the present day be without some knowledge of our religion; information is conveyed in so many various ways, that the most isolated can acquire a large share, provided they are only willing to seek for it; and it is precisely this point we are aiming at, that is, to admonish all our <<379>>readers to endeavour to diffuse with an enlightened zeal the tenets of our religion amidst all of the house of Israel who may be brought in contact with them; to exhort in conversation, correspondence, and by whatever means that may be accessible, all their friends to a profession of religion, so that no one may be lost if their instrumentality can retain him in our communion. Let every one who has books lend them to those who may not be so fortunately situated, and as some may not be willing to read without a certain previous preparation, let those who have the knowledge impart some general outline of the contents, to induce the others to seek for more particulars in the works themselves.

Any religious reading or any oral instruction, even if defective in many particulars, is preferable to obtaining the spurious kind obtainable from sectarian books or preachers, and on no account can we acknowledge the propriety or safety of seeking from Christian ministers a guidance to our duties. We will concede to them superior learning and eloquence in many instances; but we would seriously ask, For what purpose do they employ these gifts? Is it not to teach and enforce their particular dogmas? or is it to teach pure morality? But in truth, any man who maintains that Christians can safely teach Israelites, must never have heard a Christian doctrinal sermon; for all the lectures we have heard, (to be sure they were not many,) contained much which one must forget before being truly benefited by them.

This does not say that Christians could not be aided in the pursuit of their religion by these means; but that they are unsuitable for Jews, and that is all for which we are contending. It may be, we will concede, that some one may hear pulpit lectures from strangers without any injury to his faith; he may hear the trinity, incarnation, and vicarious sacrifice, taught and enforced without having his faith shaken; but, in the name of sound truth, where is the necessity for his running the risk of confusing his mind with incomprehensible doctrines, and striving against their taking possession of his soul? And where again is the necessity that he must be gratified by eloquence of a pulpit orator at so great a risk, for so fierce a struggle? Eloquence is truly a noble gift, and that man is the highest among his fellows who can sway them by the power of his words; still it is not necessary to teach us our duties, for they are plainly written down <<380>>in the Bible, and require no such great efforts to expound them. We do not mean to assert that one can know the whole extent of his religion by simply reading the Bible in a translation without note or commentary; for there is much comprised therein which we have received more clearly in the tradition from our fathers. But in the absence of Jewish teachers, should an Israelite be so unfortunate as to live alone and without the means of consulting a teacher, he can at all events learn from his Bible that we are enjoined to believe in ONE GOD, without beginning and without end, who is the Creator and Ruler of the universe; who rewards the good and punishes the bad. and whose providence watches over all. Farther, he will find therein the history of his people from their origin to the rebuilding of the second temple; how their crimes were punished, and how they were blessed when they obeyed the Lord; he will also learn that we are bound to observe the Sabbath, as a token that God created the world—not that we shall keep the first day of the week as a memento of something not alluded to therein; he will find the institution of the festivals not observed by other societies; the abstaining from various kinds of food permitted by the customs of other churches; and in brief, the whole system of Jewish doctrines and actions.

Where then can be the necessity for his going weekly or monthly and hear these matters all denounced or explained away by an eloquent pulpit lecturer Will this increase his chance of salvation? his own contentment of mind? May not one of two things result thence: either that he may imperceptibly adopt the erroneous ideas of the speaker, or reject all revelation concerning which he hears so beautiful an exposition totally at variance with what his simple Bible teaches him, and which he recollects it to have been what his sainted mother taught him in his early youth? Do not tell us that such cases do not occur; we know not indeed from the confession of men that they have experienced such events; but the probability is that many a derangement of mind, many a reckless course of infidelity had no other commencement; for that mind must be firm indeed which can drink in dissentient views day by day without being influenced by them in the least; and we contend that the smallest impressions produced in this way, unless they be merely moral in their nature, must be injurious.

<<381>>
The absence of eloquent Jewish preachers is certainly an evil; and no one can feel it more deeply than one who has made some efforts to apply a remedy thereto. But they are not altogether wanting, and every year new men arrive among us to supply some vacant pulpit whence to proclaim the words of the living God to the thirsting multitude. Look back on what has been accomplished within the last quarter of a century, and you must acknowledge that something has been done. We were without proper models; the ancient Derasha books had gone imperceptibly out of date; Christian sermons were not safe precedents to copy; the audiences were not used to a popular exposition of the truths of religion; our education moreover had not been of that high scholastic order which the clergymen of Christian sects had enjoyed for so long a period, before polite literature became accessible to us. And what has been the result? Men from the ranks of the people, upon being called for, have stood forth as the champions of their faith; and toiling hard amidst poverty and other adverse circumstances, earning their daily bread as laborious teachers or yet more laborious Rabbins, they have astonished modern Europe with the depth of their words, with the irresistible force of their native eloquence, and they have proved that the fire of the ancient prophets is not extinct in Israel.

Make it then apparent that you want men of high thought and of noble intellect to lead you; treat your teachers in such a manner that they can devote themselves with pleasure to their calling: and you will not have long to wait before your own sons and other near connexions will apply themselves to the labour of winning souls to Heaven. Christians know better than we do how to encourage their ministers; they respect them as divine messengers; they listen to their words with profound deference; and even defend them when they prove themselves unworthy of the high trust reposed in them. Now we do not ask for Jewish teachers of the people the same ease of living, the same submissive respect, and certainly not an exemption from exposure and condemnation when their conduct deserves it, it being against our genius to treat any set of men after this fashion. But surely no one can say that it would be correct to allow a worthy man to struggle with straightened circumstances <<382>>whilst he devotes days and nights to your improvement; to compel him to look with a dread upon the future prospects of his helpless wife and children, if you have it in your power to cheer his heart with brighter hopes and fairer prospects; to treat him with that insolence and overbearing tyranny in either individuals, congregations or officers as to make him feel his subservience, and that he is eating your bread; or to magnify every foible as though it were a great crime he had been committing. And yet how many a poor minister among us has had to sutler all this and more too; and notwithstanding this, people wonder that so few great minds are willing to become Synagogue officers under such circumstances, and that those who do offer themselves are very often not such as are qualified by a thorough education for so noble a position as that of spiritual leader of a respectable congregation. We are glad to confess that much has been achieved herein too by way of reforming the evil, and with God’s blessing more will be speedily accomplished. But people must not expect impossibilities, and rest satisfied with a gradual improvement in the personnel of the ministry, till they become all that can be asked of them.

One thing, however, must be carefully considered in this respect, and this is the establishment of schools where such an education might be acquired as to fit the scholars to be called to the ministry when vacancies should occur hereafter, and until this be done, we shall always have the spectacle presented to us of our seeking for our teachers among adventurers who come hither in search of office, in place of our seeking for those whom we might delight to honour by placing them at our head. In saying this we would not, God forbid, cast a slur upon the good and learned men, who now preside over many congregations in this country; but we wish to insist that it is only the goodness of God who directed the choice of the people so that no injury has resulted to our faith from the utter want of system in our appointments. We say of this, that it is not to our taste, and that it ought to be altered, and that both for the sake of the ministers and the people; and we. say, if so much has been effected with a defective organization, how much greater would the good have been, had we had a different mode of proceeding. It is truly consolatory to find that we have progressed so well; but much remains to be done, and we insist <<383>>upon it that the people have much in their own power, and that the means are at hand to do it, provided only they are properly applied. Who can doubt that by a proper combination religious observance might be promoted, and education immeasurably far advanced? Who says that we should not be more respected if we all adhered more to the law and defended more each other’s rights and interests?  We deem it superfluous to adduce arguments to establish what is so self-evident, and rest content for the present with the bare statement of facts and opinions we have presented, and we hope that at length our words may find entrance into the hearts of the people, and that our aspirations may not always remain “pious wishes” merely.

We beg our friends to excuse the desultory and unfinished state of our remarks, and hope that they will supply any deficiency in argument and connexion which they may discover, and we promise them that we will recur to this important subject before long, our time being so limited this month, that we have not sufficient leisure to discuss it as we would have wished.

(To be continued.)