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בס"ד

Judaism And Its Principles.

(Continued from page 384.)

Whilst the gentile world, in all parts of the earth, looked with either hostility or contempt upon the suffering sons of Jacob, it was no difference, so far as political rights were concerned, what they believed or rejected. We say advisedly “political rights,” since their persons were exposed, it is true, to the most imminent dangers on account of their religion; but except by a total denial of their faith could their outward condition have been materially improved in the then state of the world, when any difference of opinion was a bar to preferment, since the word toleration, not to mention freedom, had not then become familiar to the ear of mankind. But when the Catholic Church was gradually broken up by the inroads of the so-called Reformation, when nation rose up against nation to struggle for the right of thinking and acting for themselves, though all parties still hated and suspected the Jews, it was impossible to prevent that the relaxation of the uniformity of power, once inherent in the Pope and his satellites, should react also to the advantage of the long-trodden-down sons of Jacob and, in fact, amidst the tumults which were constantly revived so often as they had been allayed, <<434>>left the potentates neither time nor means to devote their exclusive attention to the extinguishing of the spark of faith that glowed in our bosom.

A wise Rabbi once said in the hearing of the writer of this, “Martin Luther’s rise was a salvation for Israel;” and the more one reflects on the mighty change consequent on his opposing the corruption of the court of Rome, the perturbation of the mind of which he was, perhaps unwillingly, the cause, the examination into civil, political, and ecclesiastical laws and customs, thereby evoked,—the conviction becomes almost overpowering, that no other event within the range of history tended more to the preservation of the house of Israel, which was so greatly endangered by the gradual diffusion of the Inquisition, which extended its blood-stained hands from its central focus in the self-boasting “eternal city,” into the heart of Germany, France, Spain, and England, in fact, whithersoever the colossus of popedom had reared its blighting visage.

The Israelites began then to breathe freely, after respiring for so many centuries in fear and dread; and they perhaps rejoiced at seeing the poisoned chalice, which they had been compelled to drain ever and anon, and constantly filled again to the brim, and overflowing with the waters of bitterness, now presented in their turn to their insolent tormentors, who spurned without deigning to look, and slaughtered without pity or remorse.

But it was a long time before any practical results for the freedom of opinion sprung from the Reformation. The early reformers, indeed, rose up against Rome, but only to become spiritual tyrants instead of the pontiff who professed to hold his power from Heaven. And when, in the long struggle which terminated at the peace of Munster, in 1648, all the continent of Europe lay bleeding and exhausted: when cities were devastated, and fields rendered desolate: when internal disunion had deprived France and Germany of all vitality almost: when the misrule of the house of Austria, aided as it was by the blood-hounds of the Inquisition, had torn asunder the power of Spain; when the Netherlands and Switzerland alone had emerged from the fierce grasp of political bondage which foreign sceptres had endeavoured to fasten upon them: kingly power and ecclesi<<435>>astical sway gradually recovered their shaken authority; and privileges forced from the potentates at the point of the sword were by degrees resumed, and the concessions and edicts of toleration were one by one revoked; and the world seemed lapsing again into a state of servitude, when one mighty event, aided as it was by the gradual diffusion of the translation of the Scriptures into various languages, broke the chains which ignorance, priestcraft, kingcraft, and aristocracy would gladly have forged for the limbs of mankind. For, however conspirators against the rights of those created in the image of God may imagine that they have at length succeeded in weaving a spell which cannot be broken; however near they may fancy themselves to stand to the consummation of their wishes, there is always one means of egress left unguarded which they did not fear to leave open, to serve, so to say, as a safety valve, by which the over-abundance of popular wrath might find vent without endangering, by its violent exhalation, the ship of state, in the manner, as it is constructed by those who fear nothing so much as to let man govern himself.

Now, whilst the world learned its religion from hireling priests solely, who moreover worked themselves constantly more and more into the chief employments of the various states which they overshadowed by their presence, all seemed well in the eyes of the governors; especially since the general exhaustion, of which we just now have spoken, caused people to sigh for peace at all hazards, and almost at any price.

There was, however, one country which had as yet escaped the devastating car of exterminating warfare, where, from some cause or the other, the rights of individual man had been better understood than elsewhere; this was England. But though it had escaped war except beyond its borders, it had been invaded by the march and clashing of opinions; and every attempt to stifle the expression of hostility to tyrannical power, caused the greater increase of opinions adverse to its continuance. We refer our readers to the history of that country for a full solution of the question; it is enough for our purpose to sketch merely the grand results, as affecting our subject; and we shall thus behold a treacherous king brought to <<436>>trial before his subjects for a violation of the fundamental covenant between them, and next we see him bleeding on the scaffold in obedience to the verdict of his unterrified judges. Call these men murderers, vilify them as regicides, or by any other opprobrious term, and still you cannot take away the glory which attaches itself to their daring in risking their lives, and what is more, their posthumous reputation, in vindicating the inalienable rights of man, violated by their perfidious king. He may have been honest in his course of policy; he may have honestly thought that his royalty required, or even the good of the country demanded, that he should govern without parliament, and invoke the sword as the arbiter in the dispute which had sprung up between him and his subjects; but the people were surely right to strike terror in their rulers, and to enable an orator in after years to exclaim, “Caesar found his Brutus, Charles I. his Oliver Cromwell, and George III.—may learn wisdom from their example.”

It was high time that rulers should learn, as once they did in the Jewish history, when a Rehoboam wished to govern against law and right, that they are there only for the good of the people, and not these for the mere pleasure and benefit of their rulers. And this was taught on the scaffold where Charles of England left his head, and from that day to this tyrants have trembled before the power of their nations, dormant and quiescent though they may appear for a time.

In this struggle for civil liberty in Britain, the religious element was clearly discernible. The adherents of kingly power even now-a-days, may ridicule the Bible phraseology and the biblical names which the Puritanic and Independent factions so greatly affected. But they forget that, when these parties exclaimed, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon,” they were also animated by the love of country and liberty, which, in ancient days, swelled in the bosom of the youthful and heroic leader of Israel. It was the Scriptures which were then engaged in dissipating the cobwebs of medieval Romish superstition; and if the hands that swung the besom were not over-delicate, if the fingers that grasped the sword did not vie in softness with those of an admired baronial maiden, they were at all events vigor<<437>>ous, nervous, strong, and ready for the task that was required of them. It must be confessed, that soon after this event Britain began to slumber again with the restoration of the Stuarts; yet the spirit which had caused the first awakening could not be held in unresisting submission; and the so-called factions kept the government continually on the watch; and caprice, indecision, cruelty, and venality alternated with each other in a regular succession, till the people, at length fully aroused, drove out the incorrigible royal house, which had never been fit to govern them, and barred its return for ever, so far as legislation could do this.

Up to the time of the Commonwealth of England, the state of the Jews all over Europe had been sad indeed; they had been expelled from the Pyreneean peninsula, from France, from many towns in Germany and Italy; only Poland seemed to be to them a safe refuge; but even where they were permitted to dwell, they had assigned to them particular portions of the cities, which are still known under the various names of Ghetto, Jewry, or Judengasse, after the various languages of the countries. There was, however, an awakening among us also; and though we could take no part in the struggles which were then waged, since neither party would permit us to bear arms, and as, in nearly all lands, all scientific development of the mind had been strictly denied to us: still the outward influences began to assume a different shape, and consequently the inward development gradually assimilated itself to the circumstances of the times.

As there is never an unmitigated evil, either in public or private affairs, so was it also with our people in those times. Thousands in Spain and Portugal had, in the inability or unwillingness to exile themselves, embraced outwardly the Catholic form of faith. To appearance only many were conformists to the forms of the ruling church; whilst privately, and in the most secret recesses of their domiciles, they not only adhered to the religion of their fathers, but propagated it also in fear and in the greatest secrecy to their children or rather those only whom they could entrust with that mystery, which, had it been developed, would have surrendered the lives of all concerned to the unrelenting cruelty <<438>>of the ever-watchful Inquisition. It is almost wonderful that this Argus-eyed institution should be so often eluded; that, notwithstanding its spies and informers, notwithstanding the frequent detection of the unfortunate deceivers, notwithstanding the many fearful autos-da-fé, so many thousands and thousands should still adhere to that faith, which, to profess, ever so privately, was beset with so many dangers.

But so it was: Judaism could not be rooted out despite of all the efforts of its enemies; and it happened at length that a few of the secret Jews, perhaps wearied with the constant deception which they had to practise, arrived in Holland, which, we think, was then at war with Spain, and had also proclaimed freedom of worship for all religions. In this bold departure from the then customary intolerance, the Netherlanders laid the foundation for that solid prosperity and contentment for which they have been so long famous; and many who dreaded the arm of persecution sought the swampy shores of the Zuyder Zee, to breathe the air of freedom unawed by the frown of the tyrant. A fortunate occurrence brought the first-mentioned Portuguese or Spanish refugees in contact with some Israelites in the town where they had landed—we do not recollect now the name—and the result was that, not only they became reconnected with the Synagogue, in the full adherence to the covenant, but that gradually many more joined them from their native country, and these at length founded the ancient Portuguese congregations at Amsterdam and other portions of Holland, and the free city of Hamburgh, which granted them peculiar privileges which exist to this day.

The Portuguese Jews, more highly educated in the sciences and elegant accomplishments than their German brethren, brought their scholastic learning, no less than their wealth, to enrich their adopted countries. They also carefully cultivated those branches peculiarly Jewish, and it was not long before the heads of the congregation of Amsterdam shone as resplendent lights in Israel. The press teemed with their works: Hebrew poetry was also cultivated by them; and nowhere was the grammar of the sacred tongue so well developed as in the commercial <<439>>capital of Holland. This naturally had its effect also on the German and Polish Jews, the latter of whom came in large numbers, in 1658, to the Netherlands from the Ukraine, whence they were banished in the insurrection against Poland, under a chief known among us as Chamel; and to them we are indebted for the many elegantly printed Hebrew works which have enriched many a Jewish library for the past two centuries.

It is of course not our purpose to trace out any historical facts at length, but merely in so far as they relate to the development of opinion affecting Judaism. Hence we must say at a word that it was owing to a Portuguese Rabbi of Amsterdam, the renowned Menasseh Ben Israel, who addressed a memorial to the Protector Cromwell, concerning the benefit the Jews would confer on his country were they admitted again into England, that the decree of their expulsion was gradually relaxed, until at this moment, though not very numerous, they are probably on the eve of acquiring the highest political influence, through their admission to Parliament, which concession, though perhaps it may be long delayed, will be enforced by the voice of the people, the moment they become aware that through this means they can the more effectually break down the tyranny of the church in matters of conscience, and the overshadowing influence of aristocratic monopolists of the soil and the offices of the state.

At present the contest appears but for the admission of a single Jew into the House of Commons, and at most one for the full emancipation of the Jews; still, to the observers of events the area seems to enlarge itself more and more, till we shall behold arrayed on this side the timid, the lovers of ancient abuses, the owners of entailed estates, the richly endowed ecclesiastics, the defenders of a union of church and state, in short, the dignified churchmen and aristocracy, with their dependants, adherents, expectants, sycophants, and imitators,—and on the other, all who love liberty for its own dear sake, the defenders of freedom of conscience, the men of the people, and the people, too long oppressed and trodden down themselves; and, when the battle is thus fought, there can be no doubt for what side victory will declare herself, provided only the leaders of the strife are true to their cause, <<440>>and seek not for self-aggrandizement on the ruins of their country, and the enslavement of their fellow-men.

We are, however, again digressing, as it is so difficult to keep but one single point of discussion in view when so many secondary ones are constantly claiming our attention, and, indeed, deserve to be fully discussed and elucidated. We wanted, however, only to trace how, with the prostration of royal prerogative and priestly power everywhere in Europe, the Jews gradually rose into consideration, and how, from being totally disregarded among the children of the state, they acquired by degrees that importance which of right belongs to them from their energy of character, and their practical common sense, as much derived from their religion, the enemy to all superstition and mysticism, as from the bitter lessons of experience which they have learned in their long and painful pilgrimage over the whole face of the earth. It was not, as may readily be understood, among Jews only that the restorers of learning obtained adherents, but among gentiles likewise; and the more the latter, as in the case of Limborch’s discuses with Don Isaac Orobio, endeavoured to convert them by friendly disputation, the more did Judaism penetrate into the mind and reflection of the more enlightened.

Controversial works could indeed be printed in Holland only, but limited as was their supply through this means, they still existed, and gradually tinctured many with doubts of the truth of the main dogmas of Christianity, and thus paved the way for the eventual liberation of the Jews in constitutional countries; for no sooner was arbitrary power circumscribed by legislative restriction, than the right of each man to judge for himself in matters of conscience, became at once an integral part of free government in the absence of a reasonable restrictive, and the non-existence of the restraining power which should prescribe the limits and the means of their enforcement.

But whilst these changes were taking place slowly, a new character was given to the mode of philosophical inquiry through various deep-thinkers, among whom was Baruch Spinoza, a Portuguese Jew born at Amsterdam in 1632. We confess to know but little about his system, as our reading has touched but rarely <<441>>on philosophical and abstract subjects; but those well acquainted with the various systems prevalent among the schools, aver that his bold contradiction of the philosophical notions adopted before his time, set the intelligent to thinking, and thus caused an entire revolution in the mode of ratiocination among the greatest geniuses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that up to this time his influence is still felt, and that it tinctures to this hour the most eminent philosophers of the age. But in investing all matters with a sort of divinity, he was not less injurious to Judaism than to Christianity; yet for the moment he could do our faith but little harm, because his notions of a constantly existing matter had prevailed already before the time of the Talmudic doctors, and notwithstanding this, the idea of עולם קדמון “that the world was before the creation,” the firm belief in a Creator, a Maker of matter was never shaken.

Still* we are told that on the popular faith, encumbered as it is with a division in the godhead, with a taint through original sin, with a forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of a portion of the divine being to himself, he had a powerful and destructive effect, and produced by degrees those reckless deniers of all religion, who ridiculed all faith and derided all conformity to revealed truth, such as Hume, Gibbon, Rousseau, Voltaire, and their German contemporaries, who again, with their associates, the Encyclopediasts, aided as they were by the corruption of the Catholic priests in France, and the perfect worthlessness of the rulers, called into existence that terrible national, we may say general convulsion, now known, and for ever to be distinguished, as the French Revolution. There have been other revolutions in that turbulent county since 1789; but none have yet equalled it in magnitude, ferocity, blood-guiltiness, and its vast consequences, and centuries may elapse before mankind may have to look again upon one half as terrific as that was in all its phases.

* It is but justice to acknowledge that for several, and these the principal features of this narrative respecting Spinoza’s influence, we are indebted to the Rev. Dr. Wise, who propounded them in a lecture on the reform question among the Jews, delivered in the German Synagogue of Philadelphia, on Sunday evening the 3d of November. We do not say that we share all the reve­rend gentleman’s views; but we seldom, if ever, listened an hour to any one with so much profit and instruction as on the above evening.

<<442>>
We may appear to be speaking irrelevantly to our subject; this is, however, not the case. The change in public sentiment with regard to the liberty of the subject, encouraged as it had been by the resistance of the united American colonies against the power of England to tax without representation, followed, as this again was by the successful struggle for independence, which secured the establishment of the vast and growing commonwealth of the United States of America, where there is freedom without license, and security without a standing military establishment of any magnitude, taught the world with rapidity to discard the old and antiquated notions of exclusion for opinions’ sake, and, one by one, the countries subjected by the arms of France proclaimed perfect equality for persons, of whatever creed, whilst they, at, the same time, claimed an equal devotedness to the interests of the state from all the citizens.

This now constituted a new era for Israelites; for the first time since the persecutions had commenced did they behold themselves treated as human beings; for the first time for centuries they could look around them without perceiving a mortal enemy in every non-Israelite.*

* Even the great Prussian hero, Frederick II, commonly called the Great, indifferent though he was to all religion, yielded so far to ancient prejudice as to refuse confirming the election as academician, conferred on our Moses Mendelssohn by the Berlin Academy. It is said that when some one expressed his regret to Mendelssohn on the illiberality of the King, he replied that it pleased him much more that the Academy should elect and the King refuse his sanction, than that the King should have proposed, and the Academy refused to elect him. This must have occurred about 1775, perhaps later, at a time when the fame of the Jewish philosopher filled all Europe, and the honour bestowed was merely an expression of a general sentiment, without conferring any additional renown on the recipient.

But whilst so many chains were suddenly snapped asunder, it was also a time of danger to our religious interests. An infidel philosophy had begun to make progress, though at first secretly, among us no less than among the Christians; and if they could ridicule every tenet which they once held sacred, why should not the Jews do the same? If they could sacrifice their cherished opinions in obedience to the mandates of the state, why should the Jews not follow the example? On all sides cherished opinions were thrown down as the inven<<443>>tions of interested priests and artful deceivers; and unfortunately our lovers of political glory, first perhaps from necessity, by being enlisted in the army, and afterwards from choice, violated the prescription which the Bible demands from the sons of Israel.

Another consequence of this new-born equality was, that it was considered highly censurable to look for any glory except in the state organization. For the state, which granted all, all must be sacrificed; no opinion hostile to its permanence could be tolerated, no principle which might withdraw one from its service could be held binding; to think or act otherwise would be acting in hostility to the powers that were in being, and this would of course be a species of treason against those who had become the fountain of all honour, and the authors of a new political life in Israel. Now of all the doctrines of Judaism which could have this tendency, the only one is the belief in the coming of a Messiah; for when we believe therein we must assume that all the present organization of society is but a state of probation, the forerunner of something far more glorious and perfect than any human wisdom can devise.

During the reign of terror in France such a profession would have been very dangerous as incivism; for, whilst everything was then in a state of constant change and ebullition, to express a doubt of the wisdom of those who wielded their terrific power would have brought the doubter’s head a sacrifice to the fearful Moloch that then rode triumphant over the land. Yet, even when more correct notions of freedom took their rise, after the workers of all this evil had themselves expiated their horrors by the guillotine, it became more and more the fashion to elevate the state interest above religion; and this was at length confirmed to a yet greater extent, when under Napoleon a Sanhedrin, convoked by him, feebly defended the cause of our faith, and gave answers to suit that man who wanted to govern all persons with his iron will, and regulate at the same time the consciences of al his subjects.

Hence we may trace the suicidal heresy of the denial of the coming redeemer; which would seek for no better fate than to see Israel amalgamated with the various nations among whom <<444>>they dwell; who ask for no greater good than to be permitted to share in the offices of state, which ought after all to be distributed to those who are the most deserving, who can best fulfil the duties which their country demands from them, let their speculative opinions be what they may.

That is no freedom which makes me disclose my thoughts, which requires of me a declaration that I actually approve of all the public measures, though in secret I condemn them; which renders me suspected because I conceive even that a new constitution ought to displace the one under which I am governed. Faithful obedience to existing laws is all that can be demanded; and whoever asks more is a tyrant, whoever grants more is a slave. And still the Jews were willing to constitute the hasty legislation which took place at the end of the last century, and is yet taking place in the present, an arbitrary guide of the kind stated; and they ridiculed the idea of a coming change under a messenger of the Most High as a dangerous anti-social heresy,— the remnant of a dark age, unblest by the rays of philosophy which changes every moon, and unenlightened by sciences which have no possible connexion with morals.

And when with the fall of Napoleon many of the privileges which he had granted to the Jews were again withdrawn in Germany and the adjacent countries, our new lights were perfectly willing to bid high as the price of their emancipation, and to surrender their hopes of future national glory to the present possession of a privilege of holding office, and to take part in the legislation of their respective fatherlands. They wanted to persuade the rulers that if even ancient Jews were anti-social, they were not of so dangerous a belief; and hence they professed no veneration for what their fathers had taught them, and looked for no better home than the land of their sojourning.

Would it not have been wiser, and more consonant with truth, had they boldly avowed that their religion does actually foreshadow a final overthrow of all existing human governments? an establishment of a reign of peace all over the earth? of good will among mankind? and that, notwithstanding this, we are bound to pray for the welfare of  present countries, and to promote their happiness by all the <<445>>means in our power? Is he a traitor to the commonwealth who, seeing defects in its laws, strives to amend them? Is he not truly the friend of justice and truth who seeks to promote the greatest good by effecting amendments to any existing evil?

And since all human governments are liable to constant changes, and will, when altered ever so often, be still far from giving universal satisfaction, as we daily see before our eyes, what harm can the state suffer, if I as an Israelite fondly hope that the day will come when, through a general diffusion of divine knowledge, all the present machinery of government, prisons, scaffolds, armies,  navies, tax-collectors, shall be done away, as no longer necessary, as no longer required? Talk of patriotism! this is the highest, this the holiest, to hope that no man shall need fear any more his neighbour; that you shall be able to sleep in the wide forest, or in the arid sand of the desert, and dread no thief, no skulking murderer, no bold assassin! Would to mercy that this might speedily be accomplished! and surely no Jew, no matter how attached to his native or adopted land, need be ashamed whilst devoting himself to its service as counsellor, legislator, defender or teacher, to confess that he looks forward to the time when all the earth shall be but one country, obeying one ruler governing in the fear of God, that it is his business so to act, as man and Israelite, as to hasten the period of the redemption of mankind from war, oppression, misrule, tyranny, injustice, and ignorance, when all the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

(To be continued.)