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בס"ד

Dr. Wise at Philadelphia.

 

This learned man lately visited this city, as also New York on business connected with his congregation. Whilst here, he preached in German; in the Synagogue Rodef Sholem, on Sabbaths Lech-Lecha and Chaye Sarah, and delivered a lecture on the Sunday evening following in the same Synagogue. It is needless W. has lately promulgated; but we would be doing injustice to our feelings and to truth, were we to withhold our meed of approbation from the general tenor of the three discourses in question. The first was on the text from Isaiah li. 1-3, “Hearken unto me, ye that pursue righteousness, that seek the Lord, look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were dug. Look unto Abraham, your father,” &c. Dr, W. illustrated this by citing the Agadah, which says that Abraham received and observed the whole law, and he explained this to mean that he had made a true knowledge in God his own, had acted benevolently towards mankind, and always made virtue and truth pleasant to others, by his own example in following the path of duty which had been revealed to him. When a man acts thus he fulfils the object of the law, he becomes sanctified and acceptable to his Maker; hence we may freely say that Abraham, in his conduct, accomplished all that the whole law could have required; he purified himself, and became a light to others.

The second sermon was founded on the text from Genesis xxiv. 1, <<474>> “And Abraham was old and stricken in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham with all.” Dr. W. illustrated very happily the blessings which Abraham enjoyed so eminently in his old age: the possession of a virtuous son, the recollection of his past good life, and the hope of a glorious future and the whole subject was so beautifully set before the audience, that no one of the numerous congregation that heard him, seemed to be wearied with listening, though the sermon was by no means a short one. D. W.’s style is highly figurative or ornate, perhaps too much so for an English or American audience; but to a German ear, accustomed to poetical illustration, he handles his matter delightfully. His pictures of the pleasure of a parent in living after his death in a virtuous son; of the happiness which a well-spent life gives to the white-headed sage in the winter of his years; his terrible sketch of the deathbed of a wicked man, and the delightful exhibition of the tranquillity of the God-fearing mortal when he draws to the brink of the grave, were really overpowering. We may freely say that Dr. W. has made quite a favourable impression here as an orator;  and if he would be only a little more energetic, that all could feel the earnestness which impels him to speak, he would no doubt reach a high eminence as a preacher among us; and he is young enough yet to acquire the requisite manner which he now lacks.

His lecture was on the history of the reform question among the Jews. He commenced with the closing of the Talmud, when Christianity endeavoured to establish itself by the overthrow of Paganism, the Grecian philosophy, and the extermination of the teachers of the Jewish law. The blow thus given to sciences reacted with fearful energy upon the Jews, who sank gradually into superstition if not as low as their masters, still to a degree of intellectuality far beneath the authors of the Talmud. The Amoraim and Seburaim were not the equals of their predecessors, the Tannaim, and even the early Gaonim had not yet recovered from the shock learning had received in the times of their predecessors. It was then that a brilliant mind dawned in Egypt, the great Saadiah Gaon from Fayum, or Pithom, who, like Mendelssohn and others in the last century, and Onkelos and others about the time of the destruction of the temple, rendered the Scriptures in the vernaculars of' the countries for the enlightenment of the people,—Rabbenu Saadiah translating into Arabic, the speech of that nation which had then become all-powerful in the East, and overrun Northern Africa and Southern Europe, and taken under its protection the learning and sciences, which had been nearly banished from Christian countries. Saadiah in thus introducing a literal and grammatical exposition <<475>>of the Scriptures, instead of the extravagant and arbitrary one in use before him, aided the good work yet farther by composing grammatical and lexicographical works, and perhaps was thus the father of Hebrew grammar. He was succeeded at a later period by the great Rabbi Isaac Al Fassy of Fez, and the grammarian Dunash ben Librat, Menachem ben Seruk, and Yehudah Chiyug of Morocco; and it is only but just now that these great and eminent names begin to be justly appreciated.

These were succeeded afterwards by R. Mosheh ben Maimon, who reconciled philosophy with religion, whilst he systematized the Talmudic decisions under the name of Yad Hachazakah (the Strong Hand), a labour which he afterwards completed by writing the Moreh, the celebrated “Guide,” which works, even at this day, are a study for the learned in Israel.

We cannot follow Dr. W. in his whole lecture, for want of space but he certainly treated his subject both ably and ingeniously. Still we must say that the reforms effected by Saadiah and Maimonides in their generations, as also by Rabbi Yehudah Hakkadosh in the compilation of the Mishnah, bear scarcely any analogy to the measures at present advocated by our new men. Then it was to restore the beauty of religion, which had been dimmed by the lapse of ages of darkness; whereas now men endeavour to break down the landmarks of our faith, by introducing into it features hostile to its very existence: witness the abolishing of circumcision; the seventh day Sabbath; the prohibitions and the interdict to intermarry with strangers. Compared to such monstrosities all the Synagogue reforms, no matter however unjustifiable, sink into nothing; and hence it says much to compare the ancient with modern reforms, as there can be no companionship between Saadiah, and Saloman and Meyer; Al Fassy, and Geiger and Holdheim; Maimonides, and Stein and Creitznach. We admit the learning of the new lights, but we must doubt their wisdom, even if we concede them the honesty of purpose which they claim. For the present we must close with these remarks; but should we continue at the head of a Jewish periodical we shall to a certainty have to recur to the subject again; since the reform agitation has taken of late such a shape that to ignore it would be worse than nonsense; and then the ultraists have calmed down greatly, seeing that their ideas would be the ruin of Judaism.

Hence a fair discussion becomes now possible, which but lately it could hardly be said to be, our readers will also have next month an opportunity to hear Dr. W. for himself, and we therefore do not deem it fair to forestall him.