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בס"ד

Judaism and its Principles.

(Continued from page 492.)

Let us continue our review of the object of the Jewish religion, as we sketched it in our last. We meant to show that there must be a weighty reason for instituting a nation like the Israelites to be in possession of a peculiar code of laws, which constitutes them a people separate and distinct from all others. We also wanted to exhibit that the characteristics, by which we and our ancestors were distinguished, have in them something so decidedly individual, that we should conclude that a powerful reason must exist for preserving our identity. In other words, that Judaism and Jews stand in a necessarily antagonistic attitude to gentilism and gentiles, so that an amalgamation of the Jewish people with the great masses is a thing not to be thought of even when the time shall come that all the nations of the earth shall acknowledge the main features of our faith; not, let it be understood, that we mean to cast a slur upon non-Israelites, but only that we have received an especial appointment, from which nothing can absolve us, and wherefore we cannot, without becoming traitors to our destiny, sever the link which binds us each and all to the ancestral root of Israel.

We do not mean to go into a disquisition to prove the reasonableness and truth of the Bible; for in addressing as we do <<530>>believing Jews chiefly, who compose the great majority of our readers, we must take something as the basis of our discussion, and assume that this is undisputed; for though to some it may be necessary that everything should be proved, we must defer the peculiar arguments to exhibit the authenticity of the Scriptures to another and more fitting occasion. At present, however, we must hasten to a conclusion of our thesis, although much, very much, must be left out which we should gladly have introduced. Let us then revert to the Bible to see what God purposed in the selection of Abraham and his descendants.

When the great Chaldean philosopher, the father of all the faithful, first unfurled the banner of true belief, the world was shrouded in a veil of impenetrable darkness. Look at the monuments of ancient Egypt, look at what China now is and what she is said to have been from the beginning, look at the Brahmins and their institutions as they are now and probably have been for centuries upon centuries, even assume, as some modern antiquarians wish to assert, that the civilization of these nations antedates the period of the flood as fixed by Moses: and you will at once understand that a pure THEISM, such as was professed by Abraham, a holy morality, such as he introduced to mankind, did not, even if it could, exist alongside of the idolatry, gross or refined, however it may have been, which afflicted Egypt, China, and India from their earliest history.

We do not mean to go into particulars, as every one having the curiosity may readily read works referring to those primeval and other nations. One thing, however, must strike the most careless observer even, that no morality can at all compare with ours; consequently it cannot be assumed that we have at any time borrowed our mode of acting and thinking from others; and that hence it is either indigenous to our race or was an especial gift conferred on it. The idea of its being the first must be repudiated as not being borne out by history; for either there was a universal knowledge of right and wrong before Abraham, or it was imparted to him. We are inclined to the belief that a universal revelation of the principles of morality is as old as the presence of man on earth, and that it <<531>>was the great merit of Abraham and whatever contemporary pious men then existed, that they rejected the errors which had gradually usurped the place of truth, and threatened at the same time to extinguish it altogether.

Hence we are told in tradition that “at three years old Abraham acknowledged his Maker,” which no doubt means, that as man he clung to the traditions of the existence of God which had been imparted to him by the remainder of those who had witnessed the destruction of mankind by means of the flood. But be this as it may, we find Abraham maintaining, during a period of a hundred years, in which he is placed before us in the Bible history, one uniform course of moral conduct, in adhering unswervingly to the path of adoration of the ONE whom he discovered to be the true Author of all things, either by his own research or the tradition derived from others.

In either case this was a great and meritorious thing; for, if he could act and think in this way, why did not others, equally well endowed or instructed, follow the same career? What prevented the builders of the Pyramids, the constructers of the halls of Karnac, from adopting a comprehensive and intelligible idea of the Godhead, instead of their complicated system of folly and absurdity?

It may have been something peculiar to the mind of the Chaldean, and the few whom he brought over to his mode of belief, which made this, train of thought peculiarly congenial to them; but at best this is a very unsatisfactory method of accounting for a great mental phenomenon; since it is assuming too much to say that one man, or at best a few, were, among all mankind, alone capable of embracing a sublime train of ideas. For our part, we confess that the adherence of the Abrahamic family to the distinctive feature of the unity of God, appears to us as not to be explained on pure human possibility, or at least probability, especially as we find that Abraham’s own brother and his descendants, who remained at Hagan in Mesopotamia, were idolaters. And so we read in Joshua xxiv. 2, 3: And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, On the other side of the river (Euphrates) dwelt your fathers in olden times,—Terach, the father of Abraham, and the father of <<532>>Nachor, and they worshipped other gods. And I took your father, Abraham, from the other side of the river, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.”

We refer to the whole allocution of Joshua in the chapter cited, in which he recounts briefly the establishment of the Israelites in the land of Canaan by the evident interposition of Providence, and then exhorts them to be true to their mission. Now this very mission could only be accomplished by their being isolated and distinguished from other people and hence we may readily understand the blessing to Abraham in Genesis xxii. 16-18, “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, that because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, the only one, I will surely bless thee, and multiply exceedingly thy seed, like the stars of heaven, and like the sand which is upon the shore of the sea; and thy seed shall take possession of the gate of their enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Circumcision, a peculiar sign of the covenant, had already been instituted; in this Ishmael, too, had been included; still it was not in him that the first blessing, pronounced in Genesis xii., should be fulfilled, but in the son of Sarah, who in the record of the voluntary sacrifice, in which he bore so prominent a part, is called Abraham’s only son, which means either as regards Sarah, or the promise of future greatness as pointed out in the passage under consideration.

In now regarding carefully the predicted future good, it will be found to be chiefly consisting in the final clause, that in Isaac’s seed, which was afterwards confirmed to Jacob, surnamed Israel, all nations of the earth should be blessed; so that, whatever may be this blessing, it was bestowed, not for the sake of the recipients only, but for the world at large likewise. We might, perhaps, allege ignorance of the nature of this prediction, were it to stand singly and unsupported on the sacred page. But in recurring to the history, even of Abraham, we shall find a clear exposition of it; for we read in Gen. xvii. 4, “As for me, behold my covenant shall be with thee, and thou shalt become the father of a multitude of nations.” Ibid. 7: “And I will <<533>>establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in (all) their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

The same idea is repeated in the next verse, where the land of Canaan is secured to his children, and the promise added, that the One who spoke to him would be the God, that is, the acknowledged Divinity, of his descendants. This now proves what the Bible considers the greatest blessing—namely, to be an immediate adherent of the Most High, and to acknowledge no other being as having power and dominion over and in outwardly-created nature, or over the spirit which animates all. A simple monotheistic idea is here held out as the greatest blessing; in the whole narrative but ONE, an emphatic I, is spoken consequently, no other was taught unto the patriarch; and this faith is held up to us as the foundation of all other virtues, this belief itself being accounted as righteousness, producing, as it must, the most implicit confidence in the truth of the promises of the Most High, there being no other to control or interfere with the execution of his intentions.

If now all nations of the earth are to be blessed through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and as these men never conferred, to the best of our knowledge, any benefit through the means of great discoveries in the arts, sciences, mechanical and agricultural pursuits; and their descendants having confessedly never ranked very high among the developers of new inventions, which have for centuries been placed beyond their reach, up to the present moment: we must look for the possible fulfilment of the prediction in a matter, through which not alone the patriarchs, but their descendants also, have ever been distinguished. We do not claim here any merit of discovery, but the hopeful prerogative of possessing a precious legacy of truth. There is, to our view, nothing so true, if there can be assumed a comparison in an idea so absolutely good as truth, as that there exists ONE God, and no more, both absolutely and relatively, He not being one by comparison with another substantive being, but one without any imaginable division or association, by descent, reproduction, accession, increase, diminution, association, addi<<534>>tion, or by whatever other conceivable idea an object can be rendered more or less than one undiminished or increased entire whole. In everything else you can imagine the corporeal or spirit substance to have been at one time different from what it is now that it had more or less power, energy, wisdom, wealth, influence, virtue, vice, strength, &c. But of our God we cannot predicate any such idea. He was always as He is now, and will always be as he has ever been. Go to whatever nation you will, they will dissent in some degree from this pure ideal, abstract, incorporeal, perfect Godhead; and whichever people should be found admitting it to the fullest extent, has derived it from us either directly or mediately. But even where an apparent acquiescence has taken place, you will find it often so guardedly expressed, so surrounded with limitations and arbitrary definitions, that it amounts to absolutely nothing, and is at variance with what we have been taught as a divine truth. Consequently, as Israelites, we cannot coincide with any such attempted qualified exposition of the nature of faith, and must reject it as a pernicious error, or a libel on simple truth.

Shall now all the families of the world be blessed through us it must be by an adoption of what we possess as an inheritance from our fathers, and which, as yet, is not shared nor desired by them or, in other words, we must believe that God has predicted that through our means every human being shall, at some future day, be brought to acknowledge only an absolute unity in God, just  as was done by the patriarchs, and as we do who are called by the name of Israel.

We need not defend this view of the future which Judaism demands of its followers; it interferes not with the offices of good-will which one man owes to the other, nor with any relation we bear to a government or a state which professes different ideas. We may entertain for ourselves what opinion we think right and still never dream of injuring those who differ from us; and no one differing from us has, therefore, any cause to complain of our opinions, whilst we do not interfere with the corporal well-being of others. We regard not those dissenting from us as enemies, not as those we are authorized to hate or to per<<535>>secute, in order to bring them over to our mode of thinking in order to insure the salvation of their souls; but as simply lacking the means of forming a correct judgment in divine things. How far it is our duty to contribute to their conversion by active means is a doubtful question; but the greater part of Israelites are inclined to the opinion that we are required to do nothing but to live true to our faith, and leave the gradual progress of things to accomplish the remainder, since the changes which we constantly witness in the development of historical events, demonstrate that the transmutation of religious ideas is constantly going forward, and tending more and more to the point of conformity with the belief of Israel.

In fact, our history is very barren of examples of a proselyting mania; and, unless we err, John Hyrcan, the Asmonean king, was the only one who ever demanded a conformity to Judaism, when he conquered the Idumeans, which folly inflicted on us afterwards the rule of the Herodian family, under whose cruel sway and ruthless barbarism our hapless state sunk beneath the fatal friendship, the faithless protection, and the final triumph of arms of the Romans. For our person, indeed we do not share the horror of receiving individual proselytes, who, from time to time, desire admission to the Synagogue, if their motives are pure and disinterested, as, by their reception, we, to a certainty, do not weaken the brotherhood of Israel, and increase, on the contrary, its numerical strength. Enough is, however, apparent from the course we have always pursued, that we do not think ourselves bound to seek for converts from the nations at large, although we are not at liberty, if we take the Bible and the practice of the great minds among the Talmudists, such as Hillel, Rabbi Joshua, and others, for our guide, to refuse admittance to all who sincerely desire to seek protection under the wings of the Lord God of Israel.

But it cannot be subject to the least doubt that the prophets in their visions foresaw the influence we should be made to wield, though silently, among the gentiles. As a proof, we will cite Hosea ii. 1: “And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor num-<<536>>bered; and it shall come to pass that instead that they were called, Ye are not my people (Lo-’ammi), they shall be called, The sons of the living God.” So also Micah v. 6, 7: “And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people like dew from the Lord, like showers upon the grass, that waiteth not for man nor hopeth for the sons of man. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many people, like the lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, who, if he break in, both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, whilst none can deliver.”

We will not argue at length the evident meaning of both the prophecies we have quoted, spoken as they were at times when sin and iniquity had fearfully deteriorated the Israelites both of Samaria and Jerusalem when the first was nigh her dissolution, and the other hastening fast in the downward footsteps of her faithless sister; since it must be evident that both Hosea and his compeer spoke of a distant time, when, as the one expresses it, there should be men on earth who would dispute our claim of being God’s people; and when, as the other alleges, we should be but a remnant of Jacob, when the majority, the main body of Jacob’s descendants, shall have been swept from the earth by the long course of sufferings to which they shall have been subjected. And still of both cases it is said that a time will come when we shall be called the sons of the living God, not the followers of a dying Christ, not the adherent of a being who lived with the breath in his nostrils but who returned on the day of his dissolution to his native earth, but the worshippers of the Omnipotent, Everlasting One, who never dies, never undergoes change or corruption. Again, we shall be like the dew that waiteth not for man, like the refreshing showers which ask for nothing from children of mortality; farther we shall be independent in our dispersion, like the solitary lion amidst the beasts of the forest, neither fearing them nor being dismayed at their cry and roaring, like the dauntless young of the king of the field, who tramples under foot the resistless flocks that flee at his presence.

The prophet evidently did not mean that we should be like the lion to destroy or to injure; for this idea is a mere exposition of <<537>>being, like the dew and rain; and he thus endeavoured to convey that as little as the gift which distils from the sky to fructify the earth asks the aid of man, as little as the lion that roams at will requests his food from mortals: so little shall Israelites, even in captivity, depend for support, for instruction, for light, upon those among whom they live. But they shall, on the contrary, bless by their presence those who have used them despitefully, who have endeavoured to tread them under foot, with none to help.

The prophet, in foreseeing and predicting our expulsion from Palestine, and our dispersion over all the earth, knew as well as we do at the present day, what a sorrowful fate would be ours; he could clearly see that but few of many would be able to escape; that in every generation our adversaries would league together to extinguish the lamp of Israel. Nay the Rabbins at the latter portion of the time that the temple stood, entertained this view, as may be inferred from the words which they left as a maxim, “That in all ages men rise up against us to destroy us, but that it is the Lord who saves us from their hand;” thus showing that the world’s hostility to us has always been well known and perfectly understood by our spiritual guides. The independence, therefore, to which Micah refers, must be the spiritual opposition which we offer to the world; the singularity of our upholding our ancient faith in the presence of a hostile array which would terrify any other class of men except those who like us are taught of the Lord; and then as Hosea adds, when the opposition to the truth has been kept up to the last moment it is possible of being maintained, conviction will fill the minds of mankind, and all will acknowledge that we are the children of the living God,—meaning that our ideas of the Deity, our perseverance in observing the commands we have received as the emblem of our mission, our refusal to become fused with other sons of man, were all well founded in truth, and that our so acting was actually in obedience to the instruction of the Almighty, who is emphatically and alone the One God who is living and existing for ever.

We do not believe there are many Israelites who would dispute this position, and they are nearly all willing to maintain <<538>>the permanence of the monotheistic idea among us, and that at length it will become universally adopted through our means though they are not agreed about the method by which this change is to be effected. We do not know that we express the, idea correctly but we think that we do our reform friends no injustice by stating it thus: They imagine that history shows a gradual tendency towards the sublimer conception of the Godhead, which we received as a free gift for the education of man­kind at Sinai.

The laws and ceremonies which were connected with the simplicity of our faith may have been indeed necessary in the first instance, to preserve us distinct, and by that means keep alive our belief in one God; but as soon as the whole world shall have adopted our opinions, the ceremonies will have become useless, and therefore of themselves inoperative; and that in the mean time the more nearly other nations approach to our standard, the more may we safely relax our separate and isolated position; which becomes more and more useless in the progress of man towards truth. Moreover, that it will require no personality, no individual, through whom the hope of man will be realized—in other words, the actual kingdom of the Messiah, under whom we, the orthodox, or rather ancient Jews, believe that the Israelites are to be brought back to their land, the temple ceremonies to be restored, and the whole world instructed in the truthful doctrines of which we are the guardians.

But if these views be indeed those entertained by a portion of reforming Jews, we must dissent from them as anti-scriptural and unreasonable. Granted that they are right, for argument’s sake, one of two timings would necessarily be the case: either the law was necessary at the first, founded upon weighty reasons of a permanent character, or it was not. The legislation having been divine,—and if this be denied, we cease at once to be Jews,—we must assume that all the precepts which we have received were not alone true and wise, but necessary also, since we cannot imagine that God would impart to us precepts merely to gratify an arbitrary humour for governing. Now even concede that the legislation had by any possibility been intended to be merely temporary there must be a clause somewhere to state this in <<539>>plain terms.

There are indeed occasional laws and special enactments which refer to particular persons, and especial localities,—which of course are inoperative upon other persons and under other circumstances; but there is no reason whatever to draw conclusions from these upon the whole Mosaic moral and ceremonial code; it is one thing to say that the law relative to royalty is abolished, or rather dormant, whilst we have no king; and quite another to assert that for this same reason circumcision and Sabbath may be modified to suit the progressive spirit of the age. It is true that with but a few small exceptions all laws referring to the priesthood in Aaron’s family are placed in abeyance; but this does not authorize us to intermarry with gentiles, or with those whom the law interdicts as near of kin; because the cases are not parallel. We say, therefore, that, so far as the law itself is the exponent of its own nature, so far as we can judge from itself relative to its permanence in every respect, it is as evident as that a sun shines by day, that, let the world believe in one God or worship stocks and stones; let the Islam or Christianity prevail; whether Confucius, the great Lama, or Bhudda be adored,—we have not received any authority to diverge from the course which has been marked out for us by our prophet Moses, who is, as we have often maintained, the sole guide for all the prophets and subsequent composers of biblical books, and for our own time and for all other times to come, unless a new revelation should be given, in which we should be absolved from all allegiance to our ancient rule of life. Consequently, we wait for the arguments to sustain the assumption of the reformers that the Mosaic system expects its tacit abrogation.

Besides, we doubt, and this most seriously, whether the world will progress towards a knowledge of the truth without some previous terrible convulsion (חבלי של משיח), through which means the systems of error shall be shaken everywhere, it is idle to assume that our Rabbins, especially the Talmudists, were so foolish as some of the moderns would make us believe; they were close observers of nature and history, so far as both were accessible to them in their generations. They saw or had heard of the rise of the Alexandrian philosophy, the rise and progress of Christianity, the revival of the Parsee system of fire-worship, <<540>>which moderns would persuade us was but another phase of our own belief in one God; and they had also beheld with evident satisfaction the gradual extinction of Roman, Grecian, and Egyptian mythological superstitions; and still they believed that something far more potent and weighty than this gradual necessarily slow progress was demanded to accomplish the predictions of the prophets. We are well aware that the words of the Rabbis, “On the day Jerusalem was destroyed the Messiah was born,” are interpreted, that the belief in this personage took its rise only in the downfall of our state, and with the destruction of our temple; but this is evidently a wrong exposition of the Messianic belief which we entertain. On the contrary, it seems to us, if we strip the words of their evident miraculous meaning, that they convey the unwavering trust which our sages felt in the midst of all their calamities. They saw the temple burned, the walls of their glorious city battered down by the Roman artillery; they beheld millions of valiant defenders sink upon the grave of their country and their glory: still they were not dismayed, for they foresaw the coming of the Son of David, as though he was born at that very day when the smoke of the burning temple and city darkened with its lurid glare, the pure atmosphere, that it spread over the hill of Moriah and the beautiful Zion; they gloried in the certainty, that with their temple their religion should not perish; that though nearly exterminated beneath the smouldering ruins of their beloved capital, the people would not perish utterly, but live and flourish; after all of Rome and Hellas should have sunk into decay; when Babel should be a heap of ruins, the dwelling of serpents; and Egypt be swallowed up as it is now, by the armed bands of ruthless conquerors.

Tell us not that the sages of Israel, who so well knew how to resist the tyranny of domestic and foreign foe, who so well understood to animate the sinking spirit of their hearers, to stimulate the faltering courage of their countrymen, were nothing but ignorant and silly fanatics, who uttered fabulous and unmeaning sayings, or endeavoured to fasten a foolish belief on the people; no, they uttered in their sententious manner the accumulated wisdom of ages, and they showed, in their <<541>>practical good sense, that they understood history and progress as well, to say the least, as the best of their modern detractors.

We must break off here abruptly, to our regret, and resume the subject in our next number.

(To be continued.)