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Thoughts on the Jewish Ministry

No. II.

We sketched in our last the highly advantageous position of Christian churches, with regard to their ministry and appliances for the diffusion of their peculiar religious tenets. It requires no comment on our part to prove that in all these things we are woefully deficient; we are without colleges, book-associations, religious schools, and what is more, a regularly-constituted ministry. When a Nazarene comes to ask permission to perform the ordinances of his church, and to be permitted to preach, the greatest care is taken, first, to see that he is morally and scientifically qualified for the functions required of him; and, secondly, there takes place a solemn ceremony of dedicating the candidate for his work, and to make a deep impression on his mind that it is not a light thing to which he devotes himself, but the highest, most important, and responsible, which man can assume. We are well aware that many will seek the situation of clergymen, merely for the worldly advantages it will bring; and that many morally unfit may so disguise their delinquencies, that they may pass the ordeal of the necessary examination, and receive the required introduction into the ministry, which ceremony of ordination, as it is termed, varies according to the notions of the dif<<434>>ferent sects. But whilst admitting this, and which the parties themselves will concede without debate, there is no doubt on the other side that a large portion are able and worthy men, who are willing to devote their talents to the service of what they imagine to be the truth. Crime, however, in individuals does not prove the unworthiness or inutility of the whole order; and hence we say that, equally foolish with the senseless devotion which so many sectarians display for their clergy, is that stupid denunciation of churchmen, as though every one who becomes a preacher, at once invests himself with all the characteristics of the rogue and hypocrite. Men, even intelligent ones, are so apt to deal in generalities, that it is hard to make them stick close to an argument: they have seen a sample, one hypocrite  wearing a black gown, and straightforward there is no honesty among all similarly situated.

We need not repeat that we do not share such views. We will allow that churchmen of all sorts are ambitious; that they are anxious to extend the power and influence of their order, and more immediate denomination; but this does not say that they are not honest, and that they are not highly qualified for their functions. It is therefore well, though at one time we thought otherwise, to mark the period of formally entering on the ministry as one of deep solemnity and importance, in order to make the faithful discharge of all the duties incident thereto a matter in which the individual himself must feel that others will have an interest, as they were, in a manner, sponsors to his conduct, since they had a share in the setting him apart for the work of which they are professed and acknowledged agents; and then, again, it will cause him to have a double responsibility, the pride of class, in addition to self-respect, to restrain him from violating his promise of faithfulness, and excluding himself thereby from the society and sympathy of his fellow-ministers.

We know well enough, in this connexion, that the various societies regard the ordination of ministers in a much higher light than we have just exhibited it; they fancy that by the various rites which they perform, either by anointment, imposition of hands of those previously ordained, or whatever else may be <<435>> done, they endow the candidate with a peculiar intangible inspiration of the Holy Ghost, an ethereal emanation, which becomes a part of the new churchman, which in some shape is thus interwoven in his very being, making him different from other men, and which will not leave him again all the days of his life. We confess not to be very familiar with the views entertained on this subject; as our want of sympathy with it has ever prevented us from making a thorough inquiry into it. Still, we do not think that we have stated it wrongly, and that at least we have conveyed as clear an idea of what is not understood on natural grounds, as can well be done. There can be no question that the Christian clergy would not thank us if we could make the world believe that their initiation into office conferred on them no gifts superior to what they naturally possess; that if they had no intellect on the evening previous to their having the hands of others laid on them, they would to a surety have none thereafter. For the claim to supernatural power is one so pleasing to the ambition of man, that he will hardly relinquish it if he can only maintain a show thereof, although convinced within himself that it is based on nothing. Several Christian sects, however, deem the ordination of their priesthood of the highest importance, and consider the transmission of the Holy Ghost from hand to hand as an undoubted fact, and view those alone, who have regularly received it, as allowed to administer the offices of their religion, which they term the sacraments; and they also aver, that if performed by others not so ordained, they are invalid.

According to their notions, the priesthood is elevated firmly and permanently above all men, and the greatest crimes perpetrated by the endowed ones, do not deprive them of the gift which they have obtained from predecessors perhaps equally or even more vicious than themselves.

To an Israelite, who can discover nothing but a human being, in any of his species, this assumption of holiness must seem preposterous; although millions acquiesce in it without questioning the claim. Still it is evident that, however the higher endowment must be gainsaid, there is a moral certainty that the public dedication of candidates, who have been carefully trained and scrupulously exa<<436>>mined respecting their qualifications, will have a powerful effect on their after-life, and stamp them, in the eyes of those whom they are to guide, as those who have received the mission to go before their fellows with a righteous example, to stand on a higher point of perfection than their flock, and to be treated in consequence by them as those in whom God has a special delight, so that they and their work will always stand high in public estimation.

This being the case, it is not very wonderful that Christians are unwilling to believe any evil of their clergy, and that under nearly all circumstances they find protection, and are received with open welcome wherever they present themselves. The minister’s words will always be received with deference, because he possesses more information on sacred subjects than the laity: he will be regarded with reverence, because he has been set apart for functions which are considered holy; and his wants will be provided for if possible, because, having been devoted to spiritual matters, those who are blessed with means deem it their duty to see that he shall not suffer, even when his failing health will not enable him any longer to attend to the functions of his office. We need not be told that there are many of the clerical profession who have not much cause to be satisfied with their share of worldly things; but as a whole we deem the situation of the intelligent, educated, virtuous, and efficient members every way respectable, and often one of ease and comfort; but it is not to be expected, that of the thousands who annually seek the church as their home, there should not be many whose claims will be overlooked, and who will remain in obscurity and comparative want in villages and country-towns, whilst those with powerful connexions, though with inferior talents, will be  advanced to eminence. Still, whilst the demand for public instructors is so great, there is ever probability that respectable talents and requirements will, sooner or later, find their proper level; since in a profession so numerous there must occur many vacancies by death or resignation, which require to be filled up by those who have proved themselves capable to take a high standing in the community. The young student of superior mind has, therefore, every inducement to regard with favour the <<437>> path of the preacher, because it opens for him the road to distinction and permanent employment; since it is a rare thing indeed that a pastor is removed by his congregation, except for such gross immorality that to screen him would be impossible; and even then a removal is so unusual, that it may be disregarded entirely; besides which, it would be the fault of the officer and not of the people, if a removal under such circumstances should take place. We hear often of ministers removing voluntarily to other congregations; but this only shows that they are chosen by constituencies who are better able to remunerate their services than their former flocks.

But how is it with Jewish communities? Let us endeavour to sketch what everybody knows. Whenever a few Israelites happen to find themselves within reach of each other, and feel a desire to unite for public worship, they make such laws as they fancy useful for their government, without inquiring whether in this respect they accord with other bodies. They adopt the form of worship to which the majority of them have been used, to which the others assent in the infancy of their association. But no sooner do they receive accessions to their numbers, than they branch off and organize a rival congregation (Kahal), in the mode of worship which they would have preferred at the first outset. All this produces rivalry, and, consequently, often bitterness of feeling, which prevents all union for the common good. The German will not unite with the Pole, the Pole with the Portuguese, the Portuguese with the Hollander or Bohemian, and so on to the end of the chapter. Every little knot of settlers has thus its own fancies, its own faults, as well as its own good traits to guard and watch over. And what is gained by this separation, this isolated standing aloof? We will whisper in your car, kind reader, “Nothing at all.” “Nothing!” you will exclaim; “is it then nothing for which so much money is spent? so much contention indulged in? so much estrangement produced? Do you wish me, a true Portuguese, to become a Tedesco?” Or as some other one, a Pole, may say, “Can you expect that I, who came from Posen, should change my faith, and join a Portuguese congregation? or associate with the Bavarian, the Bohemian, the Hollander?” And, pray, why not, gentlemen?

We see no <<438>> reason why you all should not go to the same Synagogue and worship all in the same manner the great God of your fathers: All that is required of each of you is to endeavour to learn that particular pronunciation of the Hebrew which, though new to you, is one accepted by a large body of faithful and pious Israelites; and as respects the differences in the forms of prayers, they are really not worth debating about. In all the various customs the main body of the prayers is the same, as the whole is derived from a common source, and the few variations in the phraseology cannot affect the devotions of any one. Still, to hear some men talk, an uninformed person might be led to suppose that the German and Portuguese Jews actually belonged to diverging sects; and yet how greatly must he be astonished when he discovers that an actual difference in reality exists. As we said already, the greatest variation arises from the difference of the pronunciation of the Hebrew, and this again is limited to the sound of three long vowels, and the aspiration or otherwise of two or three consonants. Secondly, the adoption by the various congregations of poetical pieces of comparatively modern origin, commonly called Piyutim* (poems), which vary with almost every division of country, and are more or less extensive, often according to the fancy of particular cities, such as Frankfort and Amsterdam. Thirdly, in certain minor ceremonies, usual at Synagogues and during family worship, which are generally indicated in the various forms of prayer of the respective congregations.

* From Paytan, a poet or rhymer derived from the Greek ποατής, poyetes. one who makes something, lawgiver, poet; and this again from ποάς, poyes. We append this explanation once for all, so that the uninitiated may have some idea of the real meaning of the words payit and piyutim, which so frequently are made use of.

Now an unprejudiced person would not see any insuperable bar to a thorough union of Israelites attached to the various customs, provided only all were imbued with a spirit of forbearance and true religion; for, in this case, minor differences, founded as they are on mere casual circumstances, would be yielded in view of the great good likely to arise from a continuing of all the useful elements, which, in a state of isolation, are frittered away without leaving a perceptible trace, whilst otherwise they would lead to glorious results. We con<<439>>fess, for our part, that we greatly prefer the Portuguese form of prayers, defective though it be in some respects, to the German; we also consider the Portuguese reading of the Hebrew more consonant with the fixed rules of grammar, than the German or Polish. Still does not this say that we would wantonly break up the peace of a community, where the majority have adopted the German Minhag, because they were acquainted with no other.—At the same time it is notorious, that often a spirit of discontent is fostered, and a division is brought about, by the uncompromising love of power which certain privileged classes display.

Natives, or long-residents of a place, fancy that they have a prerogative to control the remainder, and that all these have to do is to pay their contributions, and submit quietly to all the exactions which the others may impose on them. This, then, produces a division not alone in the Synagogue, but the seceders generally adopt a diverging custom, merely to be as unlike their former haughty associates as possible. We speak of America, because in Europe things are conducted more on a fixed principle, and congregations remain almost invariably attached to their accustomed mode of worship. But it must be evident, that when separations have taken place, where unkindness on the part of those having power was the cause, the division will be accompanied with a degree of bitterness, very unfavourable to the promotion of concord and unity of action in the fragments which have risen into existence as independent bodies. It is thus not even the variation of the forms which then causes the want of unanimity, so much as personal ill-will, which results from the uncontrolled wrong-doing of irresponsible parties.

Gradually the want of harmony becomes more apparent; and gradually too antagonistic classes make their appearance, some of whom view themselves as more respectable than the others, and hardly deign to hold a friendly intercourse with those they would gladly discountenance as inferior; and you have thus a complete separation of the various religious societies in one city even, and this to such an extent, that they refuse to unite together for the purpose of charity and education, as though in this way the noble blood of one or the other party would be contaminated.

This is no false or overdrawn picture; we beg our readers to look around themselves, and they shall then tell us, on their conscience, whether we have not stated simple facts; and we should be glad to hear what good has ever resulted from this separate and this standing aloof of the various Israelites in any one place. We could name cities, both here and in Europe, were it necessary, where this frightful spirit of contention has destroyed all good results which their position would have allowed them to attain, had the people but moved with one accord; but no, the very proposition to hold a meeting to reunite jarring elements is scouted as something unreasonable, as incompatible with the full liberty of isolation which so many regard as the greatest blessing attainable; at least one is correct in so judging them, from the pertinacity with which they frown down every attempt at union. And what is the legitimate result from this grasping policy to rule at all hazards? from this obstinacy in acting for themselves on the part of the fragmentary congregations which exist everywhere all over the land? Just what may he expected: no schools worth speaking of; no seminaries for the training of ministers; no publication societies—nothing in fact which is calculated to advance religion. But is it because we have not the means to accomplish all this? We emphatically say, No; there are means enough if they were concentrated, and concentrated they would be, were the people but once to meet as brothers and leave their sectional jealousies at home. What is it to me who prefer the Portuguese, that a thorough German should be the head of a school, provided only that one were commenced? What injury could it be to an American that a most learned and able European or Asiatic should be placed in the government of our religious concerns? and why, on the other hand, should not foreigners, not yet acquainted with the customs and language of the country, defer to the more mature knowledge, in these matters, of those who have it? It is true that every one would have to yield up some precious, cherished idea, some dear prejudice which is almost interwoven with his existence; but certainly it is at last nothing vital which must be yielded, only some fancy, which once foregone would not haunt our conscience as a grievous sin.

Do our readers now see how they are individually to blame <<441>> for the state of isolation in which they find themselves? What do they know of the position and resources of distant communities, nay, of those in their very neighbourhood, and, what is more, in their own towns? And yet each one could at least heartily condemn this state of things; could speak out boldly about the abuses which he witnesses; could call the attention of Synagogue rulers to the fact that their proceedings are neither warranted by law nor reason. But who will acquire the name of a fault­finder? who will be considered as troublesome? as a disturber of the peace? Alas! so it is; those who censure, that right may triumph over wrong, are not rarely regarded by many as desirous of seeking strife; for no better reason than that they have the independence to denounce an abuse when the timid sit quietly by and let wrong on wrong be perpetrated; because, forsooth, these good souls must follow in the track of their self-constituted leaders, those loud mouthed tyrants, of whom we spoke in the beginning of our first article.

We know it requires some nerve in an uneducated man to oppose or even vote against a specious proposition which had its birth in the brain of a man learned in the law or medicine, or which has been offered by the trustees, or at the express desire of the president of the body. But it is this very timidity on which the leaders calculate to effect their often unrighteous purposes; and hence let any measure, however injurious, be proposed by them, they will yet almost invariably succeed in forcing it through, because many fear of gainsaying it, out of pure love of peace, dreading to lose the valuable services of their leaders in case their favourite measures were defeated.

Whilst people act thus, whilst they are afraid to protest against abuses, whilst they let one wrong be perpetrated after the other, whilst each one does not regard himself as a redresser of grievances so far as his single vote and influence extend, we say it without fear of contradiction, religion will languish among us, intelligence will be checked, and a fearless ministry will be utterly impossible. Our readers will easily see that the situation of the people and that of their ministers have a very close connexion with one another; shackle the freedom of the church-members by the arbitrary rule of a few men—produce any amount of division by the hostile existence of Portuguese, German, and <<442>> Polish congregations of various shades, in one place, and you have nothing which can satisfy the God-fearing man, nothing which he can contemplate with pleasure. Whatever is attempted by a few undaunted spirits must languish for want of sympathy, because there are not many to second it, but few to lend it their countenance. And yet we repeat that it is the duty of individuals, the ultimate components of the various congregations, to rouse themselves to independent action, by thinking for themselves, and seeking counsel from each other, in order to devise a remedy to heal the breaches unfortunately existing among us. We will not take a single word back of what we have written just as the thoughts cross our mind; we have fearful breaches among us, no union, no concert of action, no knowledge of each other’s wants; and were it not for the press which we have been permitted to wield, and for which we are truly grateful to the Almighty Dispenser of events, the mutual ignorance of our present position and probable progress would have been still greater. Perhaps some may dislike the boldness with which we express our opinions; but we cannot help it; either we must be altogether silent, or we must speak out concerning what we see and hear.

Now we acknowledge that there has been a progress, a great advance in our religious position in this country within the last ten years; our pages have given ample evidence of this fact; but it was not owing to any good-will or active exertion on the part of our leaders; they have slept soundly enough while all the bustle and preparation were going on around them; they have stood still enough whilst progress was invading their vicinity from within and without; they have maintained a profound silence, whilst our faith was acquiring defenders and teachers, who thunder their lessons in their deaf and unwilling ears. But how much has been left undone! how much more might have been accomplished if the divisions were less, if there were one powerful united effort made to establish for our faith what the Nazarene sectarians daily carry out in practice! how much good understanding might now exist, how great a friendly intercourse might have been established among us through means of delegates meeting annually, representing all the various communities of the country! And as this has not been done, <<443>> and as our leaders do not seem willing to do anything towards effecting it, we call on the people to cast off the trammels of supineness themselves and to command their men in power to move in advance, or else put in their places those who have truly the fear of God before their eyes, and who are willing, and able, and worthy to labour for the welfare of Israel. We tell them now, at concluding for the present, that every one is not worthy to labour in this cause; there are many who profess ability, but who have it not; there are many who vaunt of a willingness which they do not feel in their hearts; therefore let those whom the people mean to confide in be tested by what they have done, by what they have learned, whether or not they deserve this confidence, whether they will aid them in carrying out the measures  which will result in a thorough union, in an eradication of unnatural prejudices, and in the establishment of a blessed state of mutual good understanding; and when they have found them, let them watch them that they do not fall asleep on their posts, and urge them on to the holy work, that we may ultimately see our religious structure freed from its defects, and stand beautiful and firm before the eyes of an admiring world.

(To be continued.)