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בס"ד

The Testimony.

An Address, Delivered at the Schoolhouse of the Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia, at the First Opening of Their School, on Sunday, the 4th of Nissan, 5611, (April 6th, 1851,)

By Isaac Leeser.

My Friends,—

Although we are not assembled this day in a house consecrated to God, still we have met for the purpose of doing honour to our Everlasting King, and to labour in His name. It has always been the custom of Israel, on all occasions of public assembly, not to let the words of prayer be wanting; it is הקול קול יעקב “The voice which is the voice of Jacob,” which is ever acceptable on High; in this is our strength, in this our victory; herein angels of mercy join us to do honour to the Creator; and of this, in our deepest affliction, tyrants in all their power, nations in all their tumultuous wrath, could not rob us. Let us, then, not be unmindful of this our potent weapon, the two-edged sword of God’s praise, which is in our mouth, and let us reverentially and with deep humility invoke the aid of our Father in heaven on the work which we are about to begin, in order that He may be with us at our first starting, and not withdraw from us His grace and aid till our task be accomplished.

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O Lord Eternal! Thou hast commanded us in thy law, that we should propagate the doctrines Thou hast bestowed on us; since Thou hast ordained, “And ye shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up.” It is in obedience to this behest that we, thy servants, have striven to establish a seminary where the children born unto Israel might be taught of thy laws, and acquire a knowledge of the sacred language of thy people, without being exposed to the danger of contamination, by instruction which is hostile to the faith which we derive from Thee. Long has our striving been in vain, our words fell on ears deaf to admonition; but at length, for which we bless thy Name, we are at the eve of commencing the work which is so necessary to the well-being of all descendants of Jacob. But, O! how feeble is this beginning—how small the number of those who have inscribed their names unto Thee; but we entreat Thee, do not despise the offering which we bring unworthy, though it be, of thy acceptance; and cause it to prosper and flourish, since Thine is the power to bless and perfect what man begins in doubt and sorrow.

Long has thy Name been profaned among the gentiles, when they saw that they who were called thy people were untrue to their calling, and faithless to the mission Thou hast assigned them to be a guide to the nations. The knowledge of thy word and thy ways has fearfully diminished, and many have fallen off, because they know not the principles of thy faith, and the duties incident to its followers. Grant then, O most merciful Father! that this school may become a shining light in Israel; that it may tend to invigorate with truth and knowledge the minds of many who otherwise would grope their way in darkness; that its scholars may become quick in the spirit of salvation, and stand forth as Israelites in whom Thou art well pleased; and that through them many others may be drawn into the sacred influence, to devote to Thee their life, their best exertions, and their whole soul.

Upon the teachers who are to engage in the holy work send, we beseech Thee, thy gracious beneficence; inspire them with meekness, to labour in the arduous task which they have assumed, and with perseverance not to flag amidst discouraging trials to which they will be exposed. Lend eloquence to their tongues, and deep persuasion to their words, that they may be able to enchain the youthful hearts, and bind them indissolubly to thy service, so that in after years they may rejoice over the multitudes they have brought under the overshadowing wings of thy Providence.

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And upon us, and all the well-wishers of this institution, pour out the spirit of liberality and devotedness, that we may not be weary in our struggle, nor become faint-hearted, if immediate success crown not our enterprise. Yea, teach us to wait for thy aid, in meekness and submission, and not to expect too much from our own strength and our own endeavours; so that, persisting to work in the cause of thy religion, we may be strengthened with the hope that Thou wilt guide us aright, and make everything eventuate for the best, to the extension of thy kingdom, and the spread of thy glory, and the joy of the holy ones on earth, in whom Thou feelest delight. Be it thus thy will to establish the work of our hands, and to let thy beauty be revealed over us. Amen.

Ladies and Gentlemen,—

When Joshua, the successor of Moses, was nigh the end of his mortal career, he assembled the whole tribes of Israel at Shechem, and addressed the elders, captains, judges, and officers of justice, in a heart-stirring appeal, relative to their duties to their God, in reminding them how mercifully He had brought them and their fathers to be his servants. He left them, however, the choice of remaining faithful to the Lord, or to select some of the various idolatries which were then in vogue, either that the Mesopotamians, or of the Emorites, near whom they then dwelt; but whatever the people might resolve on, he declared his firm determination that he and his household would serve the Lord. The Israelites, however, who had been the witnesses of the mercy and might which had been displayed before them, had no doubt of the truth of their religion in their heart; they therefore chose the same worship which their leader had chosen, and they declared, “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” After again receiving an affirmation of this pious and prudent resolution, Joshua wrote all that had transpired in a book containing the law of God, and took a large stone and erected it there, under the beech tree, which was near the sanctuary of the Lord; and then we read

ויאמר יהושע הנה האבן הזאת תהיה בנו לעדה כי היא שמעה את כל אמרי ה׳ אשר דבר עמנו והיתה בכם לעדה פן תכחשון באלהיכם׃ יהושע כ״ד כ״ז׃

“And Joshua said, Behold this stone shall be as a testimony against us, for it hath heard all the sayings of the Lord which he hath spoken with us; <<64>>and therefore shall it be as a testimony against you, that ye may not prove false to your God.”—Joshua xxiv. 27.

These last words of the son of Nun may appear strange to you, inasmuch as he ascribes hearing to an inanimate block of stone, and says that it shall be a testimony against those with whom he spoke. But it is not to be expected that Joshua meant to convey, or that the people understood him as implying, any such absurdity. It is only in a metaphorical sense that he spoke. The people had been assembled near where the stone lay on the ground, consequently all the words and promises which they uttered could have been heard by the stone had it been a living being; wherefore it might well be erected in that place, and remind all future corners, on seeing it, that on that very spot, and around it, their forefathers stood, when they solemnly declared that they would remain Israelites, and obe­dient to the words of God, though they had been offered the free choice of rejecting Him if they preferred doing so; conse­quently the stone, by its silent presence, would be a testimony against the people, should they ever become untrue to their Liege-Lord, who had done for them so many wondrous and mer­ciful deeds.

It is well known to you how powerfully mementos of the departed affect us; how we can be made sad by recalling to mind some simple lay which we in infancy heard our mother sing; how we are constantly wrought upon by even trifling matters, which bring back before our memory events that we long since had deemed as faded and forgotten. It need not, there­fore, surprise us that mankind, in all ages, have deemed monu­mental columns of high importance, as fixing historical events in the most energetic manner on the minds of the beholders; and it is only in obedience to a positive injunction, that the ancient Israelites did not invoke the aid of sculpture or the other cog­nate branches of the plastic art, to commemorate their heroes and their beneficent exertions. The more reason was there for erecting simple, and if you will, rough stones, durable as they are, and almost bidding defiance to the all-devouring tooth of time, in order that they might serve to point out the spots consecrated by the occurrence of important events, which would <<65>> then also call their attention to the fact that, because they were servants of the Incorporeal One, who cannot be represented by any outward figure, they had been interdicted to make any hewn image, the simplest of which had, in the corrupt taste of those times, been converted into objects of worship; wherefore the mere product of nature, unadorned and undefiled by the artist’s chisel, must serve them, instead of the laboured monuments of Greece, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt.

Some would-be-wise men will, perhaps, esteem this prohibition of sculpture and carving as narrow and illiberal; but if we view the depravity and hero worship consequent on representing the human figure in relief, as it was practised by the ancients—the necessary tendency of rising in imagination from the mortal to the Immortal, and to portray Him too with daring and impious hands—the means it gives to represent criminal acts and indecencies of all sorts, as we see but too often done among moderns:—we need not feel any surprise that in our religion no opportunity was allowed to a prurient fancy so to degrade the highest moral good as to make it subservient to vice, or to elevate to an undue height frail mortality, and to invest it with attributes to which it has no claims. Besides all this, the emblematic pictures and sculptures of the ancients have long since lost their significance; and however some one highly endowed may yet be permitted to decipher their secrets, and the history and lessons they convey, it is not to be denied that, as guides to mankind, the stupendous works of antiquity are practically of no more use than the simple stone erected by Joshua.

You may say, that so far as permanence is concerned, the monument erected near the Sanctuary at Shechem is no longer in existence; consequently to us, at this late day, it is of no more use than the hieroglyphic-covered columns of Luxor and Karnac. True, most true; but it is precisely this perishableness of all structures, whether the rude or ornamental, which proves the utter fatuity of man when he vaunts that he is building for futurity. He may, indeed, pile up stone upon stone, wall on wall, but he has not secured his edifice from decay; nay, the very materials he employs, the hardest basalt and granite will <<66>>suffer from abrasion the moment after they are placed in rest. So then let us no more know the site on which Joshua raised his monument—it matters not; it spoke its instruction as long as it was required, whilst the mind of the people needed to be rekindled whenever forgetfulness of God’s word was threatened in the corruption of the times; but, brethren, though the stone itself has perished, and they have passed away, who, violating their pledge, suffered for the covenant broken and the law violated: the object for which it was erected has not passed away, and the religion of which it was a testimony is as potent now as was on that very day; and yet more, it is firmer established in the hearts of all Israelites than at that early date of our history, when so many wavered and went often astray after strange gods who have no breath in their nostrils.

And let me ask you, What brings us here together this day? It is the very same idea which caused Joshua to set up his memorial stone,—it is to testify that we wish to erect an institution in honour of the name of God. The sanctuary is indeed no longer ours; we have only small places for meeting to pray and to exhort but we lack the glorious manifestation of the Divine Presence which formerly animated and comforted us. But the law itself which was to be glorified through means of the public ministration of the priesthood is not yet extinct, and claims of us, no less than in days of old, that it should spread it among all classes, as we read: “Assemble together the people, the men and the women and the children, and thy stranger who is within thy gates, in order that they may hear, and in order that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law.” (Deut. xxxi. 12.)

It was not only given for the rich, the learned, the wise, the aged, the native born, the noble, and the priest, but for all who bear God’s soul in their bosom, it was bestowed as the inheritance of all mankind, wherefore all who were within reach of instruction were to be assembled to take part in the septennial ceremony of its public proclamation by the political chief of the people, in order that all might be animated by one desire to learn how to obey the will of the universal God, to whom all on earth bear the relation of children <<67>>to their Father, of scholars to their Teacher. And we have come hither to-day to commence a school of instruction, open alike to the poor and the rich, the Israelite and the stranger, where it shall be the principal business of the teachers to imbue the mind early with true conceptions of the Godhead, and to repeat the lesson so frequently, by a daily putting line upon line and precept upon precept, that Judaism may become a part of the very nature of our pupils, without which they could not exist, even if they should at a future day be tempted to cast it off for the glare and allurement of the hostile world beyond. It is not an easy thing, though some of you, my hearers, may think otherwise, to acquire this staunch love for religion; or else why do we see so many violations of its precepts daily and hourly practised before our eyes? Had Israelites that devotion which they ought to have, they could not so disregard their duties. It is education only which can effect this, and a constant exhorting at home and at school which can result in a God-fearing conduct through life.

You may ask me, “Are there not many highly educated who are unfaithful? not many ignorant who are pious?” I readily answer “Yes,” to both these questions. But though you do find the ignorant pious after their fashion, as far as they know how, and the learned often desperately wicked, this does not gainsay that true piety and an enlightened zeal are only found in those who have been only tinctured with divine wisdom. For who were the great leaders of our race at all times? were they the unlettered? who were the prophets? were they the uninstructed? who were the most glorious martyrs? were they the ignorant? No, fellow-Israelites, they were all, whether men or women, those in whom the spirit of knowledge dwelt, and it was in their footsteps that the multitudes followed, whether they made their pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem, whether they ranged themselves under their country's banner on the day of strife, although they knew that all efforts would be in vain, since the enemy had penetrated within their walls, or whether they hastened to a yet more glorious death when tyrants demanded their blood as the price of maintaining their religion.

We in our day require the same devoted zeal among our house <<68>>hold in order that we may maintain the proper influence over its members. All Israel may in truth be viewed as one large family, in which each one has assigned a part which he must achieve or be recreant to his trust. But, alas! how many have proved so? look at the records of the congregations in this country, and you will seek in vain for the representatives of many families among the professing Jews. Some have died out by the want of male descendants to bear their names; but many others have left the Synagogue, either by apostacy or the quiet intermingling with the gentiles; and in addition to several families thus extinct already, others are fast hastening to the same deplorable state. Have you ever reflected on this fact? I have, many, many times, with a heaviness of heart which I cannot describe to you. To see the names once honourable among Israel, borne by those who are in feeling the bitterest opponents of our race, and the more so because they know themselves that they are ours by the father’s or mother’s side, is indeed a cause of the deepest grief to a sincere follower of the God of Jacob. And I ask you again, have you never reflected on this fact? If you have, you must have discovered that nearly all such connexions have resulted from one cause, that is, that the offending parties did not consider Jewish families good enough for them to associate with; they regarded themselves a degree higher than all the Hebrews they knew; and hence they sought for alliances where they fancied their noble blood would suffer no contamination.

You may think that I speak harshly; but does the fact bear me out? does your own experience confirm what I say? I appeal to yourselves, and let me be condemned if in your innermost souls you find not a response only too affirmative of my words. It is nothing to the matter that persons of all grades of society have so offended; for, alas! it requires neither wealth, nor intellect, nor station, to puff up the human heart with pride; and no one is so mean but he is in his own conceit higher than all the people in self-importance. There have been others lost to us, because they felt themselves neglected by other Israelites, they were not appreciated as they deserved, so they thought, and they threw themselves into the arms of those who are always anxious to <<69>>receive the straying Jewish flock.

But whence arose this self-assumed superiority on the one side and the degradation on the other? Do you know this? Only reflect a moment, and the matter will become clear to you. Answer me, Where were our religious schools in former times? where are they now? It has always been to me a subject of profound astonishment and deep regret, that there was not a single school all over the country, until very lately, where a Jewish child could obtain any information on his religion. The Synagogue was no place for instruction, because public lectures formed no part of the exercises. Family worship, except in rare instances, was unknown, and family religious reading was not thought of, beyond a perusal of the Bible in the common translation, which was first ordered to be read in churches by authority of King James the First, of England. The religious books accessible were limited to the works of the late David Levi, who in his lifetime was but ill-rewarded for the strenuous exertions he made in the cause of Judaism. Our Jewish predecessors in this country had only one place of meeting, and this was the Synagogue, where the worship was uniformly the same every Sabbath in the year, the tunes only varying to suit the various occasions for which they are very happily adapted. Could such a system tend to make men and women familiar with their faith? could it produce a fusion of wills and a harmony of souls, not to speak among natives and foreigners, but among the natives themselves? It is idle to expect it, for many knew not a word of Hebrew; the language of their worship was an unknown tongue to them; consequently the sounds, beyond the sweetness of the melody, fell like an unmeaning noise on their ears, and no improvement, no lifting up of the heart, could be expected. And where a little Hebrew was acquired from some casual travelling teacher, it served more to deepen the shadow of the absence of information, than to remove it, just as the taper reveals to us more grimly the desolation and darkness of a subterranean prison, the outlines of which are not to be dis­cerned by the flickering flame we carry in our hands.

It was indeed surprising that so many years should elapse without due efforts being made to establish schools, and place the <<70>>worship in the Synagogue on a better footing. But though the evil was so apparent, it was allowed to continue unchecked, until the eyes of many were painfully opened to the want of love and harmony existing among us. People who had not in youth any familiar intercourse, who had been exclusively reared among gentiles, who had no friends among their own nation, could not sympathise with the other Israelites, who moved in a different or inferior station to themselves. The sequel was estrangement from religion, and a constantly decreasing observance of the precepts of the Bible.

I was told by an aged gentleman, now no more, that about seventy years ago a Jewish woman, who kept a boarding-house in New York, was remiss in some small observance which I have forgotten. The trustees of the Synagogue, on learning this, at once proclaimed her house forbidden, and enjoined on all to abstain from eating with her at her table; and only upon reparation of the wrong was the interdict removed. You may say that this was tyranny, an unwarranted interference in private family matters; I cannot agree with you in such an opinion, as it was a public affair in which the pious Synagogue elders thought themselves authorized by custom and prescriptive right to interfere. But be this as it may, it shows the high degree of conformity then prevailing in the oldest congregation in the country. Now look at the contrast with the present state of affairs! See how many violate the Sabbath; how many are married out of the pale of Judaism; how many eat forbidden food; how many disregard the Passover; how many neglect the precept of circumcision, and then say, that we have not changed for the worse.

I said the evil had become so apparent, and that something was necessary to be done, that a friend of Israel, a friend of mankind, thirteen years ago undertook, unsolicited and of her own accord, to open a place of instruction for one day in the week to all who might choose to avail themselves of its advantages. The school was begun with hardly any books suitable for the purpose; and now behold! we have a good though a small series every way calculated to serve the end in view, as the works embracing it convey a rational account of our religion, both its theory and practice, and tend powerfully to make a <<71>>lasting impression on the youthful mind. I cannot doubt that much good has already resulted from it. Friendships have been cemented which probably will last during life; children have learned to know each other as Jews, and to admire each other’s character, who under other circumstances would never have come in contact; and I have every reason for believing that evil and anti-Jewish influences have been eradicated from the minds of some who otherwise might have forsaken our communion. I do not stand, however, here to flatter or to blame unduly; I have been asked by my colleagues to urge the importance of our enterprise. Therefore permit that I point out the defects of a mere Sunday School, unaided by any other seminary. I will again acknowledge, before I proceed further, that the example of the benevo­lent lady whom we all esteem, and whom I am proud to be permitted to call my friend, and that of her disinterested assistants, has been imitated in various other parts of the country, until the just charge of actual ignorance is no longer applicable to all places where this has been done. But no one can say, that much has been accomplished towards diffusing a knowledge of the language of the Scriptures, without which no education of an Israelite can be complete. The little that can be acquired in extra hours, when the children have not to recite their usual lessons or to study them, is not enough, and must necessarily be very inefficient. The child is wearied with conning over matters which are in themselves of but questionable use, even when thoroughly acquired; and when you demand of him now to repair to his Hebrew teacher, he will find out a thousand reasons for desiring to escape from this unwelcome additions: task. And I tell you, without in the least qualifying my assertion, that without an adequate knowledge of the Hebrew, sufficient at least to understand the Scriptures and the ordinary prayers, no Jew can allege that he has acquired that knowledge which is all in all to him. A Hebrew not to be a Hebrew in language when this is within his reach, is an absurd proposition, which requires no argument to illustrate. And pray, why should we not teach to all our children the holy tongue, that they may be able to speak understandingly of God’s word when they sit at home, and when <<72>>they walk together by the way? Few are acquainted with the rich treasures of our literature; and now when modern investigation throwing so much light on this, no less than other subjects, it sounds strangely that to English and American Jews the whole is perfectly inaccessible.

Well may I ask you again, Shall this be always so? will you always be satisfied with things as they are, when you see the evil that has already resulted to our communities from this want of education? Our Society, however, has made it its object to become, permitted by you, and if duly encouraged, under the blessing of Heaven, to whose safe keeping we commit it, an earnest agent to remove the reproach so far as our sphere of action can extend. We purpose to combine elementary and afterwards scientific education with a gradual and progressive acquirement of Hebrew, Hebrew literature, and religion. It is not to be as other schools, a secondary matter whether the children learn Hebrew and religion or not, but they are to acquire these; nothing else even can be imparted. Still imagine not that we are not fully alive to the importance of classical and elegant literature; we know how to appreciate both, and we trust that in a year hence our teachers will prove to you that Jewish children can advance in all the necessary branches of education under the superintendence of instructors of their own people no less than of others. We mean, however, to let the objects and concerns of eternal life not be merely the work of spare time and a leisure day, but to see that daily, and in the usual school hours, the language and religion of our fathers are properly and fully illustrated. Permit me to call your attention to one fact: the members of the committee of school directors, with a single exception, have no offspring of their own old enough to be participants in the benefit which the school is to confer, it is merely a sense of duty which impels them to be active in the cause, and to incur, if need be, a considerable amount of labour to carry out their views. But as this is the case, the greater necessity rests upon those who have children, and who wish to rear them in a religious and hopeful manner, to send them to us, that we may fulfil in them the obligation which in obedience to our religion we have assumed.

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But, I hear some one say, What guarantee can you give us that, when we remove our children from other schools, they will be properly taught the branches of a good general education? And it is, I apprehend, precisely this fear which has hitherto withholden many of you from entering your children as scholars on our books. But let me tell you that this is not wise, though it may be prudent. Our efforts must fail, if we meet with no encouragement; this I am willing to acknowledge; but on the other hand I maintain that we shall do more than redeem our promise, if the children are entrusted to our care. What is to prevent us giving as good an education as is furnished in public or private schools? do you believe that we cannot teach reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography and the higher branches, if these be required? The very idea is absurd; whatever the scholars show an aptness for can be taught as well, to say the least, under Jewish supervision as any other. Only try us, if it be only for one year; and if at its expiration you are dissatisfied with the progress of your children, taking as the standard of comparison what they have acquired before elsewhere, we shall be willing to acknowledge that we have failed.

You must, however, reflect again, that we not merely charge ourselves with simple education; we wish to return your children to you at the end of each season improved in manners and morals. We wish to subject their minds to a wholesome restraint, where love shall govern and not force, where intellect is to lead, not vain ambition. Look at the effects of the Sunday School, how they have ennobled natures some thought incapable of improvement, and then say that the effect will not be much greater if the discipline be carried out through the whole period children are at school. It will most assuredly take some time to get everything in a proper train; perhaps several weeks must elapse before we can fairly assert that we have made a proper beginning; the thing is yet new, and circumstances, the surest indications of Providence, must show us how we are to proceed; only have a little patience; the same you would demand if you all were in our place, and we promise that we will faithfully strive to do our whole duty. It is possible also, that we may commit <<74>>some mistakes at the very outset and during the subsequent existence of our enterprise; but shall this deprive us of your confidence? we trust not; we are all working in one cause; parents, teachers, managers, children, have all one object, that is, the diffusion of a knowledge of our religion; and hence we trust that any error which may be discovered shall be pointed out to us with candour and mildness, and we will endeavour to amend, so far as this may be practicable with the means and materials at our disposal. Only let me beg you, not to doubt hastily of a good result; it has been well said that “our doubts are traitors;” and it is certain that no great enterprise ever succeeded where the actors themselves doubted oft heir final success. To insure a happy issue we must have but one thing in view, namely, the end we are aiming at; we must not regard great or small obstacles as things worth minding, but move straight onward, and let each step taken in advance be the forerunner and guarantee of the next succeeding one.

Believe me, that the greatest results are obtained by slow and contiguous minor advances; and they succeed the best who persevere the longest without despairing of their chances of carrying out what they at first dimly conceived to be within the range of their possibility. As little as wealth or renown is suddenly acquired, except in rare instances, can any enterprise, whatever it be, expect to prove itself at once among the events which are established in the full tide of success. Therefore I tell you, demand not of us that we shall accomplish. Impossibilities all at once; that we are to gather in this institution children of various stages of intellect and progress in domestic education, and mould them without delay into scholars of a uniform conduct and progress. Without a miracle this will be impossible, and we are not vain nor foolish enough to claim the ability to accomplish the impracticable. But let me beg of you all, not to undervalue our and your capacity for succeeding with this school because we are Jews. The remark is often made that we Israelites cannot do things like other people, and that we are altogether too self-willed to succeed where others find no bar to carry out their views. For my part I will never believe that we are inferior to the best of mankind in whatever we devote our <<75>>attention to. Look at the great progress we have made in commerce and the mechanic arts wherever we had a fair field of action: and I see no reason why the same result is not equally certain in every pursuit to which we may seriously devote our energies. It is and has been our misfortune for many centuries, that small trading, and at best large commerce, has been our main pursuit; still, with all the disadvantages of our position, we have maintained a high character as an educated and intellectual people, though at times our educational systems have been highly defective.

But I ask you, What is to prevent us in this free country, where all legal disqualifications are unknown, from advancing with the same or greater rapidity in intellectual pursuits with our fellow-citizens of other persuasions? What a humiliating confession would it be were we to acknowledge that we did not establish religious schools, because we lacked the capacity and energy to undertake them, though we had ample means and a fair opportunity to do so. Away with such croaking; let us not hear the ominous sounds “We cannot;” we can, we must, we will! say this all of you, induce others to say the same, and then you will soon see whether Jews can succeed in disseminating education and religious knowledge as successfully as the best and most enlightened denomination, whatever this may be.

I use plain language, I deal in no flowers of oratory, and I trust, therefore, that I shall be best understood. It is not so much to the feelings I wish to appeal as to your good judgment, and hence I hope that you will not get impatient when my address detains you longer than you expected. The subject is one of the highest importance, and concerns you all, my hearers, whether you are rich or poor. Could I have the opportunity of seeing you here frequently, I might indeed cut my remarks short to resume them at another time; but as this may perhaps never be in my power, I must crave your indulgence to some few other considerations in connexion with the subject.—To Israelites, their religion is no luxury, excuse me for using so strange an expression, but a matter of primary importance. An Episcopalian need not be a high or low churchman in order to believe in his system; for he has a wide range in which to move; and he can <<76>>be a Nazarene, and for all we know fully as good as in his sect, though he turn Baptist or Quaker. But a Jew is no Jew if he has not a firm hold on his peculiar opinions and distinguishing practice. A theoretical Jew can exist; we have, unfortunately, many such; but they are not the Israelites of the Scriptures, because the material element of this character, religious conformity, is absent. We know, moreover, no exemption from duty; we have no standard of indulgences or restrictions; no noble classes who may transgress, no lower orders who may yield themselves to degrading vices in order to gratify the sensualities of the lordlings, who look upon them with contempt even whilst they minister to their pleasures.

The Jew is a Jew, whether he is the pedlar that be doubled under the burden which his laborious shoulders carry, or the baron of the Austrian Empire who idles away his hours on the luxurious sofa. The hopes of the last are not a whit higher and nobler than those of the first, and this one has the same claims to immortality and a glorious hereafter, as the most favoured child of luxury. Fortune’s gifts may be, by the will of Providence, very unequally distributed; but let not their possessors deem themselves better men or more God-favoured on this account. They have a tangible advantage in their exemption from toil; they may lie down at night without torturing their brain how to provide for their little ones by the dawn of to-morrow. Is not this enough for them? must they also wish to perpetuate for their families a rank which the now humble and their offspring are never to attain? Weak! silly! wicked idea! God has elevated you, I tell you, not you have acquired your position by your unaided skill and labour; and he can unmake you, bring you down again to the dung-hill whence you sprung, or your children, should you even be carried on a splendid bier to the grave, may have to claim the assistance of those whom you despise as too inferior to associate with you and yours. The world, and especially this country, presents so many instances of changes of fortune, that it would be superfluous for me to hunt for examples of which you, my hearers, know many in your own experience. Let us hope, therefore, that no silly pride will prevent parents of all standings in society from availing themselves <<77>>of the advantages which we ho to offer to you.

“Ho! let all you who are thirsty,” says the prophet, “come to the waters, and he too who hath no   money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” The word of God is free to all, it is the water, the bread, the wine and milk of life; it refreshes, it satisfies, it rejoices, it nourishes. It is given to all, offered to all; and we summon all within our reach, as did the ancient prophet, to partake of the repast which we hope to spread for you in the name and by the aid of God. We demand of those able to pay a small fee towards defraying the expenses which we have to incur, and we trust that this will be cheerfully given; but they who are not blessed with a superabundance of means are invited, nevertheless, to entrust to us their children, and we promise them that they shall not suffer the least reproof for the inability of their parents. All we ask of them is to send their children tidily dressed, and cleanly in their persons, so that no stain will attach to them for their humble state. And let me here remark at once, that nothing so promotes good conduct and proficiency in study as scrupulous cleanliness; in a dirty body a dirty soul too often dwells, and the exterior is mostly a fair index of the inward man. Cleanliness, say our wise men, is the first step to the acquisition of holiness, and it is a necessary element of Jewish life, as our holy law amply proves. It is not to be questioned, that if the children of the poor come hither so that all can freely associate with them, it will be an incentive for the rich to apply to us also to take theirs under our charge; and only the non-observance of this rule can operate as an excuse to withhold any one from taking advantage of the institution we now commence.

Let no one think that any injury can result to better trained children, by associating with those not so fortunate as themselves; in after-life they will have to meet with persons of all classes, and it is no detriment that they become early acquainted with the fact that all are not prosperous alike. It will produce in them kindliness of feeling, at finding that the same virtues can dwell in a heart covered by a frieze coat, as that which beats under a velvet mantle, and that the sorrows of the poor <<78>>are the same as those of the rich. This is levelling upward; you elevate the character of the humble, by bringing them in contact with those of better manners and greater refinement; and with children of good religious character, you need not fear that they will corrupt yours, whilst they acquire from them politeness and good breeding. This is well understood in the country where I was born. Universal education has long since been established there; and at the same colleges where the sons of the nobles acquire their collegiate education, the children of the day-labourers are freely admitted. The former have to pay the annual stipend which the rules require, whilst the others enjoy precisely the same advantages and privileges without any charge whatever; and it is not rare that the poorest excel the others in every requisite of intellect, industry, and aptness for study. But what need is there to go over the ocean to seek for examples of the kind? Look at your own great statesmen, your Clay, your Webster, your Fillmore, and thousands of others, and they were the children of poverty of the unknown. And who dares now to remind them of their origin? They have the title of nobility from nature’s God, and show me the worldling who would dispute this claim, valid as it is above all others.

But much as I have yet to say, I find that it is time to close. It has been my endeavour to exhibit to you, in as condensed a manner as possible, the necessity of our school, its practicability, and the happy effects it may produce, if it is rightly encouraged. Its friends and projectors have laboured long to bring it so far as to make a commencement; doubts and difficulties have surrounded every step in advance we have taken, and much labour and kindness will be required to keep it in operation. It is our intention, should the demand make it necessary, and our funds suffice, to open district schools at convenient distances, so as to afford all children an opportunity to avail themselves of our Hebrew education. For the present we have selected this place as the most central, and we hope that no captious fault-finding will prevent all our space to be soon claimed by attentive scholars. The committee of school directors pledge themselves to do al in their power to afford the utmost satisfaction, and to act in a cases with strict impartiality.

<<79>>
In conclusion, permit me, like Joshua of old, to call your attention to this stone, as it were in the great building of righteousness, on which all Israel should labour, which we have just set up. It is a testimony against you, O Israelites of Philadelphia whether or not you are true to the Lord your God. Cherish it, cause it to expand, labour that it may become a chief corner stone in an extended system of education, whence future teachers and ministers of Israel may go forth, to propagate the word of God: and you will have performed your duty, a duty which is incumbent on you and all our brothers wherever they are. Neglect it, and you will have perhaps to deplore apostacy in your own family, and a public desecration of the name of God by some of your offspring, whom you would sooner follow to the grave, than see them thus dishonour you and your faith. It is for your own sakes that we call on you to aid us in our effort; you will rejoice when you see those dear to you intelligent servants of God, and familiar with his word, being thus faithful from knowledge and not mere conformity by descent. You never, we trust, will regret the exertions and outlay you have made in this cause; and they who have laboured to bring the Education Society into existence, under the blessing of Providence, will deem themselves amply compensated, when they see that their striving has in part brought “peace on Israel.”

Nissan 4th, April 6th, 5611.