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The Congregation Beth Elohim of Charleston

 

Error, when discovered and exposed, may endeavour to shelter itself under the aegis of crafty silence, and thus feign humility and forbearance. This might serve the end in view without exciting others to expose it, if such error stood solitary and disconnected with these others. But when the peace of mind, and the religious existence of a community is at stake, and the grave charge of promulgating unsound doctrines is made, silence then, by treacherously withdrawing from the arena, and leaving in the minds of the congregation doubts, instead of holy faith, betrays culpability and proves guilt. The present position of  Mr. Poznanski is sufficient evidence of the truth of our assertion <<355>>in our article signed S. N. C., in the July No. of the Occident, and we would not have been forced again to appear before the public in defence of honesty, zeal, and integrity, but that our silence, when matters of such import are at stake, might be construed as unpardonable, and indicative of having employed misrepresentations on our side. We, therefore, come forth to substantiate our every assertion by authentic documentary evidence, and to refute the statements of our opponent “C,” who uncalled for, again tries to clear what cannot be cleared, by endeavouring vainly to assail, not only our veracity, but that of gentlemen of high literary attainments, whose characters stand unimpeached, and whose reputation for “deep learning” preceded them to this country. These gentlemen, Dr. Raphall, Mr. Newman, and Dr. Eckman, have unanimously expressed their views of the unsoundness and consequent heterodoxy of one individual, which opinions have been endorsed by a large portion of the Israelites of Charleston?

The editor of the Occident, in the July number ably and logically defined the relative position of the two reverend gentlemen; but we will take a wider scope, and inquire whether any Jew or Christian, after a theological argument with Mr. P., and there have been many such, left him under any other impress on than that stated by Mr. N. and Dr. E.? Why does not Mr. Poznanski show the evidences of having taught, during a period  fourteen years if not Rabbinical Judaism, at least such as is practised by the Caraites, or that was practised by the Sadducees of old, or even the modern reformers of Europe who still belong to Judaism?

But we will leave generalities, and proceed to defend ourself from the unjust accusation of “C,” who dictatorially declares our report, as correspondent of the Occident before alluded to, to be at variance with common sense, although it is in consonance with the universal opinion of the majority of Israelites everywhere. He also thinks our “style” so loose and disjointed as to carry the refutation of our assertions on the face of it. We shall, therefore, have to devote a few words to the verbal criticism of “C,” which we would have passed over, had he not so pom<<356>>pously brought them before the public, for the purpose of mystifying truth. We asserted that 44 members withdrew from the Synagogue, among whom were the founders of the Congregation.

“C.” objects to the word “founders,” and uses ridicule instead of refutation. The shafts of ridicule, when brought to bear in the field of controversy, invariably indicate the weakness of the hand that wields them: We could afford to acknowledge that a happier term might have been used to express the sad fact, that forty-four honest, grave, and scrupulous men were compelled to withdraw, upon the introduction of the organ into the Synagogue by a small majority of votes, contrary to their very constitution; and, as the minority contended, against all rules of justice, equity, honesty, and piety. So much for this fact which, strange to say, “C.” does not deny; but he objects to the term founders, which is not improper after all. We had reference to Messrs. H. M. Hertz, Nathan Hart, Nathan Nathans, Levy Moses, and others for over forty years,  had, by their piety, benevolence, and large contributions, assisted to lay the foundation of the respectable and prosperous condition of the congregation at the time Mr. P. was elected. We repeat that these gentlemen had a claim to be considered as the founders of the congregation. We never said of the Synagogue; the founders of which were of another century.

Another error is pointed out by our critic. A typographical omission of a few letters, viz., page 205, line 11, add “by Mr. P.,” the sentence will then read thus:—“Dr. E. found that all positive religion was rejected by Mr. P.;” but for this omission “C.” would have been spared seventeen lines of his profound criticism.

Looseness of style does not affect the truth of an assertion, but looseness of principle will. I quoted from the petition sent to Dr. E., and acknowledged to have been composed by “C.,” viz., “Religion is a holy abstraction from worldly contentions.”

“C.” denies his having uttered each a puerility. Now, we boldly assert that such a puerility was uttered by him, although the extract from the petition which he has given to the world, he has purposely left out this particular sentence. We send on <<357>> for publication the original copy of the petition, received by Dr. E., in the handwriting of the Secretary of K. K. Beth Elohim, and signed and certified also by him, embodied in which is the very sentence expunged from his copy, and disavowed by “C.,” the author of it, standing forth as the glaring contradiction of his own assertion, and a confirmation of the truth of ours.

Now for facts. We are fully confident, that if we cannot command respect by the correctness of our style, we can do so by the correctness of our statements. We are candid and intelligible if not polite and polished. We had rather plead a good cause badly, than successfully defend a bad one, bringing to our aid the auxiliaries of eloquence, oratory, and sophistry. We stated that Dr. E., from repeated conversations with Mr. Posnanski on his first arrival, and from personal observation afterward, found that all positive religion was rejected by Mr. P.

This assertion rests on the veracity of Dr. E. Now, as long as this gentleman is known by the highest testimonials from abroad, as well as by his gentlemanly deportment and exemplary conduct, which have secured to him the love and esteem of all the unprejudiced, who are acquainted with him here,—until it can be proven that Dr. Eckman’s veracity is impeachable, the simple denial of a third person, who cannot know from his own observation anything about the matter, is no evidence, and least of all no proof. But facts speak for themselves, and it is not necessary to bring forward either Dr. Raphall’s, Mr. Newman’s, or Dr. Eckman’s testimony. Let us take up the Bible, and on examining the contents, we will find it to consist of three branches, history, laws, and prophecy. It is well known that Mr. Poznanski does not believe the historical part, as he gives no credence to any historic records; in other words, he is a doubter. Prophecy he denies. The whole burden of prophecy bears on the promise of the Messiah, the resurrection, the future restoration of Israel, and the happy state of the world in that era; all this is denied by Mr. P. Consequently, we were justi­fied in saying that prophecy was denied (see Mr. P.’s creed, and “C.’s” admission that it was prepared in conformity with the principles of reform).

Now, there remains but one more part, <<358>> “the laws.” Is there any doubt about his opinions on this point? The man who boldly raised his hand against all our ancient sages and institutions—who unsparingly rushed against the belief of the whole religious world, little caring how deep he might wound their feelings—that man, like a bashful maiden, with all her charms of modesty, could not answer Mr. Newman, when asked about the Sabbath and circumcision. He, who could boldly introduce his own preparation into the house dedicated to God, instead of those truths accepted by Jews, Christians, and Mohamedans (as desired), is too polite to give a modest rebuke in his own house, to what is thought by him and “C.,” to be a coarse and indelicate question proposed by Mr. N. O, sancta modesta! What does such silence justify us to believe? If, he could not speak to Mr. Newman, he plainly did so to Dr. E., as he objected to Dr. E. preaching so much about the Bible, and wished him to take moral topics. He did, we again aver, ask him to preach against all observances and ceremonies; he wanted nothing but the idea of a God, which is pure Deism. Had he belonged to the Caraites, or Sadducees at least, he could not have allowed his congregation to neglect all those laws, which even these sects strictly observed, and do now observe. There was a denial of all that was doctrinal and national.

“What need we,” said Mr. Poznanski, when speaking about dietetic observances, “make such difficulties or circumstances of eating? they (other nations) eat, drink, and thrive.”

“C.” asks what religion was observed in the Synagogue. We reply, The Synagogue is exactly like every other Portuguese Synagogue; the same prayers are used unabrogated, with the exception of the omission of two or three Kaddashim, the same creed is used, viz., the Yigdal, the same tradition is acknowledged; the same ceremonies observed, and so the Synagogue is the same as any other; but the inconsistency was in the minister praying for what he did not believe, and his professing in his prayers in the pulpit, what he denied in his prepared creed, and in conversation. Every Sabbath for ten years, he prayed for the resurrection of the body, the coming of the Messiah, the restoration of Israel and yet he plainly acknowledges his dis<<359>>belief in these tenets; he then has uttered in the pulpit what he disavows his belief in, to say the least of it; besides its being a profanation of the Holy Name.

“False lips are an abomination unto the Lord.” (Prov. xxii. 12.) “He who turns his ear from listening to the law, his prayers even are an abomination.” (Prov. xxvi. 9) “C.,” and all Mr. P.’s advocates together, cannot clear him of what any child could have convicted him, when using our liturgy. Now all our remarks referred to Mr. P.; and the religion that he observed in the Synagogue was neither Jewish, Christian, Mahomedan, nor Pagan. The poor, ignorant Pagan is true and sincere to his idols; but to provoke instead of invoking, to ask with our lips, what we reject with our hearts, this no honest man can do; no, not even a Pagan. Mr. P. might have respected the golden letters in front of the Hechal, “Know before whom thou standest;” and would have done better not to have admitted in the Ten Commandments opposite the Tebah, the one teaching “Do not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.” We are somewhat surprised to see a respectable man, as we always supposed “C.” to be, publicly come forward in defence of such principles. He has, doubtless, been imposed upon, or he would never have advanced such groundless accusations against us, as we are called upon to repel; and, we do sincerely hope, when he sees the incontestable proofs (which he has been kept in ignorance of) that we will advance to sustain our positions, he will have the candour to acknowledge he has been wrongly induced to do this act of injustice.

“C.” calls into question our veracity, and states that Dr. B. did read the prayers conjointly with Mr. P. on Yom Kippur, and stood side by side the whole day, pouring forth their devotions at the common altar of our religion, and refers for the truth of his statement (in a note) to the Parnass. Now, in the text, we call upon, not only the Parnass, but the whole congregation, to verify our assertion, that Dr. Eckman took no part in the prayers on that day. Dr. E. give a lecture, as a lecture was required he also read the law, as it was necessary, at least on that day, to let the congregation know what their duties <<360>> were; but he took no part in the prayers and, to the credit of the congregation be it spoken, that only two members knew at that time the ground of the objections of Dr. E. to Mr. P.’s reading the prayers.

“C.” states farther that a committee was appointed by the Board of Trustees, to prepare a creed (as it was understood) in conformity with the principles of reform. “The creed of Maimonides is translated in every prayer-book and catechism.” Who, after this statement, believes that the Board of Trustees could have been so ignorant and stupid as to think that the creed prepared by Mr. P. was the Maimonidean creed. As it would put a schoolboy to the blush to use such an argument, the advocates of Dr. E. would consult silence if they would conceal their shame. We are sorry that we shall have to expose “C.’s” want of candour in making such a reckless statement. We will produce authentic documentary evidence to sustain our position, and thus the weakness of “C.’s” assertion.

Extract from the evidence produced in Court in the case of the State vs. and others, in the Spring term, 1844.

Feb. 21st, 1841. “The Building Committee was requested to have two tablets set up in the Synagogue, one the Ten Commandments, the other the thirteen articles of faith.”

March 7th, 1841. “The Committee received instructions from the Board of Trustees to consult the Hazan in Preparing the tablets.”

In the Southern Quarterly Review, 184–, there is an article from the pen of J. C. Levy, Esq., one of the committee appointed to prepare the tablets, in which we find (page 36), speaking of the difference of opinion among the Rabbis about fundamental points of belief, that he says: “Thus, we find the creed of Maimonides, or articles of Jewish faith, as inscribed on the tablets in the new Synagogue in Charleston, which appear to be identically the same as collated by that great light, vary from other authority held in equal estimation in his day. The thirteen articles referred to in the Synagogue, from Maimonides, are as <<361>> follows:” (there is no use transcribing them, as want of room prevents it, and every one knows what they are.)

The committee referred to by “C.” consisted of three gentlemen. We have the published evidence and opinion of one of them,—a gentleman of the highest respectability,—Mr. J. C. Levy, that he fully believed it to be the creed of Maimonides; 2d, the opinions of the Parnass, and the other members of the committee, avowing the same belief; and lastly, we have conversed with nearly all the members of the congregation, who agree in the same opinion, that it was the creed of Maimonides that was intended to be placed in the Synagogue. Notwithstanding this, at this late day we are indebted to “C.” for the important development that the creed was to be prepared in conformity with the principles of reform. If so, why was not this altered creed included in the circular as part of the reform established in K. K. B. E. ? Could anything have been more important, or imperatively demanded for the information of others?

“C.” has quoted the Circular as the Alpha and Omega of the reform, upon which he is ready to stand or fall. Is this not another proof that no such alteration of the creed was ever intended to or did constitute a part of the reform? If it were as “C.” states, have not the committee who prepared the circular omitted to give to the world notice of the most vital of all the changes that were contemplated? But it is yet time; and we call upon “C.” and his friends to tell us wherein consists the difference between the creed of Maimonides and that of Mr. Poznanski, which “C.” now insists was prepared in conformity with the principles of reform.

“C.” attacks our veracity again, and boldly and unequivocally asserts that we made another misrepresentation,—as to the number of signers to the petition to Dr. E., requesting him not to resign. Does “C.” think he has a child to deal with, that he should so coolly attempt to crush us with satire, ridicule, and unfounded assertions? If so, he will have found out his mistake. We will, in this as in all the other allegations, bring the proof that he is wrong and we are right.

<<362>>

The Board of Trustees, K. K. B. E.,
Charleston, May 4th, 1851 (5611).

Resolved, That the Rev. Dr. Eckman be informed that the petition signed by Mr. I. N. Cardoza and seventeen other legal members, are such as are fully authorised to come before this Board, and that the petition signed by Mr. B. Mordecai and eighteen others numbering among them but fifteen members or Yahidim.

(Signed) MYER JACOBS,
Sec. and Treas. K. K. B. E.

(Extract from the Minutes.)

We also transmit to the editor, for publication, the original petition, with the nineteen autograph signatures attached, fifteen of whom are legal members, and fours are contributors. The resolution appended substantiates the number of names on the petition, and consequently completely exonerates us from any intention to deceive, and convicts “C.” of unpardonable and culpable ignorance,—thus showing clearly that he has been egregiously duped by the misrepresentations of others.

Having now proved, by irrefragable evidence, that every one of the charges made by “C.” against us, as well as his other assertions, is without any foundation, and having established on a firm basis our veracity as a faithful reporter, we leave an impartial public to judge what credence is to be placed in any communication emanating from “C.,” for whom we feel no unkindness, notwithstanding his attack on us. S. N. C.

1.

Charleston, Sunday, May 4th, 1851 (5611).

To the Trustees of the Congregation Beth Elohim:—

The undersigned, for themselves and a large portion of the members of this Congregation, beg leave respectfully to submit to the consideration of your body a few remarks on a subject of vital importance to the well-being and future welfare of this congregation.

In approaching the subject of their complaint, they would premise that they entertain no feeling of disrespect or unkindness for the Rev. Julius Eckman, our present minister. That they regard him as a gentleman of deep learning, and of capacity to discharge the sacred <<363>> duties of his calling. That they had cheerfully rendered their assent to his occupying the office of Hazan, under a conviction, from his written and verbal acquiescence to the established principles of their reform, that he sanctioned and would uphold it.

Your honourable body will readily admit that, in the preliminary arrangements with Mr. Eckman, any evasion or distrust, and faltering on all the points of reform which have been adopted for the last ten years, would have at once proved fatal to the reverend gentleman occupying that office.

In good faith, therefore, they had a right to expect that Mr. Eckman would have sustained the reform in undiminished seal and vigour. They hoped that in his lectures he would have confined himself general expositions of the principles of Judaism. A fertile field was before him, to trace the history or our faith, so rich in precepts of virtue, so fruitful in acts of hallowed devotion, and so abounding in examples of sacrifices on the altar of our religion. But Mr. Eckman thought proper to deviate from this course in his lectures. He introduced irrelevant topics he arraigned individual opinion on doctrinal points; he made sacred subjects debatable ground, and the piety and forbearance of the minister were sunk in the controversialist. Instead of being chastened by exhortations addressed to their hearts, a large number of our congregation were chastised for supposed defection from the religion of their forefathers. We do not want constantly upheld to our view a picture of the feuds of the Church, to purify our passions, or to exalt our notions of the Divinity. Pure religion is a holy abstraction from all worldly contentions.

A minister of God has but one solemn duty to perform. His mission is from on high. He should preach no other than holy precepts and holy truths. He should mollify enmity, and propitiate passion. A course contrary to this, mars the beauty of that divine harmony that should command his most fervent praise and devotion. We regret, therefore, to express our opinion that Mr. Eckman does not exercise the qualifications of sack a minister as is required by our congregation.

His own friends acknowledge that the subject of some of his dis­courses are ill-timed and improper; that he is too violent in denunciation, and that such recrimination in the pulpit leads to its degradation.

Your petitioners regard it as essential to the welfare of a congregation, that entire unanimity of sentiment and feeling should exist <<364>> between a pastor and his flock; and  we have shown in the above remarks that, in our opinion, the chief province of such a man was to promote the spiritual welfare and exaltation of his flock, and not to  invade the sanctity of private opinions.

From these remarks, your respectable body must conclude that the signers of this petition are dissatisfied with the official conduct of the Rev. Mr. Eckman; and they request that the Board of Trustees will convey the views here taken to the reverend gentleman, and that, trusting to the exercise of his own self-respect, he will no longer retain an office that places him in opposition to so many of his congregation, and renders him an obstacle to their peace and harmony.

Signed by Isaac N. Cardozo, B. D. Lazarus, John J. Cohen, D. C. Seixas, J. M. Seixas, I. L. Delange, C. F. Levy, I. R. Solomons, Philip Wiseman, Isaac Davega, Michael Lazarus, Myer Jacobs, A. J. Moses, G. Lazarus, P. M. Cohen, Philip Cohen, B. A. Rodrigues, Jacob Ottolengui.    

On reading the above, the following resolution was passed,— ayes 4, noes 3.

Resolved, That the petition of the congregation be accepted, and that it be recorded in the minutes, and that a copy of the same be forwarded by the Secretary to the Rev. Mr. Eckman, with the desire of this Board that he will comply with the request of the petitioners.

M. JACOBS,
Sec. and Treas. K. K. B. E.

2.

To the President and Trustees of the Congregation Beth Elohim

The undesigned, congregators and members of K. K. B. E., having  the highest opinion of the learning, piety, integrity, and zeal of the Rev. Dr. J. Eckman, respectfully request that the Board of Trustees will request that he will not regard any petition to resign his office, as they feel assured that perseverance in the faithful discharge of his clerical duties will ultimately secure to him the approbation of a large majority of his congregation.

B. Mordecai, I. S. Cohen, Joseph H. Oppenheim, Abraham Moise, Morris Meyer, Isaac Moise, S. Lipman, Joshua Lazarus, I. H. Oppenheim, H. M. Oppenheim, Is. E. Hertz, B. Weinberg, A. Loryea, M. C. Mordecai, Chas. H. Moise, E. Levy, Isaac Harris, Thos. J. Moise, Mordecai Hyams. <<365>>

3.

Board of Trustees, K. K. B. E.,
Charleston, May 4th, 1851 (5611).

Resolved, That the Rev. Mr. Eckman be informed that the petition of J. N. Cardoso and seventeen other legal members are, as such, fully authorised to sign and come before this Board. And that the petition of Mr. Ben. Mordecai and eighteen others, numbering in all among them but fifteen members (or Yahidim) of this congregation.

(Extract from the Minutes.)

M. JACOBS,
Sec and Treas. K. K. B. E.