Home page "Wars of the Lord" Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


The Wars of the Lord

By Rabbi Bernard Illowy (1814-1875).

Dr. Illowy's Letters

(Note by the Editor of the Occident).

In our numbers for August and September we gave publicity to two Hebrew letters, headed Zion Collegiate Institute, at the earnest request of the Rev. Dr. Illowy, of St. Louis, who, in his own peculiar way, desired to give his reasons for opposing the contemplated establishment. To show the impolicy of the scheme, he writes a fictitious letter as coming from his son to himself, reciting the advantages likely to result if such a light-bringing institution should be opened among us; how old rabbinism would meet its downfall, and "all go merry as a marriage bell" -- no more ignorance, no more superstition, no more slavish fear; but all would be light and ease, pleasure and joy. The youth's vision is represented as seeing so much to admire and dazzle him that he cannot imagine why his father, himself a teacher in Israel, should look sorrowful and gloomy amidst the universal hilarity which is said to be visible all around.

This imaginary letter contains the usual amount of what is commonly called "steam" or "gas" of self-glorification, a modicum in which reformers of all kinds, not Jewish alone, deal in ancient or modern times. "No nostrum genuine except it bears my label," say all quacks; "Nothing like Down-With-The-Talmud for curing all the efforts of modern irreligion and philosophical rant of all kinds," say the new doctors who foolishly enough pretend to value a diploma (which, by the by, some* do not possess) of a fraternity that they mean to destroy root and branch, if they succeed in their endeavors. Dr. Illowy meant thus to exhibit the strongest side Reform can assume, in order to show in his supposed reply the weakness of the arguments relied on to build up a college which, from the nature of the founders, will do the very thing which our enemies desire: the uprooting, namely, of our faith and the destruction of our ancient practices. Dr. Illowy, indeed, professes to rely on the well-known integrity of the ostensible chief leader in the movement; we certainly do not know on what ground the doctor founds his hopes, that the person he refers to may uphold the authority of Talmud and tradition; though we should not be surprised if, in the mutation of affairs, he should turn out a violent Orthodox. Be this as it may, the reply reproves his son for daring to join the new movement, and it avers that the ancients were men of science who taught religion in the spirit of the bible; and that the moderns who rely on the spirit of the age can only mislead to their own destruction those who may resort to them for counsel or follow their example.

*A veiled reference to Isaac M. Wise, who claimed a Ph.D. and a rabbinic semicha, although he is not known to have earned either. [webmaster]

We are not, indeed, prepared to assert that Dr. Illowy has resorted to the best method of exhibiting his opposition; but, nevertheless, he has done it in a very ingenious and powerful manner. But as the person who is supposed to write the first letter is only a child about eight years old, it is evidently absurd to attack him as though he had spoken disrespectfully of the holy ones of the Lord, and deserved, therefore, castigation at the hands of men zealous for the good cause. It would accordingly be useless to print several Hebrew letters which we have received in reply.