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).

Criticism of the Reform Prayer Book

To the Rev. Dr. Wise, Editor of the Israelite:

Dear Sir: - Several members of both the congregations of this city found themselves induced, partly perhaps by the beauty of the binding and the fineness of the paper of a prayer-book recently published in New York and adopted in the Temple Emanuel, and partly perhaps by the brevity of its contents, to endeavor to procure its adoption in their respective Synagogues; but when these gentlemen asked me for my consent to this measure, I told them in plain terms that I could not acknowledge the work as a Jewish prayer-book, that it might be good enough for those Israelites who have no other use for their prayer-books than to keep them as an ornament for their parlor-tables, but no true Israelite could use it as a prayer-book proper, those I mean who yet believe in the revelation of G-d and His promises through His prophets, who keep and observe the statutes of the oral law (Talmud), and consider the Shulhan Arukh as the guide of their religious life, and its decisions as obligatory in all matters concerning their daily life, their conduct in the house of G-d, and their worship. For this book regards the words of revelation, the sayings of the prophets and those sublime truths which made our fathers happy, which consoled them in their hours of trouble - those truths which upheld and sustained them amidst the incongruous mass of nations they were among - those truths for which they sacrificed all earthly happiness, all for which man strives in this world, so as to keep and bequeath them as an heirloom to us their children; for which they encountered the most terrible death, and for which they shed their precious blood, - as mere fictions, and repudiates what has been regarded by us as fundamental doctrines for thousands of years in Israel; and it departs completely from the statutes of the Talmud and the teaching of the Shulhan Arukh.

I furthermore announced to them that any Israelite who used this book in his house for the purpose of prayer is entirely excluded from all religious communion by the decision of the Jewish canon law (הלכה). Those gentlemen then asked me to make this announcement public, and to sustain it with sufficient arguments and proofs. To satisfy, therefore, this just demand, I must ask you to grant me a small space for that purpose in the columns of your paper; and as I am fully convinced of your impartiality, and your thorough theological knowledge, I not only expect that you will grant my request, but also that you will not withhold from us your own opinion on the subject.

The words of revelation by the prophet Micah read as follows: "But the day shall come when the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains. In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that is fallen, her that is driven away, and her that I have afflicted. And I will make stand upright the fallen, and her that was case far off a strong nation; and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion, from that day even for ever." Fully in the same sense, in the same spirit, and in a similar description, have all the prophets, from first to last, predicted the day of redemption; but with the building of the second temple, and the restoration of the exiles from Babylon, these predictions were not fulfilled; for the prophecy closes with, "from that day for ever." In accordance with this prophecy it is that we in all our prayers call on G-d at this very day to let his prediction soon be fulfilled, and to let dawn on us the day of Israel's material and spiritual liberation. But that the compiler of the prayer-book in question has no faith in those prophecies, is shown sufficiently by his having excluded all those prayers wherein we implore the Lord for the fulfillment of his promises. Thus, for instance, he omits the following prayers and single passages, which in the least allude to the words of prophecy:

  1. יוצר אור the verse אור חדש על ציון תאיר.

  2. In אהבה רבה the והביאנו לשלום מארבע כנפות הארץ.

  3. For the omission of the verse אשרי איש שישמע למצותיך ודברך ישים על לבו the compiler has his good reasons.

  4. In the prayer רצה the ותחזינו עינינו בשובך לציון.

  5. In  יעלה ויבא the verse וזכרון ירושלום עיר קדשך.

  6. Why the ingenious compiler has left out the excellent heart and soul elevating prayer אלהי נצור I cannot tell, perhaps for its closing with the prophecy of Malachi: וערבה לה מנחת יהודה וירושלים.

  7. The conclusion of the morning prayer ובא לציון גואל.

  8. In the grace after meals ובני ירושלים.

  9. In the same בונה ירושלים.

Now let us show that in the compilations and alterations of said book the compiler either departs intentionally or ignores the statutes of the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh.

  1. He alters without regard to ancient rules the formulae of prayers in the שמנה עשרה at his will and pleasure, though it is said, Talmud Berachot 40b, כל המשנה ממטבע שטבעו חכמים בברכות לא יצא.

  2. Between גאולה לתפילה he omits אמת ויציב; yet in Talmud Berachot 12a it is said: כל שלא אמר אמת ויציב בין גאולה לתפילה לא יצא.

  3. He excludes the beautiful, significant, and edifying hymn לכה דודי from his book, though in Talmud Shabbath 119a it is said: ר חנינא מיעטף וקאי אפניא דמעלי שבתא אמר בואו ונצא לקראת שבת המךכה ר ינאי לביש מאניה מעלי שבת ואמר כואי כלה בואי בלה.

  4. The prayer השכיבנו in תפילת ערבית לשבת the compiler closes with the usual sentence through the week שומר עמו ישראל, though in Midrash and Talmud is said וחותם ופרוס עלינו סוכת שלומך.

  5. In the grace after meals the compiler alters the formula על שהנחלת לאבותינו ארץ to שנתת לנו ארץ. No one can misunderstand the idea which is the basis of all these alterations; the compiler thought it more proper to thank God for this blessed country, where we have found a place of refuge, than for the Holy Land which He had vouchsafed to our fathers; nevertheless the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh remark כל שלא אמר שהנחלת לאבותינו לא יצא.

  6. The compiler further omits in the same blessing הטוב והמטיב, while the Talmud says שלוש ברכות ראשונות דאורייתא.

But the most remarkable thing in this book is the inconsistency of the compiler, who has entirely excluded from it all the usual Musaph prayers, wherewith we compensate with heart and lips the sacrifice which we cannot bring with our hands; and yet he seems rather favorably inclined towards using them on Yom Kippur, for he retains for that day only the Musaph prayer with all its sacrifices. To find an excuse for such a glaring inconsistency we must charitably suppose that the compiler thought the Musaph prayer good enough to fill up the intervals between the short prayers of a long day; though he should have considered that it would be better not to pray at all than to utter with our lips what our soul denies, what our heart has no faith in, and which leaves both heart and soul untouched.

Now, my dear friend, I only need to observe that the remark made by the Rev. Isaac Leeser, in the thirteenth volume of his periodical, that the new prayer-book recently adopted in the Temple Emanuel, in New York, is bereft of the Messianic idea, was well founded, and, though he never saw it, he nevertheless was right to say so, according to the principle frequently met with in the Talmud אוקי גברא על חוקתו, and at the same time I cannot help expressing my surprise to see so great a man in Israel as Rev. Dr. Lilienthal, who acknowledges the Talmud, and whose principle is never to deviate from its doctrines even a hair's breadth, appear as a defender of this book, and take the field against Mr. Leeser for his just and well-founded suspicion.

Very respectfully yours,

Dr. Illowy

St. Louis, October 15th, 5616.