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).

The Second Day of Festivals

(The Occident, vol. XIV)

To Rev. Dr. Lilienthal:

During my stay in Cincinnati, you desired of me an explanation of the cause why I contended so earnestly against the abolishment of the second day of the festivals; I promised that I would communicate to you my reasons in a public manner, the moment my time would permit me to do so. Having now an half hour's leisure, I will devote it to the fulfillment of my promise. But, before I proceed with my explanation, I would like to have a more important question solved, namely: "What binds us this day to the Mosaic laws - laws which encumber our domestic and social life with despotic power; since we have not received them ourselves either from G-d or Moses, because G-d has not deigned to reveal himself to us, while Moses has not spoken to us of the present day; why then do we still continue bearing this burden? Why do we not cast it off, and confine ourselves to a religion which G-d has not only revealed to our forefathers, but to us likewise? I refer to the religion of reason, which is placed into the heart of man, from his first coming into existence. The bible, however, although I will not put in question its divine origin in this connection, has, nevertheless, been handed down to us by men, while the religion of the heart, on the contrary, comes from G-d, without any mediation, directly to us. Why do we not, then, hold to it alone?

We have but one answer, and this is: that our fathers, by an oath and solemn promise, pledged themselves and their latest descendants to maintain the laws delivered to them through Moses; and it is for this reason, that the laws have still an abiding force for us.

But if we ask: Can a father pledge his latest descendants, through means of an oath or a promise, to the performance of anything as a binding obligation? The answer would be, "no", one father cannot do this, אין אדם מוריש שבועה לבניו, no man can transfer as an inheritance an oath to his children; but a whole nation is empowered to impose an obligation on succeeding generations. The difference is very simple: a father dies, - and whereas death dissolves all personal responsibilities of a man, not one of them can accordingly pass onward to his children, since they have been completely annulled immediately on the decease of the former. But if a nation has assumed any obligations, this remains obligation on the same to long as it exists as a nation; with the death of generations, one after the other, the nation does not cease to exist; and as long as it does not perish, or is amalgamated with others, it is not absolved from its obligation. For this cause are we at this day obliged to celebrate the festival of Purim, because the whole nation did adopt the fourteenth of Adar, for all future times, as a national feast; and the same is the case with the national mourning, the ninth day of Av.

This premise will show us, that there is no difference between a biblical and a rabbinical ordinance, if the latter should have received, like the former, the sanction of the people. This view appears to follow clearly and distinctly from the principle laid down by the Talmudistsמנהג ישראל תורה היא (not a מנהג הקהלה, a local custom, nor a מנהג מדינה, the one of a particular country, but), "a religious custom introduced by the whole nation of Israel, stands on the same level of importance as the biblical laws.

After having premised this view, you will readily comprehend why I am opposed to the abolishing of the second day of festivals; and I believe not to be mistaken when I maintain, that even Dr. Einhorn, the most decided reformer of modern times, if he had assented to the second article of the Cleveland platform, would contend with all his might for the retention of the second day of the festivals; for although the Bible does not recognize it as a holy day, it was, nevertheless, instituted as such by the whole nation, at a period when people were well acquainted with the computation of time, had a fixed rule for the determination of the festive seasons, at least when they had reliable data for the calculation of the changes of the moon, and the proper days for the festivals; and it has accordingly, as a national ordinance*, not less importance for us than a biblical law.

*This ordinance is applicable only, as we may readily confess, to Israelites living beyond Palestine; nevertheless, the inhabitants of this country are not exempt from it, the moment they pass the boundary of their land. By this remark, I will merely show, that though the second day of festivals is not celebrated by the people of Palestine, it must still be regarded as a universal national ordinance.

But now I would be glad to obtain an explanation from you. In the first place, I request of you that you would have the goodness to tell me why you attack just the second day of festivals, and have not the courage to step boldly forward, and pronounce sentence of death over all rabbinical laws. You will farther be kind enough to let me know, why the ninth day of the month of Av has still so much importance for you, that you celebrated it as late as the past year quite after the old custom, sitting on the ground, and reading the Lamentations of Jeremiah with heartrending tones, recommending also the mourning of this day to the earnest observance of your congregation, while you desire to abolish altogether the second day of festivals? Why will you rob us of a day of joy, and leave us a fast-day, since there is surely no more reason for the continuance of this one, than for the abolishing of the other?

In expectation of your answer I sign myself respectfully,

Dr. B. Illowy.

Syracuse, N.Y. Shevat 8th, 5617.