|Vol. II, No. 8
Heshvan 5605, November 1844
The Dangers Of Our Position.
by Isaac Leeser
Last month we briefly have the proceedings of the few Rabbins and Preachers who assembled last June at Brunswick. The account was extracted from the columns of our English contemporary, and we were in hopes of having received more ample details before this. But our German papers have not yet arrived, and we fear that several weeks more must elapse ere they reach us. We cannot wait therefore with our review till we have the full particulars; since we cannot let these proceedings go before the world without expressing our hearty condemnation of such acts from men who call themselves the chiefs of the Synagogues. In this cast, too, we have to lament that we have no one at hand who can give us some account of the character of the members of this singular council, in order that we might be able to appreciate fully the value of their proposed measures by their former conduct and their proclaimed doctrines. But of this we are certain, that the Brunswick assembly fully justifies our various articles on the reformers and their reforms, that the first do not seek the peace of Israel, and that the latter are not calculated to harmonize with our institutions even if we discard all rabbinical authority.
But let us proceed without farther preface. First, as regards the material of the assembly. It consisted of twenty-three members, whereas thirty-one, exclusive of the projector, Dr. Philippson, had signified their intention of being present. But in looking over the list of those who participated in the deliberation which we find in the September number of the Jewish Intelligence, we observe that those who did not attend the meeting after expressing their assent were the following: Dr. Levi, of Hesse-Darmstadt, Dr. Auerbach of Bonn, Mr. Aub of Munich, Dr. Adler of Kissingen, Mr. I. N. Mannheimer of Vienna, Dr. Z. Frankel of Dresden, Dr. D. Einhorn of Birkenfeld, Dr. Heilbut of Glückstadt, Dr. G. Kohn of Mühlhausen, Dr. Grünebaum of Landau, Mr. Oppenheim of Pirmasenz, Mr. Seligman of Kaiserslautern, Dr, M. Sachs of Prague, Mr. Gutman of Redwitz and Dr. Aub of Baireuth, in all fifteen. In their stead there appeared, although not in the printed list of Dr. Philippson of the 6th of May, Dr. Soberheim of Bingen, Mr. Ben Israel of Coblenz, Dr. S. Adler of Alzey, Dr. A. Adler of Worms, Mr. Schott of Randeg, Dr. Hoffmann of Meiningen, Mr. Heidenheim of Sondershausen, and Mr. Edler of Minden, in all eight, who with the other sixteen who met with Dr. Philippson made up the number of twenty-five, who composed thus the new Sanhedrin of Brunswick.*
The idea must strike every one “Why did so many not attend after signifying their assent?” No doubt, as it strikes us, because they felt convinced that they could not well harmonize with the persons whom they were to meet. The reason given, that official duties prevented them is hardly sufficient for the absence of half the number. We candidly think, that Drs. Levi, Frankel, Auerbach, Sachs and Aub, and Messrs. Mannheimer and Aub of Munich, and several of the other absentees could easily see from the constitution of the assembly that the new ideas of ultra-reform would be urged, and they may have honestly preferred to stay at home sooner than give their countenance to such proceedings by their mere presence, which no doubt would have been claimed by the more active reformers as a tacit acknowledgement of the justness of their views. We state, however, in all candour, that we speak from mere conjecture, as we have no letters from Germany bearing on the subject, and have not received any hint in our English papers to allow us to form any thing like a certain judgment. Be this, however, as it may, the assembly itself, whether composed of ten or a thousand, can have little to do with the legality of its proceedings, hence we will cheerfully acknowledge for argument’s sake, that it was highly respectable for its numbers and talents, though the number was but a miserable fraction of the Rabbins and religious teachers of Germany, and for talent the members can be easily matched and surpassed by the heads of many other congregations in that learned country. Nay, if even all the Rabbins and teachers had been present and given their adhesion to the tenets proposed, we should nevertheless have entered our solemn protest, though we should thereby stand alone. With us authority weighs nothing in religion if opposed to the Bible, and at length we must come to this standard to try the validity of all the dogmas or rules that are offered to us for our acceptance.
So passing by all minor considerations let us touch secondly, upon the resolves of this assembly. “Its primary object,” says the account before us, “seems to have been the necessary arrangements for the ensuing annual general assemblies of rabbies, deputy rabbies and Jewish preachers, for the purpose of deliberating on the means for securing the preservation and progress of Judaism, and the promotion of religion among its professors, and various resolutions were adopted for their regulation.” Now let us see how these Rabbins acted to confirm our people in their religion. We have access to the regulations of the Sanhedrin of Napoleon, and may give some account of them in a future number; but we have not space this month of going over the whole ground; so we will confine our remarks to the one point of the greatest importance, that is, “the alleged permission of mixed marriages,” which of course is to be one of the means to make Jews more religious than they now are under the sincere persuasion that it is prohibited for a Jew to espouse a gentile woman. How the Sanhedrin convoked by Napoleon adopted such a resolution in the first instance, is scarcely to be accounted for by the fact that they acted under the dictation of a man who, valuing neither Judaism nor Christianity any farther than they could advance his political power, would hardly bear to be told that a Jew would consider an alliance with his lineage even prohibited by his religion. Yet these men should have acted with more firmness, they ought to have called things by their right names, and defied the temporal power which endeavoured to control them. This was the practice of their predecessors, who always acted up to what they thought right, irrespective of danger and inconvenience. Still, every one thought that the Sanhedrin and its resolves were buried in the tomb of all abortive attempts against our religion; and now we must express our surprise that after a sleep of nearly forty years we see them awakened and called to active life again by the first Jewish council that has assembled of its free accord for many centuries. What good did Dr. Philippson, we speak or him as he led in the cause, propose to himself or to Israel by bringing forward a motion to permit mixed marriages, with the restriction, “where the law of the land would allow the children to be educated in Judaism?” From this, one not acquainted with the subject would suppose two things, first, that the Jewish religion, or in other words, the Bible sanctions such marriages, and secondly, that it depends altogether on the parent of the Jewish persuasion whether or not the children shall be brought up as Jews. But let us examine the first part of the proposition. We pronounce our judgment without hesitation, that the Bible unequivocally condemns mined marriages, not merely by inference, but in direct terms, and this notwithstanding the men of undoubted learning, and we will admit piety, who met at Paris under Napoleon and lately at Brunswick under the presidency of Dr. Mayer have decided otherwise. It may appear presumptuous on our part to speak so decidedly against the weight of authority; but we speak with the Bible, and in this point we must appeal from the word of man to the word of God, and with such an umpire we can speak as confidently as those who bear the title of Rabbi or Doctor of Philosophy.
It is indeed singular that these great men did not consult the Scriptures before then pronounced judgment; one would almost be tempted to believe that they had studied every thing but the Scriptures, so plainly we think do they speak out on this important subject. By inference already is the interdict pronounced in Deuteronomy 7:3,4: “And thou shalt not intermarry with them (the Canaanites), thy daughter thou shalt not give to his son, and his daughter thou shalt not take for thy son; for he will cause thy son to go astray from after me, that they worship other gods.” This means that the Israelites should not intermarry with the gentiles of their country, because such connexion will inevitably lead to idolatry. But whoever knows any thing of the spirit of Judaism must know that no matter what causes a deviation from our law, is interdicted to us. If, therefore, marrying a gentile other than a Canaanite would superinduce a forsaking of our religion, it must of necessity be prohibited. But we are not left to conjecture merely about the interpretation of this prohibition. Let the reader take his Bible and read the commencement of the eleventh chapter of the first book of Kings: “And the king Solomon loved many foreign women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, Moabite, Ammonite, Edumean, Tyrian and Hittite women. From those nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, You shall not come among them, and they shall not come among you; surely they will mislead your heart after their gods; to them did Solomon cleave, to love them.” We refer to the text and therefore abridge our quotalion. Farther, (1 Kings, 16:30,31): “And Ahab the son of Omri did the evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him; and it came to pass (as though it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,) that he took Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.” Next let us look in Malachi (2: 11, 12): “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he hath loved, and has MARRIED THE DAUGHTER OF THE STRANGE GOD. The Lord will cut off unto the man that doeth this, son and grandson, from the tents of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts.” But Ezra and Nehemiah the restorers of religion in Israel speak out in emphatic language which no legal ingenuity can gainsay, and which it requires no philosophical education to comprehend. We learn from the writings of these great Israelites, that many of the returned captives had brought with them their gentile wives and their children. In his ninth chapter, Ezra describes the state of confusion in which he found the people, and especially the chiefs for having taken as wives, women of the nations of the countries around them; and though the ancient names of the Canaanites are introduced, it is well known that at the return of the Babylonian captives the former national distinctions could not have been preserved; and that hence there could not have existed an especial prohibition concerning the ancient inhabitants of Palestine, even assuming that the interdict in Deuteronomy cited above, in its primary signification refers to the aborigines of the holy land only. The well known rabbinical saying, “that since Sanherib, who confounded all the eastern nations, all proselytes may be received, even the children of Moab and Ammon,” proves incontestably that it was the opinion of our former teachers that the divisions of the Palestinian gentiles into the tribes which formerly occupied the country was merely an arbitrary nomenclature and by no means agreeing strictly with the facts of the case. And in reference to this transgression, then, Ezra is told: “For they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the nations of the countries.” When Ezra now had finished the prayer which he offered up to God on account of the great transgression which he so deeply deplored, a great assembly of men, women and children met before the house of God, and there it was resolved, that they would make a covenant with their God to put away all the wives and such as were born of them according to the counsel of their lord, (Ezra) and of those that trembled at the commandment of their God.” This resolve was faithfully acted upon, and the women who were included in the decree and their children were excluded from the household of Israel. We therefore ask every unprejudiced reader of scripture whether the inference from this history is not irresistible that all gentile intermarriages are prohibited? especially as in many instances in the narrative under question, the word נכריות “strange women” without reference to a distinctive tribe is employed, thus proving that the particular nation or family has nothing to to do with the lawfulness or otherwise of such connexions?
More than twenty years after this event (according to Zunze’s chronology of the Bible,) Nehemiah found Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab (13:23); and mark the consequence: “And their children spoke in part the language of Ashdod, or in the language of one of the other people, but could not understand to speak the Jewish language.” And Nehemiah in his zeal says: “I contended with them, and cursed them and smote certain of them, and plucked their hair, and adjured them by God, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon King of Israel sin in these things? Yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him kind over all Israel; nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.” Again we ask the attention of our readers to the wives of Solomon, they were not alone from the nations of Palestine, the seven tribes mentioned in the first verse of the seventh chapter of Deuteronomy, but of others not alluded to in that verse; consequently we have another proof that both the author of the first book of Kings and Nehemiah considered the above prohibition not limited to the narrow bounds of the inhabitants of Palestine at the time of the conquest, but applicable to all those who by their persuasion, connexions or example could lead the Israelites to swerve from their faith. Nehemiah thought himself bound to banish, like Ezra had done, all the strangers,—to use his emphatic language, “he cleansed them from all strangers;” thus establishing a second time by the highest authority in Israel, that Jews are not permitted to intermarry with strangers to their faith.
We think that the reasoning here laid before our readers is unanswerable, and it establishes, that notwithstanding the assertions of the Sanhedrin of Napoleon and the council at Brunswick, no Jew can conscientiously or legally take to wife any Christian, Mahommedan or heathen woman, nor can any Jewess take for husband a man who is not of the house of Israel. We indeed do not understand the obliquity of intellect which seems to have overpowered some of our great men, who cannot or will not see that a state of uncircumcision was considered a disgrace to our people from its very origin, in evidence of which we refer to the positive refusal of Jacob’s sons to let their sister be espoused by Shechem, because he and his people were not circumcised. (Genesis 34:14.) Have the respective relations between Jew and gentile changed from what they were in the time of our progenitors? Are we less now the witnesses of God than we then were? Is not circumcision to this day the sign of the covenant between God and Israel? Do the gentiles less neglect the law of Moses than they did at its promulgation? The men of the Brunswick council must acknowledge that according to our law it would be a disgrace for either of them to give his daughter in marriage to a man who has not been entered in the covenant of Abraham. Where, then, is the permission to come from to allow mixed marriages when the records of our religion so emphatically warn us against them? Perhaps. they may have discovered a new method of interpreting Scripture more in consonance with the high state of learning prevailing in modern Germany and France, than with the, light which falls to our share in this distant part of the world, and that which was formerly allotted to us in Europe. But if this be an evidence of enlightenment, we would prefer to be dwelling in the darkness which was formerly ours; we would a thousand times sooner be the simple believers in the word who follow the practice of their fathers, and seek not for new light which can only tend to subvert all they once were told to regard as sacred and true.
But we fear that we weary our readers with arguments which we are sure they do not need, a common sense view will amply prove that we are right. We must, therefore, turn to the second part of the proposition of the council, that such marriages are permitted, “provided that the governments will allow the children to be educated in Judaism.” To so vague a permission it is hardly to be expected that an opponent can reply with any degree of precision. But we will assume that the German Rabbins, assembled at Brunswick, mean either that such a marriage is permitted, if the governments do not interfere with the family arrangements of the parties, or that the parties must bind themselves to educate the children in the Jewish faith, as is done in mixed marriages with catholics and protestants, where the priests of the Romish church insist on a positive binding of the dissenting wife or husband, that the children, the fruit of the mixed union, should become catholic, to the exclusion of the right of the protestant parent to educate either the male or female children in his or her own faith, as is done at times, the father taking the boys to his church, the mother the girls to hers. If the first supposition be true, that the non-interference of the government is sufficient to constitute a mixed marriage lawful, in the opinion of our reformers, we would respectfully ask them what benefit can result to the Jewish church from such a non-interference? What is to become of the children? True, the Jewish father or mother is permitted to bring them up as Jews; but will the Christian parent consent? Has the Christian father or mother no conviction upon which he or she will insist to act in the tender point of educating the children? It is absurd to suppose, that, without a previous obligatory agreement, a Christian woman will permit her son to be circumcised, or her daughter held to all the severe restrictions which our religion imposes. Will not a gentile parent, moreover, endeavour to teach the doctrine of the Christian trinity? of a divine mediator? of a sacrifice of a saviour for the sins of man? Will such a one inculcate the unity of God? the saving power of religious obedience? the atonement through the unpurchased mercy of the Lord? the redemption through the bodily coming of the son of David? the permanence of the law? the inviolable sanctity of the Sabbath? In short, can a Christian parent, will a Christian parent educate a child in a Jewish. manner without he or she be held to do so by something more than a submission to the Jewish husband or wife? But even suppose that our reformers mean to act as do the catholic priests, to exact a solemn promise, before they permit a Jew to wed a Christian, that the children should be educated as Jews only; we would still be obliged to them for some exposition how this is to be enforced? In the moment of excitement produced by the prospect of a union which without this promise could not take place, the Christian might perhaps promise to the officiating Rabbi, that he or she gives this pledge, truly and faithfully to let the Jewish parent educate the children as Jews; but who will guarantee to us that the next day the promise may not weigh fearfully upon the conscience of the newly married man or woman, that the pledge was a violation of Christian duty? And will not such a conviction be enough to embitter a whole life, and a constant striving be employed to evade the promise however solemnly given? Besides, how can any man, who is not a Jew, espouse a Jewess “according to the law of Moses and Israel?” How can a Christian woman receive the ring from a Jew, under the sanction of a religion which she does not believe in? It is true, that a Jewish marriage is to a certain extent a civil contract; but still it is always performed with religious sanction, and before lawful Jewish witnesses. We cannot imagine that a Rabbi, who must have Talmudic knowledge, would pretend to say, that he could pronounce the benediction over persons who have no faith in what he does, the words he pronounces, and the ceremony over which he presides. Besides it has always been a maxim with us, that properly speaking, “no Jew can marry a gentile,” as the Kiddushin (the betrothment and marriage act) are a nullity between an Israelite and a gentile. And now we are taught by the reformers, that all our ancient principles are not to be any more regarded, and that we are to listen to a new dispensation granted to us by men whom God never sent, and whose services he abhors! A Christian to marry a Jew in the law of Moses! Only took at the absurdity of the thing! The Christian woman promises to educate her children in the belief of ONE God, whilst she still continues to believe in a trinity! She is to tell her children to keep holy the seventh day, whilst she fears damnation for taking a needle in her hand on a Sunday! She is to have her sons circumcised, when she, after rising from confinement, goes to church and is sprinkled with baptismal water, according to the rite of the catholic church! She is to promise to see that her daughters keep the Passover strictly, and eat no bread and taste no leaven, whilst she will hasten to her chapel, eat no meat during our festive week, and then glorify a Saviour risen from the dead, at the very time her husband and sons and daughters are assembled with the faithful at the Synagogue to celebrate the passage of the Red Sea by the Israelites of old! But what use is there to multiply arguments. In short, both man and wife, the Jew and the Christian, would be compelled to live in a constant state of hypocrisy, a heartburning; and when dead, their bodies would repose in different burial places, each according to his belief. Can it be expected that children, seeing such an example before them, can be really Jews? There may be, and there have been bright examples of the affirmative to this question; but they are rare indeed. And in America where such marriages have never been interdicted by the government, and where the civil law does not interfere to educate the children one way or the other, we have had, unfortunately, much more experience than our German theorists can lay claim to; and here we can speak with certainty, that in very few instances indeed have the fruit of mixed marriages been educated in the Jewish religion, and that almost uniformly the Jewish father or mother became indifferent to our faith, perhaps to all belief, and the children, if not positively educated as Christians, have either grown up without any religion at all, or become attached to the one or the other Christian church, generally that of the gentile father or mother. We state it also as a fact, that of the large number of intermarriages, even where the ceremony has been performed by a civil magistrate, and the mother or father permitted the children to be brought up as Jews, few indeed, sincere Israelites have sprung from these mixed marriages, which our reformers now sanction as a matter of course. We, therefore, maintain, that should unfortunately such connexions become general among our people, through the sinful permission granted by men who value their reputation with Christians more than the welfare of the church of God, our religion would soon sink into oblivion, and the waves of forgetfulness would pass over the memory of our race, which has stood so long unmixed and wonderfully preserved.—We have much more to say, but we must break off for the present, having, we think, amply proved the unlawfulness, and the inexpediency even if it were lawful, of permitting Jews and Christians to intermarry, no matter what may be the promises and pledges given or received. But in closing, we must warn our readers to be careful how they, in these degenerate times, listen to decisions which come from persons who profess to be in authority. Every one has the Bible; and if the worst comes to worst, every Israelite has, we trust, sufficient enlightenment to judge for himself, whether or not some of the daring encroachments on our faith are biblical or not, and repel them accordingly. Upon matters of dispute, we can always obtain information from men who are true and faithful, for all are not tinctured with the heresy of Dr. Mayer and Dr. Hoffman, and we have yet to boast of a [Zachariah?] Frankel, a [Samson Raphael] Hirsch, an [Akiva] Eiger, a [Salomon Yehudah] Rapoport, and a host of others, who will stand as faithful sentinels upon the watch-tower of our religion, and warn us of the danger which threatens our position. And among these, humble as we are, our readers will find us enrolled, and we will echo, if we can do no more, their call of admonition to our brethren on the western side of the Atlantic, that they too may be warned and live.