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To the Editor of the Occident

Reverend Sir:

Although I have always declined to come forth publicly to state my opinions concerning religious matters, still on carefully examining the numbers of your Occident for some months past, including the last one for February, I cannot remain behind the curtain of truth, and 1 hope that the following communication to you will find a space also in your paper. I feel so determined to state my opinions, that in case my remarks do not meet with an insertion in your magazine, I shall endeavour to publish them elsewhere.

The title of your periodical is “The Occident,” or The Western; this cannot signify news or light from the western states, but it must mean “a light dawning from the Western Hemisphere,” embracing thus the idea that a broad light should come forth from the establishment of your paper, to instruct the Israelites הדרך ילכו בה the way in which they should go. Your Hebrew motto also says ללמוד וללמד לשמור ולעשות “to learn and to teach, to observe and to do;” now teach means to instruct others, first, the true foundation of our religion; secondly, how to conduct themselves in the house of God; and thirdly, how to conduct themselves towards their neighbours, which latter duty includes, according to the Talmud, the observance of the whole religion, as we are told ואהבת לרעך כמוך זו כלל גדול בתורה, “And thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, this is the principal command in the Law.” I refer you also to the conversation of Hillel with the Proselyte who demanded of him to teach him the law while he could stand on one foot. Now permit me to ask, do the poetical pieces you publish give the Israelites any light in respect to their religion, so that the object of your motto “to teach” can be promoted thereby?* Does the publication of the establishment of the new Bachelor’s Society of New York, their regulations, proceedings, and letters to their Pastor, which term should signify their חזן or ש״ץ, procure the Israelites any light in their religion? Or, does the long account of the congregation at Sydney, New South Wales, afford the Israelites any guide to their religion?† Do the sketches of the condition of the Russian Israelites, <<6>>written by the Chief Rabbi of the German congregations of this city, cause any greater or stricter observance of the Holy Law or Talmudical ordinances, which latter are so violently attacked, and endeavoured to be thrown aside, so that the words of our wise men of blessed memory are to be regarded no longer; and this by some rulers or headmen of several congregations, whose motives are not להפריץ תורה בישראל (to spread the law in Israel), but לפרוץ גדר חז״ל (to break down the fences of our sages)?‡ Does the advertisement of the Charleston congregation guide the Israelites to the better and stricter observance of the Holy Law, so as not to violate the Sabbath, and to be diligent in the study of the Holy Scriptures? Is not such an announcement concerning their violation of the second day of the festivals, their manner of reading the Law of God but once in three years, whereas the annual reading thereof on the Sabbath was already introduced by Ezra the Scribe, and approved of by his followers—is not, I ask, such a public announcement, for which you allowed a space in your advertiser, a guide to destroy the fence of our blessed sages?§ What will our honest Christian neighbours say of our religion when they see that the manner of worshipping among the Israelites is so varied, and that a good shepherd as you opens the way for this becoming known to the innocent Israelites?

*Assuredly we do think so; good poetry of a devotional nature, and we honestly believe that such is the character of what we have given to our readers, will powerfully affect the feelings and attune the heart to the true impression of religion, and render it loved for the hallowing influence it has on the soul.—Ed. Oc.

†“Truth” seems to forget that the establishment of institutions of charity is a part and parcel of religion; and hence the publication of matters relating to this subject is perfectly consonant with the motive of a religious magazine. We also profess to give news concerning Israelites, so as to make them acquainted with each other; hence a long account about Sydney is also in place.—Ed. Oc.

‡ We do not see how Dr. Lilienthal’s papers can have such tendency as is here hinted; if they had any bearing of that kind he would not have written, and we would not have published them, if he had. And as articles of information, they are, to our view at least, of very high interest.—Ed. Oc.

§ Certainly not; had we thought so, the advertisement should not have appeared. But “Truth” must know better than we even, that such deforming of our religion did not originate in Charleston, but had its rise in Germany, under such leaders as Salomon, Geiger, Jost, Kley, and other men of their stamp, against whom and whose doings we are happy to say that we entered our protest from the first starting our magazine, and which course has been reckoned to us as a grievous offence, by the advocates of the new reform notions.—Ed. Oc.

And lastly, are the arguments of your correspondent “Talmid,” scattered through a great many of your numbers, and the reply to the same signed H. G., which appeared in the one for February, such as will instruct the community at large, either Israelites or Christians, in the law of God? will Jews, by such arguments, be enabled to obtain a better knowledge of Hebrew, of their religion, of Talmud and Kabbala? so that the motives of the establishment of your magazineללמוד וללמד לשמור ולעשות to scatter religion among Israel, be thereby satisfied?*

* Assuredly; free discussion of truths of religion will lead people to think and to inquire, and thus will produce a better observance, than mere blind acquiescence in received forms.—Ed. Oc.

<<7>>I do not depreciate the talents of these learned disputants; so also are my poor abilities of too little consequence to judge of their qualifications; I know both the gentlemen to be well versed in Hebrew literature, &c. But as I know them both personally, and that the one signing himself Talmid has received his present knowledge of the Hebrew from him signing himself H. G., which instruction is still going on, whilst both enjoy each other’s society harmoniously, and live together in the same house; permit me then to ask, could not these learned gentlemen discuss their disagreements in their own study, and contend concerning religious points privately among themselves (even granting that Talmid’s first object was לשמה), and not fill up your work with arguments, which leave no impression on the mind of the Israelites concerning their religious observances? The learned will say, “What does Talmid mean?” and will refer him to the opinions of our חכמי התלמוד. The less educated Israelite considers such arguments as entirely of no use, and expresses himself thus, “What, shall I trouble myself with these discussions?” if he do not say nonsense. You may rely upon it, that all the above-stated articles are considered as entirely out of place in your work; and I am certain that the want of encouragement, and the non-increase of new subscribers, are to be ascribed to the above-stated facts. Undoubtedly you will admit, that such discussions as those of our highly learned neighbour, Mr. Emanuel Goldsmith, with the Rev. Mr. Rice, of Baltimore, in regard to Citrons אתרוגים, are of great consequence, and calculated to enlighten the community of Israel here, as they are well calculated toלפקח עיני העברים so that שלא לברך ח״ו ברכה לבטלה בלקיחת מורכבים; farther, the beneficial effect of the paper of Mr. Jacob Falkenau (one of our most learned men here), on Lard Oil, his motives having been שבני ישראל לא יאכלו ח״ו שום טרפות או תערובות.* 

* Our correspondent makes a slight mistake , Mr. F. maintained the reverse, that all reputed olive oils are permitted, and that we need not fear their being mixed.

Articles such as these two just named, ought always to find a broad space in papers like yours, if the motto you have chosen is to be followed out. I again say, that I do not find fault with you, knowing you as רעה נאמן; but your inclination to satisfy all parties, makes you willing to insert such articles as those in question; but is it not the highest duty to do first the will of our Creator? Do you think that it will meet the approbation of our Holy Father, to make room for advertisements, wherein is shown how his laws, Sabbath, festivals, &c., are violated, which may tend to mislead Israelites <<8>>from the righteous path, so that they know not whither they are to go, and to break asunder the threefold chord, which, with the help of the Blessed God, will not soon be broken? Are we not by the Divine Giver of our most glorious possession, the Law, commanded, “You shall not add to nor diminish therefrom?” And “Thou shalt not turn from the word to the right or to the left?” is it not the decision of our חכמי התלמוד Talmudists (see Treatise Betzah, ch. 11), in answer to the question והשתא דידעינן בקביעי דירחי למה אנו עושין שני ימים, “And now that we are acquainted with the regulation of months, why do we keep two holidays?” משום ששלחו מתם הזהרו במנהג אבותיכם “Because the Sanhedrin sent the following message when they had met at Tham, Observe carefully the received custom of your fathers in this respect?”

You should once for all decline to make room for any articles which may lead Israel into the paths of error; but endeavour to obtain contributions at all times from such men as “fear God;” let these send you articles* for insertion, calculated to instruct Israel in the service of the Creator; which course will to a certainty best subserve the object of your motto, ללמוד וללמד לשמור ולעשות. So that you may contribute “to strengthen the hands that are weak, and the knees which are stumbling;” that truth may not be missed, and that the law may not be forgotten from Israel; and then you may be sure that the blessing of the Almighty will be showered down in abundance.

Yours truly,

New York, Adar Rishon, 5608.

* It is scarcely necessary to say, that we have always welcomed articles from every quarter, and surely those are doubly welcome which come from truly pious men. Let them send good and suitable papers, and they will find The Occident at their service. We do not think it necessary to add anything in our defence, as we think our whole course will do that better than any mere words which we could offer.—Ed. Oc.

We have merely to state as a general thing, in addition to what we have said already, that since we first commenced our career, we have tried all in our power to obtain suitable articles from a variety of persons in this and other countries, some written in English, and some in other languages; and to render the latter into the vernacular, and to correct some of the former have not been a small labour; and we only submitted to it from the consideration that by so doing we added much interesting matter to our work. It would still not be speaking the truth were we to <<9>>allege that we are entirely satisfied with our magazine; far from it; we are perfectly conscious that much yet is to be desired: but we candidly say, that we have done all that we were able to accomplish, and in accordance with what we think a Jewish periodical should be. We believe it ought to embrace not alone pieces urging submission to what religion teaches, but also those which tend to examine the whole subject, as we hold that a temperate discussion of contested views will enable the Israelites, scattered as they are among persons differing from them widely and radically, to contend with success against the attacks constantly aimed at their faith. We have had frequent conversation with young men living alone in distant villages and remote districts, and they have assured us that from The Occident they had obtained the weapons of defence when asked for the reason of their hopes and belief. Now if discussion is admitted, it follows that to present one side would not be examining, but denouncing the opposite side; hence we have always been ready to admit discussion proper within a certain range; believing as we do, that all subjects are not fit for debate in a miscellany like ours. Farther, we wished to attract the young to examine religion under a more pleasing garb than mere dry detail; and have therefore accepted the services of several highly endowed females of our people, to weave a garland of fancy and fiction, based upon religious truths, so as to draw by a pleasant path, the inquirer to the pure fountain of divine knowledge. In an age when fictitious narratives occupy so much space in libraries, and engage so many hours of all readers almost, it would he unpardonable in a religious teacher were he to disdain employing the faults even of his time to produce a lasting impression; and hence the tales and poetry of our fair friends, independently of their great absolute merit, have, we think, had as good a tendency in awakening attention to the precious concerns of the soul, as the more sober pieces where the same truths are presented in the homely garb of simple instruction.

Now as regards reports of public proceedings, they belong to the history of the day, and though many may deem them too long, and even if short, useless, they do not, we apprehend, take a correct view of the matter. We have no Jewish daily or weekly press in the country, and as it is a laudable pride in the various <<10>>societies and communities to desire publicity for their transactions, which, though at present of but comparatively small interest, may be sought after at a later period as the evidence of the present state of progress of our early settlements in America: we cannot, consistently with our sense of right, refuse their admission into The Occident. We ought indeed to give more space to literature proper; but as yet we have not been able to obtain sufficient aid, and our labour in the religious and general departments is already as great as our feeble state of health will permit. We are in hopes, however, of enlisting by degrees men of high attainments as contributors; and in fact our last volume will show that we have progressed herein already; and with the farther aid which has been promised, we hope to satisfy in some measure the just demands of our readers. They will absolve us from one thing, that we have ever promised what we failed to fulfill; and if there were great difficulties to be overcome occasionally, difficulties of which few have any knowledge, we trusted in the goodness of our cause and proceeded with a steady heart, though greatly depressed at times by adverse circumstances. Every one, no doubt, has his own idea of what he could have made of The Occident; but few indeed have been willing either to furnish us contributions or to obtain pecuniary support for our labour; and we had thus to proceed as we were best able. So far we have been permitted to exercise our self-assumed calling; and with a firm reliance on Him who directs all for the best, we mean to persevere in the path we have hitherto pursued, and only promise to profit by all the hints and advice which our friends, or even our opponents, may occasionally give us. With this we take our leave from a subject which is entirely personal, and which of all others has occupied the least space in The Occident, and which we never wish to introduce, unless compelled to do so by unforeseen circumstances.