Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Hebrew Authors and Their Opponents.

(Continued from page 162.)

We shall not attempt to reply to these charges, nor shall we seek to disprove them by adducing any of those defences which Jews have so ably and plentifully produced. No; we will rather let one of our adversaries speak for us. We will produce in refutation what one of the most violent of the modern opponents of Jews and Judaism has been obliged to confess, in relation to Jewish learning and Jewish authors; and then we cannot be accused of prejudice, by those, who, unacquainted with the writings of the Rabbis, are yet accustomed to speak disparagingly of them. “Rabbinism,” says Dr. M’Caul,* “possesses as many monuments of genius and intellect as any other system whatever. The Rabbinical writings are also well calculated to train and exercise the understanding. The mere circumstance that they all exist in Hebrew or Chaldee, accustoms the Jewish mind at once to a learned language, and necessarily forces upon it some idea of philology. The Talmud, which may be looked upon as a vast congest of canon law, abounding with the most subtle distinctions and disputations, sharpens the intellect to the utmost. The study of the Talmud has the same effect that the study of law generally has. But the Talmud does not monopolise the Jewish mind. Many devote themselves to the commentaries on the Scriptures, particularly to Jarchi, Aben-Ezra, and Kimchi. Any one who has ever looked into Rosenmüller’s ‘Scholia,’ will see that these men are not to be despised; that, on the contrary, for acuteness and accurate knowledge of the Hebrew text, they have never been surpassed. Aben-Ezra’s and Kimchi’s ‘Exposition of the <<598>>Psalms,’ often breathe a genuine devotional spirit. Even when they are in the wrong, as they often are, they are sure to instruct. Jarchi’s ‘Commentary on the Song of Solomon,’ when compared with the attempts of modern German divines, exhibits Jewish good sense and piety in the most favourable point of view. Others read Nachmanides, Bechai, Alshech, Abarbanel, &c. Abarbanel appears at once as a man of first rate intellect; and though a bitter enemy of Christianity, it is not possible to read a page of his commentaries without being struck with the perspicuity of his style, and the comprehensive range of his mind. Even a partial acquaintance with these authors is sufficient to inspire the most prejudiced with a profound respect for the Jewish nation on account of their intense industry, profound Hebrew learning, and great talents.”

* Sketches of Judaism and the Jews, p. 13.

In what spirit, then, could their traducers have read them? Oh! surely, one of prejudice and illiberality. But let us hear farther what says Dr. M’Caul.

“These are the usual channels into which Jewish thought is directed. The Talmud and its compendiums, or Jewish canon law, which comprises a certain portion of the principles of political economy, ethics, and enough of astronomy to regulate their feasts and calendar, which depend upon the moon. Kabbala or Theosophy. The commentaries on the Scripture, which include philology, some portion of physics, in order to explain the Mosaic account of creation, history, and chronology. Logic and metaphysics are found more or less in all, but particularly in the writings of Maimonides. Nor are the Jews of the present day students only. The Jewish printing presses at Slawuta, Wilna, Lublin, Warsaw, and Cracow, send forth a number of new works every year. Indeed, whether we look at the Rabbinic Jews of ancient or modern times, we must admit that they are a people of no mean intellectual power. Let any one reflect on the Jewish history, and let him remember, that, for nearly 1800 years , they have been an outcast, wandering, persecuted, and oppressed people, and he will find it little short of a miracle that the Jews should have any literature at all. But, when he looks at the extent of that literature, its variety, and the noble monuments of industry, genius, and intellect, which it comprises, he must admit that there is in the conformation of the Jewish mind, an innate love of learning, a native nobility, an irresistible elasticity of intellect,* which has enabled them to bear up against the pressure of calamity and contempt which threatened to <<599>>overwhelm them. Titus destroyed their city and temple, and Adrian put an end to every hope of political restoration; but neither could destroy the Jewish love of learning, because it was inseparably connected with their religious wants. The homeless captives soon had flourishing schools of learning. The names of Jamnia and Tiberias, Nahardea, Sora, and Pumbe-Ditha, still attest the power of the Jewish mind,” &c.

* What says the author of Coningsby on this subject? ‘Twere well worth the reader’s while to compare.

We leave it for the reader to decide how far Dr. M’Caul, in the preceding extracts, refutes the charges of the Abbé. For our part, we repress, for the present, the sentiments which these charges have excited within us, and proceed at once with the task which we have assigned ourselves. Yet, before doing this, it may be proper to explain that our object in directing attention to Hebrew authors and their opponents, is to show how illiberally and unjustly the former have been censured; and this we shall endeavour to do, not by producing all that is learned and excellent in their writings, for that were impossible* but rather, by quoting such passages as have generally appeared to lie most open to objection, and which have been stigmatized as either false or absurd by their opponents. Perhaps very few extracts may suffice for this purpose. We deter until the completion of these, such general observations as the remarks of the Abbé Gregoire call forth, since we may hereafter find, if indeed we are not already assured, that he is but one of a class.

* And unnecessary also; for sufficient specimens have already been given in the English language, among the best of which, we may cite “The Hebrew Review,” by Dr. M. J. Raphall, of Birmingham, and the learned commentary attached to the new translation of Genesis, by the same gentleman, and the Rev. D. A. De Sola of London.

We commence with the אגרת אורחות עולם or “Cosmography” of R. Abraham Peritsol.

A. D. S.

Montreal, Kislev, 5609.

(To be Continued)