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Calumnies and our Calumniators


In consequence of a desire expressed by several persons to read the remarks, which the editor of the Occident lately addressed to the New York Tribune, and as it has been found impossible to procure even a small quantity of copies of the paper in which they appeared, he now presents them in his own pages, not from any great idea of their intrinsic merit, but because they may be used as a standing rebuke to impertinent intermeddling in our domestic affairs, which is the field of operation in which the New York and other conversion societies are constantly active. We cannot hope that one or even a dozen rebukes will silence our calumniators; they are either too blinded by ignorance, or urged by other more tangible motives, to work for our destruction; and hence it is well to furnish less fortunately situated brothers, with ready means to defend themselves when attacked. If we rest quietly, and let all injuries pass unnoticed, they will increase rapidly, because they are unopposed; but if we rise up in our indignation and hurl the defiance of an honourable spirit back into the teeth of our opponents, we at least will acquire their respect, if we fail to bring conviction home to them of the wrong they do us. By pusillanimity we shall surely increase the number of our enemies; by brave opposition we may succeed in arresting their augmentation. Hence, the readers of this magazine will, it is hoped, excuse the apparent vanity of the editor’s offering them a republication of what he wrote as a matter of defence for another journal, a piece of apparent egotism of which he has not hitherto been guilty.

The history of this article is as follows: During the last month of May, among other anniversaries in the city of New York, the A. S. M. C. J. held their annual exhibition, and delivered reports and speeches as in such cases is usually the custom. A clergyman of the Episcopal Church, whom we would name had we his permission, wrote on the folly of the effects of the above society, under the signature of Ludwig, <<360>>in the New York Tribune. We regret not having the article for republication; but enough, it excited the ill-will of a tool of the society, one of its officers we believe, who appeared in the same journal on the other side. He had the honour of a republication in the Jewish Chronicle for June, the editor thereof accompanying it with sundry remarks of his own, fortifying his position by a disjointed extract from the Occident.

Some weeks after, the author of “Ludwig” met the editor of the Occident in this city, and complained to him of the injustice he had suffered in consequence of the Occident being quoted on the side of the sinning party, as a defence of their misdeeds. In consequence of this, the editor forwarded as he then promised, an explanatory article, the one now given, to the Tribune, the editors of which kindly inserted it some days after. We have also to add in conclusion, that up to the moment of writing this, the Chronicle has not replied either in its columns or the public press; wherefore it is fair to assume that it feels truly convicted of having done a wrong to our people. It is to be hoped that its future course, (should it continue to live), will be more in accordance with justice and fair dealing, and exhibit more of that Christian spirit of which it so liberally boasts.

To the Editors of the Tribune:

It is probable, that although engaged to some extent in the same calling with yourselves, my name is unknown to you; but this I trust, will not deprive me of the privilege of a space in your columns: First to defend my fellows in belief from unfounded aspersions, and secondly, to come to the rescue of one of your correspondents who lately spoke out on a subject of a great and general interest, and who is attacked in return by the parties whom he justly blamed, this attack being fortified by a reference to what I said about four years ago. Although so many things appear constantly in the daily press, and in none more than yours, still I presume that you will call to mind, that you lately gave publicity to a paper signed “Ludwig,” professed to be written by a Christian clergyman, against the proceedings of the Society styling itself the American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, that is, “for converting the Jews to Christianity,” which is all it professes to accomplish, as any melioration of our temporal or moral condition has never yet been attempted by it, and is in fact entirely beyond its means to accomplish in even the smallest degree. By-the-by, an impartial history, drawn from its own records, since its first organization, about twenty-five years ago, would be a curious exposure of credulity, fraud and deception, such as societies seldom present in this country; and still it <<361>>goes on calling for more funds to convert Jews, while it cannot point to a single intelligent male or female native American Israelite, converted by its means, either directly or indirectly; for I take it as conceded, that all the fruits of its labours do not embrace one individual, who could with propriety be classed among the educated and intelligent men, who are not wanting among the Israelites of America.

I forbear to  characterize the converts, as they deserve, and as I can prove them to be, because, this has nothing to  do with the question; and I only say what I do to call your attention to the folly of converting Jews to Christianity, while there exist such miserable haunts of vice and ignorance, or rather vice through ignorance, in all the large and small towns in the Union and elsewhere, on whom the efforts of honest philanthropists could so much better, and for so far greater a result, be expended, than on our people, who at least are not so morally degraded as thousands on thousands of nominal Christians to be met with in all directions, and this not rarely at the very doors of the churches where such strenuous appeals are made to the pockets of sympathizing friends of humanity on account of the awfully benighted state of the Jews.

Where we are known all such foolish exhibitions are looked upon with contempt; but it is not everywhere that we are brought personally under the cognizance of our fellow-citizens of other persuasions; and we feel extremely anxious that the inhabitants of Maine, New-Hampshire, Vermont, and other places where there are few or no Jews, should have as kindly a regard for us as those who appreciate our character, from a daily intercourse with us in many other parts of the Union. But let one ignorant of us read the highly wrought portraits of our degradation, which the conversion preachers and writers present, and he will surely come to the conclusion that we must indeed be sunk very low, and be deserving of the pity, at least, if not the hatred, (and this feeling too is perhaps, and this designedly, evoked) of all sincere and pious Christians. I ask you, Messrs. Editors, if this is right? Is it correct that any class of American citizens is to be held up through systematic efforts to the pity or scorn of all others?  And still this is the evident course of the reverend and other gentlemen connected with the A. S. M. C. J. (initials almost as fearful as the ancient S. P. Q. R.), and it is for this reason that I should be obliged to you to give me a corner in The Tribune to enter, as one of the Jews, my solemn protest against such doings from gentlemen, who, though they may be, and no doubt are, all honourable men, do a great injury to those who have never offended them.

It is true that I control a press of my own; but then, “The Occident” is only a monthly, and of but limited circulation, and this <<362>>among Jews chiefly, and therefore it is, through its means only, out of my power to appeal to the public at large; and hence the daily or weekly press is the only vehicle through which we can reach the public eye and attention. Have you, Messrs. Editors, independence enough to place it once in a while at the disposal of the friends of light and absolute social equality? If so, let me speak through your columns; and if not, say so freely, and then I shall know that even here, in these United States, in this age of progress, there is no freedom for the weak, but mere toleration, a word hateful to the heart of those who have, through so many centuries of darkness, of doubt, of oppression and of death, thirsted for the dawn of a better period. But I will not complain, decide as you will; for I know the fate that awaits those who dare to differ from, and thus by implication insult the self love of, the majority; and the voe victis, freely rendered, “the minority have no right,” resounds as yet in the ears of those, who have been rendered familiar with all the scorn and malevolence of the ignorant, the selfish and the fanatic for centuries past. Still I will write on, and leave you to dispose of this first piece as you may deem proper, either on the table or under it, as it may suit your humour, interest or convenience.

But you may perhaps think that my introduction will never end, and indeed were I to speak out all I feel, it would be a long introduction; still it is time to come to the point, and to the particular subject-matter which now moved me to write to you. So to begin in good earnest. Perhaps you are as little aware of the existence of the Jewish Chronicle in New York, as of the Occident in Philadelphia, still there are two such little planets revolving round their peculiar axis; the former to malign the Jews, and to report all their faults and apostasies, the latter to be in a measure their advocate, and to reprove without hesitation and reserve when errors and wrong are discovered; the former is the organ of the A. S. M. C. J. and is thus the mouth-piece of a board of managers; the latter is my own property, not depending on party or clique, and all the support I receive is the individual subscription of those who take it. It so happens that the Chronicle for June* takes notice of the two communications of “Ludwig” and “Philo-Israel,” which appeared lately  in your paper. I have not the first before me, because with characteristic candour, the Rev. Editor of the Jewish Chronicle only copies <<363>>the reply and leavers the first unprinted, by which means his readers can form no comparison for themselves.

* My not noticing it before, is because I did not know who Ludwig was, nor that a reply was written against him; and then because I value the strictures of the editor not over much, and only notice them when circumstances such as at present compel me.

But in the present case it does not matter much, as Ludwig does not require me to defend his words, which he is amply able to do himself. It is only in respect to my alleged admission of our national unworthiness that I wish to aid “Ludwig,” as he has no access to the old numbers of the magazine which I edit, at least not as readily as myself; nor can it be expected that he should be able to explain my misunderstod meaning as readily as this can be done by me. In the note which the Editor of the Chronicle attaches to the communication of Philo-Israel, reprinted from The Tribune, he says under head 3 as follows:

“Another grievance, and that which more than anything else seems to have stirred Ludwig’s passions, was the statement by one of the speakers that a large portion of the Jews of this country—(we did not observe that he said ‘the large majority)—are ‘practically infidels.’ All such imputations Ludwig treats as ‘false, scandalously false,’ and asserts, on the contrary, that ‘the Jews search the Scriptures more, even the New Testament of our Lord; they are more earnest in prayer; they are more constant in the recognition of the Divine Mercy; as a body they abound far more in the fruits of the spirit than the American Christians.’ From this it is apparent enough to what spiritual school Ludwig belongs. ‘For a Christian Minister’ his tastes must be rather peculiar. A man with him is all the more a Christian the less he believes and the more he hates Christianity. Now, at the risk of renewing the agitation of Ludwig’s bosom, we deliberately reaffirm what was only incidentally alluded to by Dr. D.[owling].”

Now, I do not mean to vindicate Ludwig’s Christian character, for this is his business; I am no Christian, and therefore not able to define what constitutes the essentials of a character of that kind. But surely the Editor of the Chronicle, does not include slander and detraction of an innocent set of men among the qualities of a Christian Minister; for if these be needed, then most men would thank their Maker that their lot has not been cast among them. But I stray somewhat, and must stick to my text. Well, the Editor of the Chronicle deliberately asserts that a large portion, a majority of the Jews in this country, are practically infidels; and though he “cannot be suspected of any wish to strengthen the wicked prejudices from which Israel has so long suffered, and still suffers, even in this land,” he still believes, “not being willing to flatter the Jew to his eternal ruin, that whatever zeal of God survives in Israel, is a zeal not according to knowledge, while the general aspect of their spiritual condition is precisely what prophecy of old declared it should <<364>>become, and what all Christian Missionaries in all the ends of the earth declare it to be—barren, desolate, and ‘very dry.’” No, indeed, Messrs. Editors; the good soul of the Chronicle revolts at the idea of exciting prejudice against the Jews; he only tells, month after month, that they are barren, desolate and very dry.

Beautiful thoughts! kind expressions! such as will warm the hearts of Christians for the once loved children of God! No prejudice is thus excited! none will despise the Jews for being so thoroughly worthless! and then this is all in fulfilment of ancient prophecies. Will the Editor be good enough to put his finger on a single passage which truly interpreted avers this? Can he find no other texts which give us a better insight into the dread decrees of God, and the dispensation under which we have been maintained for so many years and centuries, a people amid the nations? No prejudice! not he, indeed, entertains the least; the Editor loves Israel, but only to destroy, to blot out their memory from the souls of men, though the Scriptures emphatically speak of the very dry bones that they are the house of Israel, and that the spirit shall come in them and they shall live, as Israelites, on the land which God had given to their fathers.

But I must not trespass too much on your space and good nature; so I will confine myself to one single assertion of the Chronicle, and close at least for the present. In evidence that we are so corrupt, he adduces as a proof— “Or, what if Dr. D. had said that the Israel of our day ‘can lay no claims to the title of a religious community?’ Well, the Occident of Philadelphia had confessed only a little* before, that that dreadful fact had ‘become perfectly evident.’”

* Four years!

So you observe, Messrs. Editors, that I am adduced as a witness that we are practically infidels; for this is the matter in dispute. But I wish to explain what I said and how I said it. In the first volume of the Occident (From April 1843 to March 1844,) I wrote several leading articles under the heading “The Demands of the Times,” in which I endeavoured to point out the low religious state of modern times, not among Jews only, but Christians also, and in one I traced the delinquency among us to the fearful moral debasement which had its rise in the first French Revolution. Now, I “flatter the Jew to his eternal ruin,” as little as the Rev. Editor of the Chronicle, but from a different motive; and so I resumed the discussion of our demands in the sixth number of my second volume, commencing on page 265, in order to call the attention of the Jews to their condition,—not to say that they were practically infidels; and therefore, in <<365>>averring that we were not a religious community, or in other words, that as a community religion had not followers enough, we said what every Christian minister asserts every Sunday from his pulpit when he denounces the misconduct of his flock. Are Christians, therefore, practically infidels? Let the Editor answer for himself.

But I will transcribe my remarks from which the italicised quotation has been made, and this not for the first time: “We have always been sorry (and what honest man could be otherwise?) to be compelled to confess that the state of religion among us is very low indeed. Not that people do not have faith in religion, but that they do not act up to the standard which has been presented to us by our forefathers. The indifference is one of supineness, not of an aggressive nature. In America there may be a few enemies to our religion, men who would seek designedly to injure our holy structure; but their number must be small indeed, if we may trust to the opinion which we have formed from our very general intercourse and extensive acquaintance with all classes of persons. There is—we say it sincerely—no enmity to Judaism existing to any great extent. There are but few who would gladly see their neighbour yield himself a captive to infidelity, or join another system of faith. When, however, we come to enumerate those who look with indifference upon religious observances, we fear that the number will be found exceedingly great. The observance of the Sabbath, that weekly sacrifice of our time to the Divine will, is neglected to such an extent that honourable Christians speak of it, as a shame, as a disgrace to us; and with respect to the prohibited kinds of food, the non-conformity is too glaring to escape detection. The same may be said with respect to other duties; for it has become perfectly evident that we can lay no claim to the title of a religious community.”

I will not ask you to copy more of my article; I only wish to place the fragment in connexion with the passage to which it belongs. And now I leave you to judge whether it justifies the wicked attack of the Rev. Dr. Dowling, and the reiteration thereof by the Rev. John Lillie. At all events, if Christians are correct, the sins we enumerated as stamping us as sinners, are not sins; and therefore we are on a par with them if we even neglect these observances. But without exculpating ourselves, I will maintain, that were Christians as much exposed to temptation with regard to the first day of the week, as we are to the seventh, the churches would present a beggarly show of empty benches, in place of their now crowded state. And as it is, on week days when meetings are held, the females form the largest portion of the audience, the men being engaged in their avocations.

This, I say, does not excuse the Jews for a neglect of duty; <<366>>but it certainly is enough not to authorize our opponents to condemn us as a worthless race of infidels; and this because a Jewish editor, to reprove and thereby improve his readers, tells them wholesome, though perhaps unwelcome truths. Of one thing I will absolve the editor of the Chronicle, he never will expose Christianity to such a misunderstanding by a bold mode of speaking, as I have done my fellow-Israelites, and myself among them, by my plain words—words, nevertheless, which could only be distorted and misunderstood by malice or prejudice, and tortured into such a sense as to cast undeserved odium upon a people who have much to contend with even in this land—to quote the Editor’s own words—to observe their religion.

I will not follow him in his other points, as I have occupied too much space already; but I can assure him and his society and its supporters, that it is not a difficult thing to meet them on all the questions which they can raise. If they believe us infidels, let them look around the land and observe the number of new Synagogues springing up as if by magic in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Albany, Cleveland, Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston, Mobile, Louisville, New Orleans, Easton, Syracuse, Buffalo, and elsewhere, considering that our people are poor, and many of them labouring hard for their daily bread, and I am sure they will alter their opinions. As we increase in numbers, the character of our ministry will also improve, and this will again cause an amelioration of our moral and religious character without the aid and despite of the efforts of the American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, which I hope may have the same amount of success which it has had hitherto, from its birth to its tottering manhood.

As I scorn to fight in disguise, I have written so that an anonymous signature would be out of place, and therefore I subscribe myself, gentlemen,

Your humble servant,

Isaac Leeser.
Philadelphia, July 11, 5608, A. M.