|Vol. VIII, No. 11
Shebat 5611, February 1851
Principles of Judaism.
To the Editor of the Occident.
In a note which you appended to my last letter (p. 494), you wished me to point out the dogmas of Judaism, as received among us, which are opposed by nature and history. I must, however, at present respectfully decline doing so, but I shall do it when I come to the respective points, and not before; as it would be venturing too much to state them merely, without giving at once full reasons for my dissent, which I cannot well do until I have proceeded to a point where I can properly state them, and hope to be correctly understood. Let me now enumerate, in the first place, those ideas which are opposed neither by nature nor by history.
Judaism is based upon four leading ideas, and has, therefore, four principles, with which all doctrines, dogmas, maxims, ceremonies, and observances, must correspond as consequences with their respective causes, otherwise they must be rejected as anti-Jewish and foreign to our system. These four principles are:
1. There is but one God, who is the Creator, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe; an absolute, pure, and eternal Spirit; the primitive Life, Power Intellect, and Love; who has revealed himself in the Bible, in all nature, and in all history, as the All-wise, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Almighty, Immutable, Most <<542>>Holy, Most Gracious, Most Benevolent, All-Just, and Most Merciful God.
2. Man is the image of God, and is therefore not only endowed with all the superior capacities which are the necessary qualifications of an image of the Most High, and bound in duty to develop them to the utmost extent; but he is also immortal in this respect, in quality of his being made in the image of his Creator.
3. Man is accountable to God for all his deeds, for which he is rewarded or punished here and hereafter.
4. God has chosen the people of Israel to promulgate through them these divine and sublime truths to mankind at large.
These four truths are plainly announced in the Pentateuch, re-echoed by the Psalmist, and by all and each of the Prophets nature and history do not merely not contradict them, but they are the living witnesses, they bear the strongest evidence, to the verity of all these four dogmas; and every Jew believes them, and defends them with his life, liberty, and property; and when he ceases to do so, he has ceased to be a Jew.
I shall not enter upon philosophical evidences, to prove the correctness of these main dogmas,* because I deem it not necessary; you will take them for granted; but if objection should be raised against them, I shall always be ready to give satisfactory evidences. I shall only take under consideration the consequences of these principles.
The consequences of the first are of immense importance. There is not only no religion without a God, but also no moral law, no virtue, no real humanity, no hope, nor real existence. If this universe has no moral government, then there is no reason for man to submit to the government of laws; and morality and virtue are nothing but the selfish inventions of selfish man, to suit his convenience, to satisfy his vain imagination to the detriment of the freedom of all others. If we cannot trust in God what hope have we in the
time of danger, sickness, adversity, and death? If we do not <<543>>admit the existence of a spirit, there can be no real existence; for all matter constantly changes its internal and external structure.
Our first principle gives a complete basis for religion, an undoubted reason for morality, a holiness and sublimity to virtue, confidence in all conditions of life, and hope even in death, and a reasonable solution of the existence of all things in the wide universe. Our views about right and wrong, about morality and immorality, about virtue and vice, are altogether derived from our views with regard to God; wherefore it is by no means a matter of indifference, what one thinks relative to God. Our doctrines about God, as the Bible gives them, are therefore the best, because they are the truest and the most sublime, and the best foundation for religion and morality. The Islam, no less than Christianity, could not avoid copying our doctrines, and what they added to them, only disfigures the perfect and exalted ideas of the Bible: The duties derived from our first principle are innumerable, but they are chiefly expressed in the first three of the ten Commandments.
Our second principle is of the same importance with the first. If I am an image of God, endowed with all the superior capacities necessary for my position as such, I must exert all my power to develope them fully. I must develope my affection so as to love all men, all nature, all that is truly great and perfect, and thus I shall learn to love God; I must develope my intellect to such an extent as to know God’s creation, to understand as much of his wise designs as I can comprehend, so that I may know of God all that He has permitted me to know of Him; I must develope my mental liberty to the extent of enabling me to rule over all my animal instincts, passions, and desires, so that I may be governed by none but by my God, by love, and by reason. But this development can be accomplished only by a long practice of reasoning, study, and temperance; wherefore I am in duty bound to act in this manner. Every man is an image of God; and consequently I am bound to regard every man as such, to esteem and to love him; and this is the mother of all social virtues.
These three dogmas are the sources of all human duties, as you will readily admit; and every one who lives according to these principles and their logical consequences is a good, pious, and honest man. But the peculiar duties which we have to perform as Jews, are comprised in our fourth principle. As God has chosen us to promulgate his divine will to all mankind, we are bound to adhere firmly to his word, to guard it with our life, to practise it amidst danger, to advocate it, though opposed by a whole world, and to teach it by acts and words wherever we live. We must adhere to our nation, because God has chosen the whole as his people, and maintain our distinct nationality in a religious respect all over the globe, until all mankind have received our sacred message.
You will perceive that there is nothing in these four principles, and their logical consequences, which is opposed to sound common sense, to any true science, a even to the views of any one Israelite. And still if you do not succeed to prove that they are incorrect, or that Judaism has still other principles, I shall succeed to prove that the reformers have a full right to demand reform and progression. I conclude my letter with the old proverb כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקים.