|Volume VIII. No. 10
Tebeth 5611 January 1851
Judaism and its Principles.
In the preceding two articles on the subject under discussion, we have no doubt appeared as going away from it, instead of grappling with the difficulties of the question. But our object was first to exhibit that the modern unbelief is no proof what ever against the admissibility of any doctrine, and that the apostacies which we have had to deplore, had nothing to do with the truth or otherwise, of our opinions, but were owing to the state of exclusion to which we were subjected as Jews: and that a mere joining the popular churches opened the door to political preferment, or the participation in commercial and industrial privileges, the permission to settle wherever the pretended convert pleased, or to marry the woman or the man he or she fancied, all of which was not permitted to professing Jews. It must not be forgotten what we stated incidentally, that sincerity was neither asked nor looked for; the rulers who offered such high bribes for the catching of straying souls were satisfied with the open profession, and so but a Jew was withdrawn from his faith, it was a matter of no importance whether he felt any conviction for his new religion or not.
Since we wrote our articles for November, <<482>>we had several opportunities of speaking with men of high intelligence, who came but lately from Europe, and they confirmed, even to a greater extent than we had any idea of, all that we then advanced. What would our readers think of apostates meeting in the capital of Austria to celebrate the Jewish festival of the redemption? of sitting together to recount, with psalmody and thanksgiving, the going forth of the Israelites from Egypt? Incredible as the story appears there is no doubt of its truth, our informant being above suspicion of a desire to deceive us. What the cause of such men’s apostacy is lies on the surface. They could not be admitted as citizens of Vienna, though, perhaps born within its walls; they would as Jews have had, up to within three years, to wear an oriental garb, as though they were Turkish subjects, and actually to stand under the protection of the ambassador of the Ottoman Porte, strangers, even absolute aliens, in their native land. It only needed the water of baptism to wash out the foreign taint under which they suffered. And do you expect to find in all the same contempt of the world and its allurements? do you fancy to find high principles and noble disregard of self-interest in the mass of mankind? If so, you reason upon false premises. Those who rise above the earth and its pleasures are few indeed, especially in this age of pride and seeking for wealth, where the gilded popinjay stands so immeasurably superior, in even your estimation, we fear, kind reader, to the humble, plodding labourer, who seeks to supply the few wants of his family, and his own necessaries of life, by honest industry and contented retirement.
The time indeed, has been when the Jew would have scorned any allurement which temptation might have offered; when he would have spurned the bribe, and the hand that presented it to him, to exchange his ever-living God, even to appearance, for the idealities without existence, which the human fancy has set up as objects of worship. But this was at a period when men attempted to force us to relinquish our identity, by means of cruel penal laws, and when all around, likewise, clung to their belief and deemed to doubt or to swerve crimes of the greatest magnitude.
But with the change of tactics of our opponents, <<483>>and in the same measure as they relaxed themselves in the strictness of their own observance, have we learned to esteem lightly our birthright; not that we are thus absolutely worse, but that we are no better than our neighbours. Hence, when they trifled with their religion, when they appeared to conform to outward observance, merely to save appearances, whilst at home they disregarded the precepts of the church; nay more, whilst we felt convinced that even the priests and superintendents of the popular systems privately dissented from the opinions and practices which they publicly taught; whilst we saw that even those who were so active in church matters led secretly a life of immorality, in daring defiance of all good principles; added to which, that on this appearance of being Christian, as the state termed and defined it, all honour and dignity depended: what would you expect of our worldlings, but to exchange a faith which they had never practised, and which, nevertheless, was a bar to their advancement, for another which they did not mean to practise, and which, nevertheless, opened to them the prospect of being called to the council-table of the emperor and king, of sitting in the seat of judgment, of being court-physician, privileged merchant, at liberty to live where they pleased marry whom they fancied, in short, of becoming just what as Jews they could never hope to attain?
The picture we draw presents a disgusting exhibition of human wickedness; but would to Mercy, that we had dipped our pencil in fancy or falsehood in tracing it. Alas! it is too true; and if you imagine that we have stated the least untruth, then go to Vienna, to Berlin, to Breslau, to Hamburg, to Frankfort, to Warsaw, to St. Petersburg, and even to Paris, where no religious disqualification as such does exist, and you will see in all of them abundant evidence of the fact, that outward conversions for gain’s sake are to be met with at every step. What compunction these traitors may feel, when their anomalous position in society is brought home to them, is easily imagined; they must despise themselves, loathe their very being; and hence they may covet from time to time, whenever they can withdraw to the secrecy of their own houses, to practise, with perhaps a more intense devotion than the professing <<484>>Jew, the rites and ceremonies of that holy law, which they have bartered away for gain, power, pleasure, or privilege.
So also when there was a prospect that the disabilities would be removed without a resort to absolute apostacy, the want of religious conviction in the dogmas of our faith, the lurking infidelity to all practical religion, to which we have alluded in several previous articles, became again apparent in the manner our opinions were represented, and the way in which the scriptural precepts and rabbinical ordinances were practised. We have abundant means to prove that by degrees and in order to allay the storm of inveterate prejudices, even learned men attempted to explain away the sharp angles, if we may so call them, of our system, hoping thereby to place themselves gradually within the line of official preferment. And thus, in order to convince the state that the Jews might be safely trusted with a seat in the legislature, or a commission as a judge, they averred that we did not desire a separate nationality and that it is an error to suppose that pure Judaism ever taught this idea of separatism, as it is termed.
To be sure “pure Judaism” may mean a great deal or nothing, just as they who use the term have a particular end in view, and according to the nature of their convictions. Still it is with such generalities that men deceive themselves and others, and hence we need not wonder that they impose on themselves even now the comforting flattery that they are still good Jews whilst casting off a considerable portion of its requisite elements. But in addition to this gainsaying what “old Judaism” taught, they showed also that the practices belonging to it had lost all binding force for them, as no longer needed in their system of philosophical “theism.” Religion, according to their view, not consisting in externals, but in something ethereal, inward, unseen, progressive, changing with every age and all circumstances, had of course to be modified, and this essentially under the changed aspect of things. The state stood now at the head of the objects of allegiance;—formerly it was the duties which our faith demanded; but this could no longer be taught; for then we had no hope of ever becoming deputies, judges, finance-ministers, or generals; yet, whereas now we had a <<485>>prospect, provided only we could get over a crowd of prejudices which separated us from the world, of tasting the sweets of public preferment and the dignity of official standing, we had to make the sacrifice, as a matter of course, of a good deal of our religious conformity, and every violation became allowed, so the state was but served by our faithfulness.
Did not, in these modern times, the Jewish merchant violate his Sabbaths and festivals to acquire additional gains? Did not the voluptuary set aside all moral restraints which to the ancient Jew were the most sacred, in order to be undistinguished from his gentile associates, to whom such indulgences had not been unknown in the traditional debaucheries of their fathers? and why then should not the expectant statesman, the would-be parliamentarian, the embryo judge, the unfledged general, stride over the same barrier for an end where glory led the way, where renown incited him to follow?
We have often felt indignant enough to weep when we read in the public prints the evidences of the frightful degeneracy which a quarter of a century’s absence from our native land had produced among those calling themselves Israelites. We were yet a schoolboy when we were summoned away from the land where first we saw the light of day; but we well recollect the horror which was then felt for new-fashioned Jews (neu modische Juden), who were but few scattered here and there among those who had been cursed by the acquisition of a little more wealth or more enlarged education than their humble brethren. Few, indeed, dared then to question the truth of our ancient dogmas; few indeed there were who ventured openly to profess their infidelity, if they entertained it in their hearts. But, alas! twice ten years had not elapsed before the demon of unbelief had acquired strength; and now they who have made a religion of their own, comprised in the single word REFORM, arrogate to themselves to be the sole expounders of the faith of Israel, and they set themselves up as judges of the law and the facts as though there was from their decision no appeal, no gainsaying of the discoveries of their astonishing learning, their unheard of acquaintance with all the sciences under heaven and above it.
It is painful to speak so of our own people; but it is more humiliating still that nothing but truth compels us to designate thus, unless common report is totally deceptive, many who now are the leaders of the reform party in Germany and elsewhere. We have no personal knowledge of any of them, consequently no personal ill-will or injuries to complain of; but we cannot withhold from utterly condemning such iniquitous teaching which would pull down everything and build up nothing in its place. Is it possible that we have been so utterly ignorant of our faith for so many centuries? have Sanhedrin, schools, Talmudists, Geonim, and Rabbins all misunderstood the true principle of Judaism? Has it been reserved for the nineteenth century, as these men style our generation, to unfold the true faith to a benighted world? This to a certainty would sound more like absurd arrogance than anything else; still we are reduced to its adoption, if the new rage for destroying which has lately manifested itself is at all allowable.
We will cheerfully admit that all reforms are not against our religion. Judaism, with all its fixedness of principles, is progressive, and can readily harmonize with the highest and widest progress in arts and civilization; not in the sense, however, in <<487>>which our moderns would represent it. There may be many little observances which the former circumstances of our people rendered necessary, but which now have become useless, or even burdensome and injurious; and it were well, could we have the opinion of the truly learned and pious all over the world about the propriety of formally abrogating them; as they were originally introduced, merely to subserve a certain and therefore temporary purpose.
But, unfortunately, the hot haste, ignorance, and selfishness with which vital principles have been attacked by the knight-errants of a false progress, have rendered true reform suspected by its very friends, and men have hesitated, and are unwilling to yield the minutest abuse, for fear of their acts being misinterpreted as lending countenance to absolute evil, and they stand aloof from laying hold of the questions of the day, dreading that their acts may open the door to progressive iniquity, instead of leading to a restoration of the ancient conformity to religion.
Hence we have the mortification to witness that nearly all the publications of the day, whether in books, or papers and magazines, proceed from men who are notorious progressists, and who only temper their destructive zeal, in order not to offend too greatly the so-called orthodox. And, to digress a little, what do these orthodox do in the premises? Do they buckle on the armour of defence, and manfully contend with their opponents? Oh no! they are content to teach in their own Synagogues, where they are Rabbins or appointed preachers; and beyond these they exert themselves but little except throwing suspicion upon the others. They write little and publish less and when, once in a while, an orthodox press is started, as this has been the case in France, Germany, and England, they allow it speedily to fall into decay, and the reformers are triumphant in having the last word.
Another time, should we be spared to maintain our present position, we mean to dilate properly on this topic; at present we must merely glance at it, to proceed with our main subject. Let, however, the world not imagine that all the tendency of the age is for destruction: on the contrary, a reaction is already visible, thanks to the strength of our faith, and to the confusion of its indolent official teachers; men <<488>>begin to discover that it is not in amalgamation with the gentile that the salvation of Israel can consist, and that we are destined for a far higher part in the history of mankind than for a few individuals to sit in the legislatures of France, Germany, England, and America, or that a few others might violate the Sabbath without remorse of conscience, by being appointed custom-house clerks, or officers in the army and navy where labour, as they say, becomes allowed, as being exerted in the service of the state, and therefore religious duty has to yield to this new-born necessity.
But whilst we individually contend for the perfect equalization of our people in the eyes of the law, in whatever country they live, whilst we would not tolerate the idea of a religious test being demanded before any one is admissible to office, we would never care to see an Israelite holding office in which a violation of his religion becomes a necessary ingredient for his qualification thereto. All we need is the eligibility; that the road to preferment should be open to all; since it is evident that, under the best of circumstances, but a veriest fraction of our brothers could obtain employment under the states, whilst the largest, overwhelmingly large, portion would have to depend on the labour of their hands to procure their daily bread. Religion is, however, evidently the birthright of all men, not of the exclusive few who are lifted up above the masses by the fortuitous possession of wealth, talents, or position; the meanest labourer has the same claim to everlasting happiness as kings or kaisers on their thrones. Hence, we see, Israelites as a people have a higher historical importance than to become officials in the various states where they may live by choice, birth, or necessity.
Do not misunderstand us, kind reader, as being in the least unfaithful to the commonwealth, or counselling you to withhold the least duty from the state, or to do otherwise than strive for the promotion of its best interests and those of mankind: we are a thorough republican, and would gladly see the power of tyranny and misrule broken into fragments all over the world; we rejoice whenever the people and equal rights triumph, and had we any power, we would lend it where it could be made <<489>>useful to uproot aristocracy and inequality, wherever and whenever they present themselves. Nor, on the other hand, would we advise you, should you live in a land where a king rules, to unite with wild conspirators to upset the government in one insensate onslaught on all hereditary customs and laws; for in such a manner you would only perpetuate the evil, and not “seek the peace of the city whither you have been banished.”
But we only meant to say that you can best promote the public good by being an Israelite. indeed, a true servant of God, a faithful friend of mankind. For thus you require no office, no standing aloof, from the shoulder higher than all the people; but you can be a common man, and yet lend more support to every useful measure of progress than by being a titled official, or wearing the decoration of some order of knighthood or nobility conferred by those in power often on men who served the prince or party more faithfully than the people.
Let our readers reflect a little on our words, and we are sure they must all agree with us, that we have placed the question in its true light, and that emancipation, the fullest even, desirable as it is, and demanded as it should be upon the broad principle that no man or people has a right to abridge another’s natural rights, or to interfere with the religious convictions of another, or to attach any privilege or exclusion to the manner in which he worships, nay, to the fact whether he worships at all or not,—that emancipation, the fullest even, we meant to say, was not, cannot be the object of the institution of Israel as a peculiar people, distinct in all their customs, separate through so many centuries mingling without amalgamating with other nations, and to this day essentially the same they were from the beginning.
To maintain that a perverse obstinacy, an indomitable pride, has preserved us as we are, would be only interpreting the great moral phenomenon which we present by another, equally unintelligible. For why should we be more perverse than all others? or our pride less subduable than the hauteur of any other race? Were not the Romans as fierce as the Jews? the Greeks as proud, if not more so, than the sons of Jacob? And, still, where are they? Where are the unmixed sons of <<490>>Cecrops and Romulus ? Can you point out to a single family, and maintain, with any show of reason, that they are descended from the ancient stock of Hellas or Italy? We fancy that no one will be bold enough to venture on the experiment.
But say even that you could find pure Greeks and Romans in some undiscovered nook of Epirus or Etruria, what sort of opinions do you think they would defend now if they were truly questioned? Do you imagine that one would appeal to the Delphine oracle, or the other look into the entrails of beasts before he would commence his work, or command an army to march? would the one adopt his theology from Homer, or the other quote Cicero as his guide to his system of divinity? Scarcely can you imagine that you would find such a vague dream realized.
And yet the Jew, the ubiquitous son of Israel, is the most unchanged cosmopolite ever found on earth; he is essentially the same intelligent yet simple, yielding yet obstinate, ardent yet calculating, daring yet timid creature he ever was; and as to his ancient poets and philosophers, his David and his Solomon, his Isaiah and his Moses, he does not dream to seek for any better, and he will not permit you for one moment, much as he may have himself swerved from the line which such opinions as he professes ought to demand, to imagine that their thoughts can be improved upon by the farthest, wildest, profoundest, and highest progress the sciences and arts can possibly make. This anomalous character of the Jew, a puzzle to himself, and an astonishment to his opponents, and a riddle to all strangers to his creed, has not been the growth of a year or of a century but it appears was known and appreciated already by his first teacher, the far-seeing and clear-headed son of Amram, who superintended his first introduction among the families of the earth, and bore with his infirmities for a space of forty years, often provoked, but in the end never wearied by the constant exhibiting of that twofold disposition of which his representatives of the present day furnish so striking an example.
Was it joy, was it sorrow, was it Palestine, or any other land, the north star did not truer watch in the heaven to guide the storm-tossed mariner on the trackless wave, than did the son of Israel remain true to the <<491>>description we find of him in Deuteronomy, xxxi. 21: “And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles have befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten out of the mouth of their seed, for I know their disposition, according to which they act this day, even before I have brought them unto the land concerning which I have sworn.”
Here we see how well the prophet foresaw the strange commingling of rebellion and steadfastness; neglect of religion and its eternal unforgotten permanence among us; history, experience, has set its seal of truth upon the vision that floated before Moses’s eyes; and was it merely to play a secondary part in some trumpery scheme of self-aggrandizement of states and individuals, that God selected, or rather endowed, so peculiar a people, not less so in physiognomy than temper and mind? Ay, there is the difficulty of the question, and we would not, could we even conscientiously do it, join the petitioner for political equality, had we to yield the smallest tittle of our ancestral hopes in order to obtain the highest gifts of human greatness. Nothing could compensate us if we should be compelled to see the curious race of which we are an insignificant member, swallowed up amidst the noblest nation of the earth, were it, no matter which, a thousand times nobler than it is; we would hold all distinction so purchased as an insult to common sense, a worthless bauble, which the veriest fool, the basest galley-slave, ought indignantly to spurn as a worthless bribe held out to barter away his birthright.
No, it cannot be; Providence did not make a mistake when He selected the sons of Jacob, as strange a compound as the first Israel himself, to be called his peculiar people; He did not choose us to receive the law on Sinai for a year or a thousand revolutions of the year; but for time indefinite, for seasons without number, for generation after generation, at least until such time as He shall himself announce to us as solemnly as he did on Sinai, that now our task was done; that now his law should no longer bind us, mark us as his own among all other nations and tongues.
Do our believing readers agree with us? will they answer a sincere Amen to our <<492>>ideas? do they feel that they bear in themselves the seeds of a glorious yet unaccomplished future? that in belonging, from attachment, and feeling, and duty, and interest to the land of their birth or adoption, that whilst they devote to its service their best energies, their undivided duty, their ardent hopes as citizens, as counsellors, as defenders, as merchants, as legislators, they owe still an allegiance to a heavenly kingdom, which though not yet established, is as sure of being one day called into being as that they are still recognizable as sons of Israel? And they need not fear to profess this openly, loudly, before all the world; for every reasoning being will maintain that so much mercy was not vouchsafed to any one people without a high and holy object; that the Almighty acts not without an aim in creating the meanest insect; and that hence He could not have endowed Jacob with all the characteristics of the reed, that bends to the storm without being uprooted, that lifts up its tiny head in the light of sunshine, and is even then an humble herb, unless He had meant that it should stand erect after the mighty forest trees long since decayed, to flourish in perennial greenness, never sown by human hands, still constantly shooting up again out of its native element, enlivening the margin of mighty rivers, and affording shelter to the fishes of the deep and the birds of heaven.