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The Second Meeting of the German Rabbis.


In our second volume we gave all the available accounts which had reached us concerning the doings of the assembly of reform Rabbis and preachers of Germany, which met last year at Brunswick. Our readers will probably recollect that they resolved then and there to meet the coming year at Frankfort on the Maine. The assembly accordingly took place on the 15th of July last, and continued in session till the 28th. We gave in our September number of this year, a brief summary of the proceedings, all that had then reached us. Since then we have had some farther accounts in the Orient; Voice of Jacob, the Voice of Israel, and the Jewish Intelligence; and we select the one from the latter as being best suited for our pages. Of course it is necessarily but a meagre outline of what took place; but sufficient to prove how very unfit the majority were of legislating for Israel at large. Two of the Rabbis present, as we have told already, Dr. Frankel and Mr. Schott, withdrew from the meeting when they saw the destructive course resolved upon by their colleagues; and let not our friends suppose that these worthy Israelites belong to the school of those opposed to progress; on the contrary, they are fully alive to the importance of diffusing light among the people, and probably of introducing some useful reforms, whilst they abhor the indecent haste with which the reformers proper wish to strip Judaism of its distinctive features as a religion of observance and of faith. But they were not heeded by their colleagues, who only could see safety in making the religion as easy as the veriest infidel can desire, and rendering our worship as nearly the church as possible; whereas, if they are truly teachers in Israel, they must know that faith without duty is a libel on Judaism, and that the worship of the Synagogue is in its nature totally at variance with the church. Not because we might not copy something from our Christian neighbours; but because the objects of the religion of the Jews and gentiles are so widely different. To us the scriptures are of paramount importance; the institutions of the law are dear to the memory, though they be impracticable in our dispersion; the language of Palestine is to us a living tongue, the language of the Bible, which alone is a sure guide to faith; and we are yet to be taught that we could with any safety introduce an authorized translation, either of the prayers or of the Scriptures into the Synagogue, by any authority whatever. In the course of our labours for the people, we have, as our readers dwell know, endeavoured to furnish a transcript of the Hebrew to the English; and we were constantly admonished that to give a translation which would be universally acceptable, which would harmonize with all commentators, and which could satisfy ourself, was impossible of attainment. All we ever attempted to do and shall do, if we prosecute the field of study farther, is to give as nearly as possible a literal version of every word, so as to guide the inquirer; and this we fancy is all our learned German contemporaries can accomplish with their superior information and opportunities. But how are the advocates of the German language to obtain an authorized version? Three of the assembly are authors of a German Bible, to wit: Salomon, of Hamburg, Herxheimer, of Bernburg, and Philippson, of Magdeburg, and in addition to these there is one edited by Dr. Zunz, of Berlin, besides the former partial translations of Mendelssohn, and his immediate followers and others of the present day; and still the cry is “they come.” And each one has some new discovery of the hidden meaning of the word of God, and each one is welcome in the field whence always many good fruits must spring, if only the spirit of the labourer be imbued with proper reverence. How then, we ask, can a substitute for the Hebrew be found? Dr. Salomon’s temple congregation would no doubt use his Bible; Dr. Herxheimer would expect no less from his; Dr. Philippson would look unwillingly upon the introduction of the works of his rivals into the Synagogues under his control; and the reformers at Berlin would probably prefer Dr. Zunz’s. We only have seen the latter work; but we hesitate little in saying that the critic can discover material variations in all the versions now existing; and by introducing them therefore into the Synagoge, we might open the door to a multiplication of sects, all as furious in their insisting upon the correctness of their views derived not from the original Scriptures, but from the arbitrary perversion of the text by some of the various schools: the Salomonian, the Philippsonian, the Zunzer, &c., as now is the case between the champions of the Vulgate, and the versions of Luther and King James, all confessedly full of errors, when tested by the standard of the Hebrew text.

We say it candidly, that such proceedings as we now record must retard the progress of useful reform with the truly religious. They can only see danger in trusting the rudder of our national ship into the unskilful hands of a Geiger, a Maier, a Hess, and a Jost, men of undoubted learning, but of exceedingly doubtful piety, at least if we assume the standard of our good forefathers, who were faithful when such as these would have believed outwardly in the Islam or Gospel, to prolong their worthless lives. We for one are for progress; but such reforms are odious to Israel; they are retrogressions, incentives to apostasy, and could only be at all entertained, because some unlearned and irreligious men clamour for reform, change, revolution, and these would be leaders are ready to accord whatever is demanded. How supremely ridiculous is their prating about “the fatherland;” whereas, Germany has to this day not been a mother to Israel, and there is hardly a district where a Jew can come and settle from abroad, and where he is not subject to odious restrictions for the sake of his faith. We mean to give at a future day, when we have more leisure than now, some specimens of what we have to endure in the land which if a parent to us, acts certainly the part of a step-mother, who is jealous for the advancement of her own offspring to the exclusion of the rightful heirs of the father’s estate. We doubt whether there was one of the whole assembly who felt a stronger attachment to his native land than we do; but the truth must be told, that Germany has to this day been a refuge it is true to the Israelite from extermination elsewhere; but it has to this day not recognised in him a brother of the other inhabitants, and looks upon him as an alien to her soil, although hundreds of his brethren have in modern times shed their blood freely in defence of the land that neglects their claims to equality. But the Rabbis perhaps think that by professing such a love for the fatherland as not to wish to return to Palestine, they will secure to themselves the favour of government, and perhaps obtain the so much desired emancipation, and get a few offices, to procure which so many have abjured their religion and with falsehood on their lips professed a belief in Christianity, of either the Protestant, Greek or Roman Catholic, or some other kind, whilst in their hearts they believed not the first principle of either.

Our readers will also perceive, that unless the words attributed to some of the speakers are wrongly reported, these gentlemen entertain doubts as to the authenticity of Scripture. First, it was the Rabbis of old, those darklings, as the new men call them, who resisted to the last the enemies of their faith, and sooner died than to renounce by word, thought, or deed, their hope in Israel’s God; and to whose labour we owe under God the preservation of our people; and now it is some part of the Bible, which is unpalatable to these men of the new light; they find a strong obstacle against their innovating fury in the Scriptures; hence, these too must be denounced. To speak, however, the truth, we are pleased to see that the men of our day come out boldly; and they thus raise a cry against themselves, which is the best safeguard against the adoption of their vicious policy. We thank them for their candour; and we trust that the alarm being once sounded, our brethren all over the world will, perceiving the danger which threatens our institutions, should such counsels prevail, repudiate them and the advisors of them, as unsafe guides on the road to salvation. At the same time, we trust that the opponents of sweeping reform will not rest satisfied with the mere protest which they have lately issued; but that they will bestir themselves to scatter light and. knowledge among all classes, and prove thus that they are the real reformers, the restorers of the light of piety, which has lately and so long burnt dimly in the socket.

The subject is one of the deepest importance; and we dismiss it now reluctantly for want of time to discuss it perfectly. Our readers may, however, rest assured that we shall not lose sight of it, and ex­pose on the one side the danger of precipitancy, whilst on the other, we shall not be wanting to urge forward all useful schemes of improve­ment which may be brought forward by men who are truly servants of the Lord. Ed. Oc.

The Assembly of Rabbis at Frankfort-on-the-Maine.—The second of the recently projected Annual Assemblies of Rabbis, the first of which took place last year at Brunswick, has recently been held at Frankfort-on-the-Maine. The meetings commenced on the 15th of July, and concluded with the 28th. The number of rabbis who attended was larger than last year, and the two opposing parties in Judaism, the orthodox and the reformed, had both their representatives; the latter, however, formed from the commencement the majority.

The following were present:—Stein, of Frankfort-on-the-Maine, President; Geiger, of Breslau, Vice President; Jost, of Frankfort­on-the-Maine, and Hirsch, of Luxemburg, Secretaries; A. Adler, or Worms, and Auerbach, of Frankfort-on-the-Maine, Vice Secretaries; Einhorn, of Birkenfeld; Treuenfels, of Weilburg; Herxheimer, of Bernburg; Gosen, of Marburg; Gueldenstein, of Buchau; Sobernheim, of Bingen; S. Adler, of Alzey; Frankel, of Dresden; Jolowicz, of Thorn; Ben Israel, of Coblenz; Wechsler, of Oldenburg; Kahn, of Treves; Maier, of Stuttgart; Wagner, of Mannheim; Formstecher, of Offenbach; Holdheim, of Schwerin; Salomon, of Hamburg; Herzfeld, of Brunswick; Hess, of Weimar; Süsskind, of Wiesbaden; Hoffmann, of Meiningen; Schott, of Randegg; Philippson, of Magdeburg; Reis, of Breisach; Lowengard, of Lehren; and apologies for non-attendance were sent by Hochstatter, of Schwalbach; Lindemann, of Mannheim; and Levi, of Giessen.

Addresses were received by the Assembly, from the Reformers at Berlin, (which was presented by a deputation, consisting of Messrs. Stern, A. Rebenstein, and Simion, and met with particular favour on the part of the Assembly,) from Breslau, Neustadt, Binges, Darmstadt, Alsfeld, Mayence, Frankenthal, Edenkoben, Grünstadt, Musbach, Schwetzingen; Alzey, Obermuschel, Munster, Worms, Giessen, Frankfurt, and other places; most of these were referred to a committee, by whom replies were drawn up in behalf of the Assembly.

The tenor of the various addresses was very much the same; condemning, in strong language, the late protest of seventy-seven rabbis, against the competency and the decisions of last year’s Assembly, expressing their confidence in the present one, and their desire of a thorough reform in Judaism, &c., &c. In one of them the following passage occurred:—“We look upon you, Reverend Gentlemen, as a second Sinai, whence we are to receive a new Law.” The addresses from the congregations of Darmstadt and Mayence are remarkable, from the fact of the rabbis at those places being among the seventy-seven just referred to. The one from Breslau, which had 168 signa­tures, rejects the authority of rabbinical writings, but shows at the same time no great regard for the word of God, seeing that it also treats the peculiar privileges of the Jewish nation with indifference and neglect.

Thus, while the Assembly is warned “against taking obsolete books too much for their guides,” (an expression which called forth some censure in the assembly’s reply)—the above address contains also the following passage:—“We cannot any longer join with fervent sympathy in repeating passages which refer to the ‘election of Israel,’ as if we did enjoy the peculiar love and favour of the Father of all mankind,—nor in the prayer for a return to Palestine; and we should be compelled, either to abstain altogether from public worship, or suffer our lips merely to join therein.” Another address declared beforehand the readiness of the undersigned to conform to every decision the Assembly might come to.

At the opening of the proceedings, Dr. Z. Frankel, the leader of the orthodox party, demanded a formal declaration of the principles which were to be understood as guiding their deliberations: for himself, he identified himself with Judaism, as historically, positively revealed. On the question being put by the president, the meeting unanimously declared its principles to be those laid down by Dr. F., (des historisch-positiven geoffenbarten Judenthums.) The latter, however, on the 18th thought it his duty to secede front the Assembly, as did also Rabbi Schott, who had been one of the most zealous attendants at the meetings both last year at Brunswick, and now at Frankfort. Both, in the protests addressed by them respectively to the Assembly, stated as their reason, that a partial omission of the Hebrew language having been sanctioned, and alterations directed to be made in the prayers, the Assembly had departed from the principles laid down for their guidance as above referred to.

The result of the debates respecting the use of the Hebrew language in public worship, was as follows:—1. The question, whether its maintenance be imperatively necessary? was negatived by fifteen votes to thirteen, three declining to vote; 2. Whether its continuance for the present be expedient? answered in the affirmative by a lame majority, without a debate; 3. In how far is it advisable to use Hebrew in the Jewish Liturgy? the appointment of a Commission to determine upon the proportion of Hebrew and German prayers, was carried by a majority of eighteen to twelve.

During the debates on these questions, Dr. Herzfeld, of Brunswick, made a direct attack on the Word of God. He said, “The Bible is the Word of God, it is true, but yet not wholly the Word of God.” And Dr. Jolowicz declared, “What ‘the people’ do not recognise as the Word of God, so much of the Bible is not the Word of God!” Rabbi Kahn, of Treves, said, “According to the Bible, we are not bound to believe on a personal Messiah; only a few prophets have announced a personal Messiah, but most of them an ideal one (einen idealen).”

We cannot give our readers a better idea of the result of the deliberations, than by quoting the summary given by the President himself in closing the Assembly:—

Gentlemen! Allow me in concluding our meetings to cast one more retrospective look upon our proceedings, and to bring them in rapid review before your minds. The time allowed us for consultation was but short, and it was impossible to come to a decision upon all that came under our notice; still we have the satisfaction of being able to say, great things have been effected, or at least, put in train for future settlement.

The Report of the Commission, respecting alterations in public worship was laid before us, and its consideration claimed the greatest share of our deliberations this year. Our steps were slow and sure, and we did not decide lightly on so important subjects. The consequence has been, that our discussions have been marked by that seriousness which becomes so necessary, when religion is the subject under consideration, and which claims for it that general interest which is indispensable for carrying out the good work.

We have not excluded the Hebrew language from public worship; we were unanimous in coming to that resolution. But we were also all agreed in allowing a broad footing for the German element in our Divine service.

We all vindicated the great, importance of the Messianic doctrine in our prayers; but we were also all of opinion that the prayer for removal out of our native country should be expunged from our Prayer-books; as that prayer originated at a time when that country was to the Israelite nothing but a dreary prison.

We all urged the simplification of our public worship, and the omission of fatiguing repetitions; and were equally agreed that the prayer for a restoration of sacrifices ought no longer to be repeated by us, but that our public worship would lose its fundamental character by the omission of portions that are of importance and antiquity: this we oppose; and we all voted for strengthening the bond of union between the present and our glorious past history, by embodying its exalting recollections in our prayers, whether ancient Hebrew or modern German.

That important part of Divine service, the reading of the Torah, was simplified; it was proposed to restore the ancient office of the Meturgeman (expounder); it was unanimously resolved to have the prophets, as well as the other instructive Scriptures of the Bible read in German; while, as regards the call to the Torah, the blowing of trumpets at the new year, and the palmbranch at the feast of tabernacles, existing customs were not interfered with.

We stood unanimously up for the good cause on the subject of the admissibility of the organ into our houses of prayer; and the question of the propriety and duty of its being played on the Sabbaths and festivals by an Israelite, was answered in the affirmative by almost all of us.

By following out these principles, we trust to God that we shall obtain a ritual, which, deeply rooted in existing forms, will do honour to Judaism, and fill the house of God with worshippers; that no longer shall be heard in vain on our festivals the call of God to us: “Gather the people together, men, and women, and children.” (Deut. 31:12.)

Woman’s religious position in Judaism was well considered, and propositions relating to that subject were referred to a special Commission.

The subject of family worship was not neglected, and a Commission was appointed for compiling books of prayer for schools and families; whose special attention was directed to the revival of ritual observances, as, e. g., ceremonies to be observed at and after the death of Israelites.

In this manner, my dear friends,—by the publicity of our proceedings, by the publication of our debates, and by the further discussion and examination of liturgical subjects by the press;—will the attention of our brethren be again directed to our greatly neglected forms of worship. Even before the new Prayer-book, which in our hands will become a mighty weapon for the interests of religion and our times, can appear in the house of God, it will have taken root in the hearts of our brethren and sisters; and those who now call us destroyers, will yet, we confidently hope, call us builders.

Thus also shall it be as regards the Sabbath; that day from which now thousands among us have become estranged, will, by working on and transforming the minds in the spirit of the times, unconsciously become of importance to them; and we look forward with pleasure to the coming year, when the admirable Report of the Commission on this important subject shall be considered. And thus shall gradually—may God strengthen us for this holy work—religious life be again awakened in the minds, and in purified forms shall religion enter victoriously into the hearts of her sons and daughters. Thus have we also yesterday considered an ancient custom in Israel* in its moral importance, and by such alteration as the times require, recommended its continuance. God is our witness that in all this our sole object is to strengthen the influence of religion. On this day we have, in conclusion, acknowledged the importance of founding a College for the training of Jewish teachers, and have resolved to labour, each of us in his sphere, for attaining that object. Matters which have not been disposed of have been referred back to the respective Commissions; and the publication of the Report on the Revision of Marriage Laws has been authorized.

* The bathing of women טהרת המשפחה.

Thus have also our meetings this year been of great, immediate, and prospective importance. May God preserve in us courage for the next! We were this year greatly cheered and encouraged; congregations in town and country declared by addresses their confidence in us; the deputation from a body which actively and vigorously labours for the improvement of our religious affairs, raised our courage and our zeal; but it was especially the Jewish congregation in this town which furnished an important centre for the sympathy expressed on every side, doing all in its power to facilitate our assembling here, and in conclusion manifesting its confidence in our proceedings by a very flattering address, which strengthened and encouraged us. Let us therefore rejoice in what has been done, and gather new strength for the labours that await us next year.

In consequence of the alterations in the lessons, as referred to in the President’s Address, it was decided that the portions to be read in the Synagogue should be so arranged as to extend over a period of three years, instead of one, as heretofore.

The Commission to whom the subject of the religious education of Jewish females was referred, consists of S. Adler, A. Adler, and Einhorn.

Two commissions were appointed for the compilation of prayerbooks; one consisting of five members, viz., Stein, Salomon, Geiger, Maier, and Herzfeld, to prepare a prayer-book for public worship; and another, consisting of Phillippson, Stein, and Formstecher, to prepare manuals of devotion for family worship.

Some discussion arose respecting the inscription to be put on the Assembly’s official seal, as no rabbis have attended from several of the German states; thus Austria, Bavaria, Hanover, &c., have been unrepresented. In Bavaria collections for the expenses of the Assembly had been prohibited by the Government, and the rabbis of that country were forbidden attending, by special command of the King. It was, however, decided that the seal should bear the inscription, “Versammlung Deutscher Rabbinen,” (Assembly of German Rabbis.)

It was resolved that next year the Assembly should be held at Breslau, according to the invitation of the Jewish community at that place. Apprehensions were expressed that the Assembly, if not confined exclusively to German rabbis, would, on that occasion, be swarmed by an influx of Polish rabbis, on account of the contiguity of the place of meeting to Poland. Dr. Geiger, however, assured the meeting he knew the Polish rabbis too well to expect that any one of them would take the step of signifying to him his wish to attend, which is a necessary preliminary for attending the Assembly.