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


Jewish Education

To The Editor Of The Occident.

Dear Sir,

Your remarks on properly educating persons for the  ministry have met with some attention here, and our people begin to see, though the light is but faint and glimmering, the necessity for a thorough religious training of Jewish ministers, in institutions governed by strictly Jewish regulations. When we reflect at all upon the present and required qualifications of our ministers, the only wonder seems to be, that we have slept so long upon a subject of such vital consequence. Turn to our various congregations, both here and abroad, and what a spectacle do their ministers present to us! Here we find one chosen for his fine voice, there one who can lecture well; here one because he can read the Sepher Torah—there one because he was the best that could be procured. But let an institution be founded upon the principles, and for the purposes you propose, and what would be the results? It will be easy, from the number of pupils educated, to cull those whose natural talents and pious inclinations should mark them as duly fitted for the office. And scarce ten years would elapse before we should have many pious and well-educated Israelites, every way qualified for our spiritual instructors.

However widely separated the office of a chazan from a spiritual guide in Europe may be, the case is very different in America. Here the offices in most cases must be combined together in the same person; for our spiritual guidance must partake in a measure of the republican simplicity of our social laws, as citizens of this free republic. But independently of our own wants, and the duties we owe to ourselves, we have still a higher aim, a higher destiny to accomplish. Placed in a country where the untrammelled soul can take the loftiest flights, and where the body is invigorated by the bracing air of liberty that rives the bands of sloth and ignorance asunder, we become culpable both in the eyes of God and man, if we misuse or trifle with our opportunities. Is it not our imperative duty, then, so to improve ourselves, both mentally and religiously, that other and less favoured lands, looking upon the moral advancement of our brethren in this happy republic, may knock off too from the suffering Hebrews those cankering fetters that have so long depressed the once high-souled children of Jacob? Now for the first time dawns the day when the stricken hart may apply the balm to the wounds inflicted by the hands of bigotry; and in the glorious sunshine that surrounds us, now beam forth those rays of hope that should urge us on to exercise that influence, and fill those positions that our fathers did of yore. Dare we then, like the sluggard, let the time pass by without improving our inheritance? Dare we to rivet yet stronger the fetters of our brethren in the lands of the oppressors, by showing ourselves as Hebrews unworthy of freedom? Or shall we, by a judicious course of instruction, in institutions of our own, infuse into the ductile minds of our youth that knowledge and those precepts that will fit them for their duties as men and Israelites, so that the philanthropist, in urging the cause of social freedom, may point out as an incentive for the granting of the desired boon the able patriots of our race in a neighbouring land, that equal rights and an unrestricted conscience has called forth? Some may say, in a land where education is open to all, separate institutions for different sects are not required. But experience teaches us a very different conclusion; for though we do not pretend to deny that they are quite capable of developing the faculties of the mind, they do so at the expense of Jewish principles. Let us look abroad for those amongst us endowed with talents improved by culture. We may find them at the bar, in the senate chamber, and amongst the professors of learned institutions; but do we find them as Jews? to our sorrow, surely no! Religion is thrown off as a useless garment, and the glories of eternity are forgotten in the ambition of the moment. And these very men, who could have been ornaments of our race; may have had pious parents, and early imbibed religious impressions: they at first felt shocked at the rude jest or light ridicule of their comrades, and perhaps clung the more to the faith of their fathers. But day by day the taunt is uttered, the jest circulated, till they themselves begin to look with suspicion upon their time-honoured religion, to ridicule the observances of which they know not the meaning; and when their education is finished are too polite, too well read, to set much value upon that which the world thus despises. Let Israel then unite his strength together as one man; let him press on to the goal with quickened speed, till the desired boon is gained. As parents, our stake is great. As parents, our duties are imperative; and when we appear before the Sovereign Lord on the final day, may we be able  to exclaim, “Oh, Lord! in the sunshine of our prosperity we forgot thee not, and we availed ourselves of the bright opportunities Thou hast opened for us, to bring up our children in that path that should insure for them thy divine favour, now and for ever.” In the hope then, sir, that your efforts maybe crowned with the desired success, and that the day may not be far distant when we may behold a flourishing college, where knowledge and religion may go hand in hand,

I am, with sentiments of esteem, Yours truly,
L. M. Ritterband.

New York, 29th Tebet, 5607.

En passant.—As your work is taken as the standard of orthodoxy, I presume that all passages uncommented upon are doctrinely correct. The eleventh article of our faith is “He rewardeth the righteous according to his work, and punisheth the wicked according to his wickedness.” In  the closing remarks of the Rev. S. M. Isaacs, at the third anniversary dinner of the German Hebrew B. Society, occurs the following passage:—“Remember the scriptural words, His soul draweth near to the grave, and his life to the destroyer: if there be but with him one intercessor, one messenger even amongst a thousand to speak of his righteousness, then is God gracious to him, saying, Deliver him from perdition; I have found a ransom.” I do not pretend to be as well read in biblical knowledge as the reverend gentleman, so I should like to be informed where this passage is to be found, as I think it jars against the above article of our creed.

L. M. R.

Note by the Editor.—The passage quoted by our reverend friend occurs in the answer of Elihu to Job, 33:22-24. A pardon through  an interceding act of righteousness, that one angel pleading for man against a thousand accusing sins, is not a contradiction of the doctrine that each man is punished or rewarded according to his deeds. Sins unforgiven alone will be visited; sins repented and atoned for will not be reckoned: we refer Mr. R. and our other readers to Ezekiel, chapter eighteen throughout, for a solution of the query propounded. Also to the apothegm of our wise men which says, “There where the repentant sinners stand, the perfect righteous even cannot stand.” במקום שבעלי תשובה עומדים אפילו צדיקים גמורים אינם יכולים לעמד. They also lay down the other doctrine that our sins, our accusers, and our death are the same, הוא יצר הרע . הוא השטן . הוא מלאך המות. With this we must close for the present, both our time and space being limited.