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


Judaism and its Principles.

(Continued from page 541.)

The personage who figures so largely in our religious works, under the name of the Messiah משיח can therefore not be taken as an ideality, an abstraction, a personification of a principle,  but an actual being, an individual who is to fulfil in his own person what is predicted of him by the assertions of the prophets. No ingenuity, which the greatest learning can devise, will remove from the mind of the thinking the firm persuasion that the ideas of the Jews, from the destruction of the temple, and for a long period antecedent to it, were in favour of an expected redeemer, and that through him and his agency they looked forward for the accomplishment of the promises of future greatness, spiritual and temporal, which they so much missed during the period which had elapsed since our exile to Babylon up to the present hour. No independence has ever been ours since then: no settled go­vernment free from foreign influence has since then been vouchsafed to us, and the constant pressure of a foreign yoke has bound down our spirits and our bodies from the day when the sword and fire of Nebuchadnezzar invaded the sanctuary on Mount Moriah.

We refer the reader to the book of Nehemiah as to the state of the Jewish commonwealth in his time, and later history will confirm that it continued so ever after, with perhaps the brief <<582>>and fitful gleam of glory under the Asmoneans. And what a confusion prevailed in the land of Judea in that period! One brother persecuted the other, and sought his life, because he ruled. One king banishes the chief men of the state, another dooms them to death. And could this be the last hope of Israel? Never; and so thought the real friends of our race, the teachers of religion; the defenders of the civil and religious rights of the people, who always presented a bold front to danger whether it came from royal traitors within or from open or insidious opponents without. It was these then, who taught us to look for another state of our nation, in which not violence but love was to rule; in which one appointed by God, not a usurper, should govern; in which a man impelled by a spirit of universal benevolence should guide our destinies, and not where a tyrant should doom the bravest and best to an untimely end for no other cause than that they opposed his arbitrary will and unlawful exactions.

These teachers thought, and they thought correctly. that all that was passing before their eyes was a preparation merely for a farther development of the destiny of Israel. They indeed did not and could not see, any more than we can and do understand, how the sad calamities which bowed them down and grieved them could be made a link in a great and happy progress. But let us survey the condition of Israel during the second temple, taken in connexion with what it was in the time of the house built by Solomon, with the influence which we now wield in the moral government of mankind, and then let any one assert that we have not progressed gloriously and well on our road to which our evident destiny leads us. Do we by thus speaking defend the crimes of Alexander Jannai and Herod? do we thereby apologise for the treason of Josephus and the party strife of John, Simon, and Elazar which deluged Jerusalem with blood, and prepared the way for the final triumph of the ruthless Titus? do we therefore excuse the modern derelictions from the path of duty which so many make themselves guilty of to the burdening of their souls and the disgrace of their names?

By no means; but notwithstanding so much evil has been and is still witnessed, we assert there has been a progress, so evident, so marked, so <<583>>sure, so wholesome, that it would be folly and we had almost said wickedness to deny it, or to doubt of the ultimate accomplishment of the final triumph of truth to which we look forward. If therefore, we ourselves do not comprehend the precise part we have to play in the development of the great mystery of the progress of the human race if we do not see what difference it makes whether we labour or not in its advancement it is no reason why we should stop in our task, and either become indifferent spectators in the spectacle before us, or what is still worse, quit the ranks, and yield ourselves captives to the attractions which the multitude offers to us.

The Mosaic system, as well as the Abrahamic, found its propagation sustained by the effort of one man for one man became identified with its reception, one man became distinguished as its teacher, and the same man too is famous as the founder of the people and the state which became its bearers. What would the Israelitish tribes have been without the son of Amram? how could the law have established itself so supreme in their very spirit and being without the glorious prophet whom a king’s daughter drew from the floods of the Nile while so many Hebrew children were strangled by the executioners of Pharaoh who, like himself, knew no mercy and gloried in the pain they inflicted? The answers are, obviously, that without such agency the law would have been proclaimed only to be soon forgotten, and the people, after struggling a while against the assaults of outward enemies, would speedily have been lost in the midst of surrounding nations, or fallen an easy prey to the marauding tribes of the desert, who then as now lift up their hand against all whom they think they can overcome and this even is assumed upon the supposition that the Israelites could have been redeemed from Egyptian bondage and have stood at the foot of Horeb to receive the law, whereas we cannot imagine a series of circumstances having this result, miraculous however every link of this chain may have been, without the intervention of a direct agent or agents who must have been the instruments, or the levers so to say, which were empowered to usher these historical facts upon the stage of life.

Without some man, therefore, we could have had no law without <<584>>a divinely chosen leader we could not have become a people subject to and upheld by this legislation, which we call divine, because it was and must have been, from its nature, a direct emanation of the divine word and wisdom, for the simple reason, that no human genius, however inventive and lucid, has ever been able to approach to such a discovery in the remotest degree, if we take into view thereat scope of constitutional, political, religious, and moral laws and ideas which it embodies and lays before us in a perfected state. This agent now was Moses, and such an agent was Abraham, though in a more limited degree in his generation; still both spoke and taught the same truths; wherefore one became the political and the other the ancestral founder of Israel and such a mediator will be the great prophet who is yet to arise, not alone for Israel but for the entire world likewise, though always in accordance with the truths and principles of the legislation imparted to Abraham and Moses, which are unchangeable in their nature, as they have proved themselves indestructible during the course of thousands of years which have elapsed since their inception.

We have often maintained in various of our writings, and think that we have clearly proved it by both reason and Scripture, that the law of Moses, technically so called, was not given to Israel for their sakes only, but to serve as a standard of comparison and guidance for the education of all mankind. As God is true, because of his simplicity, uncompound character, and unimprovability, so must his revelation also be true, because it is true from its origin, in its principles, and its applicability to all known relations of life. It therefore follows that if the world ever to he truly and equally educated it must be upon the principles, duties, and ideas found in and derivable from the law of Moses; since we can frame no hypothesis where we hare any foundation of pure morality and a correct appreciation of truth except upon this permanent basis. We may assume, then, as reasonable and proved, that all mankind shall at some future day, because the present period proves that this has not yet been done, adopt the Jewish religion, perhaps in a form modified and suitable to their condition, since they are not of Israel, as their rule of life and <<585>>the mode of their paying homage to the Lord of all nature. The training is even now carried on by the many ramifications of affiliated though often hostile systems, which have Judaism for their parent stem, although they often vaunt themselves of possessing superior light, more holiness, and greater knowledge than we. This curious procedure, however, need not terrify us; for if the farmer after harvesting his crop should stamp on the earth and say “I have not derived my food from thy bosom,” he would only betray his ignorance and ingratitude, not diminish in the least the merit of the soil which bore him the increase of his labour. We must therefore not be terrified, scarcely vexed by the roaring of the gentiles who conspire against the Lord and his anointed, in arrogating to themselves merits which are not, cannot be theirs. But let us calmly await the gradual ripening of the harvest for the sickle, when he will come to whom domi­nion is due, and assemble either literally, or, at least, effectually, all the people of the earth into one vast assembly, that they may all swear fealty as we did at Sinai, saying, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do and obey.”

So far, then, it is evident that the impending and gradually progressing change may proceed to a certain point of development, when it will be possible for one man to arise to gather up the many slight threads which will he everywhere discernible, and weave them into a mighty cord, to bind therewith mankind in an indissoluble union to their Father in heaven; thus fulfilling, in his person, all the predictions of the prophets and the ardent aspirations of all good men of every land and time for the glorious redemption of mankind from the thralldom of misrule and false belief. The only thing unreasonable to our progressists, in this view, is the personality, the centring of the agency from a multitude of missionaries in a single mighty individual, whom we hope to be destined to finish the great work, just as Moses finished, by one potent effort, the gradual work of emancipating his brothers, for which they had been ripening from the very hour that they entered Egypt.

These progressists cannot surely imagine, if they desire to hold the, least communion with Judaism, that our religion is not ultimately to triumph over all <<586>>others, and thereby produce the greatest possible amount of blessings to all men. But they tell us not how this change is to be brought about. Through Israel, as it is, they certainly do not look forward to see it accomplished; for our present nation observes ceremonies, Sabbaths, festivals, circumcision, and refuses to mingle with other families by means of the destructive progress of amalgamation through intermarriages; and consequently, as such, it cannot draw those whom it repudiates, in a measure, to follow in its footsteps and to embrace its ideas. Or, do they imagine, that we shall relax gradually, by degrees however slow, of our separatism and grow more and more similar to the other nations? Shall we yield the Sabbath this year? a century hence, circumcision? and, in another century, amalgamate, by freely intermarrying with all sons of men? And when is the precise time to drop this or that ordinance? this or that law? this or that observance? Our questions may appear silly, perhaps; but they are, for all this, not readily answered; and it is only by putting the matter plainly before a common-sense man, that he begins to see the absurdity of some fine-spun theory.

And it is to the sound, unbiassed understanding that we wish to address ourself in our advocacy of Judaism in its purity; the every-day Israelite has no time for deep research, nor has he perhaps the capacity to follow up the ramifications of a very ingenious argument; and yet he is as much interested in the right understanding of his faith as the learned controversialist who has the leisure and capacity to search into worm-eaten tomes for the exhumation of a single half-forgotten legend or allegory imperfectly understood, even on the day that it was propounded.

Now we ask of such a one to unravel for us the enigma how we are to draw nations to us upon the principle of simple progression and a constant changing and reforming of our observances and ideas? Will such a picture of vacillation enlighten mankind of their being in error? or rather, will it not exhibit us as weak in faith and uncertain, and therefore not to be imitated, in our practices? For imagine, by way of illustration, that a proselyte would desire to be instructed by us preparatory to his admission to the Synagogue, will any one have a correct know<<587>>ledge of what of the Scriptures he is to declare to the inquirer as abolished, or obsolete, or fallen into disuse? where is the standard, the warrant for such a selection and pruning?

We could multiply queries without number; but it is needless for us to argue the question of the admissibility of introducing changes at pleasure into our religion, till the advocates of this proceeding have exhibited to us some of the arguments by which they would sustain it; we think we have proved enough that a gradual change of our system to attract the gentiles is a thing not to be thought of if we take the Scriptures for our guide, and upon any other basis we are evidently not authorized to proceed. Still we are all agreed in one thing, both the progressists and those termed stationary, that our nation is destined to be the means of the greatest and most momentous revolution in life and opinions which the world has ever witnessed since it first was called into being; and hence it is perfectly legitimate to venture on propounding a theory by which this is to be accomplished.

By the by, we do not stand alone in maintaining that both Christianity and Mahommedanism are mere preparations for a brighter development of a knowledge of God, as they are confessedly, even in their grossest state, an immense step in advance to the highest conception of pagan philosophers, because they are, as we have again to repeat, emanations from the pure stem which is found in Judaism. Maimonides already stated as much in the conclusion of his Yad Hachasakah, which, from its remarkably striking effect, we may give perhaps hereafter in a future number of our magazine. The constant attrition of opinions, then, let us assume, aided by the more and more extensive diffusion of biblical works, will undermine the errors which mankind indulge in respecting God and his attributes. To our view, the progress may be imperceptible; but this does not prove that it does not take place; and if we compare the state of theology, as we may term the opinions the world entertains of its Author, which is now prevailing, with what it was even five hundred years ago, we must acknowledge that a great step in advance has been made. If Maimonides could observe in catholic Christianity a pre-dawning of the reign of the Messiah, what could he have said, had he <<588>>lived to see the Bible carried like a flood over land and sea by those who rose up since his time to bid defiance to and endeavoured to overthrow the power of the Church of Rome?

Let us be understood, we do not place any more confidence in the good-will towards Israel in the most refined Unitarian, than in the most bigoted Romanist; for both alike are unfriendly to the permanence of Judaism, and would destroy it, root and branch, without truth or mercy if they had the power; and we are not illiberal in so saying. But it is equally certain that the strides made in advance would have astonished the great teacher whom Cordova claims as one of her children, had he seen the gigantic efforts by the various Bible Societies to diffuse the word of God in its purity, so far as they understand it; for even the errors of their translations are owing more to their anxiety to preach what they believe the truth than to any settled design to falsify what the Lord has taught. For though at times appearances are on the other side, it is not to be supposed that all who are concerned in this great work are urged by hypocrisy or the love of power, however many of their colleagues may be steeped to the eyes in such iniquity. But even the errors of the various translators are attracting the attention of many honest men, especially as their peculiar views are in a manner attacked by the variety of readings and the assumed sense of terms which, when correctly given according to the true meaning of the original Hebrew, bear no such exposition as is attempted to be given to them; consequently there is an evident tendency towards the diffusion of truth, and this will extend constantly, until it has arrayed a very large and most influential portion of mankind among its defenders.

But it may be assumed on the other side that whilst truth and correct knowledge are gaining many converts, perhaps drawing entire nations to their standard, other portions of the human family will as naturally array themselves against their farther diffusion and whilst one portion, therefore, will adopt Judaism either wholly or in part, and become friends and protectors of the Hebrews, the other will to a surety adhere more firmly to their inherited absurdities, and hate and oppress the Israelites in their dominions, and make bloody wars against those who have espoused <<589>>the other side.

It may be also that these contests may endure many years; and that in the mean time a large portion of Israelites, invited by the newly revived commerce of Palestine, or warned by the unmistakable signs of the times, may flock again to their ancient inheritance to re-occupy it, under the protection of or in alliance with some friendly power, say the United States of America, for instance. Now suppose that these new colonists assume rapidly a high rank among the nations of the earth, owing to their inherent tact and industry and the unrivalled position of Canaan as the market of the earth, placed as it is on that natural highway of nations, midway between the fertile Hindoostan and China on the east, and the populous teeming Europe on the west: what is more likely than that they should excite the envy of the Colossus of the North who in his desire for universal dominion may find a stumbling-block in the sturdy and unyielding race dwelling between the Mediterranean and the Jordan and south-east of that river to the Red Sea?

Perhaps the natural hatred of the Christians towards the followers of Mahomed, the latter of whom as believers in the unity of God, and becoming in process of time more highly civilized and equal thereby to the Europeans in scientific education and warlike prowess, may attract to themselves the alliance and friendship of the new Palestinian Jewish commonwealth, may produce a national contest between the crescent and the cross; and thus an exterminating and desolating war may be waged between the nations to the east of the Mediterranean and those to the west of it, who may perhaps also in the meanwhile have snatched the sceptre from the feeble hands of the successors of the Osmans who now rule in Constantinople.

Whether now the onslaught is first made on the Jews or their allies, it is not to be expected but that they must be involved in the struggle which will be enkindled between the czar and his numerous allies and subjected states, all of whom may sigh under the unbearable burden of the Muscovitish iron rule, whilst their progressive enlightenment has already fitted them to become anxious for the adoption of the kingdom of God, and those who must for their self-preservation and the upholding of their religion sacrifice all, or at least hazard all, to oppose themselves to the <<590>> “butcher from the north,” who comes like a sweeping avalanche over fair fields and flourishing cities. Suppose now that Palestine is the frontier land, and thus the barrier between civil liberty and religious freedom on one side, and grinding oppression and mental slavery on the other: what is there wonderful in this hypothesis that among the peaceful inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had assembled, say three generations before this period, to rebuild the waste cities of their ancient land and to cultivate again its desolate fields, there should suddenly arise a master mind, a man with an iron frame, with an endurance like Moses, a bravery like the Maccabean Judah, with a generalship equalling that of Joab, to arouse his fellow-countrymen to a sense of their ancient courage, and exhort and stimulate them not to yield to the demands of Russian arrogance or to permit a march through the land of Israel in order to reach the shores of the Euphrates, to be true to those who are their best friends?

Now, suppose that the legions of the Christian powers should press onward to the slaughter, what will prevent more battles to be fought on the plains of Jezreel? more naval engagements in the ports of Akko and Jaffa? why shall not Kishon’s stream again flow red with the blood of the slain, and the valley of Rephaim be choked with the dead? And then assume that this chief whom we have imagined as leading forth his countrymen, perhaps unconscious of his own power, acting as he may do under the guidance of God, unknown though this be to himself, is descended from the tribes of Joseph, why may he not be known thereafter as Messiah (the anointed or chief), the son of Joseph? This term would not then denote the redeemer promised in the Bible, but a man, who, as the forerunner of that more favoured chieftain, is to prepare the way for the coming of the glorious era of universal peace, by a previous defeat of the embodiment of bigotry and kingcraft, of that sovereign who vainly arrogates to himself the title of the centre of state and church power.

If it be now the will of God, that on the soil of Palestine the great battle of human disenthralment shall be fought—that on its sacred fields tyranny shall breathe its last gasp—that it is reserved for a descendant of Jacob’s best-beloved <<591>>son to fall covered with glory, whilst the day of universal freedom dawns on earth:—what is there, we ask, unreasonable in this? what contrary to history? what incompatible with divine mercy? “Through hardships to the stars,” per aspera ad astra, is a well-known motto; it is proved correct by the experience of India no less than nations; and however we may cavil at the fact that no blessing is without its equipoise of tribulation, it is so in the providence of God, ordered no doubt, that we should always value the good we enjoy when reviewing the struggles we had to undergo to arrive at the desired result. And, if it be glory enough for any human being not to have left the earth till he has impressed indelibly his name and his deeds on the pages of history, what greater blessing can befall a man than to be the last martyr to the war of passions, the last whose blood is to be spilled in the defence of right against might, the last to perish in the overthrow of the evil of tyranny, and to seal with his precious blood the triumph of liberty and truth, and to live long enough to feel that the work is at length completed for which he was called and that he is only taken away to open the path and to leave the road clear for one to be whose forerunner is more than mortal can deserve, for that prophet of God who is to take up the thread of history where war and carriage have left it, and where wisdom, and knowledge, and a mighty spirit, and unwavering devotion are to continue to cause to flourish that tree of life which has been abundantly fattened and invigorated by the blood of those who fell whilst valiantly defending the roots, which from the beginning had been deeply and imperishably planted in the soil? Well may we say, that such a mission is great, is glorious, and only second to the other which is to spread the rule of peace over all nations.

And, if it be destined that we are to have such a forerunner-chieftain such an anointed warrior, who is to be the instrument in the hand of God for the overthrowing of the rule of wickedness, we need not be ashamed to say, that we deem it not incompatible with the wisdom of God, who always works his will through human agency, and moulds the results of the vilest and wildest passions to redound at length to his glory and the happiness of all his creatures.

Much merriment has been expressed by some, at the opinion of the Rabbis, that the Bible foreshadows a dying and a triumphant Messiah, the first of whom they call “the son of Joseph,” and the second, “the son of David;” but if we take a calm view into the distant future, as it is slowly unveiling itself before us day by day, does it not impress us with the conviction, that the pictures which we have drawn of the coming struggles for freedom are scarcely problematical. Politicians even apprehend that such a war will sooner or later devastate the world, when liberty on one side, and tyranny on the other, will draw the sword and throw away the scabbard, and when no yielding will take place, but one or the other is to succumb entirely and for ever. The dim shadow floats before many eyes; yet no one can foretell precisely the situation of the expected battlefield; nor prefigurate with any degree of probability who the contestants are to be.

If now we assume, that tyranny is to be headed by the darkest sect, the Greek church, of all which claim the Nazarene as their founder, and its political head as the chief of that sect, and that liberty is again to seek refuge under the banner of those who have always laboured and suffered in her sacred cause, and that the land which has again and again been made drunk with the blood of the noblest and bravest and best and wisest of our race, and where before this the empire of the world was entrusted to the arbitrament of the sword, shall be the the­atre where the dreadful yet glorious spectacle is to be exhibited in its fearfulness of carnage and in the triumph and the success of the good cause: there is, we say it boldly, nothing more strange in all this than history has exhibited to us before; nothing more surprising than the crusades, which erst enlisted all Europe in their mad expeditions, with this sole difference, that the combat- ants will be new, and the struggle for something great, not the shadow of a substance, which when gained was of no value, and could even not be retained.

Is it, therefore, not strange, that those who profess to be teachers in Israel have not taken the trouble to inform themselves whether or not the ideas of their predecessors, the Rabbis, are likely to be something more than the mere fancies of mad theorists? of ignorant deceivers, who, <<593>>themselves unacquainted with history and nature, were but too glad to fasten a yoke of superstition upon the necks of their equally ignorant followers? Truly, men ought to hesitate before they so pronounce their judgment upon heroes for truth and faith, who had nothing to gain but everything to lose, by their advocating a dangerous and persecuted creed, and who could only draw on themselves the sword of persecution, or hope, at best, to escape by exile, or within the narrow limits of a prison-cell, for the boldness of the avowal of their belief.

Time was when all their sayings, both the plain and allegorical, were received by the multitude as matters of faith. This was wrong; for they never meant their parables to be taken for anything else than they are; yet equally foolish will it be now, were we to discard all they have advanced, though it be in accordance with reason and in consonance with the Scriptures.

The first we have amply discussed, at least to the extent our plan of treating the question has permitted us; and as regards the other, we would refer our readers to the thirty-eighth and ninth chapters of Ezekiel, and the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth of Zechariah, in all of which great tribulations are predicted as impending over Palestine, to be followed by the triumph of truth and the glorification of the name of the Lord, inasmuch as He is then to be acknowledged as the sole sovereign of the other. We might as well mention here that the words of Zech. xii. 10, “and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son,” are referred by the Rabbins to the universal mourning which is to follow on the death of the “son of Joseph,” who is to fall in the battles which are foretold in the passages in question, so that superadded to the hopeful fulfilment of his mission, he will have the satisfaction to know that he will not pass away without deep appreciation of his services and merits for the holy cause, which will have been brought to its full ripeness through his exertions in its behalf. That the prophets referred to both speak of actual wars, and not of theoretical contests of opinions, requires no argument on our part, as the words are too evident to he mistaken; and truly, we cannot think of any probable solution of the prophecy by an accomplishment in a <<594>>method essentially differing from the one we have sketched, and we hesitate not in avowing our belief in its reasonableness, notwithstanding we may be exposed hereby to the ridicule of those who think nothing which they have not themselves originated; and we leave it to the candid inquirer, whether or not we have shown that our ancient teachers were not so void understanding as they have been misrepresented by their enemies, both strangers to the blood of Israel and those descended from our own race.

And now, reader, we take leave of you, with our subject yet incomplete, and we part the more unwilling because we know not whether our long friendly intercourse can be renewed after this month; but whatever may be the fate which awaits us, we trust that you will feel some regret, should we be compelled to bid you now Farewell.