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The Necessity of Union.

To The Editor of the Occident:—

Having noticed in your excellent periodical, repeated calls on the leading members and authorities of our communities on this continent, with the view of rousing them from their lethargy in spiritual affairs, to the necessity of establishing an ecclesiastical synod for remedying existing evils, we being literally כצאן בלי רעה “like sheep without a shepherd:” may I be permitted to add to your irrefutable arguments on that subject, what I have had ocular demonstration of, during my late visits to most of the Kehilloth in the United States? It is almost impossible to enumerate the difficulties with which the office of a Jewish minister is surrounded, especially if he be one who will not deign to play the hypocrite, or to act contrary to his inward conviction, but is determined not to swerve from the path of truth. Indifferentism, infidelity, and the ignorance of superstition are equally arrayed against him. To stimulate the first and convince the second, is not so difficult a task as to enlighten the third.

The exploded ideas which originated in the dark ages, and are falsely termed orthodoxy, are so many stumbling-blocks in his path. The least deviation from useless ceremonial observances which deaden the spirit of Synagogue worship and tediously prolong the service, is magnified into a daring innovation. On the most trivial points <<600>>of form, which would be “more honoured in the breach than the observance,” senseless charges are brought against him; and, what is still more ridiculous, by some who, whilst loudly proclaiming their staunch adherence to orthodoxy, are systematic violators of the holy Sabbath day, intermarry with the stranger, and are as much acquainted with the pages of the Bible as with Egyptian hieroglyphics. With the exception of a very few אחד בעיר ושנים במשפחה the Scriptures are, generally speaking, a sealed book. In fine, it is lamentable to notice the prostrate, lifeless state of Judaism under the sway of that species of orthodoxy which an Ibn Ezra and a Maimonides would have laughed to scorn, and which shackles the efforts of conscientious and intelligent men, who, instead of being permitted to lead the flocks, are constrained to follow their erratic and eccentric movements.

I do not hesitate in saying that, taking the Jewish ministers in America as a body, they are capable by their learning and acquirements of infusing life into “the dry bones,” were they allowed to do so. And I am astonished that questions should be propounded to the Rabbinical tribunal of Europe, when their solutions can as readily and faithfully be obtained here.

With regard to Judaism among such as call themselves Reformers, I have found, that all ceremonial laws, without exception, are considered either impracticable, or inconvenient, or unsuitable to the age. The laws which our forefathers have so rigidly adhered to these 3500 years are now thought to require a radical modification, i. e. one agreeable to their wishes. Even the Decalogue, for which alone they pretend to entertain a special reverence, they infringe by a profanation of the Sabbath. Its violation, alas! has become the rule; its observance, the exception, among all parties. The house of worship cannot consequently be expected to be visited on that day but by very few; and this is actually the case.

In one place, where there are a sufficient number of members to fill the Synagogue, the only attendants I found were the reader and the president, and such, I understood, is the case there every Sabbath. In another, with from 25 to 30 families, it is closed all the year except on Rosh-Hashanah and the Day of Atonement.

Shechitah and Bedikah, which were <<601>>ever considered by our fathers as most important, are scoffed at as being merely traditional, and too insignificant to bestow a thought upon. Even where there is a shochet, his services are not required. Leviticus vii. 25, 26, and 27, is held to be no longer binding, so also the law of forbidden food (Leviticus, xi. entire). The latter is philosophically explained away, as having been prohibited only in certain localities, and in bygone days! several places, though containing a great many Jewish families, there is no casher dinner to be got. Mezuzah Tsitseet, and Tephillin, originally instituted as external symbols, that we might by continually looking on them, “remember the commandments of the Lord and do them,” are likewise dispensed with; for, being able to read, they say they can remember the commandments without these signs; or rather, they do not see the utility of remembering laws which they have no desire to practise. In short, to assimilate themselves in all matters to non-Israelites is their grand idea, and they scruple not to question whether intermarriage with the latter is really unlawful. Such are the prevailing ideas which, from my own observation, have taken deep root among those not provided with ministers to expound the word of God, and also among those whose very minister has himself encouraged his congregation in its backsliding.

In a Kehillah, esteemed not many years ago as one of the chief in the Union, the late minister, once ultra orthodox, and a strenuous supporter and strict observer of the oral law, has changed to the opposite extreme. According to his creed, printed for the especial benefit of his followers, Israel has been walking in darkness until now; for the law, as his creed says, was not given to Moses by God, “but delivered to our fathers” by Moses. Yet he admits its divinity by calling it “the Divine Law in our possession.” But whence does he derive its divinity, unless he fully believes in its transmission from God Almighty? The daring infidelity of this alteration is only surpassed by its folly, sophistry, and want of logic. Labouring hard to propagate his erroneous doctrine, he has advocated the abolition of all ceremonial laws, and from his silence, when questioned on the subject of the abrogation of the Sabbath and circumcision, I am <<602>>at liberty to infer that the former, “the sign between God and Israel for ever,” and the latter, the everlasting covenantal-token between God and Abraham’s descendants, can also be held by him as no longer obligatory on the house of Israel.

Certain it is, that he thought proper, in relation to the Sabbath, to introduce in the prayers for that day ונתתו לגויי הארצות “Thou (God) hast given it (the Sabbath) to the gentiles,” instead of ולא נתתו “Thou hast not given it,”—a substitution entirely unwarranted,  and contrary to the letter and spirit of Scripture. There can be but one deduction from this substitution, viz.: the desire of changing the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath, to the more general one of the first day, in order to assimilate our observances to those of non-Israelites.

Who can deny that the influence which the ceremonial laws always did, and do still exercise on the Israelites was, and is, of the most important nature? No longer forming a body politic,— dispersed over the earth—though adopting the language and manners of the countries where they are citizens,—still do they preserve their nationality, and possess all the elements required to reconstruct it, in community of language, religion, legislation, and above all, of pure descent (by avoiding mixed marriages), in which respect they are altogether unrivalled by any other people that ever figured in the annals of history. Those of our members, therefore, who deride these ceremonial observances, and fancy it is enough to acknowledge the unity of God, should remember that such a belief does not especially characterize Judaism, since they must admit that the Mahommedans are as strictly unitarian as ourselves; and all the consequences resulting from an adherence to it are not less scrupulously regarded by them than by us. The law and the prophets must guide us; and all their teachings, whether ceremonial or moral, wherever they can be brought into practice, are as essential now to us, as imperative now on us, and should be held as sacred by us, as when they were first delivered by divine Wisdom for our improvement and sanctification.

Nothing but a convention of the learned and able ministers of the Synagogues throughout the Union, together with such members as are distinguished for their acquirements in Hebrew theo-<<603>>logy, can remedy the evils, which immovable orthodoxy on the one hand, and the frenzied rashness of reform on the other, are accumulating on our congregations. The longer it is delayed, the more disastrous will be the consequences; and the generation now growing up will either be totally lost to us, or have to bewail, in the desertion of our Synagogues, the apathy and backwardness manifested by its parents in forbearing to labour, when they had the opportunity and saw the necessity, in the sacred and holy cause of God and Israel.

I am,

Your obed’t serv’t,
S. NEWMAN. Cincinnati, Adar, 5611.

Note by the Editor.—We have a mournful satisfaction in laying the above communication before our readers, as confirming all we have ever advanced on the necessity of union among those who are called upon to minister in the sanctuary and those who have made the law of God their study. Mr. Newman does not overcharge his picture. Our own observation, during our journey South last spring, has convinced us, that religion is at a low ebb in many places and that a mighty effort is needed to lift up the perishing souls from the gulf of irreligion and indifference. To think that there are congregations, large enough to have all the offices of religion duly administered, in which a strict Israelite cannot find an ounce of meat to satisfy his hunger without violating his conscience? that in entire communities no sabbathic rest visits the houses of Israelites? that people are without instruction and without ministers, and hear and see nothing of Judaism from the year’s commencement to its ending, except what, we have been privileged to carry to them in our Magazine?—And what are the people to do for ministers? where are they to obtain them? We chiefly allude to American congregations, who cannot be instructed by immigrants from Germany and Poland, who form now the main body of Jewish divines in this country. It is sad to reflect, that there are few, too few by far, to supply the various offices now vacant; and the evil will increase, instead of diminishing, as congregations multiply, and as the present foreign population in various communities yields by degrees to native-born children, who necessarily will not be acquainted with the German language, or at least not familiar enough to listen to preaching in a dialect which is not <<604>>their native tongue, though it may be the vernacular of their progenitors.

Two things besides a union-meeting of ministers, are required, or rather, such a meeting should propose and carry out two measures, which alone can remedy the crying evil under which we groan. The one is, to educate English-speaking young men to become ministers; and the second, to procure for the ministry a respectable standing, which it never has yet enjoyed in this country. Look at the discreditable exhibition of advertising all over Europe and America for a man whose whole duty it is to be able to read prayers, and from whom no-learning, no high attainment, is required; and then to have the mortification to reflect that even such an one is not readily found. We ask, in mournful seriousness, those who profess to have some little zeal for our religion, Do you not see, that you are pursuing a destructive course, in not at once progressing with the work, and opening schools for the educating of many, to be fitted, whenever occasion requires, to enter into your service as your teachers and guides?

We have spoken on this subject before; but we cannot repeat it too often, nor can our readers reflect too seriously upon it. The first commencement of a theological seminary need not be made upon a large scale; in fact, children will have to be trained from their infancy in proper religious knowledge, and care must be taken that they become strict conformists to all the requirements of duty and practice which Judaism requires. This can be done, in the first instance, in elementary schools, of which each congregation in the large cities should have one; and it is afterwards from these primary nurseries, that the best minds should be selected and be educated in a high seminary in a complete course of study.

It is expected to make a commencement soon in Philadelphia, and well-founded hopes are entertained that the success may be such as to insure the continuance of the elementary school, which it is proposed to open forthwith. Our readers will perhaps recollect that, two years ago, a charter was obtained for a Hebrew Education Society from the legislature of Pennsylvania empowering the members to establish schools, and to erect, whenever the funds will allow it, a college, which has the privilege of conferring the usual learned degrees. Though now the commencement to be made will necessarily be but small, it rests with the parents and wealthy individuals to say, whether it shall not increase to be a flourishing institution, every way calculated to subserve the purpose to which we have referred. The various ministers, either singly or in a convention, should urge on their flocks to similar efforts, and to contribute towards endowing the society in this city, which is perhaps, <<605>>all things considered, the best situated for the purpose, in order that it may accomplish all the good hoped for. It is, indeed, to us surprising, that a universal agitation has not long since been commenced to urge the project forward with might and main; unless that a petty jealousy, as to the place where the high school should be established, has prevented a concert of action. But it is evident enough, that some one town must be selected, and we care not which it be, so only the good is accomplished. But as the Education Society has already a liberal charter, and it being doubtful whether such a one could be obtained elsewhere, it is evidently proper to support it in its endeavours until such time as it may have proved its being inadequate to the task it has assumed.

The second point to which we referred, the want of position which the ministers now in office suffer from, is one of much greater importance than you, worthy friend, may perhaps imagine. Do you think it a pleasant thing for a man of mind and education to be nothing but an obsequious servant to the president and trustees of a congregation, when these officers have not been selected for their superior learning or strict religious conformity? Do you not think it intolerable that such as these should be enabled by the power they hold to prevent the minister from addressing the people, except upon their permission previously obtained? That other duties are to performed only upon consent of the board, or president alone, and not otherwise?— We are sorry to confess that all our efforts to ameliorate the condition of the office of minister, in this city and elsewhere, have proved absolute failures; and we have, perhaps, been considered arrogant interfering in matters wherewith we have no rightful concern, obstinate, and what not else, for having dared to think that lay-tyranny over the ministers is fully as bad as clerical tyranny over the flocks.

Neither party should rule, but each portion should manage its proper department; the worship and sermons should be the business of the minister whilst the temporalities of the congregation belong properly and exclusively to the people; and that minister must understand his calling very imperfectly, who among us would attempt to influence elections or concern himself with monetary affairs, unless his advice be requested, or his superior wisdom invoked to settle a difficult point of controversy. It is indeed deplorable to witness the ministry so entirely dependent, so entirely bound hand and foot, as they are all over the country; and more deplorable still, that the individuals composing the order have so little spirit, or power rather, as not to offer any resistance. Our efforts, indeed, have not been seconded by any other person in office; on the con-<<606>>trary, by the quasi condemnation of our written words by those who ought to have been, to say the least, silent, if they could not afford, from family considerations and narrowness of means, to support us in our course, they have almost put the elevation of our ministry among the impossibilities, among the things that are not likely ever to be effected. For, why should the various communities pass new laws for the better regulation of their ecclesiastical affairs, if the author of the new ideas is universally condemned by those whom he intended to serve more than himself? and when others are only too over-anxious to accept of conditions which he thinks humiliating to himself and outraging the sacred character which he should support as the spiritual chief of a congregation? What does such haste on the part of claimants for office argue but that either the demands made by the other were unreasonable and unjust, or that they themselves lose sight of their own rights, dignity, propriety, and self-respect, or that they are inferior in character and qualification, and hence willing to accept office on less exacting terms? It requires, however,  no proof to make it clear to all, that if ministers act so, if they display so little self-respect, if they undervalue their own worth or literary attainments, they can never have any influence over the public mind; they can never reprove sinners; they can never lead in any useful measure; and what is more, they do not deserve it; and we are free to confess that, for our part, we could ever place the least confidence upon a man whom we might have to suspect that he sought the ministry as a means of support solely, and obtained the public vote only by unworthy cringing and submissive yielding to unjust demands for no better and holier motive than to secure his election.

It is true, too true, that very few are so situated as to defy public injustice; those who have once been in office are generally depending on their employment for their daily support; the salaries also are mostly entirely too inadequate for the maintenance of a family; consequently, when an office, where the pay is larger than theirs, is likely to be attained, men are naturally attracted by the bait, and they weigh little the circumstance that, in supplanting another, they also dig the grave of their own independence and usefulness, and this without taking into view the injunction which the Bible, according to Jewish interpretation, conveys against interfering with another's proper position. Much, therefore as we grieve to witness the unbecoming office-hunting which has of late been seen in various congregations, it is, at last, but frail human nature, which yields to temptations which it has not the courage to resist.

A convention, however, of all the ministers in the country, to <<607>>which those in England might safely join themselves, might perhaps effect a better understanding of what is actually needed towards increasing the numerical strength and the absolute importance of the order, and this without infringing in the least on the rights of the congregations. For one, we are opposed to clerical rule of every kind; the Jewish preacher Rabbi, or officiating minister, has no concern whatever with temporalities;  and thus no one, who values his sacred calling could desire to render his religious influence less by interfering in the affairs of his flock. But, at the same time, we hope that if not now, at least at a future day, the ministers in a body will resist the contract system, unless the specifications which these contracts con­tain are mentioned in the by-laws of respective congregations, for in the latter case the contract is merely an abstract of already existing laws which every honest man will of his own accord be ready and willing to abide by.

It would, however, be much better, if with the improvement of the personnel of the ministry and the more uniform and superior education of the claimants for clerical offices, there should be established, by a convention of lay-delegates of the more important congregations, uniform laws for the government of the ministry, so that all who enter upon it may be subjected to the same-regulations, and that when transferred to other places, as this would occasionally happen, they would not have to undergo an apprenticeship in the acquisition of a knowledge of their duties. Is it not evident, that by such simple improvements the ministry could be rendered much more respected and deserving of consideration, and thus tend to draw young men of good and well-known families to seek for no higher position than the Synagogue offers for them? and the disgrace attaching to American Israelites elites, that not a single native is now at the head of a congregation, would then be wiped away, we trust, never more to be brought forward again.

We will not make any personal reflections upon the position of various synagogue-officers in the country, although we know them nearly all in person or by reputation; but we are warranted to say, that with few exceptions they have little influence, and for that matter cannot expect it; and only an entire reform of the present system can render them as efficient as the Christian clergy of various denominations are. But it is folly to expect that the ministers alone can effect much by any conventions they may hold among themselves, unless they are heartily seconded by the people themselves; the head cannot labour without hands, as little as these can do it without the intellect. Let all those   who love their religion, no matter what profession and situation they may be of, agitate among their friends <<604>>this great idea of congregational, not synagogue, reform, and our word for it, that much good will result to all from the elevation of the ministry, by placing it upon the platform of law, and shielding it from the arbitrary interferences of ignorant and often malevolent laymen whilst this improvement will also tend to increase the personal strength of the ministry, and thus provide teachers of religion to numerous communities who are either entirely or inadequately provided, or have no desire now for instruction in their faith, since they do not even wish sermons, when they could have them by asking for them. We are not drawing upon our fancy, of this our readers may be assured and we have not stated a single fact for which we could not furnish the proof, if required. We say, therefore, let us have by all means a convention of ministers, to explain the position of Judaism to the people, and let these afterwards assemble in brotherly love, to second the proposals of their true friends, and thus promote their personal standing and secure their spiritual well-being.