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Catechism For Jewish Children

By Isaac Leeser.


Catechism For Jewish Children by Isaac Leeser

The present is one of the series of books for the promotion of religious knowledge among the Israelites whose vernacular is the English language, which I announced in my first publication about nine years ago. Although as yet the sale of my works has been scarcely adequate to defray the expenses, I have never given up the pleasing idea of supplying at convenient intervals, according to the best of my limited abilities, the lamentable deficiency of devotional works which is on all sides admitted to exist among us. I would, however, do injustice to my feelings were I to let the present opportunity pass without acknowledging the kindness which has been extended to my various efforts, even in distant parts, by persons entirely unknown to me. Such indulgence to the many defects discoverable in my writings, whilst it encourages me to persevere amidst many difficulties which need not be made public, claims my sincere thanks, and demands of me greater care and unremitting labour for the future, to prove that I have not been altogether unworthy of the kindness extended to me. But to Him above, who has not withheld from me His light and His manifold blessings, my heartfelt gratitude is justly due in a high degree, for having permitted me to accomplish what I have done, without much human assistance.

It is but justice to acknowledge that, although this little book appears as an original, it is, nevertheless, founded upon a German work, by Dr. Eduard Kley, of Hamburg, which appeared at Berlin in 1814, under the title of "Catechismus Der Mosaischen Religion." For several years past there have appeared in Germany a number of Catechisms, all more or less valuable; and, in thinking over the best plan for the present undertaking, it struck me that Dr. Kley's was the most suitable, even in preference to the one I originally entertained of giving it the form of a conversation on religion, which, however, I have occasionally introduced, as will appear from inspection. I retained the division of subjects, nearly all the questions, and occasionally an answer, of Dr. Kley. Still, this book is no translation; because, in the first place, it contains fully double the quantity of the doctor's book; and, secondly, not to mention that several important points had been omitted or too obscurely given by him, he had imparted a peculiar colouring to his ideas, which unfortunately have become rather too famous, since his connexion with a society of schismatics, to whom he has borne the relation of pastor for many years past. Nevertheless, I would not detract the least from the merits of this learned and eloquent man, despite of his errors; and I gladly admit that my labour was much abridged by having to excellent a guide as he has furnished, which I preferred following, than be too anxious for entire originality, by which this Catechism could have gained nothing in value.

It has been my endeavour to make myself understood by children of from eight to fourteen years old; yet I fear that I may have failed, oftener than I should do, of rendering the subject-matter sufficiently clear. I trust, however, that teachers and parents will not put the book into the hands of their pupils and children, without giving at least a cursory explanation, which, it is confidently hoped, will be enough to assist the learner.

Occasionally a subject has been introduced more than once, which originated in the idea that it is better to have all the points connected together exhibited at one view; for children are but too apt to forget what they have learned some weeks back. so likewise were several Bible-texts quoted more than once, when it was thought that the same text would be the best applicable to explain or elucidate different subjects. This quoting twice may in a few instances have arisen from inadvertence, which is very likely to occur in a work so difficult to compose, on account of the youth of the persons for whose instruction it is intended; but generally it was done designedly, for the reason given. I trust that some allowance will be made, if I have not succeeded in imparting all the interest, variety, and polish such a work might have received by others better acquainted than I can pretend to be with the operations of the youthful mind; but the reader may be assured of one thing, that not a passage or a word even was allowed to pass without much care and anxious reflection: it was my endeavour to teach the truth, and the truth only.

Believing that, as the scholar advances in a work, the matter may with advantage be a little more elaborately given, in order to require always a sufficient degree of application and study, I have not hesitated to use language a little more complicated and rather longer paragraphs in the latter than in the first chapters. Still, if thought too difficult, the chapters on the Moral Law, the Messiah, and the Life after Death, and other portions, may be advantageously deferred till a second reading, as they are not absolutely necessary to an understanding of the whole subject.

With the confident hope that this unpretending work may have its useful effects, to awaken in the young a spirit of devotion and piety, I commit it to the care of the Great Teacher, who bestowed on us his law as a guide to our souls unto the haven of that happiness which He has destines for those who fear His name and lay hold of His covenant, to obey His will all the days that they live on the earth.

PHILADELPHIA, Iyar 23rd, 5599, May 7th, 1839.


The favourable reception which this manual met with on its first appearance induced me to issue, in 5605, a second edition, differing scarcely from the first; for, though some thought at that time that the subject had been treated in too difficult a manner for young children, wherefore it ought to have been simplified, I declined doing this, after mature reflection, since it was not my design to compose a book for mere beginners, but to furnish a guide for those who had advanced already beyond the first elements. This course was deemed the more proper because there had appeared in the meanwhile several good school-books, calculated to serve as stepping-stones to a treatise which requires some little thought and application on the part of the scholar. Besides this, much depends on the teacher how the subject is presented to the learner; and any one with little experience in training youth will readily be able to explain here and there a few passages which at first sight may appear difficult.

About eleven years have now elapsed since this book was reissued; and, as it has by degrees found its way into many schools, I now present it in a manner more permanent than before, --the title slightly changed, and with such verbal corrections here and there as a careful revision has pointed out to be needed. The second edition had indeed not been exhausted by the public demand; but, a calamitous conflagration having destroyed the remainder of the same, a new supply had to be provided, to answer any demand which may be made for it; and it is to be hoped that the Catechism in its new form may be the means of an extended usefulness for many years to come. and, in this connection, I cannot avoid stating that it is a gratifying phenomenon that, notwithstanding the indifference which many express towards religion, there is a deep-seated feeling that something ought and must be done to enlighten the youthful mind. Therefore, if any event in my life can afford me some degree of satisfaction, it is the consciousness of having added one contribution, by this unpretending work, to satisfy the demand for information in the ways of the law of God. And it will be to me a far greater gratification than any public applause, could I be convinced that the thoughts offered in this guide to the young Israelites have led a few as sincere worshippers to the house of our God, and fortified them with those holy feelings of devotion and in maturer years, so as to be faithful amidst temptations and obedient even in difficulties which try man's constancy.

With these few words the Catechism is again offered to the indulgent kindness of the American and British Israelites, in the full hope that it may be of service to those for whose edification it was composed.


Nissan 26th, 5616. May 1st, 1856.

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