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Death of Chief Rabbi Hirschel

As the subject may be interesting to many of our readers, natives of England, and out of respect to the venerable deceased whose name was as familiar to all as though he had been a resident among us, we extract the account of the death and funeral of the late Dr. Hirschel from the thirty-third number of the Voice of Jacob.

It is our melancholy duty to announce an event, not only of the most painful interest to our congregations throughout Great Britain and its dependencies, but involving considerations of importance to every Jew in connexion with them.

On Monday, (27th of Cheshvan [5603]) 31st of October [1842] ult., died at the age of nearly eighty-one years, after a protracted illness, Rabbi Solomon Hirschel, Chief Rabbi of the Jews (after the German ritual), in London, the British provinces, and dependencies.

Since the unfortunate accident which fractured Dr. Hirschel's thigh, rather more than two years since, he has been confined to his house; that is for the greater portion of that time. His physical energies suffered much from the want of his usual exercise, and from the reaction of those overwhelming cares which had of late troubled his spirit. Though sufferings were heavy upon him (he had long laboured under a complicated hernia,) until this accident, he had been accustomed personally to discharge all the active duties of his sacred office; and it was not otherwise, until the evening of last Rosh-Hashanah, when, in his anxiety to celebrate the festival somewhat after his ancient custom, he left his bed-room, and on returning to it, he fell against the bedĀ­posts, and fractured his collar-bone, (as detailed in an earlier number.) Since this new catastrophe, he had been unable to sit up at all, and was becoming every day weaker, though sight and hearing were still comparatively unimpaired. These faculties gave way in their turn; and the writer of this notice, though well known to the venerable Rabbi, was not, on visiting him a fortnight previous to his dissolution, recognized without assistance. On the Sabbath preceding his death, his consciousness was evidently impaired, and on the following day he was sinking fast, though sensible up to the evening: then it was, that the imminence of the case became apparent, and it was even doubtful whether he would survive the night. On the following (Monday) morning, his bedside was surrounded by the Dayanim, his executors, and many others, chiefly those accustomed for years to assemble in his house for Prayer, at early morning and at afternoon services. Through life, his presence had been accessible to all; and none were excluded from witnessing that awfully solemn closing scene. High and low, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, were there; and none but what felt that, which will serve as a solemn memento through years to come, but neither tongue nor pen may essay to communicate it. The prolonged strain died upon the ear שמע ישראל ה׳ אלהינו ה׳ אחד Hear! Oh Israel, the Eternal our God is an Eternal Unity! and the sainted spirit was with its Maker. One who had lived to God had reached his hallowed home; and we, who had borne him company to the brink of eternity; were left to improve our opportunities, and to follow him to the same tribunal, but a little later. Who that repeated the sentence prescribed: "The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord," but did not respond with his heart, "Oh that my soul might depart the death of the righteous, that my latter end might be like unto his!"

The afflicting intelligence soon spread far and wide; all congregational business was postponed, and the various public bodies immediately prepared for the funeral. As it was known that the will of the deceased contained an expression of his wishes as to the manner of that solemnity, it was referred to for instructions. The following gentlemen were found nominated as executors: Sir Moses Montefore, F. R. S., Abraham Levy, Louis Cohen, Henry Moses, and Moses Solomon Keyser, Esqrs., and they entered at once upon their duties.

The funeral took place on Wednesday the 22d inst. The morning was ushered in by every Jew in the metropolis, with those demonstrations of respect becoming so solemn an occasion; all places of business were closed, and the blinds in every private house were drawn down. The day being יום כפור קטן, (the eve of the new moon,) it was kept as a fast by a larger number of persons than are accustomed to the observance. The טהרה had been performed at a very early hour by the Dayanim, the executors, and a select number of the immediate friends of the deceased. At half past nine a.m., we entered the Synagogue in Duke's Place, and found its appearance most solemn and imposing. The windows were veiled with black cloth, and the Synagogue was illuminated with a large number of wax tapers. The curtain of the ark and the coverings of the reading desk were of black cloth; all the carpets were likewise covered with black. The pew of the departed Rabbi was similarly fitted up, his reading desk and cushion being covered with black velvet; above them was suspended a memorial lamp. We are given to understand that the pew and the lamp will remain thus for a whole twelvemonth. Before ten o'clock, this extensive Synagogue was crowded in every part; the ladies' galleries were appropriated to members of the various congregations; no females being present. There was scarcely a Jew of any standing in London who was not there, many came from the country on purpose to attend the ceremony, and several invalids were conveyed to the Synagogue in coaches; all appeared in deep mourning, most persons wearing crape, which seems still to be very general. Precisely at ten o'clock, the coffin, which was of plain deal, was borne into the Synagogue on the shoulders of the Dayanim and executors; the principal reader, the Rev. Mr. Asher, (who was assisted by the readers of all the Synagogues in London) exclaimingזה השער לה׳ צדיקים יבאו בו; "This is the gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter." During the time that the body was being conveyed to the top of the Synagogue, the fifteenth psalm was chaunted. The coffin was deposited immediately in front of the ark, and the choir assisted in chaunting the following psalms: 17, 23, 42, 49, and 84. The body was then again raised and the following verses were read, in Hebrew : "And it came to pass when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee." "For He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling." "And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace: thou shalt be buried in a good old age. When thou liest down thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shall lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not: and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward." Amen.

When the Bearers drew near the door, the Readers said,

"Behold his bed, which is Solomon's; threescore valiant men are about it; of the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night."

The Congregation responded,--

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." "The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore." " But go thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."  Amen.

The whole service was most impressively performed; the clear and thrilling enunciation of the glowing words of the requiem had a powerful effect; numbers sobbed audibly, and the Rev. Mr. Asher himself was frequently obliged to pause. We thought it had been usual on such an occasion to sound the שופר (cornet), but we perceived that it was not done.

On leaving the Synagogue a procession was formed, headed by the boys of the various charity schools of our community, who had previously been marshalled into order in the square in front of the Synagogue. These were preceded by two mounted inspectors, and two rows of policemen, six abreast.

After the schools followed the hearse, (as is usual with Jews, without ornament,) this was succeeded by the choristers, and a long line of between eighty and ninety plain glass coaches,* containing, the Readers and other clerical functionaries, the members of the board of deputies, the wardens and officers of the various Synagogues, and as many of the members as chose to ride. The procession was closed by an immense concourse of persons on foot. A large body of police had been sent to preserve order, but their interference was scarcely necessary, owing to the respectful demeanour of the thousands of people who densely crowded the streets through which the procession passed, and who all appeared to sympathize with the loss susĀ­tained by their Jewish brethren. We have previously said that every Jewish house was closed ; it was also gratifying to see a similar mark of respect paid by a large number of non-Israelite tradesmen on the route. The bells of every church, which the cortege passed, were tolled--a spontaneous mark of sympathy on the part of the respective authorities.

* The will of the deceased had interdicted mourning coaches, private carriages, funeral orations, specially appointed mourning, complimentary epitaph, or any other species of pomp.

It was nearly one o'clock before the body reached the burial ground (belonging to the great Synagogue) in Mile End Road, and it was unnecessarily long after that, before the coaches had all set down. The כהנים (descendants of Aaron) alighted at their special gate, in order that, as priests, they might not be defiled by contact with a corpse: placards on the gates of the Synagogue had precluded their being present at the ceremony there. When the body had been deposited on the bier, in the building appointed for the purpose,הצור תמים פעלו  was recited by Rabbi Aaron; wax tapers being held round the coffin by six boys from the Talmud Torah School. Seven circuits were then performed round the bier, by all present exercising ministerial functions, appropriate verses and the ninety-first Psalm being repeated during each circuit. The body was borne to the grave by the Dayanim, by Sir Moses Montefiore and the other executors, assisted by Baron Rothschild, Sir I. L. Goldsmid, Dennis Samuel, David Salomons, Louis Lucas, and A. L. Moses, Esqrs., with several others; Mr. Eiger (married to a grand-daughter of the deceased) officiating as chief mourner.

The spacious burial-ground was crowded to excess; some compute the number of Jews, in and about the place, at above four thousand. When the coffin was lowered into the grave, and the hollow sound reverberated on the ear, there were few whose feelings were not powerfully moved, few who did not fervently give utterance to the usual ejaculation, על מקומו יבאו בשלום "May he come unto his place in peace." In the grave were deposited four decayed rolls of the lawספרים פסולים and several Packets of old prayer-books.* Every one present, who had known the lamented deceased, hastened, ere he left the ground to perform the last melancholy office of throwing earth upon the coffin.

* It is known that our people are not accustomed to destroy any thing on which the sacred name of God has been inscribed; when it becomes unfit for use, it is reserved for such an occasion as the present.

Thus closed this eventful day, a saddening memento of which will long endure in every heart alive to the interests of the community. It was a subject of general remark, that the decorum which prevailed throughout was, in a great measure, due to the admirable arrangements made by the officers of the Great Synagogue, and more particularly to those of the two principals of the חברה קדישה