Vol. I, No. 1
Nissan 5603 April 1843
by Isaac Leeser
It is a time-honored custom, that when an Editor appears for the first time before the public, he is to state something of the course he means to pursue, and of the subjects he intends laying before his readers. In our case, this is hardly necessary, since the name of "Jewish Advocate" amply shadows forth what we mean to devote our pages to the spread of whatever can advance the cause of our religion, and of promoting the true interest of that people which has made this religion its profession ever since the days of the great lawgiver, through whom it was handed down to the nation descended from the stock of Abraham. But this general view may, perhaps, not be sufficiently detailed for many whom we would gladly number among our readers; and we will therefore briefly state our object in assuming the editorship of this new periodical, and of the course it is our firm determination to pursue.
With regard to our object, we state candidly, that the plan of a religious periodical did not originate with ourself, nor did me approve of it when it was first suggested to us. We thought then, and still think, that newspaper knowledge is at best but superficial; for, to make a paper or magazine really interesting to the general public, (and for such a one it is our duty to labor in our present vocation,) much matter must be admitted which is more pleasing in its nature than instructive, and the variety, which is to be constantly furnished, will naturally prevent long and continuous articles being given, although they might be extremely rich in information, even such as the people stand most in need of. We dreaded, moreover, that despite of the greatest care which we could bestow, articles might at times gain admission which would be, to say the least, not very beneficial, if not injurious, in their tendency. Add to this a well-founded distrust in our own powers of conducting so laborious a work in a manner satisfactory to ourself (not to mention others), and befitting the grave object on which it has to treat; and there will be sufficient reason why we hesitated so long offering our services in a department where it was alleged by many intelligent persons that our labors might be rendered useful with the blessing of G-d.
But by degrees it became manifest to us, that the age is more inclined to receive information in the detached manner in which journals treat the same, than by the slow process of deep research, which formerly was considered the road to knowledge; and that, though the stream be in this manner more shallow than when it flowed between confined banks, still it is diffused over a much wider space, and penetrates in little rills, branching off from the parent river, into many a sequestered nook where formerly the waters of science did not and could not reach. Formerly there were a few great thinkers, whilst the many were in a measure uninformed; but in our days, the towering giants, who rise above the whole people in the might of their intellect, like the first king of Israel did in stature above the nation that he was called upon to govern, are few, whilst the multitude has a taste for knowledge, and a vast many have made such progress in science, or useful information, that the charge of general ignorance with one or more branches of knowledge cannot be urged against them.
We believe it is owing to this fact that so many journals in the various branches of human knowledge have of late years been started, and what is more, have won their way to the favor of the public; and no one subject has been more discussed in this manner than that of the moral sciences. We might cite many instances to prove this, but we will merely confine ourself to those relating to our own religion; and of these, besides those unknown to us, and those which have been suspended, there appear now in Germany the Universal Jewish Gazette, the Israelite of the Nineteenth Century, and the Orient; in France, the Israelitish Archives of France, and in England, the Voice of Jacob. We could not shut our eyes to the consideration that daily there was more demand for a similar work in this country; and in fact various attempts have been privately made to carry such a project into effect.
But it may be said with truth, that as yet no feasible plan, nor a competent editor was offered to satisfy us that it was safe to let such a magazine start into existence. For, should such a work fall into improper hands, it might be conducted on principles which the Jewish community ought not to approve of, and disseminate doctrines which would be injurious to our rising generation. This reason, then, at length induced us to announce our plan, in the full persuasion, that, having been so often kindly received by our friends in various publications, much more so at times than we had any idea of, we should be sure of a favorable consideration for our well-intended labors, if even they should fall short of that point of excellence which deserves to be rewarded by the approbation of a discerning public. Nevertheless, it is with unfeigned diffidence that we now proceed to execute our plan; knowing, as we do, the limited extent of our education, and the fact that the greater part of our life has been devoted to active business or official pursuits, and been interrupted by several painful attacks of sickness, which have rendered self-improvement by close study altogether impossible. Moreover, had our days glided along hitherto ever so happily, and had no interruption been offered to our march in improvement, we should nevertheless not be able, without being guilty of unpardonable presumption, to measure ourself with those men of exalted talents, laborious research, and wonderful acquirements, who have shed so brilliant a luster on the Jewish name in every part of Germany, France, Holland, and the Russian and Austrian dominions. We therefore will be compelled to follow our contemporaries in the old world at a respectful distance, and make use of their labors, whenever accessible to us, for our own enlightenment and the instruction of our readers; who may rest assured, that though far behind a Plessner, a Geiger, a Salomon, a Furst, a Hirsch, a Munk, and a host of others in intellect and acquirement, we will endeavor to prove that we are not their inferior in an honest zeal, and an ardent love for our good cause; and that these, with unwearied attention and close labor, shall be devoted to the advancement and entertainment of those who may look for the same in the pages of the Occident.
This then is our object; we wish to be useful in a department where attainment of success is very difficult and where failure would carry with it no disgrace, any farther than having been too bold in undertaking that for which our forces were insufficient. But we trust, that we shall be kindly supported by many valuable contributors and correspondents, who, it is to be hoped, will offer their assistance as soon as they see that we are fairly embarked in our laborious undertaking.
With regard to the course we intend to pursue we would gladly leave our work to speak for itself; we dislike exceedingly the promises which every candidate for public favor always makes, and leaves them not rarely unaccomplished. But in order to satisfy those chiefly who are personally unacquainted with us, we will briefly state that we shall endeavor to give circulation to every thing which can be interesting to the Jewish inhabitants in the western hemisphere; we shall therefore not so much give original articles as those which contain something instructive, even if we should have to lay some old works under construction.
We would certainly prefer filling our pages with articles especially written for us; but if these should not be at hand in sufficient quantities, or not come up to the standard of excellence which we desire, we shall not hesitate resorting to publications which are not generally accessible, or furnish translations from Hebrew, French, and German works. But as we stated that it is our object to give currency to articles which elucidate our peculiar opinions, we shall endeavor to give every month one sermon by one of the modern Jewish preachers on some topic of general interest; and we claim the indulgence of our readers if for the first two or three numbers we should have to insert some of our own productions, till we be favored with the contributions of our friends in other places, which we trust will not be delayed beyond the time specified.--We also intend to give reviews of such new books as concern our people. We regret exceedingly that for the present we have been able to procure but few indeed of the modern publications; but we hope that in a very short time we shall obtain all the new works as they appear; at least we will omit no pains, and if need be no expense, to make ourself be able to speak to our readers understandingly of what is going forward in the lands beyond the Atlantic, and to spread before them, with strict impartiality, whatever can interest them.
We shall not object to controversial articles, if written temperately and candidly; but on no account can our pages become the vehicle for violent denunciation or unfounded aspersions. We ourself will endeavor to state nothing but the truth; and we earnestly entreat all those who may favor us with their literary assistance never to send us any thing which may require contradiction or amendment in a future number. We know that absolute freedom from error is unattainable; but proper care will go a great way to render it less frequent than would otherwise be the case. We do not mean that articles intended for us should be written tamely, without life or spirit' far from it; we like zeal; but it must be tempered with discretion; and in carrying on a controversy, when such a warfare is necessary, a prudent deference to the opinion of an adversary, a cautious avoiding of harsh epithets, and above all, a manly candor, will much more readily insure the victory, or at least the respect of opponents, than hasty expressions, crude denunciation, and vehement philippics, though the provocation be ever so great.
We purpose to give accounts of public religious meetings of sufficient general interest whenever attainable; and we offer our pages to congregations and societies as a medium of giving publicity to their intended assemblings and of their transaction, at a moderate compensation; this latter course is considered necessary to avoid any undue claims upon the space we mean to devote to novelties in which all our readers are alike interested. We also request the respective presidents and secretaries of our American congregations especially to send us a condensed account of their first establishment, and of any thing of interest connected with them. Such a regular series would serve as the best history of the American Jews, who have always been hitherto in too small numbers, and have happily been always unmolested, to fill any large space in the history of the country independently of its other inhabitants.
Although we profess a strict impartiality, we have opinions of our own which we shall not hesitate to avow with becoming firmness upon every proper occasion. We flatter ourself that our public course is sufficiently well known not to require any detailed statement of what we think. We shall leave every one to form his own judgment of our sentiments from what we shall offer to the public; and we trust that we shall be judged leniently by all our readers where they may not be able to agree with us altogether, or where they may widely differ from us. We mean to accord the same charity to others; and we ask no more in return.
It is barely necessary to add that no communication can be inserted, except under rare circumstances, where the author's name is not known to us. We mean to be responsible for whatever we insert; hence our friends will see the necessity of the rule that they must be known to us at least. If requested, the authorship of any article shall be kept a secret; but we would as a rule prefer that our correspondents would not preserve too strictly their incognito, even if at first assumed. We hope to make our periodical the vehicle of bringing merit before the public; and we therefore expect that a useless secrecy will not be too pertinaciously persevered in.
With these remarks we give our first number to the public, with the firm assurance, that we shall omit no opportunity of satisfying their demand upon our labors and defending the religion which we profess. We know and feel there is something noble both in our race and in our creed; and it shall not be our fault if the first be misjudged and the other misunderstood. We throw ourself then upon the kindness of our friends and the friends of Israel, with the request that, if they are pleased with this specimen, they will not only honor us with their own support, but induce their neighbors to do likewise. Every subscriber will be of advantage; and we believe that the price which we demand is sufficiently low for nearly all the friends of our religion in America. We regret being compelled to say this much even on the pecuniary part of our undertaking, but it will strike every one as unavoidable; and our readers may be assured that we shall refer to this subject as rarely and then as briefly as possible.
In conclusion we will state that it is owing to a strict sense of duty that we have embarked in this difficult enterprise; and that it depends altogether upon our religious community to render our task a pleasant one. On one thing we are resolved, to do the best we can, in the full reliance upon that aid from above which is never withheld from those who honestly fulfill their duty. More than that no man can do, and, therefore, this alone can our friends expect from the EDITOR.