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


Jewish Children Under Gentile Teachers.

by Isaac Leeser

We are not illiberal, and far from entertaining sectarian feelings; but we cannot shut our eyes to the dangerous tendency of placing Jewish children under the exclusive care of gentile teachers, be the persuasion of these what it may. We speak especially of young children, whose character is not yet formed, and whose plastic mind is but too apt to receive readily any impression which a skilful hand may feel inclined to stamp upon it. Let us examine for a moment what the cause is of the immense variety of sentiments which we trace in every part of the world, among all classes of persons. We require not the learning of the scholar, nor the investigation of the philosopher, to feel convinced, that it is education only which can make one people venerate a crowned head, whom another nation would regard, with patriotic horror, as the greatest affliction which a country could suffer; equally so can it be education only which causes one people to worship a multitude of gods, another to follow the philosophy of Confucius, another the Koran of Mahomed, and another to obey implicitly the dictates of an old man, who wields the power of the Roman pontificate. It is barely possible that many persons thus educated will ever forsake their once formed opinions; they have imbibed them from their infancy, and they consequently perceive no absurdity in positions which to most others bear the impress of error and unreasonableness. Whatever defects there may have been in the inception of such views, are carefully polished away by gradual impression upon the youthful intellect, which is not capable of tracing and detecting the errors of positions and the incongruities or dogmas which are presented piecemeal, and one by one for its acceptance. Time progresses, and there is no leisure to learn any thing else; new pursuits and new cares make personal investigation onerous, and the difficulty of obtaining access to contrary opinions renders comparison almost impossible. It is, therefore, owing to the first and early impressions that the thoughts and feelings of after years are as we find them, and it shows but little knowledge of human nature to be over much astonished at the variety of sentiments on political and religious subjects every where to be met with; since the greater part of mankind has not received from the Creator the power of instituting and conducting investigations independently of extraneous influences; and the few who might be able to throw off the shackles of early education and youthful training, are disinclined to do so from various causes and influences, of which they themselves are scarcely conscious.

There is no necessity in the present instance to dilate upon the subject at greater length, our intention being merely to lay down some broad principles which are too self-evident to be disputed. In short, the ideas which most men possess are not of their own invention, but those which they have made their own by the slow but sure progress of daily acquisition through instruction, friendly intercourse, and the equally efficacious method of observation. It is the province of very few indeed to tear themselves loose from the habits of thought of the masses around them, and to establish a new train of ideas, and to acquire this as their field of thinking. The Christian community unity is well aware of this fact; and as the popular religion is not likely to be acquired by mere inheritance, every thing is resorted to impress it early upon the tender mind, before other impressions have taken root therein. Children are drawn to the churches by the display of magnificence and the enchanting strain of music. Books are written admirably calculated for the calibre of their understanding; the engraver lends enchantment to the fairy page; and the binder must contribute his share in making the exterior pleasing to the eye. Stories connected with their intended religion are graphically presented to them in a variety of shapes, and pictures presenting the images of the great ones among their churches, the likenesses of their so-called called saints, together with the ceremonies, and not rarely the IDEAS of their worship, constantly tend to fix the lessons which are taught at home and at school so strongly in the memory and the imagination, that it at length appears as though no other facts and ideas could be founded in truth. The Christian, therefore, when he arrives at the age of maturity, may probably be not as able to give a satisfactory reason for his belief, as the educated Jew can; but this is nothing when he is viewed as an adherent of his church; if a Protestant, he will take his sacrament with fear and reverence without troubling his mind with the probable origin of this simple Jewish ordinance, which we at every festival behold at our tables and in our Synagogues; if a Catholic, he will resort to his chapel to hear mass read, and at particular periods, make confessions to his priest, in obedience to the mandates of his faith, without inquiring whether there is any necessity for these acts of worship and duty; and all denominations with but one exception, quietly submit to keep a day of rest not ordained in the Bible, simply because they have been taught that the Sabbath has been changed from the seventh to the first day.

But how stands the case with Jews? Have their children the same gradual introduction to their religion? or do not rather their private education and their public instruction teach very different lessons? At home they are taught, and justly so, to believe in but one, eternal, and immortal Deity, and it is impressed on their minds (we speak of religious families) that this is the truth which our fathers received from God himself. But they are dismissed from the domestic fireside to a public or a private school which is essentially Christian; they hear prayers recited in which the name of a mediator is invoked; they hear a book read as an authority equal if not superior to the received word of God; and you wonder that the impressions they have received at home are weakened daily? that their religious convictions become confused and uncertain? that infidelity at times takes the place of confiding belief amidst the conflict which the contrariety of sentiments produces in the human soul?—Besides all this, we are in a great error if we suppose that Christian teachers do not endeavour to influence actively the sentiments of their Jewish pupils; there are some, at least, who take especial pains to warp the mind and to implant the peculiar tenets of Christianity clandestinely; instead of attending to the development of the intellect, by a classical and scientific course of instruction. Instances are innumerable; but we will be content for the present with extracting the following from Dr. Philippson's paper of the 13th of May last:

"A. Jewish boy, fourteen years old, the child of wealthy, honest, and religious parents, had been sent for several years past to the Catholic pastor of their place of residence, Gesecke, the district of Paderborn, to receive instruction in the languages. The parents being themselves unable to examine him in what he learned, were much pleased with his supposed progress, and believed nothing else than that their son was well versed in Latin and French. How greatly did they, therefore, feel disappointed, when they were lately informed that the above pastor had instructed their son principally in the tenets of the Catholic religion, in place of giving him instruction in the languages, and had so corrupted him, that he denied the true state of things to his parents. These, in their perplexity, sent their child to their relatives in Werl, about sixteen miles from Gesecke, to place him at a distance from the source of his error. The pastor at Gesecke, in the meantime, gave the boy, privately, a letter of recommendation­ to the Catholic pastor at Werl, who managed to continue the affair in secret, in accordance with his well-known inquisitorial zeal, inasmuch as he abducted the boy from the custody of the relatives, and baptized him on the 15th inst., (probably April,) despite of all the remonstrances of his parents. These, though deeply grieved, did not seek the best advice, and they kept the cause of their sorrow a secret, from an ill-grounded aversion of publicity, till the open interference of the Werler pastor, which was a few days prior to the baptizing. It was then that they applied to the chief (Jewish) President, Hellwitz, at Soest, who took a very active part in the matter. He in vain sought the assistance of the police; he obtained, nevertheless, from the ecclesiastical authority, the Bishop of Paderborn, an edict to suspend the baptism till farther orders. The edict arrived at Werl by express just as the pastor had repaired to the church, where it was delivered to him; he, however, left it unopened till the service of the church was over, and the baptism had been accomplished."

The remainder of the article, which relates to the report that an investigation is to take place concerning the stealing of the above child against the two pastors, and remarks as to local matters of the congregation at Gesecke, we omit; as it was merely our intention of showing by an example the danger of leaving Jewish pupils under the charge of men or women who have the means and disposition to corrupt our children. We may probably be met with the assertion, that in America, England, and the West Indies, such a transaction could not have taken place. Perhaps not; but let us not be told that the influences are less pernicious in countries where the Jews are free, than they are in Germany, where they have yet to suffer much injustice without a chance of redress. The minds of several have been poisoned—we speak from actual knowledge—and several instances of apostasy nave come to light, all owing to the same fruitful cause of evil. Let us be believed as asserting only the truth, that even in this country and England the rage for proselyte-making is as rife as ever, and means which a Jew would shrink from employing are resorted to effect the spread of Christianity: we allude to the secret instruction, private conversation, and show of arguments to very young persons, who arc not sufficiently acquainted with their religion to answer all the objections started. If even open apostasy does not follow, there is unfortunately a divided heart, not very favourable to the growth of healthful religion.

What is the remedy? Diffusion of religious knowledge in the full sense of the words; it would be best to establish Jewish elementary schools in every district where there are sufficient children to occupy the time of a teacher, who should be both religiously and scientifically qualified to instruct his charges in the way they ought to walk, and in the things it behooves them to know. And where this is impracticable, as we fear is the case in many places, the parents watch closely over the progress of their children, and the course of conduct pursued towards them by their Christian teachers; they must not suffer, on any account, that the young Israelites should be instructed in matters of religion belonging to another creed, and, if possible, require that they be allowed to be absent when prayers are recited in which a mediator is invoked. Farther, the teachers should on no account be permitted to speak disrespectfully of Jews and their faith; since they are not engaged for the purpose of teaching doctrinal matters, but the principles of a scientific education.

We break off in the midst of our subject, merely wishing to cause parents and guardians well on the magnitude of the responsibility they incur by placing Jewish children under gentile teachers without preparing them sufficiently by a thorough religious education to guard themselves against the insidious or open attacks of the enemies of our blessed faith.