|Vol. I, No. 11
Shebat 5604, February 1844
St. Thomas, 4th of December, 1843.
Rev. Mr. Leeser,
Dear Sir—When I wrote you my letter of the 10th of August last, it was by no means my intention, either to make my views public,* or to take any position. I merely wished to give you a sketch of the situation of my congregation; and my remarks concerning the Talmud were only made to justify my rejection of the new prayer book adopted by the members of the Temple in London.
Yet it has pleased Mr. Henry Goldsmith to state, that "the position I have assumed demanded refutation." Granted, however, that I assumed a position; but did Mr. G. make good his refutation? What did he prove? He only said "that the traditional laws are most unquestionably divine." But where are his proofs? He says, "In Aboth." A beautiful proof, indeed! He quotes the Talmud to prove that the Talmud is divine! Can he prove it from Scripture, from Josephus, or from those Jews, who, long before the second Temple, scattered over China, Tartary, and Hindoostan, knew and know nothing either of a Talmud or of traditional laws?** He certainly cannot.
Mr. G., it seems, cannot understand how a law can be authority without being divine. Mr. G., indeed, should have, pondered better upon my communication, before he took up the pen to refute it. Where did I speak of rabbinical laws? I said authority, not laws; For I deny to the Talmud and to all the Rabbis in the world, the right of making religious laws. We, the children of Israel, have but one law, even the law of the One God, given to us by the hands of the "faithful in his house," and to which not one iota may be added. If I understand my own words, I said that "the Talmud contains the true interpretation of Scripture, and is our best guide for understanding the law correctly." And this is the only authority which I ascribe to the Talmud.
But God forbid that any Jews should commit rebellion against the God of our fathers, adding human laws, to the divine, pure, and perfect code, destined to be at a future period the code of all mankind. What I have said I now repeat, viz., we could not understand Scripture well, without the illustrations of the Talmud; and I add, that the Talmud is a book full of beauty and wisdom. But should it therefore be divine, or we be obliged to adhere blindly to all such doctrines, (and some of them are very bad and unscriptural,) as have flowed from the brains of the Rabbis themselves? With every pious Jew, I love to dwell upon the glory of my ancestors; and whilst in Holy Writ I see the spiritual superiority of Israel, I also admire in the Talmud and other rabbinical writings the great wisdom and philosophy that have flourished amongst us. But there is a wide difference between the book of revelation and the productions of wise and learned men. The latter are the fruits of skill and labour, worthy of imitation, of praise. But there we must stop: no reverence may be given to them. The former is the word of the living God. There are no arguments, no rules of logic. There it is God that speaketh; and who shall withstand? Let us admire the Talmud; let us ponder over its contents; let us teach it to our children; and let its wisdom produce such men as a Maimonides, a Mendelssohn, and other such luminaries in Israel. But never, never let us call it divine. By doing so we turn heretics; for the only book divine is that of Moses and the Prophets. That is the code, the law of Israel; our wisdom, our life, our salvation: and faithful to God's command, let us turn from it neither to the right nor to the left.
I will not enlarge upon the subject by refuting the few and insignificant proofs which Mr. Goldsmith has brought forward in behalf of the divinity of the Talmud, and will only remark, that I never expected a refutation from him; but I will not say any thing to wound his feelings; on the contrary, I wish to encourage him to defend the divinity, not of the Talmud, but of Moses and the Prophets. I know that he is blessed with talents, which, well used, may secure a lasting benefit to himself and to the congregation wherein he lives. Nay, more, I would rejoice could I see him played in the office of minister, which now, alas! with a few exceptions, is in America filled by inefficient men, who, though being mere Hazanim, and even not entirely fit for that station either, yet dare to call themselves ministers.
As to you, my dear Mr. Leeser, I respect both you and your congregation, and well may they rejoice in possessing you; but though I entertain such high opinions of you, yet, my dear friend, you must not think that I shall alter my views regarding the Talmud only because you utterly disapprove them. That Scripture is divine we both believe. Nay, I am sure we both would rather die, than deny God's law or his Unity. But for the Talmud I would not die; nay, not for all the writings of the Rabbis. And if you, my dear sir, have opinions different to mine, why, prove that I am in the wrong. But you will make your enemies say (and you have many, for you are good, and learned) that you believe yourself of too great importance, when you take upon yourself to approve or disapprove with a single fiat, the opinions of those who at least know as much as you do.
As I sincerely pardon your candour (your own request) in utterly disapproving my views, I hope you will reciprocally pardon my candid expressions. And hoping that the God of our fathers will soon reunite us in our blessed Palestine, under the sway of our own King Messiah, I most respectfully remain yours,
B. C. Carillon.
Note.—In stating, in our remarks upon Mr. Carillon's first letter to us, that we utterly disapproved of his views, we merely meant thereby to advise our readers that we allowed Mr. C. the right to address them, without being responsible for all he said, not to assume any undue superiority which we do not possess; we did not enter into any argument at the time, because we knew well enough that others much better fitted for the task would be ready to defend rabbinical authority with arguments sufficiently weighty for all practical purposes. We believe in the existence of a tradition, and moreover, that it is preserved in the Talmudic writings; this, however, does not say, that all things written or said by Rabbins is of divine authority; and if we err not, the Talmud nowhere claims this. In the mean time, we present to our readers the views of one truly learned in these matters, and ask for him that respect which his learning and piety demand.—Ed. Oc.
Baltimore, 18th December, 1843.
Rev. I. Leeser,
Respected friend—You know how much I am interested in every development of our religion, and how much I should wish to restore the genuine light of Talmudic authority; but the little acquaintance I have with the English language is the only reason why I cannot defend my opinions before the community. But having seen a part of the subject discussed in two late numbers of the Occident, by the Rev. Mr. Carillon and Mr. Henry Goldsmith, I am induced to break my silence, and to speak on the matter as well as I can in a language new and foreign to me. Neither of the two learned gentlemen has taken notice of the preface of Maimonides to the Mishnah, where he illustrates this subject in plain terms. He says, "that the Talmud must be divided in five parts:
"First. Laws and explanations of laws which have been transmitted from Moses with reference to Scriptural passages; all such are unquestionably divine.
"Second. Oral laws without Scriptural reference, which we callהלכה למשה מסיני which are also divine.
"Third. Laws deduced by explanations from the Scriptures in accordance with out Scriptural logic י״ג מדות שהתורה נדרשת בהן; all such are not immediately divine, and we find, therefore, that many such questions are debated in the Talmud, and the decision was obtained through the vote of the majority.
"Fourth. Institutions and ordinances גזירות of Prophets and Rabbis, intended to act as a hedge around the vineyard of the Lord, כדי לעשות סייג לתורה, these are from their very nature not divine; and
"Fifth. Customs, תקונים ומנהגים; but many of these customs are doubtlessly transmitted from Moses himself. (See Berachot, fol. 48.; Megillah, fol. 4."
I believe that these illustrations of Maimonides are the only true defence against the invaders of Talmudic authority. Such passages as מדרשים and הגדות (allegorical comments upon Holy Writ and legends) are not points of law, and have nothing to do with this question; but the learned men in Israel know very well that in the הגדות (legends) are contained treasured of wisdom, of which the unbeliever cannot form a proper estimate.
Should you find that this crude essay is deserving of publicity, and think it worthy a place in the Occident, it is at your service; and you will find me always prepared to defend our religion as far as my want of acquaintance with the language of the country will permit me. I am very respectfully yours,