Vol. I, No. 4
Delivered Before The Society For The Instruction Of Jewish Youth, In Charleston, S. C., On The Anniversary Of The Society, February, 1842. By N. L. [Nathaniel Levin?]
IT has been frequently and truly said, that the influence of woman upon society is one of the most powerful and efficient causes of its progress in refinement and civilization. In every age and nation in which she has been permitted to occupy the position allotted to her by nature, reason and religion, she has exerted a power of an almost unlimited force and extent, and this with the, most happy consequences. Delicate in her constitution, mild and beneficent in her disposition, warm in her affections, and lovely in all her actions, she has ever been (where her worth was properly appreciated) the guardian and the ornament of the social compact. Her domestic virtues confer on home all its comforts and allurements; her presence in society humanizes law and imparts a more lofty honour and a more refined state of morals to the civil relations; her connection with our country adds strength to its institutions, and her graceful and softening manners give order and beauty to its political fabric. In countries where her true charms are unknown, and where her sphere of action is circumscribed within the narrow circle of household labours, or the more degrading limits of unintellectual pleasures, man rises but little above the level of animal organization, and despotism and injustice mark the operations of government. There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as that community of friendship and interchange of good offices which bind mankind together without her interposition. What woman is, man will for ever be; for man cannot be other than depressed, where woman is not exalted. Patriotism would be little more than a blind devotion to the soil but for her presence in society; and the devotion displayed at the family shrine, would be scarcely more than idolatry, if she did not preside at the altar and mould the sacrificial rites into the forms of holy religion. Wisely and bountifully has the supreme Creator fashioned the female heart in all the richness of its faith and affections; wisely did He ordain that she should be a companion to man; and bountifully has He supplied her with every requisite for a companionship, both attractive and agreeable. Man, naturally hardy in constitution, and rugged and boisterous in temper, turns to her from native impulse, to seek relict from his conflicts and his own oppressive strength; and finds not only the repose he covets, but a refining tenderness, a cheering confidence, and a consoling faith, which awaken the noble emotions of his soul, and excite him to the generous and lofty pursuits of patriotism and philanthropy. She makes him forget that he is an individual, by teaching him to love; and by surrounding him with the enchantments of home, she fixes him in his sphere in society, and invests him with the reciprocally agreeable relationships, immunities and duties of husband, father, friend, and citizen.
The influence of woman has ever been celebrated in song, marked by deeds of chivalry, and acknowledged so fully and so often, that it would be in vain now to attempt to impress it more thoroughly upon the public mind. All admit that her influence is great in the accomplishment of good, and while they make the admission, they must freely own, too, that it is irresistible; for come in what shape she may, whether as mother, sister, wife or friend, she ever meets a sincere welcome from the feeling heart, and as she never approaches to encourage but with a smile, nor to move our mercy but with a tear, she invariably wins us to her cause, as we would not, if we could, repulse her.
In this enlightened age and country she deservedly ranks among the highest. On an equality with man in this happy land; she shows herself worthy of her station by emulating him in every good enterprise in which she can properly embark, and by taking a prominent, though modest part, in his moral reformation and intellectual improvement. Indeed, so accustomed has the American citizen become to the cooperation of woman, in undertakings which affect the community in its social aspect; that he seldom ventures far in his labours, whether they be of a moral, religious, or charitable character, without first obtaining. her sanction, or at least her advice. This is alike creditable to her and to him. It proves that her power and influence depend not so much upon the beauty of a perishable outward form as the possession of intrinsic excellence; and it also shows that while he can, and does, admire the graces of her person, he is not insensible to her higher endowments of mind and heart.
The Jewish female, enjoying all the blessings and privileges that emanate from a free and republican government, does not wait to be led into schemes of benevolence; she does not merely accompany man in the promulgation of useful principles, or the performance of popular charities. Like an angel of light she points the way herself, and is often among the foremost in missions of mercy. I might easily enumerate many instances in proof of this; but shall content myself with merely referring to the institution of this society, the anniversary of which we have assembled to honour. It is exclusively the work of woman's hand. Her benevolence prompted its foundation; her labour, patience and devotion, have raised the superstructure to what it now is. Not our faithful ancestors restoring the temple of God, surrounded by enemies, with arms by their side, whilst progressing with their allotted labour, were engaged in a more hallowed task than you are now, beloved friends; for ye are upholding the temple of the Jewish mind, and giving perpetuity to that faith which threw the majesty of Heaven from the harp of David, and which wrapped Isaiah's hallowed soul in fire. This institution is one of those which, without making any pretensions to notoriety, is calculated to produce results of the utmost importance to us and to the community at large. In a country like ours, depending for its stability upon the intelligence and virtue of the people, it becomes our duty to educate our children so that they may fully understand their civil rights, and at the same time teach them to cling to that, which we can prove to have been before all human charters, the "first born" of the rights of man, the indefeasible inheritance of every genuine worshipper of the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. Over the internal operations of the Jewish mind a dominion is reserved which it belongs not to man to assume. There the arm of flesh has no power; thither the fiat of sovereignty carries with it no terrors, and the formalities of law recoil from the mission on which tyranny would array them. "Secure within her winding citadel" the intellect holds her sway, and not even the united powers of earth can shake, for one instant, that "sceptre" from "the sons of Judah."
The chief object of your institution is to disseminate such principles and knowledge among those for whose advantage it was formed, as will afford them the best guides in their future connection in this world, and place them in that bright path which finally pleads to the throne of the one, omniscient, eternal God. You, its founders, knew how much depended upon the culture of the tender mind; you knew that early impressions are the last to fade from the memory; you knew that the character, the permanency and the happiness of the state are formed and influenced chiefly by the manner in which its children are educated; and you felt that your power and position required you to unite in the noble task of superintending the development of that mind, of forming those impressions, and of supplying that education to the full extent and compass of your ability. The purity of your motives must be apparent, even to the casual observer, while the wisdom of your design is manifesting itself daily. Already has abundant evidence of the usefulness of your institution been given, and, by the blessing of Providence and the aid of the good, its founders will soon see their brightest anticipations realized, their hopes crowned with success, and the harvest of their labours gathered up in mental wealth and moral worth.
Such objects are in true accordance with the character, the influence, and the power of woman. Men seldom attempt such works, although they frequently claim, and receive a share of the honours which belong to them. In many respects they possess a larger degree of universal influence and collective strength, and are, from circumstances, her superiors in knowledge and the reasoning faculties; but they lack her patience under difficulties, her devotion under opposition, her unwavering constancy of purpose under all circumstances; and they but partially know the great secret, which she possesses intuitively, of exercising power and influence with the certainty of success. Let us now take a brief view of some of the important results of your institution. In a very short time the youth embraced in its organization will become ripe in the maturity of years, and must embark in the business of active life for and by themselves. They will then be called upon to exercise their faculties in a twofold character, they must exhibit themselves in the aspect of religious and moral agents.
Upon you, my dear young friends, as the peculiar children of an omnipotent and bountiful Parent, the duty will devolve of practising his laws in that true spirit of Jewish gratitude and of Jewish faith, which since the days of Abraham the faithful has not been weakened. As members of one great family, bound together by holy ties of relationship, as the children of the same great and good Father, your moral obligations will call upon you to reorder those services of love, and kindness, and good-will towards each other, which have been ordained by that Father, and which are necessary to your own peace, safety and happiness. Upon the exercise of these two duties your whole fate will depend. If you perform them well, your lives will be full of joy, and your deaths full of promise. But if you wander from the true path, your feet will be entangled with snares, and wounded by thorns; discord and discontent will follow you in your wanderings, and when your wide and weary journey shall be closed, you must fall unhonoured, like the leaves of autumn swept off by the rude blasts of the tempest. Contentment, the respect of the world, pure happiness, and the smiles of Heaven, are the rewards only of good works—they are the blessings which must be won before they can be enjoyed.
For your especial benefit was this society founded. Much of its success, then, will depend upon your conduct; and as you are the most nearly, if not the most dearly interested in its prosperity, it. is necessary that you should be reminded of the duties that are required of you in carrying on its operations. One of the first of these is, that you should give your whole attention to the lessons you are here taught. You must remember that the instructions you receive are intended for your eternal benefit, arid you should preserve them in your hearts as the surest guides to virtue and happiness. Your teachers are your friends, and you should reverence them for the kindness they show you in taking so much pains to improve your minds, and to prepare you to go abroad in the world, guarded against its sins and snares. You must remember, too, that your heavenly Father is constantly watching over you; that your least action and all your thoughts are open to his searching eye, and that He will protect you and bless you while you continue to obey his word, and frown upon you if you refuse or neglect to do so. You should not look upon the tasks allotted to you as labours, nor should you think that the rules laid down for your conduct are intended to prevent you from enjoying yourselves. Both are designed to increase your pleasures; and you will see and own this when you ask yourselves, "How could we be happy with nothing to do? with no religion, and with no regulation for our actions?" The angels obey and serve God, and are always busied in doing his commands. In this they take most delight; and will you give up the religion of your fathers, a religion that has stood the shock of four thousand years—a religion which your ancestors clung to amidst persecution and oppression, but which you may enjoy amidst peace and sunshine? Another duty which you should perform is that of kindness to each other. You cannot live alone, but must depend upon one another for happiness, comfort and consolation. Your own hearts reflect, like mirrors, the joy or the sorrow of those around you; your interest is their interest; your good their good; for you are all of the same great family, having the same nature, the same hopes, and should and must share each other's fortunes and afflictions. Still another duty, which you should take pleasure in performing, is that of diligence in study. Knowledge is better than silver or gold, for it will give you happiness which money cannot purchase; it will enrich your minds with treasures that will increase the more you seem to draw from them, and they will not only give you respectability in the world, but cause your way through life to be full of peace, contentment and prosperity. May you then keep the law and the commandments; for (in the words of King Solomon) "length of days, long life, and peace will it add to thee."
And you, my hearers of a more advanced age, will readily acknowledge that a religious feeling gives strength to moral ties and obligations, and is essential to the very existence of society. Without it there can be no faith in promises, no honour in compacts, no honesty in commerce, and no unity of interest in social intercourse. A community cannot long hold its elements together unless cemented by this sentiment; or if it could exist, it would present the appearance of a half-organized tribe gathered together without order or harmony, whose members, pursuing adverse interests, regard each other as rivals if not as enemies. There is no fellowship among men who feel not that they arc the offspring of the same beneficent and eternal Parent; nor can there be justice in their dealings, or humanity in their laws, while they possess no standard of religion by which to frame and regulate them. In our happy land there is no legal standard of faith; the thing is an absurdity in a country where all enjoy equal rights; for can any free people delegate to any sovereign the business of determining for them what religion they are to believe? Here, therefore, we are free to choose for ourselves, and thus of a free accord we still fondly cling to that faith in which our fathers lived and died.
To inculcate principles of pure religion, in agreement with this faith, is one of the chief purposes of this institution, the anniversary of which we have assembled to commemorate; and it designs to effect this purpose by imparting instruction to those within its charge, and by pointing out to them the advantage which they will unquestionably derive from a firm adherence to the precepts of our inspired lawgiver,—for by his laws they are taught to shape their course through this sin-worn world, and they are to them the only guide to that bright and beautiful "land of promise" which lies beyond the grave. In this view of the influence and objects of this institution I have blended the two great subjects of morality and religion, because they are essentially one and indivisible in point of principle, although they seem to have different aims. Morality embraces, it is true, when strictly taken, nothing more than our duty to each other. But how are its doctrines sanctified unless by religion? In its confined acceptation religion may also be deemed nothing more than our duty to God. But how can we better perform that duty, than by obedience to the ten commandments communicated to man amidst the thunders of Sinai, which embrace also love for those of our own species? If, however, they are to be separately considered, we must add another to the important purposes of this institution, and include the dissemination of correct principles of humanity among its happy influences.
There is yet another effect to be produced by its operations, which is connected with the former, but perhaps less prominent in its character. I allude to the intellectual elevation which such lessons as are here imparted give to those who receive them. It .has been well observed, "that every useful accession to the mind adds new strength to its power, and brings its possessor one step nearer to the source of all intelligence.'' The more we exercise our faculties, the more vigorous and active will they become; and the larger the demands made upon our capacity, the greater will be its capability to retain, digest, and apply the knowledge which may be brought within its grasp. This is a wise economy in nature, which is exhibited as well in our physical as in our mental construction. It is this remarkable property which makes the hand skilful and the intellect wise, and it is this more than any other attribute, short of the great principle of immortality which distinguishes man from the inferior animal creation. They, it is true, manifest something of the same quality; but man only possesses it in perfection. They may be improved to a slight degree; but they have no power of retaining this improvement, or of communicating it to others of their kind. Man, on the contrary, not only is enabled to preserve to himself the acquisitions he makes, but he gives them to his race, and they are treasured up as common property for the benefit of succeeding ages. His progress, therefore, is constantly upward and onward. Every step he advances gives him new strength and confidence; every field he explores unfolds to his view another, still more lovely in prospect; every addition he makes to his stock of knowledge excites his appetite for more; and he continues to advance from the rudiments of knowledge contained in his primer, and explained by his early governess, to the highest point of human intelligence, a knowledge of himself and his Creator, contained in the great Book of Life; and explained by nature herself. It must not be forgotten that while he becomes a wiser, he also becomes a better being. Every ray of light which breaks upon him serves to show him more closely his real interests and duties, and to prove to his understanding that true and substantial happiness is to be obtained only by serving his Father in heaven, and by extending, justice and charity to his brethren on earth. Thus, then, it will appear that the institution of which it is my business and pleasure to speak, is designed to accomplish three important objects: the religious, moral, and intellectual improvement of the interesting objects of its care.
These three objects embrace within themselves many other minor considerations, to which I have briefly and incidentally alluded, but of which before an audience of so much intelligence as this, I need not give the details, as their own intrinsic value will sufficiently recommend them to your notice. The immense good that must naturally follow the attainment of these ends, cannot fail to strike the view of every observer. The recipients of the instruction here afforded will, perhaps, feel the advantages the more sensibly, because the impressions made upon them will be immediate, strong, and lasting; but the effect produced through them upon society will be no less salutary and sterling. Besides, every individual, however humble, exercises some influence upon the social organization, and according as that influence may be good or evil, will society be the better or the worse from its exercise. Every occurrence in life, too, no matter how insignificant it may appear in itself, affects in a similar manner men and nations.
What can there be, then, in the whole philosophy of religion or morals, more essential to men than early religious education? By the lights of this they are prepared to wield their influence rightly in after life, and to protect themselves, in a great degree, from the shafts of adversity, and to mould the more fortunate accidents of time into the means of promoting human happiness, and of fulfilling the divine will and law. Such are the purposes, the designs and the influence of this benevolent and praiseworthy institution.
Having thus imperfectly noticed its character and objects, can it be necessary that I should make a formal appeal in behalf of such an enterprise? I trust not! I hope and believe that there is not an individual present who will not say to the wives and sisters, the mothers and daughters engaged in it, "Go on and prosper in the good work so auspiciously begun! Continue your efforts in the high and noble cause you have embarked in! Stay not, hesitate not in your holy mission; but advance in the path you have chosen; and may success crown your exertions, peace, happiness; and length of years be your reward here, and the smiles of an approving God your recompense hereafter!"
I trust that it will not be deemed officious to say a word or two to the parents of the young people connected with this school. Upon them an important duty devolves, the neglect or exercise of which may make or mar the fortunes of their children for ever. I have already observed, that early impressions are the last to fade from the memory; and that occurrences of the most trivial character apparently often affect the whole future destiny of an individual, as well as of a nation. Of this you must have been repeatedly assured in your experience of the world, and you will readily perceive, that it is so in obedience to the natural and inevitable law of cause and effect. Does it not behoove you, then, to see that the first impressions made upon the minds of your children should be of such a stamp as to render them less liable, than they would otherwise be, to the influence of the accidents which may befall them? It is your duty; and if I have formed a proper estimate of you, it will be your desire, and pleasure also, to instil correct and pure principles of religion and morality in the hearts of your offspring, and to sanction and enforce the precepts by your example. Your children instinctively look to you for the model of their own faith and deportment; and if that be imperfect or misshapen, you cannot hope that they will exhibit excellence, at least while they are taught to imitate your errors.
But I need not dwell upon this subject. You understand this duty, and only need to be reminded of it to renew your determination to discharge it fully, freely, and with satisfaction to yourselves, as well as with advantage to the cherished objects of it.
Before I conclude this hasty and undigested address, (which my late domestic affliction nearly disqualified me even from undertaking,) may I not be permitted to make a few remarks to my auditors generally, in reference to their interest in the success of this institution? That they, and indeed all of us, have a deep and abiding interest in its operations, is easily demonstrated, and will be readily admitted. We are members of one political compact, engaged in one common pursuit of happiness, constituted and organized in conformity with one inherent and eternal principle, bound together by one harmonious community of object and interest, with one language, one country, and one God. By this union of action and purpose we are merged, as it were, into one being, and the wants, the wishes, and the welfare of the individual are blended and identified with the wants, the wishes, and the welfare of the mass. We move on in the great journey of life as a people, a fraternity, not as fragments of a disjointed tribe; and all the progress we make, all the good we achieve, and all the evil we encounter or practise, are shared in common by all. If any injury or injustice be inflicted upon any one of us, the whole mass feels it; if anyone make a valuable discovery, or become wise and skilful, the advantage of his discovery, his wisdom and his skill is dispensed to all. The good and the evil which may be the lot of the humblest amongst us, is felt to a proportionate extent by the greatest, while the fortunes of the whole gladden or depress with still greater power its several parts. If, then, we are so intimately connected, will not the success of every undertaking of a general character contribute in some degree to the success of each individual, and are we not, therefore, in duty to ourselves, as well as in furtherance of the common object of our social organization, bound to lend our support to every such undertaking, and to add what we can to its promotion? I have already, I trust, proved that this institution will exercise an important influence upon society, through the impressions it will make upon the more immediate objects of its solicitude, and it is consequently only necessary that you should feel that you are members of that society, to observe and own that you have an interest in the progress of the school conducted by your own relatives, and a duty to perform in promoting its success and more extended usefulness.
After thus exhibiting the important objects and bearing of this excellent institution, it is needless for me to endeavour, by any other means, to win your countenance to its encouragement. It would indeed be paying a poor compliment to your judgment to make any formal appeal to you in its favour. You know its purport and its value, and your own perception of right will prompt you to give it the consideration and support to which it is entitled.
In concluding, I cannot deny myself the pleasure, nor should I forego the grateful duty of noticing in becoming terms the laudable efforts of one, who has long occupied an honourable and prominent position in the institution from which she is about to retire. I allude to its esteemed and efficient president [Miss Sally Lopez]. With an untiring devotion to the objects of the society, and a benevolent regard for those who claimed its cares, she has bestowed upon both a large share of her attention and time, and has contributed in an eminent degree to its progress and prosperity. From its origin to the present moment she has, in the true spirit of Jewish benevolence, laboured to place it in a favourable and advantageous position, and to extend its benign and happy influence. How far she has been successful in her exertions, the condition of the society, and the gratitude of many hearts made devout and joyous under her teachings will amply testify. In leaving this post, which she has so greatly adorned, she takes with her the most fervent wishes of a host of friends for her future prosperity; and if these, and the smiles of an approving Heaven, can make her life a pleasant one, then will her journeyings be bright as the honoured name she bears—a name that is identified with all that is pure and delicate in Jewish love, and all that is high and generous in Jewish devotion. N. L.