Vol. I, No. 4
Delivered at the Jewish Synagogue,
Text— "I am an Hebrew, and I fear the Lord the God of heaven:"—Jonah, i. 9.
The above address of the reverend gentleman comes to us in one of the daily papers of New York, to which it was communicated doubtlessly to give it greater publicity than it could have received in our pages; and we thank Mr. Isaacs for the manly stand he has taken to oppose the foolish attempts at conversion which are now made by a simultaneous effort of several agents of the Conversion Society of New York in different parts of the Union. We fear not these agents on account of the number of converts they may be able to carry off, but we dread the poisoning influence which they may produce on the mind of our Christian fellow-citizens. The Jews, as such, seek no agitation; they live at peace with all the world; they desire not to increase their numbers by converts, and ask the same at the hands of others. We can use the weapons of defence an behalf of our holy faith which truth and the righteousness of our cause offer; and it has been the lot of the humble writer of these lines to be at times called out to stand forth for the fair fame of Israel; and he attributes it to the excellence of the system to which he professes himself that his labours have been so well received, and obtained the meed of approbation from the friends of justice and enlightened freedom of opinion. .
It is, therefore, pleasing to find that there is one who is an able ally in the same calling, and who knows how to improve the advantages which his station as the head of a numerous body of Israelites so happily confers on him. Had not our space been preoccupied when the discourse under review reached us, we should have transferred it entire to our pages; but we must now rest content with a mere synopsis, which we trust will not be unwelcome to our readers.
After stating that public teaching should aim at the improvement of the heart, and the dissemination of correct principles, Mr. Isaacs lays down three rules for his guidance: 1. To use all necessary precaution regarding the nature of the information to be conveyed. 2. To employ the best modes of conveying this knowledge; and 3. To observe the proper time when to speak. We pass over the two first points, and refer to the last, of which he asserts that the present is the proper time to speak out on the impossibility of converting us from our religion, by means of paid agents, who are to be sent throughout the country to collect money and clerical aid for this unhallowed object; and of the place where he was he maintains that the house of God is the proper one for all sons of Israel to unite with one accord and one voice, to exclaim, "we are Hebrews, and fear the God of heaven."
And then he continues:—
Beloved brethren: how delightful the reflection, how cogent the reasons of our self-congratulation, when we consider the wonderful manner how our law, whose 3155th anniversary we celebrate this day, how wonderfully that law has survived and completely triumphed over the most dangerous times. Other establishments have outlived their rituals. Opinions and systems have for a period been upheld, maintained, perhaps zealously defended, yet in turn have they been utterly exploded, whilst our sacred law has effectually withstood all opposition, obstruction, or the Most violent persecutions Monarchies and empires joined together, leagued in dark confederacy to destroy the word of God, to obliterate the very name of Israel. "Come, let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel be no more remembered." How did this attempt succeed? Like all attempts, either by force or persuasion, by the sword or the tongue, by poison or bribe, by tyrant or fanatic, by intolerance or assumed liberality, it has ended in its impossibility. "I am an Hebrew," is heard in the old and the new world, in the torrid or frigid zone wherever the foot of civilization has left its impress wherever the sun of charity refines the grosser passions, and spiritualizes the emotions, there the son of Israel proclaims, heart and soul that there is one God of heaven, and that God he fears. For faith dictates the soul‑composing thought that He created the sea and the dry land; and how is this? "He who dwelleth on high frustrates all intentions to injure them." So if you choose to "meliorate their condition," by strangers to their creed, to this day He has, in his benign mercy, watched over his radiant message, and despite all the hostility of contending factions, the holy records remain unchanged— "And ye offspring of Jacob remain unconsumed."
He then speaks of the effects of the law of God in refining the feelings and elevating the soul to the Father of Israel, who never said to his children, "seek me in vain." He then reproves those who are lukewarm in the cause of our religion, and asserts that the law has not properly ennobled their spirit. He next maintains that according to our doctrines God is near to all who call upon Him, that He shuts not his gates of mercy to any child of man of any persuasion; and he instances the history of Jonah, from which the text is taken, where we find mercy accorded to a heathen city, because the inhabitants repented themselves of the evil in their hands, and sought the Lord with a repentant heart. He then turns to his audience, and reminds them that the Lord rebuked Jonah for his illiberality in being angry that mercy was shown to Nineveh; and then says our preacher:
Are we not impressed with the idea that the words are directed to each of us, and led to ask ourselves the question, if there is not something deserving reprehension in our conduct when we can see no virtue beyond our creed, desire no happiness beyond our sect! Whether by illiberality of sentiment we would not hem in the bottom and stop the current of divine favour to a certain class, imagining that all those who think not as we do cannot enter the portals of heaven, as if we kept the keys. "I am an Hebrew." And with due humility, and at the same time sincere earnestness, we will tell those who profess to meliorate our condition, that we seek no aid, and least of all such aid as they would afford us. Thus is the succour of the wolf to the lamb, with a caress destroying its victim.
Mr. Isaacs then adverts to the persecutions and troubles of the Hebrew race, to prove that sufferings will not deprive us of our religion. He instances the half a million Jews exiled from Spain by Ferdinand, under the advice of Torquemada, in 1492, the very year in which America was discovered, as if to offer in after times an asylum to the outcast sons of Judah, and to rear a home for civil liberty and religious freedom. The preacher next turns with much force to the various sects which distract the Christian church, and urges, how they can ask us to embrace a system concerning the nature of which its own members are not agreed? when new sects .are almost daily springing up, when strange fanatical doctrines constantly supplant one another, each one claiming to be the only road to salvation?
He then foretells, that all the efforts of the missionaries will be futile, maintaining that the UNITY of God is imbibed with the very food the infant draws from the breast of the mother; and after saying that the words "Our God is one" are the first lesson of the sons of Israel, he continues:
This is their constant theme. It grows in them with their growth, that He is the sheet anchor of their hope. It was publicly declared on the mount in the words, "I am the Lord thy God, thou shaft have no other gods." And to that divine message they respond. The unity of God is the watchword of every son of Israel. They teach it to their offspring, morning, noon and night. Like the "pillar of fire," it is ever present in their wandering through this wilderness. And do they expect that this faith can be removed, or altered to suit their idea of the divinity, to please their reading of the prophecies, their mystification of the book of life?
He next enters somewhat at large upon the missionary efforts at home and abroad to destroy our religion, under the specious guise of meliorating our condition, which Mr. Isaacs proves not to be so deplorable, morally or physically, as to require aid, such as our spiritual opponents can bring us. He speaks of the improvement of the political condition of Jews in Hamburgh and Russia, and adverts happily to the permission granted to them to return to Spain, the land of Ferdinand and Isabella, the land of a million of martyrs, because they were Hebrews, and feared the God of heaven. He animadverts in strong terms on the apostate bishop of Jerusalem, and the utter fruitlessness of his mission. He defends our people for not exposing themselves to the danger of hearing their religion denounced, or going to places where they might imbibe doctrines in opposition to their received faith, upon the principle of "lead us not into temptation." Herein we fully coincide with our preacher. The strong in faith may be able to resist the allurements, but the weak and uninstructed will more or less experience a shock which designing artfulness knows but too well how to employ for its own advantage. Our space forbids us to say more at present, but we shall have to enter on the subject at greater length before long.
After alluding to the reception of the law, on the anniversary of which Mr. Isaacs spoke his address, he exhorts his headers to remain steadfast to it and to its requirements, assuring them that an increase of happiness will surely follow an increase of righteousness; and he concludes happily by adverting to the reign of the Messiah, when righteousness shall flourish every where, and celestial happiness shall abound on all the earth.
We had marked several more passages for extracting; but the want of room admonished us to abstain, thus doing injustice to our reverend friend, for which we offer him this assurance as an apology, that had his sermon arrived a few days earlier, (it reached us on the 12th of June,) before N. L.'s excellent address was put in the printer's hand, we would have given it an insertion, as we said above.
As critics, we must call the attention of Mr. Isaacs to a certain unevenness of style, at times colloquial, which stands in strong contrast with passages of thrilling interest in the production before us. Another defect is the alluding to persons by name, though they are apostates. We war not with men, we can do without the traitors who forsake our standard; we have only to do with principles, and these we can combat without reference to any one, be he high or low. There are also some peculiar expressions which we would rather that Mr. Isaacs had omitted. But as our friend has appeared but two or three times in print before the public, we are confident that the little blemishes we have pointed out will be overcome by him without any difficulty. Knowing his ability of doing good unto Israel and Israel's cause, we trust, that he will receive our strictures in the spirit of kindness in which they are written; for the welfare of the house of our God requires that they who advocate its cause should speak well no less than truly.