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Literary Notices

 

We call the attention of our readers, especially our female friends, to the excellent address of our Charleston correspondent, N[athaniel]. L[evin]., whose modesty forbids us to give his full name to the public. As he is a layman, and has but lately turned his attention to religious subjects, we trust that the words he utters so feelingly and truly, will sink full deeply into the heart, and awaken there kindred emotions to those which inspired the young orator in his effort. We say, that we especially call on our female friends to notice his words; for it is of them and to them he speaks in his opening part, and sketches there admirably their worth and influence. We too join him in his appreciation of the overpowering control the female bears in civilized society, not by the force of eloquence and strength, but by that imperceptible and pervading sway over the domestic hearth, whence not unfrequently issue the most useful plans of public benefactions. No one knows better how to use this native royalty than the Jewish females, and among them none, more than our sisters in America. They have stood with their weak bodily frames the defence of our blessed faith in the breaches which unbelief had made in the ranks of our people; and we trust that many hearts have been and are yet to be called back by the gentle persuasion which flows from female lips. Much depends, therefore, upon the efforts of the women of our race; and we accordingly appeal to them not to relax in their efforts at doing good, but to call forth new energies, which the deplorable exigencies of the times require.

It is said "that for the sake of the piety of the righteous women our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt;" and we doubt not that at the present day also much good may result from their pious efforts, as, on the contrary, much evil may spring if they unfortunately throw their influence in the scale of religious negligence and practical infidelity. It is, indeed, in a great degree, for them to say whether peace shall be Israel, whether righteousness is to spread and grace to abound among us, as far as these things are in the capacity of man to achieve, unless blessed with the divine Spirit to direct the efforts of the creature. As mothers they can instruct from early childhood till the son or daughter leaves the paternal roof, to step abroad as an independent agent; as sisters they can chide and reprove, praise and encourage when no eye save that of God above is nigh to watch the glistening tear called forth by the petulance or misconduct of a brother; as daughters they can perhaps open the heart of an obdurate parent to his sinfulness, or overcome peevishness and ill-humour by that blessed perseverance which graces so beautifully that female heart where the spirit of God has found an abiding home; and lastly, as wives, they can urge and entreat the object of their dearest affection to ponder over a course of sin, perhaps thoughtlessly pursued, and employ the persuasive force of a holy eloquence which is not rebuked by taunts nor silenced by rude impatience, and rests not till the object thereof is himself brought back a penitent sinner, returning to knock at the gates of his heavenly Father for mercy and forgiveness.—We could say much more to our friends, the true and faithful daughters of Zion; but we forbear for the present, and wish them, in the meantime, a "God speed" in all their endeavours to spread among the household of Israel, as the messengers of an everlasting love, a knowledge of the truths which our forefathers swore to preserve as the gift of the God of heaven and earth.

The Ideas Of The Ancient Hebrews On The Immortality Of The Human Soul. By Isidor Kaempf.

We intend presenting our readers next month with the first number of Isidor Kaempf's dissertation on the ideas of the ancient Hebrews on the all-important subject of the immortality of the human soul, extracted from the Orient. Mr. K. is a champion in the cause of Israel with whose name even we had not been made acquainted, till we lately re­ceived a file of the Orient, a weekly periodical, under the direction of the learned Doctor Julius Fürst, of Leipzig, in Germany. We candidly acknowledge that the distance which separates us from the centre of the great mass of Jewish population has left us far behind a general knowledge of what has been going on among our European brethren for many years past; and we are therefore rejoiced that at length some­thing like a hope may be indulged in that in a short time a mutual ex­change of sentiments may be established between American and European Jews. The latter are by this time aware of our having commenced to follow in their steps by publishing a periodical devoted to the interests of our religion; and though we lack the materials to render it equal in instructiveness to the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthems by Dr. Phillipson, of Magdeburg, the Orient, by Dr. Furst; the Israelit des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, by Dr. M. Hess, of Lengsfeld, the Archives of Dr: Heyneman, of Berlin, the Revue Orientale, by Mr. Carmoly, of Brussels, and of the Archives Israelites by Mr. Cahen, of Paris, not to mention other publications now progressing: we still hope, that our learned contemporaries will not look with disdain upon their transatlantic brother, who follows their giant strides at an humble distance. We cannot say that we approve of the tone of all the pieces which find admission into the continental journals, two of which; the "Revue Orientale," and the "Archives" of Dr. Heyneman, we have not seen; there is unfortunately a lack of courtesy discoverable at times, not very creditable to the conductors of the respective works; nor can we do otherwise than condemn the views on religion, which some of the correspondents at times advocate. Still, many highly instructive articles, like those of Mr. Kaempf, constantly fill their columns, which, if any thing could, almost compensate one for the defects we have mentioned; and we mean, should our career be of extended length, to present to our friends an analysis at least of matters which concerns them to­ know.

As it is of some interest to the Israelites of America to know what are the occurrences abroad concerning their people, we intend, as soon as we have succeeded in establishing a regular exchange with our principal contemporaries, to present a monthly epitome of the spirit of European journals; and our readers may rest assured that it shall be as impartial as we can furnish it. Being under the control of no party; and only the servant of truth and the good cause which we advocate, we can have no dread of offending one or the other division in sentiments which we know to exist among us, much, we confess, to our regret; but as we hope that our course will be courteous, and so considered by all, we trust that no one will be offended; though our sentiments as expressed might perhaps bear the appearance of a censure on his views.

Whilst we were about making the first use of a file of continental journals, we thought it a fit opportunity to say something of the materials which they may be able to furnish us, and to state at once something concerning our future course. With these few words we must be content at present, and leave Mr. Kaempf himself to speak to our readers, when next we appear before the public.

In the Case of the State ex-relatione A. Ottolengui vs. G. V. Ancker and others, return to the rule for an information of quo warranto. Charleston, 8vo., p. 34.

The greater portion of our readers are doubtless aware that about three years ago a sudden light dawned upon a portion of the Israelites of Charleston, whilst the synagogue was in progress of erection, after having been destroyed by fire two years before. They thought to have discovered that instrumental music was absolutely requisite to add solemnity to the public worship of the Minhag Sephardim; and having received the sanction of the Rev. Hazan of the congregation, Mr. G. Poznanski, it was carried by a majority of 46 to 40 to erect an organ in the synagogue, to be played on during service on Sabbaths and festivals. A portion of the congregation objected (and we joined them in the objection) that instrumental music on the Sabbath is contrary to our laws, inasmuch as it is a labour interdicted on that day, (see also Orach Hayim, chap. 338 § 1,) and permitted only in the temple during the performance of the daily sacrifices and additional offerings (Numb. x. 10), as all other necessary acts for the service of the temple were permitted on the days devoted to rest, though interdicted elsewhere. The majority, whilst giving their vote, were reminded by the then president of the congregation, the late Nathan Hart, that their proceedings were unconstitutional, inasmuch as, irrespective of the illegality on Jewish grounds of playing on the Sabbath, the introduction of instrumental music was clearly an infringement of the usual custom of the Portuguese Jews, to which the congregation of Charleston professes itself, and that consequently no alteration in the constitutional form of worship could on any account be permitted without a vote of three-fourths, (we believe;) which is requisite for any alteration in the constitution of the Kahal Beth Elohim of Charleston. It is true that Mr. H. was opposed conscientiously to the organ, but the grounds of his objection were constitutional; the majority, therefore, should not have pressed the measure when the congregation was nearly equally divided. But the persons who had voted for the organ, with the minister who had originally been supported, in fact mainly so, by the orthodox party, persisted in carrying out their resolve. The consequence was, that a great portion of the minority withdrew from the synagogue, to which they had liberally contributed, and established a congregation for themselves, under the name of Kahal Shearith Israel. We, having been asked our opinion, which we gave honestly to both friends and opponents of the innovation, urged that the question should be taken on constitutional grounds before the courts of law, in order to test the power of a bare majority of infringing upon the clear letter of the charter under which they acted as a corporate body. But our friends were unwilling to go to law, to bring Jewish matters before public tribunals; and much to our regret, and as we thought, and yet think unwisely, they left the synagogue, permanent fund, burial-ground, and all other property, uncontested in the hands of the reform party.

Thus matters continued to stand for rather more than two years; several changes were adopted in the meantime in the organ-­synagogue, in order to accommodate the worship by the introduction of new English hymns, mostly written by persons worshipping there, to the instrumental music which had been adopted. But it was evident to every unprejudiced mind that the organ would necessarily lead to farther changes, as it accorded with the measures introduced by a portion of Jews in Europe, who had made many innovations not only in the worship, but also in the ideas of ancient Jews. Last first day of Passover, however, the minister preached a sermon denouncing the observance of the second days of the holydays as unnecessary, and advising his audience to discontinue to keep them. Now it is one thing to say, that the second days of the captivity are not a biblical institution, and quite another to assert them unnecessary, especially as they have always been observed out of Palestine long before the destruction of the second temple. Moreover, we find traces in the Bible that additional days were kept, at least on one occasion (see 1 Kings viii. 65); consequently, although an addition, it cannot be called an illegal one, or else it could not have been countenanced by the prophets then living, or passed over without reproof. It is farther evident, that one minister and one congregation cannot have the right to alter long standing observances at pleasure, and by this means produce discord and diversity of action. The consequence of all this was, that the Hazan was called on by the board of trustees to inform them "if he intends in his future lectures to propose or advance innovations in the established forms of service as observed by us (the Charleston congregation) and all other congregations of Jews throughout the world." In his reply, the Hazan says, "And with the sole view, of restoring and preserving peace and harmony in our congregation, I am determined, in accordance with the words of your query, not 'to propose or advise, in my future lectures, innovations of the established forms of service as observed by us and all other congregations of Jews throughout the world,' until the general desire of the congregation to hear the truth on every religious subject, and to have our holy religion divested of all its errors and abuses shall be expressed to me through their representatives, your honourable board, although to deliver either lectures or prayers in the English language is not a part of my duty."

Our readers will see from this that Mr. Poznanski speaks of errors and abuses, in which he includes the second days of festivals. How he can call them so, without casting the severest censures upon those blessed teachers who under all vicissitudes preserved for us the law, is more than we can divine. It cannot be that he disbelieves in rabbinical authority; because he all along for years past, not alone professed an acquiescence in their ordinances, but proved by his public conduct and his conversation, that he thought them of paramount importance. It will, therefore, not surprise any one that the excitement, called forth by Rev. Mr. P.'s sermon, was no nowise allayed by his letter. The board determined, therefore, to call a general meeting of the congregation; when resolutions were adopted approving the conduct of the board for referring the subject to the congregation; approving of the mode of worship then in use, without any farther changes or alterations; affirming that the meeting cast no reflection on the Rev. Hazan, and accepting his letter of the 22d of April, wherein he exhibits an entire deference to the opinion of the congregation, &c.; but a test resolution offered by one of the trustees, "That the established service of this congregation embraces all the Mosaic and rabbinical laws," was rejected by a vote of 24 yeas to 27 nays.

The excitement produced by this vote caused many who felt anxious to preserve religion in its ancient forms, to propose a union with the members of the congregation Shearit Israel, who had seceded, as we stated above, because of the initiatory changes commenced with the organ. But it must be understood, that the old members of the Synagogue Beth Elohim, though they worshipped apart, had never given up the hope of returning to their ancient house of prayer under favourable circumstances, in truth and good faith; and as they were now invited by a considerable number of their former friends to return, they embraced the favourable opportunity, and made application in form to the board to be admitted as members.

The president of the Beth Elohim congregation was then requested by a majority of the board to call them together for the 1st of May; but he declined doing so, because a general meeting of the congregation had been summoned for the day following. We omit stating the particulars which the pamphlet under review contains; suffice it, the Congregation met, and on motion it was resolved, "That the will of the majority is the fundamental principle of all associations in this country, political, social, and religious; secondly, that the trustees, &c., were elected on the implied assurance that they would, in all respects, conform to the will of the majority of this congregation; thirdly, that sufficient presumptive evidence had been obtained to show that it is the intention of the majority of the trustees to admit to all the privileges of the congregation, those who had been denominated seceders from this congregation, by which its established ceremonial and present pastor are to be displaced, thus compelling a majority to submit to the wishes of a minority of this congregation;" and per consequence of these resolves, a fourth was added, "That the president of K. K. B. E. be instructed by this congregation not to call together the Board of Trustees, until the opinion and feelings of a majority of the congregation are correctly represented." We have to remark that it is made the duty of the president under the charter to call the board together once a month; and nevertheless, under the presumption that the Board does not harmonize with the opinion of the majority of their constituents, they are virtually to be suspended from office. Besides, the first resolution contains a fallacy which we dare not let pass in silence. In politics and society, and much more so in religion, the majority is bound by organic laws, and whenever these are set aside, the measures adopted are revolutionary, not constitutional. Revolutions, we admit, ­occasionally become necessary; but not so frequently as the wording of the resolution would indicate; for whenever the majority might suspect that its elected organs had changed their sentiments on any given subject, it would be empowered to turn them out without a trial or process of law. Suppose this course were generally adopted, how could legislation be carried on by the agents of the people? or justice be administered by the judges? "You are suspected of not siding with the majority," would be tantamount to a loss of office, and a long farewell to all honesty of opinion and independence of conduct. Does the mover of the above series of resolutions wish to introduce a system of suspectedness? of incivism? and the other monstrosities of a reign of terror? Much as we differ from him with regard to the propriety of his course, we do not suspect, much less would we accuse, him of looking forward to such a consequence of his ideas; and yet they would, if carried out, lead to this result. Besides, it is unfair to presume that those who wished to become members had any intention of disturbing the established worship; for he could have no knowledge of such a thing except from hearsay, there being nothing before him of a direct nature.

And granted that they entertained such views, this was no reason for their non-election, much less for superseding the board in an unconstitutional manner; especially if it be considered, that many of the supporters of the organ joined the congregation only three years ago, after a long absence from public worship. Was this for the sake of voting on the organ question? Farther, by the mover's own rule, the majority should govern: three years ago there was but one congregation of Israelites at Charleston, and the then majority voted for the organ; if now the majority of all Israelites who wish to worship again together is opposed to its continuance, it ought to be removed; because the majority of those interested is for its discontinuance.

Be this as it may, the meeting had clearly no right to suspend the functions of the trustees upon the ground of suspectedness, without a trial, when their term of office had not yet expired; and common sense must dictate, that the vote setting them aside must be inoperative. To render the injustice yet more glaring, the meeting resolved, "That a committee of five be appointed to aid the president, and consult with him in all congregational matters, until the election in August next," when clearly there exists no such authority to elect a temporary board, especially whilst the members elected to office have neither resigned nor been removed according to law.

Under these circumstances it was to be expected that the board would not rest satisfied with the action of the meeting; the. president was requested by four of its members to call the trustees together for the 4th of May, because they were in possession of letters from Israelites of the city of Charleston not "under religious disabilities," who were desirous of becoming members. But the president declined complying, under cover of the resolution of 2nd of May. Being reduced to the necessity of acting without the president, or submitting to an act of injustice, the majority of the board met on the 6th of May, and appointed one of their number as president pro tem., when a petition signed by one-third of all the voters within one mile of the city was laid before the trustees, (which had also been presented to the president, who declined acting,) praying that "the board might meet, and call the people at large to take into consideration a proposed alteration or additional law of the constitution of the congregation." At the same time, letters of application for admission to membership were read from sundry Israelites, of whom thirty-two were duly elected voters, and ten members only; after which the prayer of the petitioners, twenty-six in number, for a general meeting, as above, was also granted, and the meeting ordered for the 15th of May.

The old majority (including the president) did not think proper to attend; but a quorum (twenty-five) nevertheless assembled, and ratified all which the board had done, and admitted the persons elected voters (Yehidim) and members to their respective privileges, and adopted such regulations as the occasion demanded; and though the new members took their seats, forming in all a meeting of fifty‑three persons, yet not a single vote was given either disrespectful to the Hazan personally, or removing the organ, any farther than permitting, in effect, any other person than the Hazan to perform the funeral service in the burial-ground of the congregation .

The result of all this is, that the friends of the organ, &c.; or, as they themselves no doubt now wish to call themselves, of a latitude of reform, have instituted legal proceedings against the newly elected persons, to have them deprived of their membership. The pamphlet under review is a reply of the counsel of the defendants against the bill of the complainants, and we have, as a matter of justice to the accused, introduced the material part for a proper understanding of the case. We have purposely omitted names, so as to avoid giving unnecessary cause for offence; and we believe we have completed the task we assumed with strict impartiality. We regret exceedingly to be compelled to no­tice the matter at all, to bring an evidence of disunion among one of our principal congregations before a general public; but we could not avoid it, as the conductor of a review concerning Jewish matters.

Several painful rumours respecting the Heterodoxy of a certain gentleman connected with this unpleasant business have reached us; and although we place the utmost reliance upon the statements of our valued correspondents, we must decline speaking more plainly under present circumstances. We wait for farther developments, and when they reach us, we promise to speak out with our usual candour, without mental reservation. In the meantime, we call the attention of our correspondents to our introductory article on the Jewish creed, which was written in anticipation of their last letters.

We state as a matter of justice, that should the relators in the suit now pending, or the minister himself, think that we have made a misstatement, or done injustice to any one, we offer them our periodical for a rejoinder. We wish to deal fairly with all, without dreading the displeasure of any. Our sympathies are with the defendants; nevertheless, we cannot think of being unjust to their opponents.