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American Society For Meliorating the Condition of the Jews

Part 2. (Continued from previous issue)

By invitation of the Rev. Mr. Bokum, one of the vice-presidents and travelling agents of this society, we attended on the evening of the 19th ultimo [March 19, 1843] a sort of meeting held for the purpose of organizing an auxiliary society in this city [Philadelphia]. From his speech, based upon the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, from 1-15 verses, (which strangely enough, as our readers know, is one of the Haphtaroth of the Passover,) we learned that the society had in view to treat the "dry bones," the remnants of the house of Israel, who are scattered "in the valley," meaning the whole earth, in such a manner that the spirit of the gospel may reach and animate them.

But this favour to our race is not to be forced upon us as of old by fire and the sword, nor as in modern times by abuse and exclusion from public employments, which proceedings he characterized as anti-Christian and barbarous (yet how many anti-Christians and barbarians do exist according to this view, not omitting the King of Prussia and the Queen of England, in whose countries the Jews are not equal with their Christian neighbours); but by acts of kindness, charity, and benevolence; he urged that the gospel should not be presented to our notice by words of preachers, but we should be taught its practical effects by such good deeds as should prove to the Jews that its spirit is one of real goodness and virtue. He stated that with this view the society had through its agent in New York given away a great deal of money to the poor, from twenty-five cents up to one hundred dollars to one individual; but that in no instance had the charity been improperly applied by the recipients. This last is high praise in favour of the poor Jews in the above city, many of whom are in abject want of even the necessaries of life, if we believe the report of Mr. Forrester. Mr. Bokum farther gave an account of his progress thus far in his mission, and spoke of a public meeting with Mr. Lawrence Blumenthal at Chambersburg, who by the courtesy of Mr. Bokum obtained the permission of making an exposition of the tenets of Judaism before a crowded church in that town. (We may probably have to say something more of this address of our friend in a future number.) He also adverted to the establishment of a bishopric at Jerusalem in the person of a known apostate under the patronage of the Queen of Britain and the King of Prussia. He spoke of the alleged infidelity of which we have lately heard a good deal as existing among our people, and he ascribed it, as also the same phenomenon among the Catholics, to an acceptance of tradition (for us, as contained in the Talmud,) and the so called superstitious practices arising therefrom; and he alluded to the new [Reform] congregation established in London in opposition to the rabbinical authority, as a legitimate consequence of the missionary labours of the London Society for Evangelizing the Jews, who, he averred, had opened by their publications, &c., the eyes of our brethren in England to the errors of their adhering to the Talmud.* He stated also that it is the object of the society to employ missionaries to the Jews in all large towns, and to station one of them in Philadelphia. He referred likewise to our labours, and stated something about a controversy which we might probably wage against each other, for the sake of mutual conviction; and in demanding public support for the Jewish Chronicle, he stated that the managers will carefully exclude every thing calculated to offend, that nothing should be said which could wound the feelings of an Israelite.

*How will our friends of the new congregation of Burton Street relish the allegation that their reform is the legitimate result of a society the object of which is the destruction of the Jewish religion? For our part we should be sorry indeed were any one to describe any act of ours as the result of such unfriendly advice; and we hope that they will boldly deny the assumptions of the missionary. We will merely say, that this is not the first time that the opponents of Judaism have gloried over the secession, and have feigned to discover therein a gradual approach to Christianity. We think that, much as we differ from the gentlemen who have too hastily adopted a new form of worship, they will be grieved as much as we were mortified to hear such motives ascribed to them; and if they feel inclined, we offer them our magazine to reply to these unfounded charges, when they may please to entrust us with a temperate exposition calculated for our pages.

The above is a meagre synopsis of the reverend gentleman's remarks, which appeared to be extemporaneous; we were not in a favourable position to take notes, if even we had been inclined to do so; yet we think that we have reported him fairly and, for our purpose, fully. Our readers will see from the above that the weapons are changed, but that our religion is nevertheless to be attacked. Flattery and money are to do what violence in old, and coarse rudeness in more modern times, failed to accomplish. We trust that there is not much danger to be apprehended from such means; nevertheless there may be a few "whose heart is turning this day from the Lord their God;" and it behooves us then to omit no means in our power to counteract the efforts of our opponents. Of one thing our Jewish friends may rest assured, that if money can purchase souls, they will be dearly paid for; because we see that there is a false species of philanthropy spreading over the land, which is anxious to catch every straggler and to take away any wandering sheep that has missed out fold. As far as we are concerned we regard as inimical every one who comes to deprive us of our religion, be the means or the pretexts what they may; and though we are personally friendly to Mr. Bokum, both as a gentleman and a preacher, we certainly must look upon the efforts he is making as by no means an evidence of good-will towards our belief. We cheerfully accord to him the praise of moderation and candour; but it would be much better were all this moderation and candour exerted to allay prejudices, instead of drawing people away perhaps some unworthy members from our church.

Respecting the charge of infidelity, we fear that there is some truth in it; we do not believe that modern Jews are sceptics, but that a practical infidelity regarding religious duties has obtained, alas! too much currency, cannot be denied. We mean not to enter into the discussion this month; but only to call the attention of our brethren to the fact that others besides Jews watch their conduct, and that their neglect of religion brings them no honour, and even causes them to be suspected of unbelief in that blessed faith for which many would shed their last drop of blood, although their conduct betoken so much indifference.

Lastly, with regard to our own self, we have never promised to wage a controversy with any man. We probably shall admit controversial articles if we think proper; but nothing shall induce us to be always tilting, like some ancient knight-errant, against all comers. Indeed no one shall provoke us if we can keep our temper; and we will use our discretion in this as in every thing else, and act independently of all parties. The Occident was commenced to diffuse a knowledge of our religion; and this we mean to do while we continue its editor; and mere controversy, which is only a trial of skill, is therefore evidently not suited to our object. We nevertheless assure our friends that we neither fear nor court religious arguments; all we meant to say is, that we will not be provoked for any special object, which would evidently be the case were we to enter the lists regularly once a month against the Jewish Chronicle, or its reverend editors.

Nevertheless we thank Mr. Bokum for his conciliatory manner, and we hope always to meet him with equal courtesy both personally and, if occasion demand it, before the public. With these remarks we take our leave for the present from the American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, but likely not longer than next month.