|Vol. I, No. 8
Heshvan 5604, November 1843
Remarks on the State of the Jews,
Occasioned by the Appearance of the Hebrew Review and Magazine of Rabbinical Literature.
By a Christian Lady.*
* We commence this month the publication of a long article on the state of our people, communicated to us some time ago, by a highly respectable Christian lady of some experience in the literary world, whose mind is stored with the fruits of reading and travel. The author, if we err not, is a member of the Episcopal church, and was first interested in our cause by a perusal of the abuses heaped upon us, and by a personal knowledge of the sufferings to which many of us are subjected in foreign lands. We hail her, therefore, as a friend to Israel, and open our work to her in order that she may speak out plainly concerning the feelings which she bears towards us. It is needless to say, that we do not approve of all she says, not the manner in which she says it, since it is impossible for Jews and Christians to regard the same facts in the same light; but if our correspondent has uttered any thing which should appear objectionable to any of our readers, we shall accord them cheerfully our pages to make a reply, and to offer the needful corrections.—Ed. Oc.
Byron told Lady Blessington that he could not live without excitement of some kind or other; but he is not singular in this respect, for the generality of men crave it as they do their daily food. The millennium and restoration of the Jews to their ancient territories, and the most interesting, and with many, the most engrossing topics of conversation. The extraordinary events now occurring, one following the other in quick succession, unlooked-for and dissimilar, affect the imagination of the multitude, and render them prone to superstition and misguidance. They are constantly perplexing themselves with the predictions of the ancient Hebrew prophets, and endeavour to trace their fulfillment in some of the leading moral and physical phenomena of the day.
The Jews themselves do not partake of this inquisitive restlessness. "I bide the time," is their motto; and they look on in quiet. That all this minute and daily investigation produces a sensation among them, there is no doubt; and that it will make a strong impression is to be expected: but that they are to rise in a mass, gather together all their wealth, and set out for Palestine, they have not the slightest intention, now do the most reflecting of the Christians credit it.
With the early history of the Jews in our hand through the day, and near our pillow at night, it should be presumed that we have a clear insight into the character of this extraordinary people; but we know them not,—they are as great a mystery to us at this present moment, as they were to the Egyptians of old. If we might hazard a conjecture, it is that the Jews throughout Europe, particularly those of Poland, Germany, Russia, Spain and Portugal, would seize on the first fair opening to establish an independent government of their own in Palestine. They are at present in an abject state, being oppressed by taxes and disabilities, and subject to every species of insult which the mean spirit of tyranny can inflict. They have likewise an intuitive feeling that it may be to-morrow what has so often occurred in their history: an expulsion from the land in which they live, with immense loss of life and property, and under circumstances the most untoward and dismaying. Is it any wonder, therefore, that they should cast a longing eye towards that place of rest from which they shall be expelled no more?
The Jews in America have prospered openly. From the day of our own independence they date their likewise, and therefore they cast aside all fear of being the victims of extortion, barbarity and contumely. To be called a Jew is no longer a term of reproach; such revilings being confined exclusively to those, Christians though they call themselves, whose speech is held in little esteem. The sensible and well-informed among the Jews are well aware that this amelioration of their condition has arisen from the prevalence of the Christian doctrine, which in America exists in a purer form than elsewhere; and in consequence they really love the land of their birth or adoption with an enthusiasm equal to what is felt by those who profess the prevailing religion of the country. They know that as Christians we must believe that they are under God's particular care, and that He looks with a jealous eye on all those who persecute his chosen people. The whole learned, religious world, is now engaged in collecting, comparing, and expounding the ancient prophecies. So great is the excitement, that laymen as well as divines, vie with each other in bringing forward proofs that the millennium is at hand, and that the Jews are to be restored to the land of their fathers.
The Jews see all this, and make no remark. If we pave the way for such a jubilee, they certainly have no objection. They are a sensible, reflecting, yet very submissive people, knowing that if this splendid phenomenon of the millennium is thus daily, hourly presented to the people of all nations, that it will come in time to be the thing most desired, and to obtain which no sacrifice will be too great. They know, likewise, that their own prospects are so intimately blended with those of the Christian world, in this theory of the millennium, should this wonderful event take place, they will be moved by the mass, without any exertion of their own. That they have been thus cast down and trodden under foot, they feel to be the punishment due to their former transgressions, and they humbly submit. But they trust in the promise of the Lord their God to be restored to their former birthright and glory, and they wait his time.
They look upon the efforts of enthusiastic Christians as a signal interposition of God on their behalf. Believing that the Almighty works through agents, they patiently watch the progress of events, and foresee—millennium or not—that their estate is greatly improved by this zealous investigation of their history and of the ancient prophecies. There are many amongst us who infer that, because the Jews take no part in our eager inquiries, they are different; but we little know the deep feeling which lies at the bottom of this apparent unconcern. Because we are loose in our interpretations of Scripture, it does not follow that they are lukewarm or ignorant. This investigating spirit is new in us; we are just awakened to the desire of forming coincidences; the Old Testament is now read with a deep inquiring eye, and texts, long forgotten, or but dimly explained, are now found to predict the very events which have come to pass before our eyes.
Of course this is a subject of vital importance to the Jews, but they have learned by long suffering to subdue all outward signs of emotion. For hundreds of years they have submitted to the most unjust and cruel treatment, and without murmuring. Long before the Christian era they were trampled down as if they contaminated the air, and yet, in one sense, their spirit was not broken. They felt deeply, to be sure, the rebuke and chastisement of their God, but they relied implicitly on his promises of restoration. They shut themselves up in the pride of being the only chosen of God, who in his good time would make all other nations succumb to their power.
To this day they wonder how any Christian can so severely blame them for their refusal to believe in a plurality of gods, or what is more complex, the three in one, knowing, as the Christians must know, that the Jewish religion enforced it upon its followers to acknowledge no other god than the Eternal their God. It is as certain as that God created all things, that He never intended the Christians should persecute the Jews as they have done. In the old dispensation, God, by the mouth of his prophets, commanded the Israelites to slay the Canaanites, and take possession of their property. We perceive also that He personally, or by means of his angels, assisted the Jews to vanquish their enemies. But when Christ came on earth, all this was done away. The New Testament will tell you that He came to save life, not to destroy it. He taught forgiveness of our enemies, and commanded us in no wise to return evil for evil. Christ is considered as both the Son and prophet of God, and that it was through the lips of Christ, that the Father made known to his people that after the time of the dispersion of the Israelites, He had never seen fit to alter the severity of his laws concerning them.
Heaven forbid that we should be considered as apologists for the great and unpardonable crime of putting an innocent man to death. We wish to bring the subject before us in this point of view, that all the Jews on earth, at that time, were not instrumental to the sufferings and death of Christ, much less were they partakers of the crime,—a great number, in fact, had never heard of him. Many there were, even amongst those who witnessed his persecutions, and ignominious death, who would have saved him had it been in their power, but they were overawed by the vehemence of numbers.
When the Saviour said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," we must believe that the prayer was heard, for could the Son appeal to his Father in vain? Most assuredly, if the Jews, at the time of Christ's mission on earth, had believed in his divinity, they never would have sought his life. It was because they did not believe, that they crucified him. As Christians, hoping for pardon and salvation through the mediation of Christ, we never ought to lose sight of that fact; it should teach us to be merciful and forgiving.
Look at ourselves at this present moment,—we are fond of being called the followers of Christ, meaning thereby that we walk in his ways, and follow his commandments. Yet if the strong arm of the civil law, and the still stronger arm of public opinion did not hold us back, how many would disregard the divine laws, how many would lay hold of their neighbours and incarcerate them for differing on a few religious points! Yes, even in this enlightened age, enlightened by the mild wisdom of the Divine founder of our religion, so little do we comprehend his doctrines, that we think it would be acceptable service to slay or put to the torture all those who do not embrace our mode of interpreting the holy Word of God.
If we still are thus benighted towards our own Christian brethren, what favour can we hope to obtain for the Jews, although they are expressly stated to be God's chosen people? If Christians, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, are still so bitter towards each other, how can we expect to obtain favour for those who did not believe in Christ at all? In all our persecutions of the Jews, we never recollected how grossly ignorant they were at the time of our Saviour's mission. Homer says, that when the gods design a man for slavery, they give him but half a soul. The Jews were debased by subjugation, and they groveled in the dark, being full of superstitions and religious fears. If this were not true, they would never have done violence to one from whose lips come such words of peace and good-will towards all. Enslaved as they were, they could not see the tendency of such wise and mild doctrines. They could not comprehend that to free the spirit of grossness and frailty, would free the body also. We have but faint glimmerings of this truth ourselves, and can we expect that those who so humbly paid tribute to Caesar, and were content under the yoke, should have had at. that time a clearer perception than we have even now.
We must also take into consideration that at the time of Christ's being on earth. the Jews no longer worshipped idols or false gods, but confined their homage to the Lord. To fall down and worship another was to sin against the Holy One of Israel, till their troubles, their unheard-of miseries, their calamitous sufferings, and their horrible tortures, arose from their disobedience to God in worshipping idols. When the Saviour was announced to them as God himself, the Son of God—the long expected Messiah, and had come on earth to save them from everlasting punishment, they would not believe it. They looked upon him with horror, as wanting to share in that homage which they considered as belonging to the Lord alone.