Vol. I, No. 6
The Apathy of Israel.
By S. S.
A stranger, in viewing the religious condition of our brethren in America, might suppose that their enjoyment of liberty of opinion and action, rendered dormant the beauty and truthfulness of the Jewish character; and like the products of the frigid north, which would degenerate under a milder sky, naught but the greatest oppression could make the sons of the covenant cherish their divine inheritance, or fulfill the commands of their holy law.
Is it unbelief in the doctrines promulgated by Moses? Or doubts of the fulfillment of the Divine promises? The little success that has crowned the strenuous exertions that have been made for the last eighteen centuries, to lead the sons of Israel astray from the path indicated by the God of Abraham—by sophistry, by the most refined tortures, and by the offering worldly advantages, would give these assumptions an unqualified and stern denial.
Although some unworthy few, calling themselves Israelites, but devoid of religious principles, have bowed before a shrine their fathers knew not, lured thither by the golden bait of mammon or the glitter of power; and although some, in whom the spirit of fortitude was weak, have, under an iron oppression, professed outwardly to believe what they in their souls viewed as false, whilst they remained true at heart in the belief of the "One and Indivisible:" still this only proves the enduring strength of our code; for although many fell off in this manner, and our shepherds have been but few, our numbers have yet remained undiminished. If we take into consideration the multitude of teachers of the popular faith—the influence they possess over their congregations, the attention that is paid to their discourses or sermons, the support that is given to the organs that disseminate their doctrines, the societies established for the propagation of their tenets, the immense amounts that are contributed for all these purposes, and that worldly honours are also at their disposal; and then take notice of the new schisms that spring up from day to day amongst them: we might infer that were they as apathetic as ourselves, their religion would fall to the ground in hopeless decay.
It is true, we leave not our unfortunate brethren to suffer to bitterness of want, if it is in our power to relieve them; nor do we as a rule, throw them on the public charities, although we contribute to these equally with other sects. But what have we done, or what do we towards producing a religious renovation in our members, of which we all stand in so much need? Yes, what efforts have we made, or what exertions do we make now, to perfect ourselves as a people in the observance of those duties which our religion demands of us? Some mighty spirits, it is true, have erected, by their bright examples, a beacon light, here and there, to guide us on our path of everlasting life; but what have we done collectively worthy of the great cause, more especially in this country, where freedom of opinion reigns in its utmost extent, and where man is respected for his worth, not for the creed which he professes?
Would not, if proper exertions were made, the less informed of our brethren be induced to listen to the voice of instruction and moral reproof in the same kindly spirit with which the teachers of religion are animated? And would not many of us, who now feel indifferent, soon experience pleasure and delight in obeying the beautiful precepts of our holy law, if they could but once be persuaded to enter its pleasant paths through the teaching and example of those who take a lively interest in their immortal welfare? To maintain the negative of this proposition would be at once admitting, that either the mass of us are beyond the reach of moral persuasion, or that none among us are capable of eliciting the good that lies dormant in the breast of every Israelite
Would that those that have influence among us, might take this matter more to heart, and devise some means to take the reproach of slothfulness from our name; and thus show to the world that Israel is capable of enjoying the greatest political liberty, without departing from the covenant of Sinai! Might we not use the same means for our religious advancement which our adversaries have endeavoured to use for its destruction? Could we not endeavour to work upon the minds of those who are exposed to temptation, and bring them back to the community of Israel? Could we not by diffusion of knowledge among the people arrest the mischief which artfully contrived publications have perhaps caused to some little extent? Surely the sons of Jacob cannot be so false to themselves as to be niggard in the support of those objects that have for their aim the raising of the name of Israel to the high elevation it once held; surely the daughters of Zion will not see us surrounded by those, whom we honestly believe to be in error, without doubting their sincerity, who seek to propagate among us doctrines so erroneous in themselves, so pernicious to us in case they should take root in our minds, (which God forbid,) without raising the gentle yet powerful influence they possess over their brothers, husbands, and friends, in the furtherance of that cause, which has for its object the regeneration of the whole human race. O that we were more consistent! We acknowledge with our mouth that the Lord is ONE, and that His law will exist till the world shall be no more: yet by our actions we give in many instances a flat denial to our professed belief, by acting contrary to the ordinances of the Most High, as if his blessing were not all-sufficient even here, and to be far more prized than the contemptible satisfaction of having acquired the favour (not respect) of those who differ from us in religious belief. We said "not respect;" for does not experience fully teach us, that none is truly respected who is not consistent with himself, and acts not up to the faith he acknowledges to be the true one?
Let Israel awake then from her apathy, and point out to those who would stray from her fold the hidden snares spread for their souls' eternal welfare, by those who, whilst professing to lead them to heaven by a road more sure than our law, cannot agree amongst themselves which is the true or even the safe one of the many routes, that their inconsistent tenets have caused the believers of the so-called gospels to follow.
July 16th, 1843.