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Testimonial of Respect to the Rev. Isaac Leeser, at Charleston, S. C.


At a meeting of the congregation Shearith Israel, convened at their Synagogue, on February 15th, 5612, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:

Resolved, That this congregation entertain the warmest emotions of regard and brotherly love for Isaac Leeser, late minister of the congregation Mikveh Israel, of Philadelphia; and that his piety, consistency, and untiring efforts in the cause of Judaism, entitle him to the heartfelt gratitude of the Jews of the United States.

Resolved, That the thanks of this congregation be tendered to the reverend gentleman, for his able, eloquent, and instructive discourses, recently delivered in this Synagogue.

Resolved, That the President appoint a committee to select a suitable testimonial of esteem and respect, to be presented to Mr. Leeser, in the name of this congregation.

Resolved, That the Secretary transmit a copy of the foregoing reso­lutions to Mr. Leeser, and that they be published in the Occident and Asmonean.

S. Valentine, Sec’ry.
S. Hart, Sr., President.

As an appreciation of the piety and virtues of the Rev. Isaac Leeser, the invaluable services he has rendered to the cause of <<22>> our holy religion, as a minister and teacher of Israel; and, also, of his able and efficient efforts as editor and conductor of the Occident, the first Jewish periodical established in the United States; the above resolutions were proposed and unanimously adopted at a large meeting of the congregation, assembled at their Synagogue, on the 15th February, 5612.

The President appointed the following committee to carry out the third resolution, viz.: Messrs. Nathaniel Levin, S. Valentine, and S. N. Carvalho. The committee procured a beautiful gold watch, on which is the following inscription:


The interesting ceremony took place at the Synagogue, on Tuesday morning, the 17th, at 11½ o’clock. A large number of ladies and gentlemen were early in attendance. Mr. Leeser was conducted to the centre of the Synagogue, opposite the hechal, where he was received and welcomed by the committee above named. The chairman of that committee, Mr. Nathaniel Levin, then read the foregoing resolutions, at the conclusion of which he adressed him as follows:

Esteemed Sir,

I regret that the pleasing duty assigned to me by this congregation has not been confided to some other member, who might have brought to the accomplishment of his task the treasures of learning and the power of eloquence. The occasion is one well suited to call for the wisdom of the sage, and the lofty language of oratory. Could I catch one ray of that golden flood of light, which your mind has so recently beamed upon us,—did I possess your facility in pouring forth those “breathing thoughts and burning words,” to which we have all listened with rapture and delight: then might I be enabled to express to you in suitable terms the warm and enduring friendship of your brethren in Charleston.

It is both profitable and pleasant to dwell upon the past, and I trust that you will pardon me for reverting to circumstances over which <<23>> nearly twenty-two years have passed. In the year 1831,* a poor, uneducated youth was toiling in the rugged path of mercantile life, and earning a scanty subsistence by the sweat of his brow. Not adapted, either by the peculiar character of his mind or temperament, to this pursuit, he devoted the few leisure moments snatched from labour to the culture of his mental faculties. While yet a tyro in learning and in science, he was called, by a large Jewish congregation., from the counting-room to the sacred desk, to minister in a high, holy, and responsible situation. Though young in years, by dint of severe application and untiring industry, he soon made himself competent for all the duties of his sacred office. Not content with the mere ministrations of our Ritual, he infused new life and vigour into the torpid frame of his congregation, by the introduction of prayers and addresses in the vernacular.

* The speaker was, in this remark, somewhat in error. Mr. arrived in this country in 1824. He left the Gymnasium, at Monster, answering to the usual colleges in America, to obey the summons of the late Zalma Rehine, of Richmond, Virginia, his maternal uncle, who desired to have a child of his deceased sister with him. Mr. L. finding no good opportunity to continue his studies in the capital of Virginia, and, after being at a private school for only ten weeks, when the teacher left to study medicine in Philadelphia, he resolved to learn business under his uncle’s direction; wherefore, he entered permanently into his employ, and continued with him in that capacity for near five years. Mr. L. had once an opportunity, before 1828, to appear in the papers in defence of our religion; but it was finally, in 1829, that he wrote several essays to rebut the calumnies, which had been spread abroad through an English Review, against the character of the Jewish faith and people. These essays were the means of his being sent for, to become Hazan of the congregation Mikve Israel, of Philadelphia, in which capacity he officiated for upwards of twenty-one years. He has never been endowed with riches; but his position in Richmond was, certainly, one of entire independence, and might have ultimately led to wealth and distinction, had he continued to pursue it with industry and prudence. But the acquisition of mere gain was not much to his taste, and he was not unwilling at some time to exchange a mercantile life for other pursuits; but he hesitated long before he could be induced to accept the invitation tendered him from Philadelphia, and only consented, at length, in obedience to the urgent advice of elderly gentlemen, his uncle among others, who insisted on his doing so. As respects his education, it was as carefully attended to, and he had made as much progress as can be expected of a youth of seventeen, when he quitted school. He had to labour, it is true, perseveringly, to accomplish what he has done; but the foundation he owes to his many teachers, whose memory shall ever be sacred to him.

A short time after his induction into office, a vile and slanderous <<24>> attack upon our religion and the character of our people, called forth the latent talents of the youthful minister, who stood forth the learned exponent of Israel’s faith, the fearless champion of Israel’s wrongs. We next observe him advancing the cause of his religion, by the introduction of schools for the instruction of Jewish youth; and the publication of books adapted to the religious, moral, and mental improvement of the young and old of our faith. The laborious task a arranging, printing, and publishing our form of prayers, and the Pentateuch, afterwards engaged the time and energies of his more mature years, and have imposed upon the Jews of the United States a debt of gratitude which future generations will acknowledge. The next step in the development of Jewish literature, by our learned friend, was the establishment of a Jewish periodical (the first in this country), and its pages have teemed with articles from the powerful and polished pen of the Editor, calculated to advance the true interests of Israel,—their temporal and eternal happiness. The youth to whom I have adverted, now stands before me in the pride and vigour of manhood. In the language of the Prophet to Israel’s King, “Thou art the man.”

With the mantle of literature as your panoply, piety and virtue as your shield, and a profound knowledge of God’s sacred oracles as your sword, thus “armed in proof” you have, throughout a series of years, waged an interminable warfare against irreligion and infidelity, in the varied duties which I have enumerated. You have laboured assiduously to keep alive among your brethren that sacred fire which the atmosphere of this world is constantly threatening to extinguish. That you have been prompted to undertake this mission from the gushings of that pure philanthropy which overflows in the bosom of piety and virtue, we all know and fully appreciate. It is a sacred emotion, and does honour to your heart. With an enlarged philanthropy, you have deemed it a duty of the highest and most solemn character, to advance the religions and moral culture of Israel. Yon feel that a more important subject could not engross your time or tax your talents. You have truly called it, “a weighty and solemn responsibility.” It is the highest and holiest man can exercise; for on its faithful discharge depends the eternal happiness of Israel. Fear not the results of your mission; for piety and virtue, like angels of light, illumine your path; religion is the beacon that elides, philanthropy the spirit that prompts and animates in your career. God grant that it may be long and prosperous. Not our faithful ancestors, restoring the Temple of God, with arms in their hands, were engaged in a more hallowed cause than <<25>> you are; for you are upholding the Temple of the Jewish heart and Jewish mind, and giving perpetuity to that faith which illumined the inspired pen of Moses; which threw the majesty of Heaven from the harp of David, and wrapt Isaiah’s hallowed soul in fire. Continue, then, your efforts in the sacred cause in which you have embarked. Falter not in your holy mission, but advance still farther on the path you have chosen, and may immeasurable success crown your exertions. May peace, happiness, and length of years be your reward here, and the smiles of an approving God your recompense hereafter.

I thank you, in the name of this congregation, for those learned teachings and eloquent discourses, intended for our eternal benefit, which, if preserved in our hearts, will prove the surest guides to virtue and happiness. You have proved to us, that in the Bible is found the injunctions that constitute the foundation of religion, laws, and morals. You have recommended it to us as the Book of infancy and the Book of age, because in its divine pages may be found lessons of wisdom, applicable to each eventful period of life: our woes, our joys, our frailties, our hopes, our prayers to God, and our dependence on one another. You have shown that every page is redolent of love, affection, duty, and pleasure; the sentiment that exalts, the emotion that refines, the resolution that gives strength to virtue, and imparts firmness to courage; the determination that can sacrifice the fleeting joys of earth for the more certain and abiding beatitudes of heaven. For these lessons of religious knowledge and practical wisdom, accept our warmest expressions of gratitude.

Although your labours have been unceasing and your efforts untiring, in the cause of our religion and the advancement of the true interests of our people: yet I regret to state that your pathway of life has not been strewn with flowers. Instead of gratitude and friendship, you have received injustice and hostility. You have merited the full measure of the regard and esteem of your brethren, but have received in its stead vials of wrath, calumny, and detraction, from a congregation whom you have faithfully served nearly one-fourth of a century. It affords us pleasure to know that the Parthian arrows burled by your enemies, though tipped with gall and wormwood, have fallen innocuous on your shield, .and you yet stand unmoved amid the impotent peltings of their fury; like the hardy mountaineer on the hillside, who grasps the more tightly the heather the fiercer the storm rages.

In conclusion, Sir, I present you, in the name of the congregation Shearith Israel, with this testimonial of their regard and disinterested <<26>> friendship, not only for your zealous efforts in the cause of Judaism, but for your spotless character, your rectitude of conduct, and your consistent course throughout life. This ingenious instrument teaches, in powerful yet voiceless eloquence, wise, useful, and profitable lessons. It tells of time, the property of man, the measure of his pulsations. It speaks audibly of our lifetime, which is but a dot in the page of that Book which records the fate of nations.

Your past life evidences that you have and will profit by its teachings. To all of us time is everything. Brief is the space that divides the cradle from the grave. We should, therefore, heed the lessons taught us by this simple monitor, and use, and not abuse, the precious moments as they fly. Accept, Sir, this memorial, this free-will offering of friendship and brotherly love, and with it the ardent prayer for your future happiness and prosperity, in which every heart present will respond.

“The Lord bless you and preserve you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

During the delivery of the above address, Mr. Leeser was much affected, and replied to the remarks in an eloquent and impressive manner; but at times his feelings so overpowered him, that his voice was scarcely audible. His remarks were entirely unprepared, he being neither aware of the nature of the testimonial to be presented, nor of the character of Mr. Levin’s address; what follows, therefore, must be taken more as the substance, so far as memory serves to recall the same, than the actual words spoken on the occasion—one sufficiently embarrassing to excuse even a confused manner of speaking, and not permitting either speaker or hearers to recollect with perfect accuracy the expressions actually employed:

Mr. Levin, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is with sincere emotions of heartfelt gratitude, that I thank you for this public approbation of myself aid my labours, which you have just tendered me, and more yet for the very kind words in which you were pleased to convey the same; and believe me, that to be thus received and, honoured, repays one for years of labour and anxiety, and devotion to a cause as sacred as ours. I fear, however, that you overestimate <<27>> my services, which I would be but too happy to believe had been so effectual in doing good, as you, Mr. Levin, have represented them.

All I can claim is an honesty of purpose, in which I will yield to none, to do all that was in my power. Had my health, indeed, been good, so that I could have devoted all the energies of my mind to the pursuit of literature, I might, perhaps, have achieved a degree of eminence to become truly useful; but it pleased Heaven to afflict me frequently with dreadful attacks of sickness, which have stamped on my frame and face, I fear, premature marks of age; and I cannot dwell on the agonies which I have had to endure at these intervals, without shuddering. Yet such as I am, imperfectly educated and inferior to many, whose health has enabled them to advance much farther, it will ever be my pleasure, no less than duty, to devote myself to Israel’s interests and Israel’s cause. For it is no small thing for which we contend—it is the highest, the holiest which can occupy man’s thoughts; it is the most sublime achievement of the intellect which engages our mind in the pursuit of our religion, which has stood so well the assaults of ages; and hence every son and daughter of Israel should, of right, contribute whatever they can to advance its knowledge and the observance of its precepts.

It is possible that this is the last time that it will be my privilege to address an audience in this place; soon, in a few hours, I must leave to return to my place of residence, and whether we shall ever meet again, and when? are questions to be decided by the God whose creatures we are. Permit me, therefore, to give you a few parting words of advice, since it is as a teacher in Israel that you have met to testify your attachment towards me. Let me entreat you all to be faithful to our faith, in every walk and relation of life, and to omit nothing to honour our religion, by word and deed, and to induce others to follow in the path you are yourselves pursuing. Powerless must be the public teachers, if they are not aided by the people themselves. To-day the most gifted may make an appeal, and tomorrow he may be gone, and his words reach no more the attentive ear of the audience. But they have heard the message, they have been instructed; why, then, should they not each endeavour to carry farther the message of truth and salvation which they have received? And let me address, especially the ladies, who are in a majority in our assembly to-day, to use their holy influence to effect much good among those with whom they are connected, by the ties of love and friendship. Many a one is deaf to the words of admonition, when addressed to him from the chair <<28>> of instruction; he hears the word of God proclaimed in his ears, but he heeds it not; he is immersed in worldly pursuits, and takes not the time to attend to the concerns of his soul. But, for all this, he is not beyond the reach of holy influence, and his heart may be touched by the soft eloquence of woman, and he may be awakened by the power of a female voice, breathing in his ears, “Remember, thou mortal.” Yes, in the hours of friendly intercourse, in the familiar conversation of the domestic circle, the soul may be open to holy impressions; let it be your endeavour, then, to use your power to advance the kingdom of God, over the hearts of those you love.

And wherever you are, my friends, let your station be what it may, endeavour faithfully to prove yourselves children of Israel, in every sense of the word. Let it not grieve you that you have to abstain, in obedience to your faith, when others enjoy; and hesitate not to be different in your conduct and speech from all others around you. But show yourselves true to the duties which your God requires of you, and let all who see you at once perceive by your deeds, that you are faithful followers of the law of Israel. Yea, let it be your endeavour to teach practically the religion of our fathers to all who surround you, and see that many may be brought back through your instrumentality to a true adherence to our law. And if it ever be your fortune to go whither the faith of Israel is not yet planted, where the name of God is not yet invoked in the simplicity of hope with which we call on the blessed Unity: stand firm to charge, falter not, swerve not, and proclaim aloud your attachment to your heavenly legacy, and strive to assemble around you all the scattered remnants of Jacob’s descendants, till unitedly and as one man, you be enabled to call on the name of God in the assembly of the faithful.

Permit me, also, to call your attention to one circumstance connected with this city. Twelve years ago, there was here but one congregation, all worshipping God after the same ancestral custom.

But since then division has crept in among you, and you present the spectacle of a Jewish community divided into three sects: the orthodox, the moderate reformers, and the ultra-heterodox. All this should not be, and is the result of false teaching. Men have arisen who have propounded to the people doctrines not in Unison with our ancient system, and have invented fancies of their own, which they cherish as something sacred. This has produced the natural results, which have been predicted, that disunion and heart-burning would spring from a course where the will of man was regarded superior to the doctrines of <<29>> religion; and you have experienced estrangement in families, no less than division in religious sentiments, and parties have arisen, where formerly there was friendship and union. Are not the deplorable effects of erroneous teaching evident enough in all this? Surely, it is time that a reunion should take the place of the state of isolation now existing; and you, my hearers, can do much towards effecting it. The ladies, especially, can be successfully active in this matter. Let them exhort each other to reunite the bonds which have been severed, not in the spirit of fault-finding, not with harsh words, but by mild persuasion, in meekness and forbearance; and surely it must be discovered by all, that in truth all have but one object, one single aim, the advancement of our common faith. And oh! what a happy day it will be for me, should I return once more among you, and see you all assembled under one shepherd, in one house devoted to God, and all worshipping again in the same manner, acknowledging again the same faith as in former years. The evil effects of false teaching must have long since become apparent; and I trust that a wise forbearance and yielding may still tend one day to reunite those where disunion should never have lifted up its baleful head.

As regards myself, to reply to the remarks which you addressed me personally, I can honestly assure you that I am deeply moved. For many years I have laboured hard and faithfully to discharge my duty, in the office which was bestowed on me without my solicitation. My labours were also not unblessed; and now I have been driven forth an exile from my home, banished from the very congregation which I have built up, under the aid of God. I will not trust myself to speak on the subject, I cannot do it; not one of you can feel the emotions which agitate me when I revert to the subject in my mind. I might say much, but I cannot, will not venture to do so. But let me tell you this, that it is true that I set forth this winter, to advance the interest of my publications, by a personal intercourse with my fellow-Israelites throughout the land, in which object I have also, in a measure, succeeded. But I had another object also, to appeal from the judgment of my late congregation to the verdict of the Israelites elsewhere; and I am truly happy that it has been in my favour. Wherever I tarried any time, I was requested to address the people, and their undivided attention, their kind reception of my remarks, their friendly expression of sympathy, have all tended to the my lacerated feelings, and to convince me that I have not altogether laboured in vain, and that mankind is not all unjust. Some such a thing was necessary, to tran<<30>>quilize my mind, to subdue my rebellious heart; and hence I am thankful that I ventured abroad in the late severe winter, and braved dangers inseparable from so long a journey, to enjoy the intercourse of my friends everywhere, who proved to me that all are not ungrateful, although I have cause to complain of those on whom I had the greatest claims.

You have alluded, Mr. Levin, to the tongue of calumny, which has been busy with my character. I thank you, with all my heart, for your expression in regard to this, that in your estimation, and in the eyes of you all, my friends, I stand clear and unspotted. And permit me to say, that in so thinking, you do me no more than justice; for if I were unworthy, I would not now stand before you, not now be the recipient of a token of your regard. I shall therefore receive this as a testimony that you believe me worthy of the calling of a teacher in Israel, and one justified to assume the character of a public instructor. At three various visits have I been called on to address you in the place you had destined to worship the name of the Lord. For this frequent attention, accept my thanks, and be assured that I shall with pleasure present myself before you again, should I ever revisit your city. But, in the meantime, let me recommend myself to your good memory, and think of the absent with kindness and indulgence, and do not condemn me, should calumny ever dare to assail my reputation—should slander even charge me with one or the other wrong. It is, alas! the misfortune of all who hold the least station which places them in any prominence, to be the mark for the shafts of slander. Were they as pure as an angel of mercy, as spotless as the innocent new-born babe, slander would detect in them caw for censure—would detect stains where all is innocence. The very brilliance of the sun will not escape detraction, and the brighter the light, the more will an evil tongue find something to blame, something to which it can point the finger of scorn: But slander is like the night-owl, which only ventures out from its concealment, where it has spent the day, after the sun has set, when darkness covers, with its dusky mantle, the face of the earth. It is then that the night-bird goes forth to seek its prey, to do its work of destruction of life, under the protection of the gloom. Just so is slander; in the presence of its victim, it is all smiles and friendship; but no sooner is his back turned, no sooner has, so to say, his sun set by his absence, than it pours forth its vile poison, and fearlessly does the work of detraction, because the slandered is not present to counteract it promptly in person.

It is possible that this may happen to me also. I leave you, there<<31>>fore, my friends, to guard my reputation, in which you all have shown a deep interest by your friendly presence this day. Believe no evil of me, of which you have no absolute certainty that it is true; and if it be necessary for you to condemn me, if the conviction be brought home to your mind that I have done wrong: then let me entreat you to judge me indulgently, and pronounce no judgment which is to banish me from your good will. There is but One pure; but One free from all wrong, and this is our Father in heaven; but it is man’s to err, it is human to transgress; the best have their faults, the most virtuous need forgiveness.

In a few brief hours I shall be afloat on the broad bosom of the deep, on my return to my place of residence. Think of me when far away; forget me not when distance intervenes between us; and whether it be the will of God that I meet you again hereafter, and whether I shall speak to you again in the name of our common Master, concerning the way of life or not, I trust that you will think well of the absent, and retain me always in your good memory.

At the conclusion of Mr. Leeser’s address, which occupied about thirty minutes in the delivery, an appropriate prayer was offered up by the Rev. Ellis Lyons, who closed the interesting ceremony, by singing “Adone Gnolam,” in which the congregation united.

As Mr. Leeser intended to leave the city during the day, those present, especially the ladies, availed themselves of the opportunity of taking him once more by the hand, and with heartfelt expressions for his future health and prosperity, bid him an affectionate farewell.

S. N. C.