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Notice of the Late Mr. Jacob J. M. Falkenau, &c.


I have to apologise for my neglecting to send you the communication which I promised you at our last interview. To make up for it, however, I will give you a chapter of miscellaneous news. And first let me discharge a duty in giving you a sketch of the late lamented Jacob J. M. Falkenau, who departed this life on Tuesday night the 10th of Nissan. He was born in the city of Fürth, in the Kingdom of Bavaria. His father was the late Rabbi Joshua Moses, who devoted his whole lifetime to propagate a knowledge of the Holy Law, and to instruct hundreds of young men in the study of the Talmud. His son Jacob, the subject of this sketch, promised at an early age to be a shining light in Israel. At the age of sixteen his father sent him to Amsterdam, to look after an elder brother whom he had intrusted with some business matters, and whom he with good reason suspected entered into wild speculations, which if not checked, would lead him into irretrievable rain. In that city Mr. Falkenau tarried for a considerable time, until he contracted a matrimonial engagement with a very interesting and amiable young lady, the daughter of Rabbi Berman, the Shochet. During that time he devoted all his energies to a <<260>> proper development of his gigantic intellect. Before he attained the age of twenty-two years, he had already established a reputation as one of the most learned Hebrew and Rabbinical scholars of Amsterdam. He was occasionally invited to deliver lectures in the literary society תועלות in which he displayed that sound erudition and critical acumen for which he became afterwards so pre-eminently distinguished. When his father-in-law became from old age incapacitated to perform his duties as שוחט דמתא he acted for him in that capacity until his demise, when he was appointed in his place. In the year 1838, he came to this country to better his fortunes. He first endeavoured to gain a livelihood by entering into mercantile pursuits, for which neither his inclination nor disposition fitted him. A project then being in contemplation by the congregation Bnai Jeshurun, to appoint a שוחט, and hearing of the capacity, piety, and learning of Mr. Falkenau, he was eargerly sought out as the most proper person to fill the office, which he discharged in the most satisfactory manner until 1850, when by a majority of votes he was elected Shamash of that congregation. He had not held that office more than twelve or fourteen months, when he was stricken down by a disease, which, after lingering for eight months, at last deprived him of life at the age of forty-eight.

The above is a short outline of his life and history. It now becomes my duty to speak of his character and talents. Well may we exclaim with the heathen prophet of old, “May my soul die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like his.” From the days of his earliest childhood up to the one when the hand of death put a period to his mundane career, the breath of slander never dared to alight on his fair fame. As a Jew, he was sincerely pious, without ostentation; nor did he possess a spirit of persecution against those who did not strictly follow the law; but rather endeavoured, by gentle persuasion, and by setting a bright example, to restore the backsliders to the path from which they had wandered. His morality was perfectly in keeping with his religious conduct. As long as I have had the honour of his acquaintance (a period of thirteen years), I never yet heard him speak ill of any living being. He was mild, affable, and unobtrusive; the last quality he practised to a fault, and very often to his own detriment. Concerning his learning, he was one of the most profound Talmudists in this country, and as a critical Hebraist and philologist he stood unapproached and unrivalled. In fact, he has left a vacuum in that branch of litera­ture, which will take many years to fill up. He was an original thinker, and as a grammarian was never wedded to antiquated rules or notions, <<261>> whenever they conflicted with his own common sense. He has written a very elaborate Hebrew Grammar, which I am in hopes will some day or other be published. He was upward of ten years in composing it; and judging from the title page, which I heard him dictate the day before his death to his son, I have no hesitation in saying that it will prove of immense interest and value to the literary world. I find that my respect and veneration for the departed has carried me farther than the limits of your periodical will probably allow. I will therefore conclude this sketch, hoping that the loss we have sustained will be re­plenished by others who may consider it worth their while to spend a lifetime in studying our holy law, and in cultivating our much-neglected but sublime literature.

Our congregations in this City are all progressing wonderfully. There also appears to be a growing disposition to increase the number of schools—a consummation devoutly to be wished. The Greene Street congregation have had three rooms built under the Synagogue for the purpose. A plan has also been drawn up by a committee, for the permanent establishment of a Seminary, to combine Hebrew and religious with English and classical instruction, which will, no doubt be acted on in a very short time. It is indeed a pity that the several congregations in this city cannot be prevailed upon to form a thorough union; for unquestionably, a system of concerted action would be much better calculated to raise institutions of that kind, than any single congregation can possibly hope to accomplish. However, it will probably take many years, before they will find out that the congregations of New York can do everything when combined, nothing when isolated.

The charitable societies are mostly in a very flourishing condition, especially the Hebrew Benevolent Society. Their permanent fund amounts at present, to $8000. They distributed last year not less than $3000 to the poor. This society has been particularly fortunate in securing the services of Mr. Harris Aronson to fill the office of President in the place of the late lamented M. M. Noah, Esq. Mr. Aronson has evinced the most indefatigable zeal in farthering the interest of that praise­worthy institution. May he meet his reward from the Almighty Father of the poor and the needy.

I cannot close this communication without thanking you for the noble stand you have taken in defence of a truly pious, honourable, and learned man—I mean Mr. Nussbaum. The manner in which he was abused for that which, if even he were wrong, would only amount to breaking through a Minhag, reflects anything but credit on his de<<262>>tractors. I cannot possibly make out why it should be thrown in his teeth that he is a bookseller, &c. In the first place, I cannot see anything degrading in it; to my knowledge there is no law prohibiting that occupation. Secondly, that old axiom, “to be a little indulgent to others’ faults,” should never be lost sight of if any one wishes to attack another; especially should he, when that other is a person of spotless and irreproachable character, be confident that he is himself without stain or blemish.

The letter of Rabbi Joseph Levy has created a great deal of enthusiasm in his favour amongst our New York rabbinical scholars. The prevalent opinion is that this letter is already a sufficient diploma, as it surely stamps him a man of profound erudition.

Yours, very respectfully,
אילה שלחה