Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Vol. X. No. 7
Tishry 5613 October 1852

Mr. E. Marcussohn


We every now and then sec the various conversion journals glorify themselves at the success they fancy to obtain, at every reported defection from Judaism. From one end of the world to the other, the changes are rung, “A Rabbi has embraced Christianity,” or something to that effect, as though if it were even true, our religion would have need to fall into a hopeless state of decay, because such a great prop had been withdrawn. Now we would merely inform the conductors of missionary enterprises, that we do not depend upon the adhesion of one or the other for the permanence of our faith; and that though for the sake of the soul of the poor sinners, we deplore their apostacy, we would not grieve at the effects of the act itself; since we do not lose any strength by the defection of all those whom the missionaries can obtain, here or elsewhere. But once in a while, they rejoice a little too soon; the anthem is sung, before the victim is firmly secured; and this has been well exemplified in the case of the person whose name heads this article.

We met him for the first time, about two years ago, in New York, when Dr. Raphall and others spoke of him as a Talmudist of the most profound erudition; and from the little intercourse we have had with him since, we have no doubt but that this reputation is justly merited. We had lost sight of him for some time, when we heard at length that he had been engaged as Hazan and Shochet at Augusta, Georgia. While there last winter, we were told that he had left that place, for some reason or other; and next we heard of his occupying a similar position at Montgomery, Alabama. Of course, if one is Shochet particularly, he has to adhere <<353>> strictly to the Jewish laws, and he has to act daily in capacity of a judge, to decide what is permitted and what prohibited; and then there are always many to watch him, especially in smaller towns, where a man’s conduct is more exposed to scrutiny than in the larger cities.

It was, therefore, with great surprise that we heard a report that Mr. M. had joined our opponents, and strange as we deemed it, unaccountable as such a sudden conversion must be in an ignorant, much more in a learned mail, the rumour obtained a sort of confirmation, by two letters in the August number of the New York Jewish Chronicle, in which some sort of boasting was manifested at the accession of so great a light.

But barely had we had time to think on the matter at all, when we received a letter from our agent, Mr. S. Cellner, of Montgomery, informing us that Mr. Marcussohn, in a conversation with him, had emphatically denied the truth of the whole story, and that he had promised to write to us on the subject. But no letter came; and we informed Mr. Cellner to that effect; when instead of the letter, Mr. M. presented himself to us personally, on the 9th of September, and stated that his sole reason for journeying hither was to contradict in the amplest manner, that he had, as reported, denied the truth of the Unity of the Holy One, the God of Israel.

He appeared deeply shocked at his first entrance into our domicile at the strange position he occupied, for a man like himself to be charged with such a crime; and he ended by averring that never, in his whole life, not for one moment, had he ever been so mad as to attach belief to a mortal worshipped as God, and that no man in his sanity could ever adopt such an opinion, it being therefore hypocrisy in any Jew to profess that he believed so.

This is to a certainty emphatic enough; but no more than we should expect any one born a Jew to assert, whether he had never forsaken his faith, or acted as a Grand Inquisitor in Spain, during the worst periods of persecution, and presided at a thousand autos da fé of his suffering brothers. To our apprehension, there can be nothing so supremely wicked and senseless as for a Jew to profess to believe that God could be separated into two bodies, that one remained Supreme, whilst the other descended into the body of a woman, and was born in the manner of other mortals. The idea is obscene as well as wicked, contradictory to common sense, and opposed to Scripture. We know well enough all the passages that have hitherto been offered as proof; but we are yet to find the first apostate whom we could believe sincere in inter­preting them satisfactorily to the general tenor of Scripture and reason; <<354>> and though the latter should not be altogether our guide, since we must follow God’s teaching, whether cold human reason be satisfied or not: still in the matter of difference between us and Christians, they can only convince us by showing that their views are more reasonable than ours; for, even to prove them more scriptural, requires an appeal to our reasoning faculties. In so stigmatizing the apostates as hypocrites, we are not illiberal; the few of any talent, we had any accidental intercourse with, and they are six in number, if our memory serves us right, with three of whom we had any conversation, we could not avoid feeling that their Christianity sat very awkwardly upon them.

Whilst on the subject, we must give publicity to a fact, in order to enlighten the editor of the Chronicle. It is now a little more than two years ago, when one evening a servant brought us, whilst at supper, a petition from two persons requesting relief. We went into the parlour, gave them a dollar each, and asked no questions, believing them what they professed to be, two distressed Israelites, whose genteel appearance demanded more than usual consideration. Some time after, we had some little engagements in New York, among other things to speak with the Editor of the Chronicle concerning a proposal he had made for a controversy on religion. Not knowing the precise locality of his office, we were looking about the neighbourhood where we thought it was, when a stranger addressed us, stating that since he had been with us he had found employment as a printer. We did not recognise him, nor did we ask anything respecting his knowledge of our person; but as he was confessedly a printer, and there being a great many offices in that neighbourhood, we asked him for directions to find the Chronicle. He offered to conduct us, which we thankfully accepted, as he professed to know the Editor. He in fact pointed him out to us, and followed us into the office and remained the short time we spent there, which did not excite our suspicion, as he professed to have to speak to us when at leisure.

After our leaving, he inquired for our place of sojourn, which we gave him. The next day he made his appearance, and asked, if we would insert in the Occident a statement of the manner in which converts are treated in the “Operative Institution” at Palestine Place, Bethnal Green, London. Upon inquiring what he knew about it, he professed to have been an inmate of that notable asylum for purchased converts, and that he had escaped from there, and was now anxious to atone by a public confession, for the great wrong he had committed, by associating with apostates, and becoming apparently one of them. Then for the first time we called to mind the manner of his introducing himself <<355>> to our notice the summer previous; and recollecting, too, his companion, he told us that he also was one of the converts who had with him been under instruction, and learned a trade, his own being that of a printer, and that the other was then in Boston. Finding that his present disposition to atone for the wrong, was owing to the want of means more than any real sorrow, we told hint that if he would bring us a fair statement, we would make it public; but during our stay in New York he only brought a badly written introduction, which we would not read till he supplied the whole; this he promised to do during our stay; but he did not comply with his word. We endeavoured also to procure him work, but failed to do so; at least he said he could get nothing to do wherever we sent him.

A few days after our return, we received a letter from him, which stated that if we could pay him well for his revelations, he would make them, if not, not. As might he expected, we could not enter into any correspondence with a man who wished to sell himself to the highest bidder, and perhaps would have taken our letter to some of the leaders of the Society in New York, as an evidence of the Jews’ purchasing back those who had embraced Christianity.

Not long after, we heard that he had been preaching against the Jews, as an agent of the A. S. for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, in an interior town of Pennsylvania, and we saw, in the last report of that worthy body, his name among its colporteurs for distributing its poison among our people. This is a simple story, unvarnished; and we leave every man to draw his own inference; and we trust that the gentlemen who are connected with the Society, and who will assuredly read this, will take the matter into consideration and act understandingly in future. The name of the individual is at their disposal, on application to us.

But to return to Mr. Marcussohn. We do not know the foundation on which the reports of the Chronicle are based, nor have we as yet learned how the rumours which reached us originated; but this much is unquestioned, that Mr. M. most emphatically denied the story in every respect, and said in German, “Gracious Heaven! how could such a thing be said of me! is it possible that I should believe in such an unreasonable, sinful doctrine as the trinity, which is not founded in reason or revelation!”

He related to us how a person arguing with him, wished to illustrate the possibility of the trinity, by showing three candles giving but one light. To which Mr. M. replied that the example is quite inappropriate. There are three candles and one light; now there are either four substances, or if the three candles should be one, two; but one, or three in one, never; and the three candles are assuredly three, <<356>> though the substance they give forth is one.

Now if this was the best argument to convince the Rabbi, it requires nothing to show that a conviction was out of the question; especially as Mr. M. emphatically refuted it, as just shown.—The manner he came connected at all with the Christian Clergy, was, that an apostate missionary, whom Mr. M. did not repulse “with both hands,” called upon him; and he offered to get him scholars to teach them Hebrew, for which Mr. M. wanted in return to learn English. After being once in society with these men, the teaching was occasionally omitted, in order to talk upon religion; in the hope, no doubt, of catching Mr. M. to admit something in an unguarded moment.—Of course, we give only Mr. M.’s own statement. and should there be any mistake; we will cheerfully insert a reply; our only object being to do justice in the premises, and to charge no one with wrong-doing, without the fullest proof. In the mean time, as only vague assertions have as yet been made, it would be well for those who have claimed Mr. M. as a convert, to point out the day when the event did take place, the church where, and the minister by whom his abjuration was received. It is well in all charges to be particular, circumstantial, and direct, so that no doubt may remain of the correctness of an assertion; but till some such thing as this is done in the present case, we shall regard the whole as a sheer fabrication, contrived to place an insuperable bar between Mr. M. and the Synagogue, so as to compel him to throw himself into the arms of the Church. If this be so, we hope and trust that Mr. M. will rise superior to this trial, and that he may at length come out from this fire purified from every breath of suspicion; and we trust that it will be a lesson to him how he ever allows such men as the Missionaries of the A. S. M. C. of J., to approach him. We subjoin his own ststatement.—Ed. Oc.

To the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle of New York:

I met with your August Number at the house of one of my friends, which, on perusing, I came to an article headed “Conversion,” which, speaking of the conversion of certain Jews to Christianity, embraces my name among others, to my grief, surprise, and astonishment. My indignation might have been less had I given the least assent to your doctrines in the conversations I had with some of your faith in Montgomery. But as I deem the whole system of Christian faith little better than a dream, a waking fancy, perhaps, and nothing more, I am at a loss to imagine how you upon reflection could do me the injustice to state that I had changed my faith, one as imperishable as the God who first <<357>> bestowed it on us through his servant Moses. To a Jew, nothing can be more disgraceful than being charged with deserting his religion; and this disgrace, this injustice you have fastened on me in your unauthorized publication. In selecting Israel as his people, God, through his prophet, called us a stiff-necked generation; but He also styled us a “great nation,” having wisdom and understanding, which two elements are necessary in a rational religion, so as to prevent us from believing every idle tale and fiction which may be related to us. I give you this information for your guidance, that you may not so readily believe in time to come if you hear of the conversion of a Jew, especially if he be one who has learned something; since you may be sure that you hear a thing which ought not to be believed, or that he is one of the most ignorant of his people.

Now the only way I can account for the origin of the report is as follows: The missionary who sent you the letter in the end of the above number, came several times to my residence, and we had several conversations about religious matters, and uniformly he had the worst of the argument, as he will I hope have the candour to acknowledge. In every interview we had, he failed to answer my objections; and once when we had argued before many people, his best reply was, that after all, the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery; “but it is very plain to us,” I rejoined; and so it is, thank God, fore know that it is not founded on fact or revelation.

After this, he told me that the ministers of the city wished to become acquainted with me, and that they desired to learn Hebrew, for which they would pay me; and so he recommended me to them. After I became a little better acquainted with them we often spoke together about religion, but I always had the last word, they failing to maintain their side. On one occasion, after conversing for some time, one of them took the liberty to tell me, on find­ing himself unable to contend any farther with me, after this fashion:

“All that you say is too high and deep; but in religious matters it is only necessary to have faith (i. e. only to believe, whether there are good reasons for so doing or not); and the only reason why you Jews do not believe in Jesus (I do not want to call him Christ, because he never was this, and never will be), is because you do not take the Bible in its true light, and you are cursed that you shall have ears and not hear, eyes and not see, a heart and not understand.”

This assertion hurt my feelings deeply, and my heart was made sick, and I replied to him: “We are the first to whom God, the Almighty, delivered the <<358>> Bible, by the hand of Moses, and you have obtained it solely from us; and if, therefore, you have it, we have it to a certainty; and still you dare to say that you understand it in its true light! and have a better knowledge of its contents than we!” After this, I began to show them that not only have they not the true light, but they have no light at all; and I proved to them that even Dr. Clarke, in his Commentaries, was in error, and did not understand the true sense of the Hebrew.

Most of their conversation was about the Trinity; and the manner in which they attempted to explain it to my understanding, was truly ridiculous; and I showed them that even of their own faith they did not know enough to help themselves, and I was able to give them better reasons than theirs; but I proved to them, at the same time, that their belief is false, and that it is not possible to believe in three persons in the Deity; and if their illustration holds good, they either believe in four or two gods; but three can never be one. I also demonstrated to them, that wherever Dr. Clarke exhibited a plural in the connexion with the name of God, that he did not understand the meaning of the word at all. I also explained to them, in a correct manner, the meaning of the word Shiloh (Gen. xlix. 10). Let them repeat to you my answer; and if they are not able to do so, because it is “too high or deep,” I will do so myself with pleasure, at a later period, if God pleases to spare me.

In speaking of the crucifixion, I asked, where this was predicted in the Old Testament? They, thereupon, presented me with a little book (which I shall carefully preserve), where I read that this important event is foretold in Deuteronomy, xxi. 22, 23; to which I replied, that if this be so, I could frame no objection to this position. But I pray you to read the text referred to, and I am sure you will agree with me, that no Christian argument can be derived from it. The second passage cited, is the one relating to the brazen serpent, which Moses was ordered to make in the desert, of which it is said that it is a sign, that “as the serpent was lifted up, so was Jesus to be crucified.” I then asked them, whether they were satisfied to take the whole history of the brazen serpent as a sign of Jesus, since it would be improper to take the half only? They answered: “To be sure, we take the whole history.” I expressed myself perfectly satisfied with this reply; but as I gave them no reason for this, they perhaps thought that I was not able to answer; yet, this, however, thank God, is not the case. The reason <<359>> for my not saying more, was, that the thing was too trifling to require farther illustration. But as it seems that I was misunderstood, I will now enter into farther details. In saying the whole history, I meant, that if the lifting up of the serpent, by Moses, was a sign of Jesus, the destruction of the serpent by King Hezekiah, in 2 Kings, xviii. 4, must also be a sign of him; as, after he had been crucified; he was buried, and became dust like the rest of mankind. You can find no more signs that either the serpent, or its type, arose after this; and hence Hezekiah called it “Nehushtan,” which, in your version, is left untranslated; but I will tell you what it means: it is a Hebrew word, and signifies a piece of brass or copper. Now, you can see who takes the Bible in a true light,—the Christians or the Jews.

Now, I beg you do not make any more mistakes. I can show you many things; but I do not wish to have a controversy, if you do not provoke me again. I shall be perfectly satisfied with this course; but if you like warfare better, I am ready to meet you. But I advise you to take care that you do not provoke me to write myself some of these days a Commentary on the New Testament, which, I hope, will be better than Dr. Clarke’s, at least it shall be more in accordance with truth.

Your reporter says that I shall become a faithful missionary; certainly not in the sense which he wishes you to understand this. But if you want light, I am prepared to give it to you to the best of my abilities, if you will but open your heart and mind to receive the truth. Only do not say that the Jews do not understand the Scriptures in their true light. I can refer you to men in your own city as regards my qualifications; but after all, I pray you to let me rest. I wish to live in the faith of our ancient heavenly Father, and I desire to follow his commandments; and though you say, “The law condemns,” still do I say, that it is the truth and everlasting life. Do you worship and serve as many persons as you like; I will call on the only true God alone; for He is sole saving Power, as He is the sole Creator. I am convinced that He is able to save us without a son; whereas I too am his son, as are all mankind, and as the Bible repeatedly calls the children of Israel. Leave Israel undisturbed in their worship; for if all men were to go each after his own god, we will go after the living God and everlasting King.

Philadelphia, Sept. 16th, 6613.

Above we give Mr. M.’s explanation of his intercourse with the mi<<360>>nisters at Montgomery, and really we can imagine nothing more strongly calculated to prove him firm in the faith. But he is prepared to carry on the good fight still farther, only he is yet imperfectly acquainted with the English language; he is, however, acquiring daily more facility in the vernacular, and the moment he has a due knowledge of the same, we have no doubt but that he will be מקדש השם declaring openly the truths of Judaism before the world, to the confusion of the apostates and their allies, who have endeavoured to extort from a person who has just begun to learn the English an implied confession, from which they could draw some inferences to their advantage. But we are truly grateful that in this instance it has turned out to their confusion.

We trust that our readers will not deem the space occupied by this subject unfitly filled; at least we deem it of the highest consequence to overwhelm the enemies of Israel with shame for their joy in withdrawing from God the suffering sons of Israel. For the present we must stop here.