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Vol. X. No. 7
Tishry 5613 October 1852

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy


To the Editor of the Occident:—

I am induced to light my taper at the lamp of Religion, in hopes its genial rays may contribute to increase the diffusion of practical knowledge among the Israelites of my native country. Your August number of the Occident contains several advertisements for Orthodox Ministers to supply the spiritual wants of Orthodox Congregations. To inquire into the meaning of the term “Orthodox,” is my present purpose.

I learn from the invaluable work, Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem, which you have given to the American public, and which should be read and studied by every Israelite, that Mosaic Judaism acknowledges no dogmas,* no creeds,† no saving truths,‡ no mysteries,§ no revealed Religion, in the sense hi which this is usually taken; hence Orthodoxy (right believing) cannot well be applied to the bible; as by that book our religious standard is not our Belief but our Lift; we are commanded to do and to observe; there is no mention made of believing at all. Yet if we judge men by that standard, there are many who observe only the ordinances therein commanded, who certainly have a claim to be considered as right believers, but who are called in our clay by the ignorant part of the community, “Heterodox,” while the whole lives and spheres of ideas of these Heterodox men would shame those, who thus fratricidally strike a blow at what they neither know, understand, nor practise. If Orthodoxy means a strict observance and adherence to the Talmud, and Mishnaic laws, it will be almost impossible to define what set of Rabbins to believe with regard to tradition, as the schools of Hillel, Shamnai, and the whole train of their successors are diametrically opposed to each other, and seldom do any of them agree on the same subject. Orthodoxy cannot mean a belief in the opinions of men, but it must refer to a belief in something that is divine; and <<342>> who will maintain or admit all the Talmud to be divine? Even Dr. Raphall expresses himself thus on the authority of these codes (see Jewish Chronicle, Feb. 24, 1845, page 442), in a lecture delivered at Sussex Hall, London:

* Jerusalem, pages 72, 104, 113.        
† Ibid., 71, 110.
‡ Ibid., 59, 104, 105. 
§ Ibid., 60, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 97.

“With regard to the Talmud, if any pretend to say that it is a work of perfection, and contains nothing but what is good, believe him not. If any say it contains nothing but what is reprehensible, believe him not.”

“The materials (for the Talmud, and Mishna) were introduced without any apparent order, and by the side of opinions the most profound and philosophical, we find others the most outré.”*

* “Outré,” absurd or extravagant.

But as there are certain functions to be performed, certain duties to be observed, certain rights to be enjoyed, concerning which our wise men say: the Sacred Book does not provide for; they, therefore, call to our aid “Tradition,” as explained in the Mishna and Talmud, collected in digests and codes, and accepted by all Israel,—the Caraites and a few moderns excepted; and it is in a strict adherence to these laws, which are equally binding on the orthodox congregations, as well as the minister, that we can truly discover the standard for orthodoxy. Let us see whether the orthodoxy of this day can come up to this standard. We will suppose that a minister makes personal application for one of these situations. Pray, who are to be the judges? “The Parnassim,” “the trustees,” “the congregation,” or all together! Admitting, for the moment, that a gentleman of high attainments, and intrinsic moral worth, endowed both by nature and education with qualifications to become a teacher in Israel, on strictly orthodox principles (according to this standard), and he should, by any circumstances, allow himself to be examined and catechized by these self-constituted judges, as to what he believes or disbelieves, and his examination having proved satisfactory: has he not the right, is it not his duty, to make some inquiries respecting the moral and religious condition of those whom he is expected to lead? And as he will be called upon to perform religious duties among them, without they come up to this standard, he <<343>> dare not, as a strict rabinnical minister, take office. He, therefore, propounds to them several questions, and submits several laws, which he will examine them under.

1. Does your congregation consist of such persons as are qualified by those supposed orthodox laws to be members of a Jewish congregation?

2. Have you separated or excluded such members as dare not be admitted to any religious communion?
Otherwise, I again repeat, that if called upon to perform religious functions, I would be prevented from using them;—for example:
I dare not use such persons to Minyan.
I dare not call them to the Sepher.
I cannot perform the marriage ceremony, because legal witnesses are required, and persons united without legal witnesses are considered as living unlawfully together. Any persons who have transgressed the following laws are not legal witnesses,* nor dare they be used as above:

* See Maimonides, Sanhedrim Perek. 18, where all the cases are enumerated. The numbers used here refer to that section, which see.

8, 9. “Those who eat blood,”—certain fat, or what contains blood.
10. Whoever acts in the manner of גוים .
14. Who eats the flesh of any animal forbidden by our law.
81-85. Whoever cats a forbidden fowl, shell-fish, or reptile.
88. Whoever eats flesh of an animal not killed according to our law.
89. Whoever eats Trepha.
Who eats meat and butter together at same meal.
139. Who does business on the holy days.
141. Who shaves the corners of his beard.
145. Who wears woollen and linen texture.
163. Who intermarries with a non-Israelite.

We not only dare not use certain men for sacred functions, we even dare not receive from them contributions to the Synagogue.
We accept no contributions from a מומר .

Under מומר are comprised all those transgressions of any <<344>> laws, if the act is done out of disregard to the express law, and the transgressor is conscious of it; of such we do not take their contributions to the Synagogue,* nor do we occupy ourselves with them when they die; we do not cut קריע , nor do we administer the meal of consolation.†

* Code Yoreh Deah, § 259. † Ibid. 345.  
Those who deny a special Providence; who do not believe in Moses; who do not believe in the oral law; who slights a Rabbi or wise man.

These are estimated less than heathens, and are not legal witnesses.‡

‡ Code Hoshen Mishpat, §34; Tur ח"ה § 31; Maimonid. Hilchoth Eduth, § 3.

Lastly, Sabbath-breakers, who do it publicly, are, in every respect, worse than heathens, and are expelled from the congregation.—Code Yad Hachzakah Hilchoth Gerushin, cap. iii., and elsewhere.

I must impress it on the congregation that these laws are not laid down by an individual teacher, but are to be found in our Mishna, Talmud, and the digest of those laws, viz., the Tur and Shulchan-Aruch, and other codes that are universally received among all truly pious Jews, and are considered binding, under pain of heresy, by all Orthodox Jews.

The congregation, after having heard these laws read and explained, reluctantly confess to the minister that they do not come up to the standard of Orthodox Rabbinical Judaism, but they still persist in calling themselves Orthodox. Do, Mr. Editor, enlighten the people on this subject, and give us your idea of their Orthodoxy. But not to conclude this with a bare enumeration of Orthodox laws, I quote from Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem. page 12, some of his views on True Orthodox Religion.

“To convince the people, in the most impressive manner, of the truth of high-souled principles and sentiments; to show them that duties towards men are likewise duties towards God; that to exercise justice and righteousness is obeying the commands of God; and to practise mercy is following his most holy will; and that the true acknowledgment of the Creator cannot <<345>> leave in the soul the least hatred of our fellow-men,—to teach this is the charge, the duty, the office of religion.

“To preach this is the duty, charge, and office, of ministers; and it is inconceivable how it ever could enter into the minds of men to let religion inculcate the opposite, and to permit its ministers to preach views contrary to this idea.”

I make no apologies for laying before the intelligent religious public the following conclusions, drawn from Scripture, from reason, and from our wise men of other days; and I shall be happy to hear the opinions of the wise men in our country of the present day (and there are many). As I do not appear here in my own name, but express merely the sacred truths drawn from eternal sources, I, if mistaken, will be more ready to learn than to teach. Then, in the name of Truth, and for the sake of restoring harmony among us, let those who are able to speak and to teach come forward, and not stand as idle spectators, to illustrate whom Isaiah lvi. 10, says, “They are all dumb dogs;* they do not bark.”

* The true teacher has a faithful eye over his flock. He is compared to the emblem of Fidelity, who gives notice when danger approached, &c.

Others, again, who are able to speak, but who are too ignorant to speak according to “the law and the testimony,”—who use caprice in the place of judgment, passion in the place of argument, their dictum instead of reason, contra­diction instead of conviction:—to these I would suggest that they apply themselves to the living word of an eternal God, and no more burden us with “dead matter of dead men.”†

† The pious Rabbi Bechayé, in his preface to the “Hoboth Hallebaboth,” (on inward moral duties,) speaks thus: “A wise Rabbi, who continually occupied himself with studying and practising absolute moral duties, being asked once a strange question about ‘laws of divorce,’ replied, Thou askest about that which, if we do not know it, can do no harm. Dost thou know already the duties which are indispensable that thou shouldst know? Thou shouldst not transgress against the Lord, by directing thy attention to strange questions, by the knowledge of which thou reachest no higher degree in the knowledge of the law; nor dost thou advance in faith; nor will this improve thy moral feelings. I assure thee that for five-and-thirty years I have assiduously occupied myself with the study of our duties; and yet I have found no leisure to devote myself to such subjects, concerning which thou hast asked me.’ He gave him this reprimand, and made him feel ashamed.”

Should not a people inquire of their God? “Why do ye seek among <<346>> the dead concerning the living?* To the law and the testimony: whosoever speaketh not thus hath no light.”

* Isaiah viii. 19, 20.

I now take the position that orthodox and heterodox are not applicable to us, who have no dogmas, as stated before. Whosoever believes the Bible to be the word of God, he is a believer; whosoever does not believe this, he is an unbeliever; and as soon as a man, by his words or actions, shows that he dodoes not believe, he is no more a Jew:—he is an unbeliever. If the generic term believer cannot be applied to him, how much less the specific term Jew! I hence arrive at this deduction, that Jews can be neither heterodox nor unbelievers: ergo, whosoever is a believing Jew is an orthodox Jew, as far as his belief is concerned.

This brings me to the second position, viz.: That a belief in the Bible, and what is therein contained, together with what tradition (for we cannot do without the latter) declares to be our duty to practise, does not yet constitute a Jew. A man born from Jewish parents, and strictly believing in the divinity of the Bible, and that it is binding on us to observe the laws therein contained, as explained by “oral law or tradition,” is no Jew yet:—nay, he is even farther removed than our neighbours.

A man who does not practise, because he does not believe himself commanded to practise, may be a conscientious man, though in error. But to profess Judaism, which nowhere speaks of “believing” or “not believing,” but always “observe or ­omit,” to imagine he belongs to a religious system where all depends on practice, and nothing but practice, is surely only vain imagination.

He is no Jew that believes, or pretends to believe, and who does not practise. In every book are to be found positive and negative duties, recommended to our practice, but none to our belief or unbelief. Do the ten commandments mention belief? Do the prophets in any one instance, among the many places in which they give a summary of all that is required of us as men and as Jews,—do they speak about belief? If belief constituted Judaism, did not Balaam believe? If birth was requisite, then Jews horn would remain or continue Jews, although they worshipped idols. If belief and birth, without practice, was suffi<<347>>cient, why do not Moses and the prophets tell us so? and why do they teach just the contrary, viz., that any man who practises what our religion requires, belongs to us, whether he born among us or not? Salvation is promised, not to him who believes as Jews believe, not to him who has no other right among us than the physical birthright, but to man,—to any man who lives a life of truth and faithfulness, and who practises justice and equity. Salvation is promised to the just and upright man, as a being created in the image of God; and he who preserves that image by living a godly life, to such a man salvation (eternal bliss) is promised.

“Thus saith the Lord, Adhere to (the practice) of equity,* and practise virtue; for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Bliss to the man† that doeth thus, and the son of man‡ who adhereth to it,—that keepeth the Sab­bath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, who is attached to the Lord think, The Lord will surely keep me separate from his people; neither let the Eunuch say, Behold, I am a barren tree. For thus sayeth the Lord of the Eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, and choose that in which I delight, and are strongly attached to my Covenant—to them I will give in my house and within my walls, influence and reputation,§ (which is) preferable to sons and daughters; an everlasting name will I give them, which shall never perish. And the sons of the stranger, who cleave unto the Lord, to minister unto him, and to love the name of God, to become his servant.—Them I will bring to my holy mountain.”||

* “Mishpat,” i. e., all duties due by man to his fellow-man.—Kimchi ad Mishna, vi. 8.
אנוש Whether Jew or Gentile.         
בן אדם, Any man.
§ יד, hand, viz., power; see Gen. xxxvii. 27; 1 Samuel xviii. 17, xxi. 24; xiii. 14., etc. It sometimes means a monument, trophy; 1 Samuel, xv. 12; 2 Samuel, xviii. 18. It also means a place; Deut. xxiii. 13; Numb. ii. 17; Josh. viii. 10.           
|| Isaiah, lvii. 12.

Passages like these, teach us in plain language, who belongs to the congregation of the Lord, who is to be admitted to his house, who ought to have there a place, influence, a monument, fame, and reputation. מכלל הן אתה שומע לאו. “From <<348>> every positive you may infer the negative.” It has now been shown to whom the term Orthodox is to be applied, and that it is he who acts well, with whom it will be well. This brings me to the conclusion, that we have used a wrong standard for Orthodoxy, for faith, and for the practice which is required from us. The Lord is kind and merciful, he requires love and mercy. He is all wisdom; He cannot delight in foolishness, lavish as He is in his creation, and we have to imitate Him. All is great, noble, and tends to our use and happiness. There is no dallying, no make-believe play in nature. Men who are impressed with the grand idea of a Great God, and their great destiny, ought to allow their minds to expand, and not like children have continual contentions and differences about their aversions and attachment to trifles.

About religion, all Israel agrees; there exists no difference of opinion. Do we read of any dispute about our religion in our true sources of religion? do our prophets differ? do they dispute? are they divided in opinion? You may depend, when men differ on the platform of religion, what they differ about is of no consequence. You need only remove the veil of Ignorance, or break the influence of Wickedness, and Truth will appear. If we all agree about the substance, why differ about the shadow?

“Therefore, 0 House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord, and the stability of thy times, the strength of salvation, shall be wisdom and knowledge; then will Justice dwell in the wilderness; and Righteousness will have the seal in the fruitful field, and the work of equity shall be salvation, and the effects of righteousness; quiet and security for ever.”