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Innovation, Its Tendency And Preventive.


In contemplating the spirit of Innovation with which a portion of our brethren have of late been seized, and in taking a retrospective glance at our condition, religious and political, as it was half a century ago, and comparing it with what it is at the present moment, we are forced to to avow that our religion (at least the observance of it) has suffered ill proportion to the civil privileges which we have acquired. However discouraging this may be to the religious philanthropist, it is not the less true. The cause is natural: the more we are oppressed the more closely do we cling to each other; the more our enemies endeavour to annihilate us as a nation, the more do we exert ourselves to uphold our religion to prove the futility of their unholy attempts. The very chains they forge to enslave us serve to make stronger the knot which binds us together. Oppression creates sympathy, and sympathy union; and these three may aptly be called החוט המשלש אשר לא במהרה ינתק “The threefold thread which cannot be speedily torn.” Where however humanity has been substituted for cruelty, and liberality for intolerance, there the energies of our co-religionists have slackened in a religious point of view. New channels for enterprise being opened to them, an opportunity being afforded them to compete with their Christian brethren in all branches of arts and science, commerce and literature: it is not so greatly surprising as one would be led to believe at first sight, that their spiritual condition should become to them but a secondary consideration. The divine poet foretold it long ago, וישמן ישרן ויבעט שמנת עבית כשית ויטש אלוה עשהו וינבל צור ישועתו “Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked; thou art grown fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; thus he forsook God who made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvatoin.” Instead of offering a thanksgiving to the God of Israel for having riven our chains, we are entirely absorbed in worldly pursuits, and think we have nothing more to pray for. Then again where we formerly looked for a return to the promised land as the only means of deliverance, we now find it at home. Consequently that land is partly forgotten, or at all events the prophecy that it shall become an everlasting possession to the seed of Abraham is either not remembered or not heeded.

Hence it arises that some of us, little caring for or thinking of a restoration, feel contented where they are. Unmindful of the mission of Israel, and being citizens of the States which they inhabit, they wish to identify themselves with the nations among whom they dwell, and they therefore try to imitate them and assimilate their own mode of worship to that of their neighbours: ויתערבו בגוים וילמדו ממעשיהם “They mingle with the gentiles and learn of their deeds.” It is very proper indeed that we should use all our energies to prove ourselves worthy of the freedom we enjoy; but this is no reason that our nationality, origin, and destiny should be lost sight of, and that we should become good citizens at the expense of our faith. On the contrary, were we only to bear in mind continually that we are a chosen and peculiar people, and that in us all the families of the earth shall be blessed: surely no other stimulus would be required to elevate us to the highest pinnacle of fame and glory. This however appears not to be the opinion of innovators. They strive to divest themselves of every feature which is strictly Judaic; they even go so far as to introduce the vernacular tongue in the service of the Synagogue instead of the sacred language in which God communed with the patriarchs and made his will known to the prophets. Lacking soul to appreciate the sublimity of our hitherto established ritual, they needs must have recourse to music to gratify the senses in lieu of that חלק אלוה ממעל portion from God above; and all this, forsooth, to prove to our Christian friends that our religion is respectable, and that we also have become enlightened and civilized!

Let us now examine the tendency of innovation. It is an old adage, כיון שנתן רשות למשית אין מבחץ בין טוב לרע “As soon as the destroyer is vested with authority, he does not distinguish between good and evil.” Therefore from the moment that it is admitted that we have a right to abolish one thing of, or all another to, our authorized mode of worship, (the antiquity of which alone carried with it a certain feeling of sanctity which no new system ever can supply;) there is no saying where these encroachments will stop. We commence by pulling down what are termed superfluities, and end by shaking the whole fabric to the very foundation. Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coute. The introduction of any other language than the Hebrew in the synagogue is not only calculated to cause the entire oblivion of that language (which should be held in veneration to the end of time), but is sure ultimately to shake our belief in the holy Scriptures when we needs must study them by means of a second-hand corrupted translation. Let no one consider these apprehensions extravagant. No one can deny that the preservation of the Hebrew language has hitherto been the sole natural cause of the preservation of the Hebrew nation. Our Rabbis tell us that one of the causes why were were redeemed from Egyptian bondage was “because we did not alter our language.” It is the only tie that keeps us united. It is stronger than that of cosanguinity. The expression הן עם אחד ושפה אחת לכלם וזה החלם לעשות ועתה לא יבצר מהם כל אשר יזמו לעשות “Behold the people is one, and they al have one language, and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them which they imagine to do,” shows to the reflecting mind the boundless effect of the affinity of language. Therefore, if we allow the least infringement in that respect, we deliver up they keystone of our holy religion itself, and the same fate will befall us as befell the Babylonians. We shall not understand each other’s language, confusion will reign, and all our bonds will be torn asunder. It is idle to presume that any limits can or will be assigned to the prayers abolished or the hymns substituted. The present projectors may be very sincere; but what guarantee have they that their successors will not outdo them in the world of reformation, since every one considers himself entitled to break down and to build up? The noblest edifice in the universe, if abandoned to the multitude on condition that no one should pull down more than one stone, would be demolished in the twinkling of an eye, without leaving the least vestige of its existence. Let every advocate of innovation—or as it is called reform—beware of the first step, and ponder well over the responsibility which he assumes by advocating such measures. Let every minister of religion be on the alert, and consider that future generations will hold him accountable for the safety of the treasure of which he is one of the depositaries. If slight abuses have imperceptibly crept into our service, let him try to eradicate them by proving that they are abuses and not essentials. If his community be too ignorant to distinguish one from the other, it is far preferable to let them adhere to their antiquated notions (for after all no great harm can result from their continuance) than to let them be under the impression that any reform be absolutely needed. Let parents not be so apathetic in regard to the religious education of their children. Let those be taught the Hebrew language well enough to understand the prayers they are made to say, and not as it is at present, when the tongue is made to utter what the heart feels not; and if this be honestly done, music will not be required as an auxiliary to inspire them with devotion. Let them be perfectly acquainted with the history, origin, and destiny of our people; and then we shall not hear persons who say their prayers three times a day, express their doubts about the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead. Let them be instructed thoroughly in the principles of our faith. Let all this be done, and future generations will know how to resist the great enemies of true religion—infidelity and fanaticism.

H. G. [Henry Goldsmith]