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Eloquence of the Jews.


We find, in almost every number of the Jewish Intelligence something highly interesting to us, though it is generally very strangely coloured with the prejudices of the editor, whose endeavour it is to induce the Jews to swerve from their religion. But our readers understand, no doubt, that in praising us something must always be added, to prove that the Society of which the Jewish Intelligence is the organ, is correct and praiseworthy in its constant labours to deprive us of our faith. With these few remarks we request the attention of our readers to the subjoined, from the August number of the Jewish Intelligence.

“As concerning other developments of Hebrew genius, so the sacred Scriptures provide us with sufficient glimpses of the progress of public oratory among the Jews. Their science of its cultivation was not indeed of the same species with that which obtained among those nations whose diplomacy, whose peace and war, for centuries after centuries were discussed and voted in the daily open-air assemblies of the people, and there alone; but if fluency of speech, guided by artificial rules and embellishments, if a declamation of intense fervour, exactly spited to the genius of the hearers, and, in after times, a peculiar subtlety in juridical harangues, if these constitute eloquence, then abundant indications remain of its genuine character among the ancient Israelites.

“Yet it most be remembered that as the Holy Bible was not compiled for a monument of arts and sciences, the records of speeches there found are only to be regarded as compendia of such speeches. Thus, in reading the account of Michaiah, the son of Imlah, it is evident from several incidental allusions through the chapter, (1 Kings 22.), that the prophet enjoyed an unusual reputation for oratory;—we cannot help feeling this, although the actual words recorded are but few in number;—they are, however, entirely practical, and though highly figurative, are quite shorn of extraneous ornament.

“Public oratory was cultivated in the ‘Schools of the Prophets,’ which appear to have had their origin soon after the schism of Israel and Judah; prior to which time we find no other eloquence than such as still prevails in Oriental nations, consisting of short appeals, such as that of Abraham to the men of Heth; of proverbs or parables, as in the instances of Jotham and Nathan. Extraordinary events did indeed produce the exceptions of Moses, Joshua, and Ezra, but it became another matter when rhetoric was studied by hundreds of youths in company during successive centuries.

“During the second temple there arose considerable intercourse with the other subjects of the Macedonian empire, and the Roman conquest tended still more to spread the knowledge of Grecian literature. Hence, probably, the Jews became gradually alive to the value of soaring on stronger pinions for longer flights. And such men as Josephus would in troublous times become rather a Grecian than a Jewish orator. But the Sanhedrin itself gave occasion for much of logical acumen, for pleadings, replies, and delivering judgment. In the New Testament the very comprehension and precision of the sentences by Caiaphas (John 11. 49, 50) and Gamaliel (Acts 5. 33) bespeak for them a character as practised lawyers.

“We have purposely omitted the instances of sublimity by Divine influence in the great prophets of the Old Testament, and in the apostles of the New, this subject requiring a different consideration.

“Again, since their dispersion among the Gentiles, as in other intellectual pursuits, so in this, wherever and whenever the Jews have been left free to compete with their fellow-men, they have earned a fair proportionate share of success. Manasseh ben Israel and Emanuel Abu ab are not the only names of eminence in this department. And at the present time there are very eloquent speakers in the German synagogues, and among the French legislators, and barristers of the Jewish religion.

“These remarks have been elicited by the perusal of a sermon recently printed by request, as delivered in the central synagogue of Paris, on the second day of Pentecost (Sabbath, May 25), by a M. Isador, Rabbi of Phalsbourg, in Alsace, who, although a youthful preacher, surprised the very numerous auditory of the metropolis by his fluency, energy, and self-composure.

“As Christians* we may expect to find some points in the discourse which we cannot on our part approve, but the following extract, will serve to show with what intensity the topics of synagogue-religion (although few in comparison with those of Christianity) can be treated. His text was Isaiah 2:3, ‘O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; and the exordium opens thus:—

* This article was excerpted from a Christian magazine [webmaster].

“ ‘How bright were those days of old, when urged by the splendour of the solemnity, and stirred by the love of God, all Israel abandoned yearly their homes to flow towards Jerusalem, that holy city, the centre of light, and the place of the God of hosts, לכו ונעלה אל הר ה׳ ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.’ This cry resounded on every side, this word was in every mouth, and all went to present themselves before the Lord in the temple which he had beautified with his own name. There they drank in light from the very source of light, there before the face of God and in the presence of his law, they vowed to maintain for ever that blessed union thus cemented by the annual confederation. Then was Israel flourishing, then was the sceptre illustrious in the hands of Judah,—we formed but one nation and one model-people, כי מציון &c., ‘For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

“ ‘But years succeeded to years, and ages to ages, human vicissitudes beat upon us, the sceptre departed from Judah, the temple was burned, and our nationality was trampled to the dust, ויצא מן בת ציון ‘And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty departed.’ (Lam. 1:6.) Thence we departed into exile, our hearts swelling with grief, and eyes turned towards our native land; we hung our harps upon the willows, and there we wept!’

“And a little further on—

“ ‘Know ye what is this ‘Feast of Weeks,’ so improperly termed Pentecost? It is this. In the year three thousand of the world, seven weeks after leaving Egypt, in an arid desert between Memphis and Babylon, God revealed himself to a petty people whom he had first purified in the crucible of pain and suffering. That petty people were we. Israel saw him come, not like an earthly king, but as King of kings, as Maker of all things, and with all their elements at command, as one who amid the boundless space calls on the stars, and then those starry worlds rush forward, in one voice replying, ‘Here are we!’ He descended to the skies, clothed with light as with a robe, the lightnings and thunders went before him, and O, it was not from a burning bush, but in all his Divine glory that he dictated to us his will and proclaimed his law, השמע עם קול &c., ‘Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?’ (Deut. 4:33.) At this spectacle all nature clapped her hands, and the people dazzled with excessive splendour exclaimed, ‘We will do it and we will obey.’ Such is the ‘Feast of Weeks.’”

“Having thus in accordance with the best models of ancient rhetoric, awakened attention by a glowing recitation of facts and events with which the audience are thoroughly conversant, the preacher advanced to his argument (the alliance of religion and civilization), but previously invoking the Divine aid—

“ ‘Thou, O Lord, the God of grace and compassion, who givest eloquence to all who speak for the honour of thy holy name, vouchsafe to clothe me with strength and courage in presence of this assemblage, so vast and so new to me; purify my words in thy Divine crucible, that they may, like the dew of heaven, glide into all their hearts, and win them to the holy cause of truth,’ &c.

“In treating the professed subject of the sermon—a subject which upon the Continent is too frequently made to lean towards Rationalism—the rabbi disclaims with scorn any participation in such principles.

“ ‘There is a civilization so called by the world, which, however, is most false and perilous—and there is a civilization true, and like truth itself an offspring of heaven—this one is a sister of religion, the other its most implacable foe. Sciences and arts may serve to fortify the faith of man, but cursed, thrice cursed be the day when civilization shall hear a parricidal hand against religion; for beside the tomb of that, when but scarcely closed, itself will expire, and man will revert to his early degradation . . . . . Reason alone has never established any thing in religious truth—far from this, it may be the universal solvent, it may be a double-edged sword to strike and destroy, to attack or defend, but it builds up nothing; at the end of the most conscientious investigation of questions the most palpitating with interest and vitality, there will ever stand in gigantic stature the awful wherefore which cannot be answered.’

“A few more examples of the eloquence which comes from the heart:—

“ ‘My brethren, a religion based on cold conviction or dry demonstration is none at all. It is but a barren religion without warmth or soul; a frozen dead religion, without noble energy or sublime devotedness. I will have none of it! . . . . O how the heart of man should be filled with love for Him who says, Come to me, whoever thou art, rich or poor, great or mean, happy or wretched, come to me, and find a heart which knows thee and loves thee; for I am with thee, I am thy Father, both when I chastise and when I bless, in life and after death! O what balm of consolation for a distracted heart! how this religion assuages evils and binds up wounds; and how sweet to say, ‘My beloved is mine and I am his!’ And this religion is our own.’

“Upon the boasted immutability of the Jewish faith the speaker proceeds—

“ ‘Plato and Socrates, these are fair names; philosophy has none fairer; yet how often has been pulled down what they built up—how often built up what they demolished. But our religion, the lowly daughter of Zion, assaulted for ages, whose walls for ages have been still repaired when injured. She, like a giant whom children attempt to bind with ribands; she stands erect, and her immobility is itself a victory. And is not this very permanence, this immutable duration the proof of its eternal nature? . . . . Let us return to the faith of our forefathers, and not reject the treasure with which God endowed us, 3,000 years ago—three thousand years! thirty centuries! Ah! brethren, how many religions have been swept away in that long course of years. How many whose very tracks are gone! while ours, immortal as the God who gave it, still remains, for ever, pure, grand, mighty, like its Creator; persecution but enlarnges it, time but hallows it.’

“Such, we conceive, apart from the doctrines contained, to be true eloquence, mingling tenderness with sublimity. But pained indeed must be the heart of every scriptural friend of the people of Israel to discover a total absence of any hopes for future nationality, no expectation of a Messiah, or of a return to the Holy Land; for the sum of Jewish bliss is supposed to be accomplished in their regeneration as French citizens, according to the Charter of 1830; and deep is the pathos from what we have read to the following address made to the youth of the congregation, near the close:

“ ‘ If, amid society into which you soon will enter, efforts are required for adhering to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these you will make; if sacrifices are demanded, these you will perform, knowing that lofty though the hill may be, there is rest upon its summit. And when grown up and had in reputation, still you will abide with us, labouring for the good of humanity and the honour of your brethren. When men forsake our banner—I mean the banner of our religion, for since that day when the enemy’s axe sapped the walls of Zion we have no other—the flag of France is ours, that which waves above our dwellings. To that flag be all honour and prosperity! Let there be labour, love, devotion, all for France, our land, so fair and so generous! let there be civil fusion complete and entire, but to relinquish our religious standard, never! Should men thus desert us, you will not curse them. Cursing is not for man! but you will pity them, feeling that he alone forsakes his faith whose heart has lost all sentiment of honour.’

“We may ask, but without discussion at this moment, can the amalgamation here alluded to, but which is more openly proclaimed in other publications by Jews of France, be consistent with the genuine faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Let Israel ponder this serious subject with the Scriptures open, and with prayer before Almighty God.”

We beg the editors to reflect that it is not anti-Jewish to regard the country we live in as our home, notwithstanding we look forward to the Messiah to restore us. The prophet Jeremiah already commanded us to “seek the peace of the city to which we have been banished,” and consequently we are bound by our faith to be good citizens or faithful subjects as the case may be. We, therefore, do not condemn our French brothers for loving France; on the contrary, we would as a Jew be compelled to denounce them as wanting patriotism were they to be wanting in the love of country for “La belle France” which distinguishes its other inhabitants. Perhaps the editors of the Intelligence with all their love for converted Jews mean to insinuate that it would be wrong on scriptural grounds to emancipate the English Jews; if so, we beg them to be undeceived, England will not suffer by freeing us from our civil disabilities; and when once free she may rest assured, that she will not have among her inhabitants any more devoted to her interests, more faithful in war, and more reliable in council than the very Israelites who look forward to their restoration to the ancient Palestine, under the guidance of the Messiah whom they expect to redeem the world.

Ed. Oc.