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Union For the Sake of Judaism.

by Isaac Leeser

The history of the confusion of the last few years speaks a language not to be misunderstood—the necessity of a more perfect understanding among us than has been hitherto witnessed. Every little while, we speak now of America, some division takes place among the established congregations, and there start up a few feeble and useless corporations from the ruins of a powerful, well-organized body. We shall, indeed, be told, that in a very short time, and uniformly too, these feeble fragments become respectable and numerous congregations. We will admit, for argument’s sake, that this is so; but it requires no great knowledge to demonstrate, that despite of all this prospective greatness all such movements are based upon erroneous principles. For, in the first place, we are not aware that hitherto there has existed a single congregation that was too unwieldy from its numbers; all being at best but of comparatively modern organization, with the exception of Charleston and New York, there has hardly been time enough yet to consolidate the necessary elements of greatness; and still the spirit of domination on the one side and that of discontent on the other, has caused a severance among a handful of people, whose united numbers scarcely suffice to make a body respectable for numbers. Secondly, all separate organizations are expensive; they require each a minister, a sexton, a shochet, independently of the necessary building and furniture for the external Synagogue; and thus a heavy item of taxation must be submitted to to support two or three establishments, when one set of officers and one place of worship could have readily sufficed for all concerned. The consequences are readily discernible, in the estrangement of feeling between those who ought to be united, in a deplorable neglect of religious education, and the entire absence almost of a religious literature; for the little that has been done shows how much is needed, just as the introduction of a feeble ray of light into a darkened chamber renders the darkness previously existing more evident to the senses. The money uselessly wasted upon ministers that are not wanted, upon rooms that are not filled, upon officers that could be readily dispensed with, by so much abridges the power of those inclined to support religion from endowing schools and engaging proper persons to superintend the development of the minds of the young, and to speak concerning the word of the Lord to those already grown up.

We shall, perhaps, be told, that these things cannot be avoided. Men will differ upon matters of discipline and the government of the Synagogue, and whenever this takes place it will be best for them to separate and each party to organise by itself. There is some reason in this, we will admit; but we would respectfully ask our readers: “How far is this to extend?” Congregations are multiplying faster than the population warrants, and even in small places there are those who differ, and who endeavour to “set up” for themselves. For our own part, we call every secession, even on the most orthodox principles, an evil; we look upon one well-filled place of worship as a greater tribute to God than a dozen assemblies where the seats are empty, and the members few; and only when the masses increase can we think it right, unless, which God forbid, the wickedness of the rulers or of a senseless majority forces the rightly thinking to a secession, for the congregations to divide and organize sister corporations under the same system of government, existing side by side in harmony, union, and peace. But has this latter requisite ever taken place in the whole experience of our readers? Can they point out, we will not say one, but a few instances where good-will existed between the fragments after they were gathered in different communities? And yet are we not all Israelites? all professing to reach the same end? all protesting that our object is the promotion of the divine kingdom? And let us ask all dispassionately, and let us hope that our word will not be passed by heedlessly: can the spread of righteousness be promoted by such proceedings? We will not use epithets, we will not say what we think of such sinful doings; let each one of our readers judge for himself, even if he must thereby condemn himself, what such acts are in their naked deformity, and to what deplorable results they must ultimately lead. Shall we not at length see children of Jewish neighbours growing up without sympathy for each other? One parent joins in a movement which withdraws him from his former associates; there are indulged in criminations and recriminations; the courts of law are appealed to to decide upon trifling points of difference, which the venom of selfishness has fanned into the flame of discord; the peace of families is interrupted; brothers look with jealousy upon brothers; the females are estranged from their former bosom friends; the house where God alone ought to be worshipped is profaned by unseemly contentions; and what is gained thereby? The triumph of a party, as though party were the paramount thing in religion as it has been unfortunately made in politics. The party bigot in public life will perpetrate wrong—injustice—that his party may flourish, whilst his bereaved country lies bleeding at every pore; the religious party man does the same; he must go with his clan, right or wrong; he must stifle the voice of sympathy, he must be ungrateful, forget old friends, make alliance with hollow-hearted opponents, who now court his influence to serve their own ends; whilst all along our blessed religion receives wound upon wound from hands that ought to be raised only in its defence. Is this true? Let each man’s experience speak for us whether we have set down aught in malice: and still the progress of events is in the channel we have mentioned, and no one almost seems to heed that it is his province as much as any one’s else to hasten to the rescue and to arrest the evil. If we were united, few as we are yet in America and the adjacent countries, what a noble and enviable people might we be. United among ourselves we might have beautiful places of worship, as the pride of our congregations, attentive and numerous assemblies filling the house of our Father whenever the doors were opened for worship; noble schools, where all our youth, the rich and the poor together, might be taught the will and word of God, where they might imbibe the precious stream that sprung from Sinai, conjointly with the elegance of literature and refinement under God-fearing instructers; we might have our hospitals and houses of industry to prevent the poor from seeking relief from a grudging charity, and to support them during their illness in a manner not repugnant to our laws. We might have our savings banks and loan offices, to enable the industrious Israelites to lay by their hard earnings in trusty hands, and to give aid to the deserving to commence business or to set up in a mechanical trade, to carry an honest livelihood without the necessity of appealing to unwilling souls for a small advance to commence the world. We might also have our seminaries and high-schools whence should be sent forth the natives of the soil, instructed in the religion of Israel, to proclaim aloud in the hearing of all what the Lord has commanded. But where are all these things? Alas! they are but the dreams as yet of the philanthropist—they are things of future contemplation, we fear not to be realized within the lifetime of those now born.

Nevertheless we will not despair, nor will we withhold our advice, though it will be useless, in all human probability; the prospect indeed is clouded; for all that, there is a hope that something may ultimately be effected. Were we even convinced that all efforts were in vain, we would still speak out, merely to record our views against the evils to which our age is exposed. But we do not think our case either desperate or hopeless, and we think there is a great degree of energy in the Jewish mind, and that, were it once aroused to its own true interests, it would show itself worthy of its descent from the patriarchs. We moreover candidly believe that a great part of the disunion which we experience is owing to a twofold cause: first, because we do not understand one another; secondly, because we have no mutual friendly tribunal to which all our grievances could be referred. As regards the first point, the Jew never meets the Jew as such, except in congregational or society meetings, and every one that is acquainted with the proceedings of our bodies politic, knows how little of a religious or friendly cast is to be found there. The order of the day is proposed and discussed, officers and members are nominated and elected, and if an amendment or two to the laws of the congregation or society have been proposed and discussed, it is high time to adjourn. There is, consequently, no opportunity to discss, much less to transact any business which concerns the general welfare irrespective of the necessary corporation business. Whatever, therefore, is to be done, has necessarily to be accomplished by individuals; and hence individuals must need put themselves prominently forward, and subject themselves to the suspicion that they act for the advancement of their own interest. How different would it be, were people to meet upon the broad ground of religious equality, and see and determine what could be done to promote the good of the collective mass, not of each little society or corporation; comprehensive views of good could then be generously examined, not with the eye of criticism directed against the proposition of an individual, but with the candour with which an association of intelligent men canvass a proposition which emanates, so to say, spontaneously from the souls of all, and only requires to be held up to their acceptance to challenge the support of every one of them.—And as regards the second requisite, a mutual friendly tribunal, we leave it to the candour of all sincere Israelites, to determine for themselves whether such a one would not be the very best measure to avoid hostile collisions between different factions, and to annihilate almost the possibility of a constant recourse to vexatious lawsuits, of which we know of three instances at least, within the last four or five years. There may be Jews who are so lost to self-respect as to refuse listening to an arbitration of their own fellow-Israelites; but we trust that there are few indeed who would refuse to abide by a decision of a tribunal of their own appointing. We wish to be understood distinctly, we have no thought whatever of accusing the general courts of law with a want of honesty, or a delay of justice; nor do we wish to inculcate that Israelites should not resort to the laws of the land for the decision of any commercial concern in which they may have to contend against one of their own faith, or any other; we only speak of matters properly belonging to us as Jews, and of these we are certain that no one can judge understandingly who is not one of our brethren. It is notorious how almost impossible it is for courts of law to decide understandingly upon the differences between the various sects of Christians; and still we are compelled, as things now stand, to rely upon such as these to adjudge with whom the right is, according to our Jewish laws, laws of which the judges, who are to pronounce upon them, are profoundly ignorant. Nor is it to be expected that persons not interested for us, will take the pains to shed a light on subjects in which they can have no personal interest. They do enough by listening patiently to the evidence produced in the respective cases, and the arguments of learned counsel on both sides of the dispute; but this does not say that either party in such a contest will be satisfied with the decision so obtained, any more than if it had been left to Jewish arbitration, where the judgment would be much more summary, and attended with, comparatively speaking, no expenses; as in this case no forms of law would have to be consulted, and the opinion would be based upon the general principles of our religion, and arrived at upon the common sense view of the persons who are acting as the arbitrators. One good would to a certainty result from such in arrangement: every society among whom a spirit of true piety prevails would at once acquiesce in the judgment, and as no bitterness of feeling could well have arisen during the course of the controversy, there would be a well-founded hope that peace would immediately be restored. On the other side, those who refused obedience would at once exclude themselves from Jewish sympathy, by showing that they did not regard the force of public opinion of their own co-religionists. Hence there would at length result a wholesome public opinion among us, which would be the best corrective of any disposition to all outbreak of unhallowed passion, or the indecent rage for innovation without proper weighing the subjects to be abrogated, which has lately seized upon certain parties in America, no less than abroad.

It was with such a view, to promote peace through union, and a greater religious conformity through the powerful agency of public opinion, that we joined, now four years ago, in a movement, which was projected in this city, to promote, first, the union of all American Israelites under a common Ecclesiastical Council, which should have the supervision of the spiritual affairs of our various congregations; secondly, the establishment of schools; and thirdly, periodical assemblies of deputies of all American congregations. As many of our readers have probably never seen or heard of this plan, though circulars were extensively circulated at the time, we commence in our present number to reprint the proceedings relative to the whole business, together with the plan which was provisionally adopted; and we hope to give the remainder next month, together with such farther remarks as we may deem fitting to the subject.

Proceedings of Several Meetings of Israelites of Philadelphia.

“A meeting of Israelites of all the different congregations in the city and county of Philadelphia, was held pursuant to public notice, on Sunday the 27th of June, 1841, corresponding with the 8th day of Tamuz, 5601, at the Synagogue Beth Israel, to take into consideration the plan for establishing a religious union among the Israelites of America, proposed by the Rev. Louis Salomon, minister of the congregation Rodef Shalom, and Isaac Leeser of the congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia.

“Lewis Allen, Esq., President of the congregation of Mikveh Israel, was called to the chair, and Mr. Henry Cohen, Treasurer of the congregation Beth Israel, was appointed Secretary.

“Mr. Leeser then addressed the meeting on the utility of such union, and offered a resolution that a committee be appointed to take the plan into consideration and report to a future meeting.

“The resolution having, been amended on motion of Joseph S. Cohen, Esq., as follows:

“ ‘Resolved, that a committee be appointed to consider the propriety of endeavouring to establish a plan of religious union of the different congregations of America, and that they report a plan for obtaining the views of the several congregations as to such union, and such other matters as may be thought necessary to carry the union into effect, and that the plan submitted by the Rev. Messrs Salomon and Leeser, be referred to that committee, was carried; and it having been further resolved, that the committee should consist of seven, exclusive of Messrs. Salomon and Leeser, the chair appointed Messrs. A Hart, J. L. Hackenburg, Lewis Bomeisler, Frederic Samuel, Hyman Gratz, Zadok A. Davis, and Hyman Polok, on said committee.

“The committee met, pursuant to notice of A. Hart, Esq., Chairman, at the house of Mr. Allen, on Thursday evening, the 1st of July, and appointed a sub committee, consisting of Messrs. Hackenburg, Davis, and Leeser, with directions to report on Thursday evening following.

“The committee met that evening, absent Messrs Samuel and Gratz, when the sub-committee laid their draft on the table, which was examined by sections, altered and amended that same evening, Sunday morning, and Monday evening, absent the above, together with Mr. Polok, when the whole having been gone through, it was ordered to be transcribed, and to be reported on the following Sunday, to the adjourned general meeting.

“At an adjourned meeting of Israelites, held on Sunday the 18th of July, at the Masonic Hall, L. Allen, Esq. in the chair, Mr. H. Cohen, Secretary, the committee made the following report, accompanied with the plan they had agreed upon.

To the Israelites of the City and County of Philadelphia.

“The committee appointed at a general meeting, held on the 27th of June, have taken the plan proposed by Messrs. Salomon and Leeser into consideration, and offer the accompanying rules and regulations, together with the preamble, to your favourable notice and adoption; the whole of which is respectfully submitted.

Lewis Allen, A Hart,
Chairman of the Meeting. J. L. Hackenburg,
L. Bomeisler,
Z. A. Davis,
Dr. L. Salomon,
Isaac Leeser,

Philadelphia, 12th July, 5601.


The Israelites of Philadelphia, in common with their brethren in other places of America, have long since been alive to the many evils under which they labour in the great downfall of religious observance, and the want of proper religious education among them. But deeming it their duty to leave no means untried to counteract the deplorable state of want of proper observance, and to promote a due knowledge of the blessed religion they have received from their fathers, they have resolved to propose a union of all Israelites residing in America, to effect by a common and united effort, that which would evidently be beyond the power of accomplishing by any one of the small congregations in which the Israelites of this country are divided; they therefore offer the following suggestions, which they hope will forward greatly the desired result; in, first, establishing a competent ecclesiastical authority, agreeably to the injunction of the law in Deut. 16:18:

“Judges and officers shalt thou appoint for thyself in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee throughout thy tribes;” secondly, by establishing schools for general and religious education under Jewish superintendence, as commanded in Deut. 6:7: “And thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children;” and thirdly, by promoting harmony and a concert of action among all their brethren scattered over the western hemisphere, in accordance with the lofty aspiration of the Psalmist, who says (133:1): “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” With these views the committee recommend the adoption of the following rules and regulations for the government and action of the Israelites in America.

(To be continued.)