|Vol. IV, No. 1
Nissan 5606, April 1846
by Isaac Leeser
In commencing the fourth volume of our western advocate of Judaism, we cannot avoid holding to brief conversation with our readers, by far the greater portion of whom have followed us from our very commencement to the present time, and whom we would gladly believe to have afforded some satisfaction by our course, and the articles which we offered to their perusal. When the subject of starting a monthly religious magazine was first presented to our notice, just now about four years ago, by a legal gentleman, a member and a great admirer of the reform congregation of Charleston, we did not deem the project practicable, owing to various causes, not the least of which was a well-founded distrust in our own power of giving satisfaction, and the great difficulty there would be of finding correspondents enough of the requisite talents to be our aids in a work of so much pretensions as a monthly magazine. For to be conducting an indifferent publication, and to rely upon the indulgence of our readers to excuse glaring defects, was not much to our taste, and we were sure that such a work, so defectively conducted, instead of benefiting the cause of Judaism, would be only too much calculated to injure its advancement. We will not dilate upon the difficulty of finding supporters enough to defray the expenses, though this consideration is also one of sufficient amount to cause one to reflect before so novel an enterprise is undertaken, and had a considerable influence to induce us to listen to the first proposal with a good deal of distrust. But scarcely had the proposition been made from the quarter above-mentioned, when it was repeated from various others; and we were thus induced to give the subject snore serious thought than we at first deemed it deserving. Still full fifteen months elapsed, before we took any step whatever in the matter, and then, when we at length issued our prospectus, the want of encouragement, both as respects subscribers and offers of literary aid, was so great, that we had almost abandoned the whole idea as a hopeless task. But independently of the circumstance that a religious periodical had at that time been commenced in England, there had been several movements proposed to break ground in this country also. We therefore thought that we could not well retrace our steps after proceeding so far, and we hazarded to issue the first number as an experiment, which, without being absolutely successful, at least inspired us with hope of a better result hereafter. We wish to state, however, in this connexion, that we were not induced to commence by the appearance of our English contemporary, since it had been seriously agitated in our mind, and in conversation with others, before we knew any thing of the existence of the Voice of Jacob; besides that our plan is so entirely different from him. We are willing to grant him the precedence in age; still we cannot altogether allow that we are a mere imitation. In truth, our work is different from all the Jewish periodicals of Germany, England, or France, which we have seen; as it was our purpose, and shall henceforward be, to furnish religious reading to our American and English friends, and to fill up in a measure the want of a religious literature which has hitherto been so much a cause of reproach to us. We thought, in assuming the editorial chair, that we could rely a little upon our moderation, that we felt able to avoid the extremes of obstinacy on the one, and the love of change on the other side; that we had sufficient candour to let every man speak for himself, and enough of forbearance to avoid personalities in our own article. Thirty-six numbers, forming three stout volumes of eighteen hundred and fifty pages of reading matter, are now before the public; and we appeal for their judgment, whether we have not kept true to the principle of doing justice to friend and opponent. We are aware that we have occasionally given offence; there are certain persons so very tender, that their feelings are hurt upon the slightest provocation; but these ought not to forget, that a work, which circulates so far, and among so many classes as ours does, cannot always consult their peculiar views, and that every one of its readers has an equal claim to be gratified as they have. At times it may be a choice with an editor whom he shall offend, as one party must needs have to be put out of consideration; and it is highly probable that those who have done the greatest wrong, think that every body else must side with them, and hence they accuse the editor of want of candour, or politeness, or discernment, for not coinciding with their views. In this manner we believe we have offended, and for expressing our opinion, and calling things by their right names, when to speak out was our duty. But we appeal from such mistaken judgment to the majority of our readers, whether we could well have acted otherwise, consistently with our often expressed and well-known views on religious topics. Private matters we have not discussed; and the few times that we could not prevent our correspondents to do so, we allowed them the use of our pages with the greatest reluctance. Still did we not deem it to be consistent with our duty as an editor, to deny discussion to subjects which, though apparently private in their nature, had still an important public bearing. And whilst we continue to occupy our present position, our readers may rely on our determination that we shall adhere to the course hitherto pursued under every circumstance.
We think that we may speak a little concerning our correspondents, to whose merits we have borne but feeble testimony in the course of our work, and we are now happy that we are able to return them our sincere thanks for the hearty and efficient aid they have given us; and we have to acknowledge our additional obligation that the whole of their articles, with the exception of but one, were furnished without any pecuniary charge whatever; and we regret that the limited success we have met. with hitherto, has prevented us from offering such compensation as we thought our friends entitled to. But as regards the pieces themselves, we candidly think that most of the poetical ones of Miss Aguilar, Miss Salaman, Mrs. Hartog, and Mrs. Hyneman, can bear a favourable comparison with the fugitive poetry usually found in periodicals of much greater pretensions than ours, and we shall be glad indeed if we are always able to furnish pieces of equal value. Of our prose contributors we will not specify any in particular, though we may mention, in passing, that some of them made their first public essay in our pages, and we think that our readers have been edified and instructed by nearly all of them, especially the truly eloquent effusions of “The American Jewess,” and “The Daughter of Israel.” One of our male contributors, J. K. G., has been called to labour for the good cause in a greater sphere of usefulness than the pages of a magazine, by being placed at the head of Talmud Torah School at Cincinnati; and we believe that we may predict, without possessing the spirit of prophecy, that he will be before long elected preacher of that growing and already numerous congregation. Our present number will convey to our readers the first sermon Mr. Gutheim ever delivered in English, and sure we are they will ratify the verdict of approval pronounced upon him by our friends in the West.
Our series of sermons has contained thirty-five discourses from English, American, West Indian, and German preachers, never before published, either in England or America, in addition to the one we copied from a pamphlet sent to us from abroad; and we are sure that the sentiments of Dr. Solomon, Dr. Hirsch, Dr. Philippson, Mr. Marks, Dr. Raphall, Mr. Nathan, Mr. Rice, Mr. Falkenau, Dr. De La Motta, Mr. Gutheim, and Dr. Lilienthal, which we presented to the public, have contributed to some extent to arouse religious fervour, and an increased love for our faith in the minds of the reader. We deem that we have furnished in these pieces alone matter of value enough to justify us for having established the American Jewish Advocate, seeing that we have been enabled to offer such a host of pleaders for the good cause of Judaism. There may be a difference of opinion entertained with regard to the respective merits of all these productions; but there can be none with respect to the soundness and the tone of piety and truth which breathe through them.
The means which our pages have already afforded of embodying historical reminiscences of American congregations, we also deem of some claim to public acknowledgement, and we hope that those who can aid us in this department, will favour us with such details as are in their possession, which, if not soon rescued from oblivion by being embodied in a printed form, may be for ever lost.
The Occident has also furnished a connecting link to distant congregations, by informing them of the passing events in which all are interested, and we only regret that we have not been furnished with more details of occurrences in all places where we circulate. Let our friends take care to enable us to remedy this deficiency for the future, and accept our thanks in advance for their kindness. The reports of charitable anniversaries which we have given, have, we trust, not been without their good effect; for, independently of being a chronicle of good things said on these occasions, they furnish a record of the existence of the spirit of charity among the Israelites of America, and we doubt not, but that the same will be found in all parts of the world, and will long survive in this land, wherever distress calls for relief.
Our literary department has been perhaps the least satisfactory of all the branches of our work. We have not had the time to devote to writing reviews, and our readers know well enough, that nor public duties are not confined to that of an editor merely. But we hope that by degrees we shall be able to obtain aid in this important department from our correspondents. But a mere meagre stereotyped laudatory criticism, if criticism this can be called, which does not discriminate, cannot be admitted; praise must be discriminating, or else it becomes censure of the worst kind, since ill-nature is very apt to seek for faults, if it can show that praise has not been merited.
In the news articles we have aimed to give all that is really important, of the occurrences of the day; and we acknowledge our obligation to the Voice of Jacob, for furnishing us promptly during the past year with his paper, which enabled us to give news of more recent dates than hitherto; and we deeply regret that it has fallen to our lot to record so little of a joyful nature.
The above brief review of what we have done and what was done for us, will clearly establish the fact, that we have not laboured altogether in vain, and that however little as yet encouraged by our friends, we need not be ashamed of the Occident or its contents. We are well aware, that our work is yet capable of many improvements; but the fostering care of the public is required to effect this. If we had the prospect of a remuneration for our outlay held out to us, we would engage, at a proper compensation, persons at home and abroad to devote their leisure and talent to religious writing; but till this be the case, we must continue as we have done, and furnish, with the aid of our contributors, such food for our readers, as we are able to do; but we candidly think that were we to pay ever so liberally, we should not succeed in finding better articles than many of those which were furnished without the least reward; and we are truly pleased that we are able to offer so handsome a proof of the disinterested kindness of our friends and the friends of our cause.
We are also happy to inform our readers, that latterly we have had more accessions of subscribers than withdrawals, and that hence there are more symptoms of life in our work now than this time last year. Several of those who had then withdrawn, have returned, and we hope that many others will do so likewise, as this would be a sure indication that we are not losing favour in the pursuit of our labours.
In conclusion, we beg to repeat our former assertion, that we mean to continue as we have begun, fearless in the cause of truth, turning neither to the right nor the left to obtain the countenance of either high or low. As an editor of a religious magazine, we have a very responsible duty to perform; and with the divine blessing we mean to discharge it so, that in after years we may never have any moral cause to regret having commenced and conducted the Occident, the American Jewish Advocate.