Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Literary Notices.


Kos Yeshuoth, Nos. 2, 3, and 4,—Since our last notice, we have received three additional numbers of the new orthodox magazine, conducted by Messrs. Isaacs and Samuel, of Liverpool. The rapid increase of Jewish periodical literature,—there being now ten in Germany, as we learn from the Orient, two in France; three in England, one in Turkey, one in Italy, besides our own in America, without counting several publications which have more the character of collections of essays on various subjects, which appear annually in Vienna and elsewhere, and perhaps other periodicals, of the existence of which we are uninformed,—proves, to the satisfaction of all who give the subject the least reflection, that the lethargy which rested but lately upon the Jewish mind in reference to our religion, is either removed or fast in progress of removal. We admit that we cannot approve of all of the papers which have come to our view, neither in spirit nor in matter; still, where truth is left perfectly free to combat error, we cannot fear for the good cause; let it be examined and discussed, and the right must ultimately triumph. The very marked difference of tendency of most of our periodicals,—their espousing sides or belonging to parties,—will compel those who feel an interest in our faith, to bestir themselves, so as to defend their views from the encroachment of false instruction. Besides this advantage, there is the constant presentation of the subject to the attention of the indifferent, who, if it were not for this instrument, might never think of religion, seeing that they are strangers to the house of God, and unwilling at times that their children should be taught any thing relating to positive duty and doctrines. But now the paper or magazine speaking about Judaism, is somehow brought into the houses of persons of this class; they may not perhaps even be subscribers, but still a stray leaf may cross their threshold; and thus the blessing may lodge in their dwelling, and good fruit result from the seed so accidentally, as it were, scattered upon an apparently barren soil. It is, therefore a pleasure to us to witness the remarkable and rapid increase of bearers of instruction, which speak of God and his mercies to Israel, let them belong to what party they may, provided they are not calculated, by their insidious and false show of reason, to wean Israel from their love to God. Still even if this should be the case, there is sufficient good sense among the people, if only both sides are presented to them, to discover the injurious tendency of the wrong side, and to embrace the closer that of truth.

Messrs. Isaacs and Samuel have, in their new magazine, added themselves to the defenders of the side commonly called orthodox, or that composed of persons who are conscientiously unwilling to permit hasty changes in our forms of worship to be undertaken by any one who may deem this or that unsuited to his peculiar notion. It seems likewise to be their object to diffuse knowledge on Hebrew literature, chiefly that of the modern day, and to prove that the power of giving vent to thought, in beautiful verse and correct prose, is yet attainable at this day in the language of Israel. They also furnish translations in prose and verse, from good Jewish writers, to enable those who do not understand the original, to admire the fine ideas scattered through the works of their learned progenitors, and which, but for such aid, would remain unknown to them. Sermons and essays, original poetry, biblical criticisms, reviews, accounts of occurrences, &c., also occupy prominent places, and we have no doubt will gratify the reader. It is hardly to be expected that we should review the respective articles; but at a later period we may offer some remarks, when we find cause to differ from the conclusions at which the learned editors may have arrived. In the mean time we wish them success in their arduous undertaking, and sure we are that no compensation they can receive, will be more then their zeal and industry deserve.

The Inquisition and Judaism: A Sermon, addressed to Jewish Martyrs, on the occasion of an Auto da Fe, at Lisbon, 1705, by the Archbishop of Cranganor. Also, Reply to the Sermon, by Carlos Vero. Translated by Moses Mocatta. London, 1845; 8vo.; pp. 191.—It is not the wild beast alone that gloats over the victim which it is about rending into pieces and licking its blood. We find that man, not alone in his savage state, who ties his captive to a tree, and then delights in the tortures he inflicts by a slow and merciless death, but also where he has attained a high degree of civilization, may be guilty of an analogous barbarity. This is strongly exemplified in the work before us. It was as recent as on the 6th of September, 1705, that in the public square of Lisbon there were led out to the stake a number of hapless victims, declared criminal by the tribunal of the Inquisition, for being suspected and afterwards convicted of Judaism, a crime than which that abominable institution knew none greater. Mr. Mocatta, in his introduction, has not informed us how many there were; but as the occasion was honoured by the presence of their highnesses, which means the king and royal family of Portugal, no doubt the number of victims must have been very great, to draw these mighty personages forth from their seclusion to feast their eyes on the slaughter of innocents, in the name of a religion which is so often averred to be one of peace and good-will on earth to man. And whilst the condemned were awaiting the fulfillment of the cruel doom pronounced against them, a high dignitary of the Catholic church, one no less in rank than an archbishop, he of Cranganor in India, insults the martyrs by reading to them a tirade against that religion for upholding which they were doomed to suffer. What could they answer had they been even able from education to reply to the erroneous statement of the prelate? Let it be considered, that the period of which we are speaking was about two hundred years after the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal; consequently those then condemned mast have belonged to the class called New Christians, who had in secret treasured up the traditional religion of their fathers, clinging with unshaken ardour to the belief in the doctrine of the unity of God and the practice of such commandments as lay in their power, whilst ostensibly they exhibited a compulsory conformity with the dominant church, which all along was hateful in their eyes. Their knowledge, therefore, of the writings of the Jews must have been next to nothing; perhaps the Hebrew language was known to not one of them, since to study it openly would have exposed them at once to suspicion of attachment to Judaism, and operated, without any other cause, as their death-warrant. Their love for the faith of their forefathers must accordingly have been more of an heirloom than any thing else; still, behold! how they bore a testimony to the truth of their profession, which well might shame their more learned descendants of the present day, many of whom are so indifferent to that for which their fathers suffered so much; and not alone them, but all other unworthy Israelites who are so anxious to diminish the importance of religious observances which have been consecrated not alone by Divine command, but also by the precious blood of so many martyrs, whose merit we trust may plead for us degenerates in our times of comparative tranquility.

Men like those just described were firm when life was offered them as a reward for denying their hopes; and it was these defenseless saints in whose agony their tormentors took delight, find whom their enemies insulted at the very moment of applying the fire to the stakes which were to consume their mortal frames. No greater outrage, no more savage-like disposition, could be manifested by the most cruel barbarian that ever breathed. For no one knew better than the archbishop himself that all appeals were useless to sons of Israel who had, after long cherishing their religion in secret, braving the danger of espionage and detection by minions of the Inquisition, at length been led out to execution because they would not retract; and still he lays before them a parade of argument, not to convince them, but to justify himself and his associates for the cruelty of inflicting the penalty of death, for no greater crime than differing from the arbitrary standard of belief of the Romish church.

We wish that Mr. Mocatta had given us a list of names, if such were in his power, of the victims who perished that day, and some brief details of their history, if accessible. To us there is something so holy in the silent opposition the Jews of Spain and Portugal offered to their oppressors for so many centuries, that we wonder that their descendants, of whom Mr. M. is one, have never yet collected the legends which are no doubt afloat in their families, and given them to the world. Miss Aguilar, indeed, published, two years ago, two short tales, under the name of “Records of Israel;” but the subject we are sure is far from being exhausted, and will repay a frequent working up of materials, which must certainly be very abundant in many families descended from those secret Jews. The simple details would be interesting enough without the aid of fiction, and would go far to render the religion of Israel hallowed in the eyes of its professors.

The work before us consists of the sermon of the Archbishop of Cranganor, translated from the Portuguese, and a refutation of the same from the Spanish, issued not long after the first at Villa Franca, and is said to be a posthumous work of Carlos Vero (a fictitious name), author of the secret history of the Inquisition, which work, by the by, we would be pleased to meet with, and which will doubtless become accessible whenever the Jews are openly allowed to revisit Spain, if it even be not already in the hands of those familiar with the literature of our peninsular brothers.

The reason for publishing this in an English dress, is, that “whoever has noted the history of the controversy between the ‘Converters’ and the disciples of the faith of Moses, must be aware that the weapons employed have been invariably taken from the same armory. The reader will not, therefore, be surprised at the want of novelty in the ‘proofs’ and ‘arguments’ advanced by the ‘Converters’ from the prelate of Cranganor downwards; but he will be rejoiced to find that the able reply of the Israelite (whom either a high sense of modesty, or more probably a fear of persecution, has induced to conceal his name), strikes at the root of all the positions taken up by the champion of popery, and proves each of his arguments to be inconsequent and unscriptural. Every book of the Bible, and every volume recording the opinions of individual Rabbins, has been ransacked by the coercing baptizers, during a succession of centuries, and yet they have found no sharper weapons wherewith to combat the pure principles of Mosaism than those employed by the Archbishop of Cranganor.

“The reply, therefore, to the Prelate of Lisbon, is a reply to the whole of his fraternity, who have since embarked in the same unjustifiable warfare. Let, then, the discerning reader make himself familiar with the sentiments and doctrines of both disputants; let him study the sermon and the reply; let him ‘look on this picture and on that;’ then let him compare the Jesuitical sophistry of the former with the unimpassioned logic of the  latter; and it may reasonably be anticipated that he will cling with increased fondness and confidence to the faith of his fathers, and that he will live and die a disciple of Moses, not only from the circumstance of birth, habit, and early associations, but from absolute conviction induced by the native force of truth.”

Mr. Mocatta distributes the work gratis, and we trust that it may in part operate as a defence against the snares which the wily lay to entrap the ignorant among our people. We would gladly copy some striking portions; but our present limits forbid it. We may perhaps recur to it hereafter.