|Vol. IV, No. 9
Kislev 5607, December 1846
The Third Assembly of German Rabbies.
This self-constituted meeting of Jewish ministers, who favour a change in the tenets and practice of Judaism, took place this year during the month of July, at Breslau, in Prussian Silesia. We gave our readers a faithful account of the transactions of the two first assemblies, and laid before them in our last number a brief abstract of this year’s proceedings, taken from the London Jewish Intelligence; but as the subject of the agitations at present taking place is of so great importance, we this month furnish a more detailed statement, drawn from the columns of the Voice of Israel, which is, equally with the “Intelligence,” one of the so-called “conversion organs” in England. The same want of sound principle which caused the strange anti-Jewish resolves in the earlier meetings, has continued to prevail in the present. Our reformers only endeavour to do away with ancient usages and laws, and still they give us nothing in lieu thereof. Every thing is to be unsettled; Judaism is to be left to the conscience of each of its professors; but where are we to seek for guides to tell us what it is we are to believe and what to observe? Surely these present leaders cannot expect to draw the respect of the masses to them; for not alone is tradition repudiated, but the Bible itself is not regarded as altogether binding. It is everlastingly the state and emancipation which lure on our modern teachers; for them every thing positive is to be sacrificed; and whereas individuals are left to judge for themselves, the would-be guides need not expect to draw these to their Sabbath lectures and new-fashioned worship, seeing that each one of their adherents will find ample excuses to busy himself somehow, under the plea of necessary engagements in his own or public affairs, and consequently will not have the leisure to be present at the reformed meetings. But those, on the other hand, who wish to serve their God more than the state, who care more for religious perfection than the emancipation from civil disabilities, cannot accept instruction from men who sacrifice every thing to expediency. For all practical purposes, therefore, the whole of the reform scheme, as connected with the Sabbath, and developed in the subsequent proceedings, must be entirely useless, and of no effect in actual life.
It will be seen that the reformers themselves are by no means agreed in their views; especially the originator of these reunions, the Rev. Dr. Philippson, differs so widely from his compeers, that he declined voting unless he had previously obtained some guarantee for the upholding of the sanctity of the Sabbath, for professional as well as labouring men. It is nowise wonderful that there should be great divergence of sentiments among these men of the day, inasmuch as they have departed from the only standard, the revealed religion of Moses as delivered to us in Scripture and Tradition. However we may except to some customs which have been the offspring of a long series of years of sorrow, and engendered by extraneous circumstances, there can be no doubt, that the basis of our observances is a tradition coeval with the written law itself. If now men proceed upon the assumed authority that they are like the prophets endowed with the privilege of “pulling down and building, of rooting up and planting,” it is impossible that they should hit upon a uniform mode of so destroying and rebuilding. The destruction is indeed easy enough, but the restoring is rather more difficult.
We have expressed, before this, our opinion of the tendencies of the violent reforms which have been proposed, and we have maintained, and do still maintain, that they retard a healthful progress much more than they advance it. Hence were we left to our own pleasure, we would throw the veil of oblivion over proceedings such as those under discussion; but as a faithful chronicler we cannot issue our work without showing forth the complexion of the times. No doubt these trials are also for our good, and the spirit of our people will be ultimately purified by the agitations which we witness in our day. Every where there is motion, an irresistible impulse for improvement and hence even error will have its defenders, till such time as the souls of the people will again drink the waters of the truth from the only true fountain whence it flows, the word of God as handed down to us from our fathers.—Ed. Oc.
Breslau, July 12th. The third assembly of German Rabbies will open to-morrow. The number of members already arrived is twenty-five, and more are expected. According to the appointment of the second assembly, the first question will be the Sabbath question; next, that of the second Feast days; then the plan of the new prayer-book for public worship, and that for domestic worship; then the questions respecting circumcision.
13th July. This morning, about nine o’clock, the third Rabbinical assembly was opened in the presence of numerous spectators. The president of the committee, Dr. Geiger, saluted the assembly, and indicated the high importance of the task they had to perform, even that of effecting the regeneration of Judaism; not as the times, but as Judaism itself requires it of them. This task, in spite of all attempts to oppose it, they were now able peaceably to prosecute. The present meeting, most of the members of which had come from distant parts of the German fatherland, was a great proof of energy and perseverance. He expressed his thanks to the Prussian government, which, true to its principles, that each religious congregation should have the power of developing itself, had granted them permission to hold the assembly; and also to the president and the committee, who had made such judicious arrangements for it.
Dr. Philippson then read the report of the committee relative to the order of the questions to be discussed. Besides the propositions contained in this report, there was one from student Julius Levy, of Leipsig, that the assembly should endeavour to make such arrangements as would enable the Jewish students to attend all the classes at the various universities; a proposal from Dr. Auerbach, of Frankfort-on-Maine, that works of benevolence and general utility should be promoted by a special religious organization; and one from Dr. Holdheim, on the reform of the marriage law; and another, “On reconciling the difference between doctrine and practice, by removing or relaxing many laws relative to food; and that a committee be appointed for this purpose.”
They then proceeded to elect a president; when Geiger was chosen by eighteen votes; Stein was chosen vice-president by ten votes. For the two secretaries: Adler had fourteen votes; Auerbach and Philippson had an equal number of votes; but the latter declined the office from a multiplicity of engagements. Levy, of Breslau, and Einhorn, were chosen vice-secretaries; but the latter declined it, and Holdheim was appointed.
After a few words of thanks for the honour conferred on him, the president formally opened the sitting. He read a communication sent by the Berlin Reform Association, dated July 10th, in which it was stated, That the association entertained the highest respect for the assembly of Rabbies; at the same time it sought from them no countenance of its proceedings; whether the assembly approved the course they are pursuing, or not, they would proceed with the object they have in view, the progressive improvement of Judaism; and would thus indicate their independence by keeping their own distinct path. So long as the assembly was not autocratic, and did not consider its resolutions binding, the association would regard it as a highly beneficial institution. Whether the assembly should produce any practical effect or not, it serves the purpose of declaring, that not the times, but Judaism itself desires reform.
After the reading of this communication, an animated debate ensued, in which Gosen wished the assembly to declare, that it would have no connexion with the Berlin Reform Association, unless that association would declare its belief in Divine revelation: Stein and S. Adler wished that no reply should be made to this communication. Wechsler, on the contrary, reminded the assembly that one of the offices it had to perform was that of drawing back again to Judaism many persons who had estranged themselves from it. The debate on the question as to whether a commission should be appointed for answering this and other communications, and for placing the judgments on the address of the Berlin Reform Association into the three classes of—rejected—approved—and, generally, agreed with—was agreed on in the affirmative; and Einhorn, S. Adler, and Stein, were appointed a committee.
Holdheim’s proposition relative to the law of marriage embraced the following topics:—The right idea of marriage; that while in Judaism it is no sacrament, but is possessed of a civil character, it should, nevertheless, through the form of its solemnization, have a religious character imparted to it; and that on this should its validity depend: to declare polygamy as contrary to the idea of marriage, and compulsory divorce either on the side of the husband or wife, unlawful: to declare that a marriage agreed on by the father of a young woman under age, is null and void: that adultery is as sinful in the husband as in the wife: that a chalizah is unnecessary, &c.
Dr. Geiger then read the new report of the Sabbath committee. In this it was stated, that they did not intend to go into special particulars; but would leave these to the casuistry of individual consciences. It then proceeded to state; first, That the sanctification of the Sabbath would be best impressed on the conscience by the additional solemnity and elevation of public worship; that in keeping it holy it was needful to abstain from worldly business and from any sort of active labour, generally; but occupations that are not worldly business nor active labour, are permitted. 2d, that in matters connected with the worship of God, even active labours may be permitted. 3d, That where there is danger to life, every sort of labour necessary to avert it is lawful. 4th, That contributing to the well-being of the state is such a paramount duty, that when there is a collision between them, even the Sabbath must yield; and in the case of soldiers and official persons, this is inevitably necessary.
The debate on this subject was adjourned to the following day.
In the afternoon sitting, there were given in a report from “the general union of the Grand Duchy of Baden, for the improvement of the internal and external condition of Judaism;” a paper on the Sabbath question by Dr. Sam. Hirsch; and a Hebrew poem on. the assembly, by D. B. Schweitzer.
Stein read the report of the liturgical committee. They had previously distributed a printed plan of a new prayer-book; but in the carrying out of this plan, there were some thirty points of difference between the members of the committee. These, which were partly important, partly insignificant matters, he wished to lay before the assembly for their decision. Philippson objected to this, that the assembly has so many important questions under consideration, it would be impossible to give so much time to that of the Liturgy; especially as many of the questions raised were so trifling as not to require the assembly to decide them. It was resolved to appoint a committee, who should bring the more important questions before the assembly, and decide the less important themselves. At the earnest request of Philippson, however, it was resolved, that the first question, whether the plan in general be approved of, should be brought before the assembly. To this second liturgical committee, Einhorn, S. Adler, Wechsler, Holdheim, and Philippson, were appointed.
Second Sitting, July 14th.
The president brought forward the Sabbath question as the order of the day; and in introducing it said, that it would be well in handling it to avoid both extremes, in order to produce unanimity on the subject. He then read the report of the committee.
(As this report is substantially the same as already given, we do not repeat it. The three first points are reiterated; but the fourth is thus mentioned:—)
“The committee is aware that it has passed over one of the most important points, namely, the frequent collision between the sanctification of the Sabbath, and the claims of civil life. On this point they cannot come to a unanimous decision; and, therefore, the members each retain their individual opinions regarding it.
“May the discussion on this point produce a useful and salutary result; and may the sanctification and rest of the holy day be acknowledged and promoted thereby.”
The president then called upon the members of the committee to express their opinions on the subject.
Wechsler then read a further report. He recognised in the rest of the Sabbath an independent object; because men could not sustain a life of uninterrupted activity. The principal object of the Sabbath is its sanctification; but the rest is an independent adjunct. Hence arises a question: How far does the prohibition against the prosecution of worldly business go? Does it extend to the entire cessation of the work itself, or does it simply forbid our own participation in it? The rabbinical casuists permitted tax-gatherers and others to carry on their work on the Sabbath by means of those who were not Jews. The speaker proposed that the eves of Sabbaths and feast days should begin only a quarter of an hour before the actual night.
Kahn, another member of the committee, would add the prohibition against kindling a fire; and remarked that the Jews could the more easily avail themselves of the assistance of non-Jews, as these had a day of rest of their own.
S. Adler, another member of the committee, entered on a detailed and copious examination of the subject. He remarked that tradition which proceeded out of the living conscience of the people, is the chain between Mosaism and the Talmud; and it is only thus that the latter can be understood. In Mosaism, the rest of the Sabbath is the chief idea. The Sabbath, in this view, contains the idea of the creation; and its rest is symbolical. It also includes the idea of a moral obligation; because lord and servant are in like manner to rest. But besides the cessation from business and active labour, tradition also forbids either producing or destroying; and this we must also maintain. He would make a distinction between work (מלאכה) and servile work (מלאכת עבודה). In regard to the service of the state, he would make this practical difference: The official situations in which servile work, or active labour, is required, he would consider the Jews prohibited from; but where only work, as opposed to absolute rest, is required, he would consider it permitted to them.
Einhorn then followed as the first speaker. He considered the Sabbath entirely a symbol. In the first place it symbolized the deliverance out of Egypt; and, therefore, Israel was to sanctify it by ceasing from active labour; 2dly, it symbolized the creation; and, therefore, all productive activity is forbidden. The welfare of the state is a religious duty; and, therefore, in case of collision, the Sabbath must give way.
In the afternoon sitting, Holdheim spoke first. He considered rest, absolute rest, the radical idea of the Sabbath; it was a symbol of the condition of God, as opposed to that of time. Time is the representation of change, of instability, of imperfection—a visible type of non-existence (nichtseins); on the contrary, rest is the type of perfection—of absoute being—of God. At a later period, the idea of an elevation of the soul to God, was introduced into the Sabbath. In a biblical point of view, the Sabbath is simply regarded as a rest; and through it, an acknowledgment is made of the fundamental principle, that God is the absolute Being, or existence. But do we now connect this fundamental idea with rest? We do not now learn truth through symbols, but through conviction. Therefore, to violate the Sabbath is no longer rebellion against Judaism, even if it be still considered sinful. To us [Reform Jews], the principal thing is the elevation of the heart to God—divine worship. He cannot approve of working through non-Jews, because what I ought not to do myself, I ought not to allow others to do. In this the ceremonial and the moral agree, and make no difference between doing, and permitting to be done. While the rest of the Sabbath was originally symbolical, to us it is symbolical no longer; nor is the day of rest so: therefore, the Sabbath might be changed; a proposal, however, which he by no means makes.
This speaker was opposed by A. Adler, who stated that the Sabbath is not symbolical, but religious; and in Palestine was also political: hence the punishment of death for its violation. It cannot be a symbol, because mere rest or inactivity cannot symbolize anything; as something active is necessary to the idea of a symbol. Hess agreed with him that the Sabbath is not a symbol. Gosen and Herxheimer expressed the same view.
Third Sitting, July 15th.
At the commencement, an address was read from the congregation of Koslin, presented by Dr. Jolowicz. The congregation have adopted in their worship, the resolutions of the second assembly of Rabbies; whilst, at the same time, they regard these merely as opinions, and not as authoritative precepts; as which, indeed, the assembly did not give them forth.
The president then resumed the yesterday’s debate; and defended the report of the committee from the attacks that had been made on it. In the Bible the Sabbath does not appear as a symbol; 1st, because it stands in the Ten Commandments, in which there are no symbols; and 2dly, because the day of atonement contains the same laws, though with a different object. If, on the other hand, we view its sanction by tradition merely as the expressed conscience of the people of the olden time, we cannot, on this account, set the Sabbath aside, because it retains its position in the living popular conscience (lebendige Volksbewüßtsein) of the present day.
Pick, of Töplitz, then spoke. The Sabbath is the type of the creation, and of the deliverance from Egypt. The notion of rest is only a secondary idea; it is not a means to an end, because inactivity is a mere withdrawal from outward disturbances, and has in itself no tendency to the elevation of the spirit. Every work which contributes to the realization of the Sabbath idea, is lawful; and every work which disturbs this is forbidden. In this we agree with the Talmud, which regards only the character of the aim and object of Sabbath violation. Herzfeld would take the word of Scripture in its plain and simple meaning. Sabbath (שבת) is simply rest, not sanctification. The Israelites never went to Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. The rest was not a means, but an end in itself. Rest is repose. The consecration of the Sabbath arises out of a thought that is connected with it. We do not believe it is that in seven days God created the world; but it is the thought that one God, not seven, has created the world. He would have even mental labour forbidden. The prohibition against lighting a fire is for the prevention of cooking. The Sabbath must not be laid aside. He is against working through non-Jews. The worship of God is more important than rest; for without it, Scripture would be forgotten. The service of the state must supersede the Sabbath, because it is the realization of a moral idea; but this is only where it is indispensable to the calling of an individual.
The afternoon sitting was occupied with the speeches of Salomon, Stein, and Philippson. The first found fault with the mode of setting forth one theory against another, and will simply avail himself of the word of Scripture. He made the following propositions: 1st, That it is not needful to leave off work which cannot well be delayed. 2d, That it is not necessary to discontinue any work belonging to spiritual matters. 3d, That our places of worship have the same significancy (Bedeutung) as the Temple of Jerusalem, and therefore to attend public worship is a high duty. 4th, That the land to which we belong is our fatherland, which we are to serve with property and life. 5th, How is the eve of the Sabbath to be kept? 6th, It is desirable to have afternoon, as well as morning, worship, in order that servants may be able to attend. 7th, Whatever embellishes domestic life is allowable on the Sabbath.
Stein, in a warm and feeling speech, expressed his attachment to the law of the Sabbath; drawing therefrom, that we should consecrate it in every possible way. He declared himself against any definition; and proposed that a committee should be chosen, which shall revise the existing laws, and give in their report.
Philippson said that the two last speakers had confined themselves to the practical part of the question, and he could have wished to be able to follow their example; but as the former speakers had brought forth theories on the subject, these must not remain unnoticed. The question naturally divided itself into three parts: 1st. The radical idea. 2d. The law. 3d. Collision with the routine of actual life. Before entering on the first, he must shortly explain his views. In opposition to some opinions previously expressed, he sees in Moses, not simply a lawgiver, but a man immediately inspired by God to make known eternal truth, and to establish institutions which may, it is true, change their form, but which, in their substance, contain eternal truth, which the whole of humanity will one day acknowledge. (General approbation.) In the present day the Sabbath is sometimes considered in a rational, sometimes in a symbolical, manner. But the state of the case is this, the Sabbath is a necessary thing for the spiritual nature of man. The Holy Scripture, in its first twelve chapters, unfolds the history of mankind. It shows these opposite principles which still hold man captive. Man was created in the image of God; and in the sweat of his face he must eat bread. On the one hand, man is a divine spirit, whose destination it is ever to strive after greater likeness to God; and on the other hand, he is the slave of material life. But in this, even, lies a blessing, as it tends to the developement of the human soul. The contradiction, however, is still there; and revelation must give the solution of it, which is—the Sabbath. Hence the Sabbath meets this twofold nature; it brings the slavery to material nature into freedom, through rest; while, at the same time, it elevates and sanctifies the spirit. Though rest and devotion are thus different in their being, they are yet identical in fact; because in the spirit of man there is a constant impulse towards development, which comes into action as soon as rest relieves it from the pressure of material life. Some have said, but most erroneously, that the idea of devotion was connected with the Sabbath at a period subsequent to its institution. The notion of sanctification, and devotion to God, is an integral part of every scriptural idea; therefore it never can be wanting in that of the Sabbath. Such expressions as these: “Thou shalt love thy God:” “Thou shalt cleave unto Him:” “Thou shalt be holy, as God is holy,” &c., surely inculcate holiness in every possible way; and when it is said of the Sabbath, “Ye shall sanctify it,” “It shall be holy to you,” &c., it can surely mean nothing else. The Sabbath cannot be a mere veiled symbol, when it is a spiritual necessity for mankind; but we cannot wholly deprive it of a symbolical character, because it is called, ארה (a sign). It is not a symbol in itself; but a symbolical analogy was given to it when it became an appointed portion of the Mosaic worship. When it entered into this worship, it could no longer remain simply rational, but must have a symbolical character; and the only idea he could connect with it was that of the divine creation, and its fulfilment in time. Not that we are to seek an analogy to the six periods of creation, but to consider simply, that as the sun’s revolutions determine the year and day, and the moon indicates the month, so the week is determined by the four phases of the moon. This is the arrangement of nature; and the symbol of this was kept up in worship.
In regard to the law of the Sabbath, this has already been largely considered, both in a biblical and talmudical point of view; but it has not yet been made clear how we are to reform it. The whole process may be likened to the institution of a jury. The jury avowedly represents the conscience of the criminal. The law stands there, firm and immoveable; the indictment says it has been violated. The criminal cannot judge of this; the impulse of self-preservation unfits him for it: therefore the jury steps in, and decides whether, in this particular case, the law has been violated. The divine law on the point in question is short and decided: “Thou shalt do no work.” But what is work? Then tradition comes in like a jury. It gives no definition; it rather goes through each individual case, weighing and deciding; here is the law violated, there not so. But the progress of mankind, and Israel’s progress in it, has delivered us from this captivity and incapacity. The law stands firm, but we are competent to interpret the law by our individual conscience. This freedom of conscience does not make itself a judge of the law; it acknowledges the law as binding; but it decides the application of the law in each particular case. Therefore, no new casuistry, no new code, are requisite; if this were insisted on, I should prefer the old.
If the principle above stated be admitted, then, 3dly, the collision with existing institutions will be partially removed. But only partially. Wholly to prevent this is not in our power. God has brought us into these circumstances, and to him must we entrust them. All deception in this matter must be given up. Men wish to make it easy; they say, all indispensable business may be done. But have we mended matters by this? We have declared it lawful to the man of business, but we have taken the Sabbath from him; and as he is thus deprived of the blessing which its religious observance would have afforded him, the collision is not in this way avoided. The change of the Sabbath has been hinted at. All history is against this. This is the very day which our fathers’ fathers have kept as the Sabbath. Other religions have borrowed the Sabbath from us; but while they borrowed it from us, they would have nothing in common with us, and altered the day, not because ours was wrong, but in order that they might differ from us; and therefore to show their independent standing, they hold it on Sunday and Friday. (Mahometans.) And shall Judaism now relinquish its independence, and say, We shall keep the same day you do!
(The proposition for changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, was subsequently put to the vote, and negatived by a majority of 17 to 9.)
Fourth Sitting, July 16th.
This whole sitting, morning and afternoon, was occupied with the general discussion on the Sabbath question.
Wagner spoke first. He views the Sabbath as a symbol of faith, and of the relationship of God to the world; while the rest expresses the completion of creation. Man is a free agent, and therefore can look back on what he has accomplished, whether it is according to, or against, the will of God. He would assert this point: Every work is either commanded or forbidden; commanded, when a duty requires it, and forbidden, when a duty does not require it, and this he would also maintain in regard to the Sabbath.
Auerbach. The idea of sanctification is too general for the Sabbath; the whole of Judaism includes sanctification; it is the sanctification of work. By rest man hallows work; while he feels satisfied by his efforts and occupations. The Sabbath is an institution, as the whole of Israel in the midst of mankind is an institution. This hallowing of work happens negatively through rest, and positively through devotion. He disclaimed any compensation for the existing collision, but would make an exception in favour of the general good, as well as the good of the state.
The following members then spoke more or less copiously: Levy, of Breslau, Ben Israel, Güldenstein, Goldstein, Levy of Münsterburg, and Formstecher. The latter came back to the opinion that the Sabbath is not symbolical, but is an object in itself. He remarked that the prophets sometimes spoke against the offerings, but always for the Sabbath. The solution of the symbol lay in the creation. God created every thing in equipoise; this equipoise has been disturbed by man, and the Sabbath restores it again: it restores the disturbance in man himself, the equipoise of the ground in the rest of the sixth year, and of social life in the year of jubilee. He suggested the formation of Sabbath unions among the people, whose members should attend public worship on the Sabbath, &c.
In the afternoon sitting Sobernheim and Jolowicz spoke, and then the president summed up the debate. Previous to its conclusion several amendments were introduced, the consideration of which was deferred until the fifth sitting.
(The report gives the fifth and seventh sittings together, as they both related to the Sabbath question. The sixth sitting, which was entirely occupied with the mode of performing circumcision, we omit.)
The Fifth and Seventh Sittings, July 17th and 20th.
The debate on the propositions of the Sabbath Committee, and on the amendments proposed, occupied the morning sittings of both days.
Instead of the proposition, No. 1, of the committee, an amendment of the first half of the resolution was proposed and unanimously adopted.
1st. The assembly declare, That the restoration of a proper solemnization of the Sabbath as a day of rest and devotion is a most sacred object, both for the teachers of Israel and for every individual Israelite, and therefore at this present time special attention should be directed towards it; that by means of a more elevated and devotional public worship, and the furtherance of Sabbath sanctification in families, the holiness of the Sabbath may be more called to mind.
The second portion of the committee’s first proposition—“That to the sanctification of the Sabbath it is necessary to abstain from all employment which belongs to every-day business, and from whatever requires active labour; but that which is neither business nor active labour may be allowed”—was rejected by a majority of 17 to 9.
The second proposition made, was:—
The assembly would further declare, That the public celebration of worship on Sabbath, is a matter of such high importance, that labour, which in other cases is forbidden, must not be denied for this purpose; whatever, therefore, may contribute to render public worship seemly and edifying, is lawful.
This was adopted with only four dissenting voices. Some special amendments were made.
3. An occupation, the existence of which is endangered by standing still, may be carried on through non-Jews.
This was adopted by a majority; Philippson declined to vote.
4. In a case where the whole temporal welfare of an individual—his whole means of further existence is threatened, it is no violation of any religious duty to make such arrangements as may deliver him from this.
This was unanimously adopted; Philippson declining to vote.
5. Where there is danger to life, or where such is to be apprehended, whether one’s own person, or that of others, whether Israelites or non-Israelites, whatever may avert the same, is, on the Sabbath, not only permitted, but commanded.
6. The assembly declares, That the too great strictness of existing precepts for the sanctification of the Sabbath are rather prejudicial to the same, and therefore ought to be relaxed. It also declares that all excessive restrictions, that aim at producing a state of entire inactivity, are not binding.
Adopted with 17 votes; Philippson declining to vote.
7. The assembly declare, That the decisions of the earlier teachers for facilitating the observances of the laws, such as ערובי חצרות (Mixtio conclavium) and ערובי תחומין(Mixtio terminorum) are, in our opinion, inadmissible; and for short journeys are quite unnecessary.
Adopted by a large majority; Philippson declining to vote.
In regard to Formstecher’s proposal for the establishment of Sabbath unions among the people, the assembly declared it very desirable.
When the adjourned debate began on the Monday’s sitting, Philippson proposed the following amendment, which ought to stand between numbers 1 and 2:—
The assembly declares, That the rest of the Sabbath consists in abstaining from worldly business and active labour; whilst at the same time it declares, that in each particular case, it must be left to the conscience of the individual, to judge whether such actions belong to the prohibited labour or not.
If the assembly would adopt this, he would vote for the proposition, which, in its present state appeared to him defective and without principle, and was in reality no amendment of existing regulations. Philippson’s motion was rejected, by 17 to 9.
Next came Dr. Salomon’s proposal, of which the following point only was adopted:—
8. Mental labour does not violate the Sabbath. Philippson declined voting.
Then came the fourth proposition of the committee (which stood as the fifth in last year’s report), and it was in all its three parts unanimously adopted.
9. The assembly declares, That contributing to the welfare of the state is such an imperative duty, that in cases of collision, the keeping of the Sabbath must give way. They, therefore, declare, that when ever discipline requires it, soldiers are to be permitted to dispense with the observance of the Sabbath; and they likewise declare, That official persons, who are not able to withdraw from the business of their offices on the Sabbath, are to fulfill the duties of their situations; it being supposed, that in some other way—namely, at home, they endeavour to keep the Sabbath.
Herewith ended the discussion on the Sabbath question.
Eighth Sitting, July 21st.
In the yesterday’s sitting, Wechsler had read the report of the committee on the second feast days. It stated simply that the second days of the festival have no foundation in our religious records; at the same time, there is nothing absolutely against them, as they are deeply rooted in the conviction of the people at large, as being holy. If, however, the sanctification of the first day suffers thereby, or they are found burdensome, they ought certainly to be abolished.
The following resolutions were proposed by the committee:—
1st. The assembly declare, That the second feast days, the eighth day of the Passover, and the ninth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, have no foundation in our religious records, and are unsuitable to the present time.
2d. The assembly declare, That, therefore, such congregations as may resolve on the entire or partial abolition of these days, do not transgress any religious precept.
3d. The assembly would further declare, That in congregations where even a small number of their members are against the abolition of these days, they should be celebrated by public worship, but the prohibition against work should not be considered binding.
4th. The assembly declares, lastly, That the prohibition of leaven on the last day of the Passover, is not binding.
The morning sitting was occupied with the general debate on this subject.
Herxheimer read a treatise, in which he considered the subject in a biblical, talmudical, and practical point of view; and, with the exception of the second day of the New Year, recommends the abolition of the second feast days.
Einhorn proved that it was not the calendar-reckoning that was the true origin of the second feast-day, but the מהרה יבנה בית המקדש (the speedy building of the Temple). On this account the Talmud has no religious authority in the present day; as it is merely a reflection of temple times. These views have now lost all significance to us.
Holdheim remarked, That the conflict between religion and daily life must be lessened; and we should endeavour that this be done in the most correct way. Devotion becomes wearisome, when lengthened out for two days.
Gosen warned them against throwing any firebrands of contention in the midst of congregations; and proposed that the prohibition against work on the second day, should be removed, but the worship continued.
Salomon. The feasts are a blessing as resting-points in life, and as glances into Israelitish history; but if rest is continued too long, it degenerates into idleness; and Jewish history is now learned through schools.
Stein would permit work on the second day of the New Year; but would, at the same time, celebrate it by public worship.
Wechsler was opposed to those who objected to the second day on Scripture grounds; we cannot go back to Mosaism, and thus annul all historical development. Into the feasts especially, elements of thought had entered which are not to be found in the Scriptures.
Philippson would reduce all the feasts into three categories. 1st. Those relating to the social life of the nation. 2d. Those religiously instituted. 3d. Those connected with the law. By those religiously instituted, he means those that commemorate historical events, such as Chanucka (the Dedication) and Purim (Lots). The second days were held because the people formerly liked protracted services; therefore the prayer-book grew into folios. Now that the people are pressed down with the cares of life, they wish them shortened. The abolition of the second day will tend greatly to increase the zeal and warmth with which the first day will be celebrated. Although Chanucka commemorates one of the most glorious periods of our history, it is little attended to by the people; whereas Purim, whose foundation is a mere seraglio history, is well kept; and wherefore? Because it only lasts one day.
Pick stated that as the Jews were obliged to keep the Christian holidays in so far as they must abstain from working openly, they were thus obliged to rest about the third part of every year; there was, therefore, the more need to release them from unnecessary observances.
In the afternoon the points were debated individually, and, with a few modifications; they were adopted almost unanimously.
Having given the two most interesting debates at such length, we can only afford a brief summary of the three remaining sittings.
The ninth sitting was occupied with some amendments on the resolutions of the previous day. A committee was appointed for revising the law of the Passover.
The tenth sitting.—Jolowicz proposed that writing in schools should be declared lawful on Sabbath, as it was a part of education; but the consideration of this proposal was postponed. Einhorn presented a report on the religious standing of females in Judaism; when it was resolved to hand over this matter to a future assembly.
The next matter under consideration was, the usages during mourning; which it was considered desirable to modify and to shorten, The subject was debated; but the decision delayed till next sitting. The remainder of this sitting was occupied with the subject of circumcision.
The eleventh sitting.—The resolutions regarding mourning customs were as follows:—
1st. The following mourning customs, arising out of by-gone habits of the Jewish people, are no longer suitable to our days: the rending of the garments; wearing the beard; sitting on the ground; and refraining from wearing leathern shoes.
After some little debate on this, it was, with the exception of Gosen, unanimously adopted.
2d. Instead of remaining at home seven days after the funeral, three is deemed sufficient; and during that time, attendance at the worship of the synagogue is not prohibited.
3d. That business be abstained from, during these three days; but it may be transacted through another person.
After a few amendments, these were unanimously adopted.
A report was read relative to Chalizah. The
question relative to a Minyan (number that forms a synagogue) was
referred to the liturgical committee; a committee was appointed to
revise the laws relating to food, which is to report to the next
Rabbinical Assembly. Manheim was chosen as the place where the next
assembly should be held; the official thanks to the president and
secretaries were given; and the third assembly of German Rabbis was
dissolved.—Voice of Israel.