|Vol. IV, No. 11
Shebat 5607, February 1847
Confirmation In St. Thomas.
St. Thomas, Nov. 23d, 1846.
My Dear Sir,
I thank you for inserting my communication in the “Occident,” and the notice you have taken of it.
If I have been warm, or as you say I have “coloured highly,” you must impute it to the vexation I feel on finding that as fast as the pressure which has weighed down our co-religionists from abroad is being removed, just as rapidly are encumbrances put in their way at home.
The strong point of the Jewish religion, and that which has carried it triumphantly through the “sea of troubles” which for nineteen centuries has encompassed it, is its simple and undeniable creed:—The belief in a GOD, all-seeing, all-powerful, and, eternal; HE who made himself known to Abraham, the first worshipper of an everlasting and invisible God, and covenanted with him to be a God unto him and his seed for ever.
The ritual and ceremonies of the worship, based upon that creed since the dispersion of the Jews, was arranged with a view to perpetuate the recollection of the great and astonishing events which brought the descendants of a wandering Abraham to be a great and powerful nation, or to represent some part of the temple service, or as a remembrance of the causes of the temporary loss of their inheritance, and the manner by which it is to be regained.
That creed, and these ceremonies, the one stored in the hidden recess of every Jewish heart, the others practised in cellars, in caves, and in every sort of secret place which the ingenuity of man could devise, have outlived the persecution of their enemies. The one is boldly acknowledged in the face of the world; the others are performed in open day, in temples erected for the purpose.—Why should they now be made the subjects of discord and divisions?
The Israelites occupied their inheritance in peace and prosperity under the creed and the laws which Moses gave them—the commencement of their downfall was their departure from the instructions of their wise legislator. They sought after other gods!—They were scattered over the face of the earth, and they returned to their original faith: persecuted and oppressed, they held fast to that faith, and they overcame all difficulties. That faith, so grand, so sublime in its simplicity and truth, made them one people, though dispersed in every clime and in every country. Their union was their strength; it has carried them triumphantly through the storms and tempests of religious persecution; and now that the clouds are dispersed, and that their enemies are beginning to understand the great truth which this persecuted and humiliated race have treasured up in their heart’s core for ages, and that secrecy is no longer necessary, they seek to disguise it under cover of unnecessary or doubtful qualifications!—now that the banner of a GOD one and indivisible may be thrown to the wind, and the nations of the world called to rally under it, the ancient standard-bearers seek to disfigure it with devices borrowed from their adversaries.
That the ritual and ceremonies of the Jewish worship may be modified I do not mean to deny; but feeling, as I do, that the Mosaic creed is the beauty and strength of the religion, I am averse to any modifications which will in any way affect it. The opinions of the prophets, and the dissertations of the wise men of the nation, should not be blended with the creed of the Israelite, and made a matter of obligatory belief; because the latter was laid down as the basis of the religion of the Israelite, long before the former existed, in a manner so plain as to require no commentary, and because the writings of the prophets are in a style so figurative as to admit of numberless interpretations.
In your reply to my communication, already referred to, you have adopted a wrong construction of my remarks on the confounding the belief in one God with the “thirteen articles of faith.” I did not allude to it as “a species of sin.” I said it would lay the foundation for discussions, divisions, and dissensions, which, it is to be feared, will lead to the same consequences as have resulted to the Christian church; and in support of my proposition I refer to the fact that these articles have, if my memory serves me right, been the subject of discussions between the most learned of our sages; for whilst Maimonides divides his faith into thirteen articles, others contend, that they should be comprised in three, or that three only are essential;—and your own remarks hold me out; for, after alluding to the points which you consider indisputable, you refer to two, “the belief in the Messiah and in the resurrection of the dead,” out of which you admit “points of dispute may arise.” Here then is my objection, remodeled from your own words:—“That in confounding a plain and evident truth, designed as the basis of the Jewish faith, with the thirteen articles of the Maimonidean creed, out of two of which disputes may arise, the foundation for discussions, divisions, and dissensions is laid,” &c. Experience has shown us the grave consequences that have grown out of differences the most trifling. Look at the Christian church, broken into fragments on account of different interpretations of mere words. And can the Jews hope to escape the same fate, when they depart from the simplicity of the faith which Moses gave them? But even in the very ceremony which gave rise to our correspondence, I noticed an alteration from the original text, which, in the hands of theological disputants, might be made matter of grave contentions; it is this:—the last of the Maimonidean creed declares a belief in the resurrection of the “dead,” but the confirmants were made to declare a belief in the resurrection of the “body!” Is there no difference? then why use a different word? Is there one? then who is right, Maimonides, or the composer of the formula of confirmation, used here?
In the eleventh page of your translation of the Instruction in the Mosaic Religion by Johlson, in answer to the , eighteenth interrogatory, “Which, however, are the fundamental articles in the Mosaic religion?” there is not a word respecting the resurrection.
So, you see, my dear sir, that without exactly considering it a sin to blend the “articles of faith” with the Mosaic creed, in a solemn declaration of faith, I am not unreasonable in considering it dangerous.
No reasonable man can object to the study of all that has been written on the subject of religion, nor that his neighbour should adopt any part of it as the groundwork of his faith; but that a religious congregation should adopt innovations, and force them vi et armis upon all its members, is a matter that will arouse the opposition of every independent man.
If penalties were inflicted upon every Jew who desecrated the various ordinances of his religion, as used to be done in times not very long gone by, it would be considered a very hard case; how much more so is it to punish him who will not make a pledge to observe that which he as well as every one else knows that he cannot or will not observe.
Your answer has confirmed my previous opinion, that the ceremony of confirmation is an innovation; and although you are pleased to consider it “a harmless thing,” I cannot avoid the conviction that its practice is replete with danger to the harmony and unity of the Jews. You know that I am no bigot; but I hold with the illustrious Mendelssohn, that “to be acceptable to the Omnipresent Shepherd, it is not requisite that the whole flock should pasture in one field, or enter and leave the house of the Lord through one portal; such is neither the wish of the shepherd nor to the advantage of the flock;” and therefore I am averse that the Jewish church, the first to acknowledge a living God, should adopt in its ceremonies any of the forms or usages of other churches. The ceremonies of each religion being typical of the faith upon which it is based, the Jew’s cannot with any consistency be borrowers: let them in preference adhere to the oldest of their usages, until such time as by a united and harmonious effort, such a remodeling of their mode of worship may be effected as will at once satisfy the wishes of those who desire a change, and still. not destroy its identity.
I must not fail to thank you for the Hebrew word which you have applied at my request to the adopted ceremony of confirmation; and although a Hebrew name for a Christian ceremony sounds strangely, still it will be more agreeable than that both the name and ceremony should be derived from the same source.
With much respect,
Note By The Editor.—In inserting the above communication, we deem it proper to say that we do it according to the principle adopted at the beginning of our career, to let every one speak his sentiments in our magazine, provided there is nothing radically dangerous in his sentiments. We meant to accompany the above with some remarks; but we are too much indisposed this month to do so. But we may recur to the matter hereafter, especially should we obtain a reply from the Rev. M. N. Nathans.