|Vol. IV, No. 11
Shebat 5607, February 1847
It is now over one year since the United German Synagogue of New York elected Dr. Lilienthal as their chief Rabbi, and very little has yet been given to the public as to the results of that election. Permit me, therefore, Mr. Editor, to use your pages for the purpose of bringing before your numerous readers some of the acts of the reverend and learned gentleman, the result of which will do honour to the congregations of which I am an humble member, for the wisdom displayed in their selection of such a pastor, and will, in my opinion, confer immense benefits on the spiritual welfare of the whole body of Israelites in the United States, as tending to unity and harmony in the worship of the true and only God in our beloved country, the United States of America.
On the arrival of Dr. Lilienthal from Russia, where he had held a high, responsible, and richly-endowed office, but which he could no longer occupy in the presence of the cruel persecutions which our holy faith had to labour under, he was invited to deliver sermons in the three German Synagogues. Immediately thereafter he was elected chief Rabbi by the unanimous vote of the members of these Synagogues. At the first meeting thereafter of the three united boards of the congregations alluded to, committees were appointed to report on the following subjects:
The committees went to work. The report on the subject of “confirmation” was received and adopted. The principal features thereof were, that every boy at twelve years of age, and every girl at eleven, is to receive preparatory religious instructions from the chief Rabbi himself, from the period of Hanucka to Shebuoth. These instructions are to consist of the knowledge of religion in general, but particularly the principles of the Jewish creed and its revelations, the doctrine of the existence of God and of his commandments, the immortality of the soul, explanation of the thirteen articles of faith, the duties of man to God, to himself, and to his fellow-creatures, and all the requisites of the moral law. On the first day of Shebuoth of each year, the children who are properly prepared are to receive public confirmation. Last Shebuoth this august ceremony was, for the first time, publicly performed in the Anshay-Chesed Synagogue. Upwards of fifteen hundred persons were present, and no one doubted the excellent effect it had on the whole assemblage. The Rabbi delivered an impressive sermon, which drew tears from all, and satisfied every one, that far from being a destructive innovation, “confirmation” was an earnest appeal to every Jew to rally with heart and soul round the standard of our holy religion, and await with confidence for the fulfilment of the prophecies: “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth, on that day the Lord alone shall be acknowledged, and His name be One.”
He gave convincing evidence that the ceremony of confirmation is in accordance with the strictest rules of orthodoxy, as laid down in the Talmud and Shulchan-Aruch. “Confirmation” is, however, not to interfere in the least with the ceremony of בר מצוה which is to be performed as heretofore.
In relation to order and regulations during worship, the following rules, based strictly on the ordinances of the שלחן ערוך Orach Chayim, were adopted.
Children under four years of age are not permitted to attend the Synagogue, on account of the unavoidable disturbance they create. (98, 1; 124, 13.)
Since these regulations have been adopted order and decorum in our Synagogues prevail. The congregations chaunt the ב"ה וב"ש and אמן in a proper style. Appropriate melodies are adapted to the usual hymns, and, under the lead of the Hazan are sung by the congregation. Almost the whole service is so arranged that each alternate verse is sung by the reader and congregation in turn. The result of this innovation has been that the listlessness, formerly so apparent in Synagogues, owing to the attendants having mostly to spend their time in listening to the songs of the Hazan, has given way to respectful attention on the part of the members to their portion of the performance.
The Rabbi delivers a sermon during the morning service of each Sabbath and holiday. The former הנותן תשועה, suitable only to humble subjects of monarchs, has been superseded by a prayer proper for freemen, composed by the Rabbi. It has been adopted not only in our three united congregations, but, I am happy to state, also in those of Albany, Syracuse, Boston, Newark, and a number of others.
On the subject of Shochetim, and the sale of Kosher meats, a committee of competent men has been selected by the united boards. The committee entered with laudable zeal into the performance of their important duties, and the result of their deliberations has given general satisfaction. It consists of a number of regulations relating to Shochetim, Jewish butchers, and Christian butchers. Still, however, these rules are not found stringent enough. Complaints have lately been made of meats having been sold to Jews by some of the butchers, without the veins being extracted. The same committee are at work again, and will no doubt complete and perfect their labour, so as to prevent the possibility of the recurrence of the same evil.
On Marriages.—Permission to be married will no more be granted by the Parnassim without the advice of the Rabbi, who, previous to granting a license, will convince himself that the union of the parties proposing to join in wedlock is not one prohibited by the Jewish laws or the laws of the land. After permission has been duly obtained, the fact of the intended marriage will have to be published from the pulpit during a Saturday morning-service in each of the united Synagogues. The nuptial ceremonies may then take place one week after such proclamation, provided no proper objection is raised thereto. These rules are no ways inconsistent with the Jewish law, and are intended to prevent, as much as possible, the Rabbi or Parnassim from being imposed upon, by permitting an improper marriage to take place, particularly where one or both of the parties are strangers to the city, or late emigrants. By the publicity given in such cases some one would in all probability be found acquainted with proper causes for objection to the marriage, if any there be, and give warning thereof. The Rabbi presides at the nuptial ceremonies, which consist in a sermon delivered by himself, followed by the forms usually observed by the Jews. Before the wedding takes place, however, the Shtar-Chalitza has to be signed by the brothers of the bridegroom, an obligation hitherto generally neglected in this country.
On last Sabbath Bereshith a Beth-din was established, composed of the following gentlemen: Chief Rabbi Lilienthal, Moreno [Isaac M.] Wise, Rabbi of Albany and Syracuse; Moreno Doctor Felsenheldt, and Moreno Doctor Kohlmayer. Dr. Lilienthal, elected Rosh Beth Din, presented the Dajanim to his congregations, and in a sermon, delivered on that occasion, declared, on behalf of the Beth-din, that their services were ready to be given to every Jewish congregation in America, without claiming any clerical rights or dues. The Beth-din intend to have their first quarterly meeting next month, and as their proceedings and their appeal to the Jews of America will no doubt find their place in your valuable paper, I leave it to the reverend gentlemen to expound their own views and intentions. I understand that a Minhag America is to be submitted by them to all the Jewish congregations for adoption. This plan, if successful, will, it is to be hoped, tend to end the unhappy divisions now existing among the American Jews, in almost every city where they are in any way numerous.
The great aim of Dr. Lilienthal’s efforts seems to be the improvement of the mental condition of Jewish youths. A society has been formed, combining members of the three united Synagogues, for the establishment of a union school. Each member thereof contributes two dollars annually. The charge for each scholar is to be seven dollars yearly, excepting the poor, who are to be received free of any charge. The school is divided in two sections, the elementary, and high school. The former is again divided in two classes, and the latter in three. The subjects to be taught in the elementary section are, catechism, Biblical history, Hebrew and English, reading and writing, translation of the prayers, of Genesis and Exodus, arithmetic, the first elements of English and Hebrew grammar, and of geography. The studies of the high school are to be, catechism, the whole Bible, the history of the Jewish people, some parts of the Orach-Chayim, history of the United States, general history, the English language, arithmetic, algebra and geometry, book-keeping, and the Hebrew, French, and German languages. One hundred and twenty scholars attend already the elementary classes, and their number increases almost daily. Judging from the interest taken in the matter by our members generally, we have the gratifying prospect that this school will soon be such as to do honour to the Jews of New York.
Besides the sermon delivered on each Sabbath morning, the Chief Rabbi has kindly offered his valuable services to one of our חברות, for the purpose of reading a שיעור from the well-known מנורת המאור. After the שיעור, the right reverend pastor delivers a lecture on the history of the Jews from the destruction of the first Temple up to the present time. These highly interesting lectures draw large crowds of hearers, hastening to listen to these instructive discourses.
My subject, I find, has already taken so much space, that I am unwilling to intrude much farther on your valuable space; but I cannot well conclude without first tendering my grateful acknowledgments to our kind and Almighty God for the great good that has already been done to his people in this city in the short space of one year; and I pray that He may extend His aid and blessings on our respected pastor, to enable him to carry out fully all the undertakings he has so successfully begun. Nor should I neglect to mention gratefully the ardour and pious zeal exhibited by the members of the three boards, headed by Henry Moses, Esq., President of the Anshay Chesed, H. Hilburghauser, Esq., President of the Shangarey-Shamayim, and Leopold Cohen, Esq., President of the Rodef-Sholom. No sacrifice of time or of money has been spared by all these gentlemen in their support of measures calculated to forward the best interests of our holy faith, and to do honour to the Jewish name in the United States.