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Education For The Ministry


No doubt our readers have reflected upon an article we wrote some time ago, and printed in the last number of our third volume, on the Jewish Ministry. Since then, we have remarked several articles in our English contemporaries, alluding likewise to the same subject, that is, to the nearly total absence of qualified men for the office of duly educated religious teachers. The evil is felt; remedies are alluded to; but year after year elapses, and things remain unchanged, because there is no one apparently willing to lead in the matter of reform, a reform which cannot be carried out without the disbursement of a considerable amount of money. Could mere talking effect any good, there can be no doubt that enough fine speeches would be forthcoming from all places and all sorts of men. But as this will do but little to produce a remedy, the men who could aid, the wealthy, stand aloof for fear, perhaps, of becoming too heavily taxed in the execution of the scheme of reform. We beg our readers, however, not to startle at our use of a word, against which we have repeatedly entered our protest; our reform is not in the matter of religion,—a subject which we deem far removed from our reach; but it regards the education of intelligent persons, suited for the ministry in England and America, in such a manner that they may be able to supply any vacancy that arises, or any new congregation which is formed; so that the word of God may be expounded to the people periodically, if even not weekly, in the language of the country. The several advertisements and inquiries which we have occasionally inserted for different communities, are an earnest that good and proper men are needed in this part of the world; and we confidently assert that the same want is felt in England and its dependencies; and that, moreover, this desire and this necessity will be constantly increasing, both in old congregations as the office of minister becomes vacant, and wherever new assemblies of Israelites are established in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Hindoostan, South America, the West Indies, the United States, and Canada.

People must not be led away by the state and numbers of Jews as now in these countries; but they should reflect on the absolute certainty of a hundred-fold increase, perhaps within the life of persons already advanced to the age of fifty years, not to mention those who are now at the entrance of existence. We have shown before that the lot of Israelites in nearly all Europe is deplorable in every sense of the word; we entertain but little expectation of any great improvement there; the consequence, then, is, that constantly larger numbers will seek for the protection of the milder laws of English-speaking nations; and hence it is not matter of speculation but of certainty, that new congregations will be formed in every eligible position, perhaps in an accelerated ratio to what we have witnessed hitherto. Our reason for this supposition is this:

There are already many scattered Israelites in the countries indicated above, who, because they live alone, are indifferent to their religion; they are surrounded by non-Israelites, and perhaps they fancy that it will be exciting prejudice against themselves, were they so openly to profess their Judaism as to attract public attention. But let other Jews settle near them, let there be many who would countenance them in their dissent from the majority and their religious teachers: and it requires no prophetic vision to foretell that indifference to the law of Moses will speedily vanish, and that men will become conformists in society, though when alone they had almost forgotten that they were born Jews. Yet even without referring to the well-nigh lost, there are many pious men who are living in humble, unobtrusive faith, withdrawn from the gaze of the world; and surely these will anxiously await the moment when they can unite with their follows to call unitedly on Israel’s God, in the land where they have found enlargement and peace.

We meant to say, that the demand for servants in the house of God has increased ten-fold already within twenty years, both in England and America, and there is every probability, we would say almost certainty, that the demand will increase in an equal or greater proportion. For communities already formed will, as soon as their means increase, call for religious teachers; and the question now arises: “How are they to be gratified?” We indeed know not how to frame a satisfactory reply; we know of no candidates, or persons likely to become so, to supply new congregations, or to take the place of the ministers now officiating; because there are no institutions where persons can qualify themselves for the ministry in all England or America; and in these limits we embrace every country where English is spoken. We appeal to the congregations already existing, whether they do not feel the want of ministers, duly qualified, as a serious evil; and then let us again appeal to their love of religion, whether they are willing that this shall continue yet longer.

We know that some will maintain that we can get ministers enough from the continent of Europe, where education is widely extended, and men of piety are always procurable. But without at all derogating from the well-established reputation for learning enjoyed by our continental brothers, we cannot by any means assent to the proposition that they can readily assume the ministerial functions in our congregations. The greatest objection is their unacquaintance with the language of the country; so that they will have to reside among us a long time, be­fore they can be qualified to preach or to give instruction to youth; and we put it respectfully to the consideration of all, whether they would like to support their ministers in a state of inefficiency, until they become competent, through self-instruction or otherwise, for the functions they are to fulfill. It cannot be expected that they are to support themselves for a space of three years while under tuition, as they, in all likelihood, will not have the requisite wealth to live without a salary or some other means of procuring a living; and would the congregations be willing to give them this leisure, and to see all their wants provided for? who is to warrant them that after all their patient waiting, the candidates will respond to the expectations which they had a right to form concerning them? We rather imagine that this view would be adopted by all our communities, who would justly say: “We will gladly elect a minister, but we require that he be competent to render us the services we need; and we cannot, therefore, employ any one who is unable to speak the English language.” In this connexion we may perhaps be referred to several gentlemen now in office, both here and in England, who have successfully mastered the English, and now exhort their congregations in the vernacular language. But we would again respectfully ask: “How many are these?” We admit their services; we are glad to acknowledge that they have acquitted themselves well; we are proud to claim a Loewe, a Raphall, an Adler, all Germans, in England, and to be able to refer to others in this country, several of whose productions have appeared in our pages; yet these only prove the exception, and show how great the labour is for adult foreigners to acquire a due acquaintance with the intricacies of the language of the country, to enable them to become popular lecturers, and that a talent of a high order is required to obtain even a moderate knowledge in the premises.

But as regards those of foreign birth, who officiate in America, (we cannot speak of those in England, because, not familiar with their personal history,) we are certain that they had to undergo many privations before they were called to the ministry, and that they had to do work very different from what is expected from servants of the Synagogue, and that it was whilst thus engaged that they gradually acquired the knowledge of the language of the country. Now we contend that no congregation has the least right to expect that young men, of good education, and of such a character as will make them fit to be elected minister, shall come hither and labour in obscurity, as traders or mechanics, or, worse yet, in some subordinate employ, in order to obtain mere bread and a bare subsistence, until such time that some lucky circumstance brings them to the notice of a few influential men, who are able and willing to help them forward. How many brilliant minds are now labouring in obscurity, with hopes crushed, and honourable ambition thwarted, who could have done good service to our cause had their speech only rendered them familiar with their brothers, and who have met with no such helping hand, no such opportunity as raised others, perhaps less deserving, to a place high in public favour. Perhaps we shall be told that true genius will always find its level. We are not casuist enough to debate the point; but we know enough to convince us that no congregation has the right to subject men of worth and talent to the humiliating circumstances of being exposed to want and temptation till some accident reveals their real worth to the public. The Jewish people, who really love, as they profess to do, their ancestral religion, surely have some respect to its teachers; and hence they can certainly not be satisfied with themselves, whilst those from whom they expect to be taught the way of salvation have to experience hardships than which scarcely the humblest labourer can hardly encounter more harassing and unpleasant. But without even regarding the individuals themselves, we very much question, whether it will be always good policy to import our ministers from abroad. We do not fear that any one will accuse us of prejudice against foreigners; still we candidly confess that it is to our view rather degrading than elevating the sacred office, that the people are, under present circumstances, compelled to seek abroad for those who could serve them, especially as even abroad there are but few who are well-qualified, either by education or talent, to satisfy our reasonable expectations. Nay, grant that this should soon be altered in Europe, we would still object to foreigners being the only religious teachers here. In the first place, it is impossible to investigate their moral character sufficiently to satisfy all the requirements of a minister; written testimonials are no certain proof of good conduct; for so weak is human nature, that not to injure an individual in his future prospects, he is furnished with certificates on quitting home, which no one would have thought of giving him had he remained in his native land. We need in the ministry men to whom no suspicion can attach for any misconduct, whose moral and religious conduct is beyond reproach; and no matter what foreigner there be among us, we have no warrant, unless there are many who personally know him, that we ought to entrust him with our most important concerns, except only after a long residence here, an intimate acquaintance, on our part, with his intellectual and moral worth.

But in addition to this, there may be a danger of another kind, attendant on the appointment of unknown men; it is this: Things are not now as they have been formerly; dissension and error, emanating from the gentile schools, where our so-called theologians have been educated, have of late been spread among us; and the very men whom we choose may be those very ones against whose accession to authority every avenue ought to be closed; as their principles are possibly corrupt, and they might carry strife and animosity in the midst of our peaceful communities. We are not permitted by our religion to ask for any official test, we can exact no oath, previous to induction into the ministry, as to the principles professed by the candidate; our only protection is a thorough previous knowledge of his entire character; and hence we again respectfully ask, what guarantee have we that in taking a stranger as our pastor, we choose not the wolf who will devour the flock, instead of binding up the wounds of the diseased, and succouring the weak in their time of need. We are one of those who are not led away by a brilliant reputation, which a person may perhaps bring from abroad; we care little for testimonials issued by colleges, for the degree of bachelor, master, or doctor of all shades and names, the are all well enough to prove that the bearer is a good scholar, a splendid orator, profoundly versed in the lore belonging to his branch of study; but do they give us sufficient evidence that his heart is good? that his inside is fair as his outside? that he has not defiled himself by sin, which should disqualify him for the ministry, while at college? that he has not been tampered with by those insidious seducers who make it their business to instill infidelity into the minds of the young? or of those who endeavour to make proselytes to Christianity, by bribes of money and office? or that he has not joined his heart to the various schismatics who now sow distraction and disunion among us? How are we to remove the just apprehensions which these and similar reflections must produce? and then let us see whether we can readily give our confidence to strangers arriving among us, unless it be after a long and intimate association with them.

We see but one remedy for the evil, and this is to establish a High School for general education in some central position; we care little where this be, whether in England or America, whence may issue men of ample religious and literary endowments, known to the congregations, and therefore likely to be chosen with a full knowledge of their personal history, in addition to that of their acquirements; men in whose hands the future destinies of their respective congregations could be placed with perfect safety; men who, presiding over those who were their school friends and playmates, might carry with them the affections as well as the respect of their flocks. Few can be aware, except those who have themselves felt the absence thereof, how necessary an element to the efficacy of a minister is the judicious affection of his congregation; we do not speak of that ridiculous admiration of the clergyman which both Jews and Christians occasionally exhibit to their clerical officials; since nothing is more injurious to the formation of a good character in the young pastor, or more pernicious to the usefulness of his connexion with his flock; but of that kind indulgence with his weakness and his failings, which is so cheerfully given to the friend, but which the stranger looks for in vain; whereas, he meets with harsh censure where he hoped for kindness, and with a rude repulse where he had a right to expect encouragement. Now none is so likely to be thus favourably treated as the one born in the land, who is therefore likely to have friends and relatives among his congregation, and thereby a small and influential party to secure him, at all events, an impartial hearing in all matters which concern him and his office; and our readers may believe one who knows something of these matters, that it is an object of much moment that this should be so.

But we do not, in this article, mean to speak of the advantages of the incumbents, for they are but the smallest part in the premises; we speak now for the interests of the congregations, for the welfare and spread of Judaism in England and America. To insure this we must have good ministers, and a class of persons from among whom they maybe chosen at all times; and we believe, moreover, that a feasible plan could easily be devised insure an ample supply, without taxing the congregations to support a number of idlers under the name of “candidates for the ministry.” A school in which h there should be taught moral philosophy, Hebrew in all its branches; biblical comments, Mishna, Talmud, Jewish history and antiquity; Latin, Greek, French, German, Chemistry, Mathematics, General History, and Geography; together with a thorough training in English literature and grammar, with music and the elements of drawing, can and be organized, with as little delay as possible; and no means should be omitted to gather the requisite funds towards it, in all places, and from all sorts of people. The wide field for education which we have proposed must not alarm any one; for the expense need need not be necessarily very great in the beginning, since all the branches need not be undertaken at one and the same time; indeed, it would be worse than useless to give instruction in the higher studies until the lower are all mastered. We would propose then to commence with a class of young per­sons, ranging from ten to fourteen, and teach them a. Hebrew and English; b. catechism and biblical commentary; c. the elements of mathematics; d. singing, e. and writing and drawing, together with such exercises as would enable them to put in practice what they are learning. This should be the first year’s course. In the second, French and Latin grammar might be added, as also off-hand translations from the Hebrew; and the course should be gradually enlarged, only as the students become capable of acquiring more. The expense during the first year, including the school-rooms and salaries of teachers, need not exceed three thousand dollars; and, as the plan we propose is that of a general school, open to all Israelites, it is to be expected that the students will be mostly pay-scholars, and sent there by their friends, as the best school, where they can obtain the necessary education in sciences united to a proper knowledge of their religion. Should a few poor children be offered, the committee who of necessity will have charge of the establishment will not find it very difficult to supply them with the means of subsistence. It is not necessary at present to go farther into these details, as out object is merely to point out the practicability of the scheme. The only difficulty is about obtaining the funds, and men of leisure to manage them and take charge of the school. Let us see if this also could not be effected. A gentleman from the south, whose name we do not feel at liberty to mention at present, offers to give one hundred dollars towards a fund; another one in New York, we hear, is willing to give one thousand dollars; and neither of these persons belongs to the wealthiest among us. Now we believe that our rich men have never yet been called on to make any large sacrifices for their religion. Among Christian sects we hear constantly of large sums being given for educational purposes; could not then, by a united effort in all congregations, committees be formed to collect subscriptions for so great an object as the permanent establishment of religious education, with a proviso that no money was to be paid unless so or so much had been subscribed for? In every congregation Synagogues are built, and some at a very great expense, as it ought to be; but is not the law itself of as much importance as the public houses of assembly? It is needless to answer. And sure we are, that if the school were even commenced, it would not be suffered to go down again. Let but a fund of three thousand dollars a year be secured, and we pledge our word that a commencement shall be made; and this can be done by putting out at interest a sum ranging from fifty thousand to sixty thousand dollars (£10,000 to £12,000), which could be invested in the names of trustees, to be chosen by the subscribers. As soon as the committee of superintendence would be ready to open the school, there can be no doubt that many parents who now send their children to gentile boarding establishments would send them from preference to our own institution; and the fees for tuition thus obtained would soon swell the income sufficient to enable the committee to enlarge the system of education by appointing additional teachers. The only question is, “How the matter is to be brought before the people?” Of course, it is not for us to dictate to our friends how to proceed; but we hope that those who have the influence will take the initiative to urge the matter upon the attention of their friends. We will gladly admit any suggestions they may offer into the pages of the Occident, deeming as we do that they cannot be occupied with a subject more necessary to all Israelites than this momentous question of religious education on an extensive scale, by which means the Jews is this country may be enabled to give their children a finished education in connexion with religion, and to train from among themselves persons who may be called to the ministry, without our running into the dangers which we have sketched, and where we have not drawn upon our fancy to heighten the picture. The number of Israelites is daily increasing, and every year it will become easier to support the necessary expense; and should ever the idea become realized, men will wonder how they could so long have been blind to their best interests, by neglecting to establish so blissful a seminary as a Jewish High School, where their children can acquire erudition without danger to their religious principles.

We rest here for the present; but we do not give up the subject; for we mean to agitate the question upon every fitting opportunity, until we succeed or find success hopeless. the latter alternative, however, we dread not; but rather look to see success crown our fond hopes of seeing these countries before long emulating and excelling Europe in the means of educating enlightened Israelites, which would be the best means to remove any lingering prejudice against us, and to show that we make a worthy use of the liberty we enjoy.