|Vol. IV, No. 12
Adar 5607, March 1847
Education And The Ministry.
To The Editor Of The Occident.
Both your articles in Nos. 36 and 46 of your valuable periodical I have carefully read and reflected upon. Would every American Israelite do so, and especially if those who form our German congregations could or would read the latter article, headed “Education for the Ministry,” in the last number of the Occident; and if, in doing so, they would pay it that close attention and just regard which it truly deserves: then, I am sure, it could not fail to effect their own good, and to impress on the minds of the people the dangers to which they are or will be exposed, through the snares of treacherous minds, false tongues, and deceitful hearts, under the disguise of religion.
But I am sorry to say, in regard to the realization of your plan for the establishment of a high school, I can entertain but faint hopes, when I consider the little encouragement extended at present to established schools for religious instruction, and the total absence of such in many of our oldest and wealthiest congregations. And these, I venture to say, are the very places where all the attainments which a high school can promise could be easily obtained, if the people at large, particularly the wealthy classes, would earnestly wish and take measures that their children might become firm in religion and the knowledge thereof, that they might know of it a little more than the chaunting of a Haphtorah, or perhaps also the translation of a Yigdal.—Nay, that high respect and earnest desire for the knowledge of wisdom, that pure energy for the cause of religion which the law commands and you wish to see—I am not able to find it; it appears not to be in the minds of the people. And should the generous examples which noble-hearted men have offered to you, arouse others to imitation, and give success to the good cause: then we must not be too rash in the estimation of its good results. No matter how high it be, “when we quit the school, we are but schoolboys and no more:” it is (generally speaking) a truth not understood by either the youth or the public at large, but which every man of some proficiency in any science or art would readily admit; and how then will that treasure, which is more than all the treasures on earth, “the sacred law,” be safe in the hands of an American schoolboy, who is so little acquainted with the living examples of holy and virtuous men learned in the law, and who, perhaps, except his school books, never yet has seen the title of another Hebrew book? And should I go too far in underrating our American youth, I am surely not too scrupulous in apprehending that the boys placed on the pulpit will soon defy the holy lessons of their teachers and their teachers’ teachers, and they might become “shepherds that cannot understand,” and pastors “that destroy and scatter the sheep of the pasture.” Let the history of foreigners and foreign ministry be a warning example to America. On exposing some dangers in the nature of your plan, I intend by no means to disparage its value and importance; but on the contrary, our consciousness of such dangers will induce and prepare us to act with the greater caution and prudence, that we may the better insure good success and glorious results to the holy cause of Judaism.
My remarks thus far concern the latter pages of your article, and are anticipated here, because I preferred to answer first to points on the substance of which we both would easily agree. But what concerns the first pages of your “Education for the Ministry,” I candidly confess to you, that in reading them I felt grieved to the bottom of my heart:—to any sincere and religious Jewish mind, it must appear as a horrible cruelty to see persecution, oppression, contempt and scorn practised on men, many of whom the law of God might call the pillars of Judaism in America! We have men in America, who from their cradle have been brought up in piety and learning; men who have “a knowledge of moral philosophy of Hebrew in all its branches, biblical comments, Mishnah, Talmud, Jewish history and antiquity, algebra, French, German, general history and geography,” and who are “not unacquainted with English literature and grammar,”—(in saying this I have made use only of the same order and terms wherewith you described the studies of a high school, page 176.) Would I make any addition, instead of a “knowledge” on many heads, I would have said “eminence and erudition;” I would have also said, men of logical and sound reasoning and argument, and of considerable experience; and what is more than all, personally known to us for a number of years as men who know no disguise; who are peaceful, virtuous, pure and firm in the principles and practice of religion, strict as regards themselves, and tolerant towards others. There are also others of whom we would but partly speak in the above terms, and perhaps not at all apply the latter additions; but after all no more indulgence than is actually occasionally used in America, might be needed in their behalf. “And where can we find these men?” I have seen them in a “little grocery,” a “slaughter house,” a “coal yard,” a “tavern,” a “cigar or other shop:” such and the like are the places whither the men worthy to grace the ministry have been pushed back by the errors of the multitude, and—
“And for God’s sake, how is it then possible that all this be true, and be still in consistency with your statements about the lamentations of the people, of the nearly total absence of qualified men for the office of duly educated religious teachers?”
“Of the great want of intelligent persons, fitted for the ministry, in a manner that the Word of God may be expounded to the people?”—How is it consistent with your saying, “we know of no candidates (for religious teachers) or persons likely to become so, to supply new congregations, or to take the place of the ministers now officiating?”
Part of my statements I could easily verify to every reader, by only referring him to former volumes of The Occident; and therefore I need not be plainer about that. And as to you, sir, I say go “and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins:” they are “speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving from the heart words of falsehood;” tell them to call things by their right names, to say what they mean, and to mean what they say, and this will show forth the truth. “A man whose voice pleases, or one whose speech suits his public, is, with few exceptions, the general definition of Jewish ministry in America; and the people would rarely call a man fit to he minister, if his voice do not please their taste. Let them thus not cry out for want of “ministers,” “religious teachers,” men who know how “to expound the law of God to the people;” let them not use false words, and call the name of God; “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” And only this much we say, but we do neither censure the good policy, nor dispute the just purpose and beneficial results of having such officers in large communities; for the people will say that it confers on them a dignified pleasure, that it arouses their feelings of devotion, and that it gives solemnity to worship, just at the proper place and time—during the service in the Synagogue. And to deliver a discourse from the pulpit, will that really be expounding the law of God? will it strike the mind, and teach it “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand the words of the wise and their dark savings? or will it rather strike our senses, deceive our hearts, dazzle our ears, and at the end make us sin and forget the divine command, “Ye shall not seek after your own heart and your own eyes.” (vid. Talmud Berachoth, fo. 12.) These and more questions one might ask; and perhaps Blair’s Rhetoric itself, and daily experience might argue in his favour; but in one word I would answer him: “All depends on the man;” it will do good from a good man, and in the words of the royal psalmist let us say: “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?—He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart; he that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil unto his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach, against his neighbour; he that honoureth them that fear the Lord ; he that taketh not bribery against the innocent.” (Psalm 15 And if we do not know, or rather know the man not to be so, we again apply the words of that holy book: “But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes? thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit.” (Psalm l. 16, 19.)
Thus, the more I consider and reflect upon the state of Judaism amongst us, the more I am convinced that something must be done for the general good, some remedy must be sought for; independently, therefore, of your plan, I offer you herewith my suggestions, which at once may form the conclusion of this letter. In my estimation, this evil and some others lie in the organization of the congregations, (as well here as in other countries, perhaps, but I merely speak of America) and that is the quarter the remedy must come from. Instead of that prejudicial show of superiority and empty domination, which creates favourite sinecures, and supports men in indolence, let us in future promote and elevate religion and virtue, learning and talent. To be plainer on the subject, let every congregation, newly to be formed, abolish the office of Shamas (sexton) as an office of the congregation; but let all its lower duties, including those required during service, be done for reasonable wages, by a suitable person hired or appointed by the trustees as a messenger. And should there be any thing that belongs to ceremony or decorum during service, any honourable member or trustee might be expected voluntarily to act for the benefit of the community; and in this way, saving part of the salary, rent, collection, and other revenues of that office, a congregation will be enabled to have two clerical officers. Let them both be ministers or elders, and if the one be more able to gratify the members, and promote the solemnity of the service by his agreeable voice, let the other be more to superintend our children’s instruction, and to add to the gratification of the adults; for I wish the one and the other to be religious teachers, not merely schoolmasters. From my observations communicated to you, it might be inferred that we will find in this country suitable men qualified in English for that station. Let us then place worthy men in places worthy of them, and we might expect them to become after a time good pulpit orators in places where the public might wish for it. Again, by engaging a number of worthy men of learning and genius, by which the numerical strength of the present ministry would be increased, we indirectly benefit also future generations, by offering inducements to parents to educate their children for this calling, whilst at present no one would wish to educate his son to become a Hazan, since all his toil, studies, and mental capacities might be left fruitless, through a caprice of nature on his side, or a matter of taste on the part of his hearers. Had such been our organization before this, it night have prevented strife and division, and preserved peace in many congregations; for though we have experienced that a change of circumstances has caused a man to change his sentiments, and thereby to disappoint his constituents, it would be very improbable that this should happen in future, if two ministers were appointed for the same congregation, when the errors and weakness of one would ever be counterbalanced by the other, since we assume that both should have equal authority.
On this occasion it will be also proper to express the hope that my Portuguese brethren would renounce the prejudice which causes them to assume that they need a man who has been brought up, or has had a practice of many years in the Portuguese pronunciation. Any Hebrew grammarian will answer, (and none other than a good scholar should be chosen;) since any good reader will soon acquire all the variations which his new duties require of him.
In conclusion, let it be distinctly understood that I have spoken only of the office of Shamas, not of the officer; and that my proposition is for the organization of new congregations, and for the eventual vacancy which must occur in others; for, in my estimation, we have no moral right, and nothing can justify us in injuring a man in his office, or encroaching thereon in any way; for every man is entitled by every religious and moral consideration to enjoy his honestly-acquired means of livelihood.
By giving this letter an insertion in The Occident, you will oblige parents who love their children, Americans who love humanity, truth, and enlightenment, and
Shebat 5607; January, 1847.