|Vol. IV, No. 2
Iyar 5606, May 1846
Remarks on Miss Aguilar’s “Women Of Israel”
By S. Solis.
We shall not attempt to follow Miss Aguilar through these chapters, where she has proved from biblical evidence the truth of her assumptions; for are the daughters of Israel so blind that they will not see the exceeding great love that the Eternal expresses in every chapter of his holy will, as relating to them? or think they that they can be mothers of immortal children, if not immortal themselves? Is it, can it be possible, that with the Bible before one, with its truths so plain, so evident to the weakest understanding, that there can be found one who denies that it teaches a perfect spiritual equality between man and woman? If such there be, he has read its pages to little purpose, if such there be, let him hasten to make amends for the foul wrong he has done us, the men of Israel; for degraded must we be in mind, degraded in person, before we can acknowledge that she who in her love and care for us in helpless infancy, in wayward boyhood, forgot all of self, she who appears in her nature even more spiritual than man, is as soulless as is the brute. The wife of our bosom, the sister of our love; she who would sacrifice fame, fortune, kindred, and country for us; whose love, though “silent and unseen as the dew of the earth,” throws with an unsparing hand the flowers of affection around our pathway; who, infusing into our natures her own love of the pure and the beautiful, makes our nature almost akin to angels; she, for whom we would rush into danger, as if hastening to a feast, that we might ward off from her loved bosom the threatened evil; and she, to be akin to the brute of the field?—forgive, O God! those who dare thus to arraign thy love, thy justice!
“Then,” in the words of the authoress, “let every son of Israel receive such religious training from his mother, in addition, or rather closely twined, to the moral and intellectual education she has so long given, that he may be ready, from his very boyhood, indignantly to repudiate the charge, and prove by his whole conduct—alike in public career, as well as his domestic reverence and love—that his mother is as free in the sight of man, as responsible in the sight of God, and as much the possessor of an immortal spirit as his father, and himself.”
But whilst full justice cannot be done to Miss Aguilar’s arguments by passing them in review, passages occur which point out so fully the dangers of the age, that we must he excused in transcribing one.
For how can we associate our religion with our lives? “how dare we hope it, if the pursuit of gold, the vain longing for wealth, the idle dream of worldly aggrandizement, the empty rivalry with those richer and higher than ourselves, be the sole end, aim, and being of the Israelite? We look with loud condemnation and scorn on the worshippers of the golden calf; we contemn the worshippers, more than we tremble at the awful chastisement from the hand of the Lord; yet let us beware, lest our sons too bow before the golden idol. It may take no form, we may not approach it with forms of worship, and priests and incense; but if it fill our hearts to the exclusion of all other and nobler thoughts, if its pursuit drag us from the house of God, from our own hearths, deaden us to the love of home ties, prevent the spiritual and enlarged education of our children, what is it to us but as the golden calf to the Israelites of old? and how dare we hope to be exempt from the chastisement of God, when it fell upon our brethren?” Nor are her remarks less just in allusion to this taste for change, or in other words, to the supposition that laws given for our ancestors, were not made for our present government.
“What is time to Him? We look back with our finite gaze, and think there is such a wide distinction between past and present, that the laws given for the one can in no way concern the other. Customs, manners, all of earth may change, but not the nature of the immortal soul, nor of the human heart. From the beginning of the world until the end, these were, are, and will be the same; and so is He from whom they spring, and who guides and cares for them now as when he first grafted them into man.”
We will only dwell long enough on this second period of the “Women of Israel,” to add the truthful paragraph with which it is concluded, for we too acknowledge—
“That every pure throb of love, every sweet tie of life, every aspiring prayer and grateful thanks given, comes from and is hallowed by Him, who in his deep love, entered into the heart and home of women, and so fenced them round with just and beautiful laws, that it was impossible to perform a single duty, social or domestic, parental, filial, conjugal, or fraternal, without being holy unto the Lord! Can we think upon this important and most blessed truth, without lifting up our yearning hearts in the fervent prayer for that guidance, that blessing, which will enable us to remember our solemn responsibility, our heavenly heritage? and, in the midst of captivity, and its varied ordeals of adversity, stagnation, and prosperity, that we may still join heart to heart and hand to hand in the persevering effort to make manifest unto our God that we would indeed be once more his own, and to the nations, that, cast off for a ‘little moment’ as we are, we are still, and shall ever be, the chosen people of the Lord.”
The third period of the Women of Israel is devoted to the illustration of the practical effects of the law. The authoress has suffered none of the slightest materials to escape her, upon which she could establish her theory of the perfect equality in the eye of the law of the female with the male children of the chosen race.
We think it an axiom that cannot be controverted, that no people can either be morally or intellectually refined, where the female portion of the community are in a degraded state; nor need we go back to the days of our nation’s glory to prove this. Let us but cast our eyes over the nations of our own time, and we will find, without a solitary exception, that wherever moral, intellectual, and political civilization reins supreme, there woman is moral, intellectual, and refined; but where man indulges in the gratification of the animal propensities alone, or where he attempts to seize upon heaven with one hand, whilst he grasps the earth with the other, as if heaven was no heaven to him, unless able to confer carnal delights, there woman is a slave, degraded either in mind or body. And is it not natural? can it be supposed if the mother is brutish, that the child will be angelic? Where is it to imbibe its first ideas of the spiritual? where its softness, its self-denial, its love of right and its hatred of wrong? if the mother is incapable of being its instructress in those years when the ductile mind receives in its yielding surface those impressions, which are and remain its guides through life? The Spartan mother might endow her boy with a robust frame; but had she been capable of endowing him with higher qualities of heart, there would have been no law framed for punishing the one who had not sufficient cunning to hide his crimes, instead of those who committed them. To steal, a virtue, if the theft was concealed, would never have been advanced in a society where the women were refined.
Much as has been said in regard to ancient and modern heroines, we will find, by analyzing their characters, only few, very few, but what would have been much better entitled to the names of heroes, possessing in almost every case the characteristics and predominant qualities of the men of the time. But in what age, in what country, can the find a second Deborah? The judge and ruler of a nation, wielding the power of a mighty people, we find her still fulfilling the duties of a wife and a mother in Israel, imbued with all the loveliness of the female character, which neither genius, power, nor station, could harden or efface, And what a magnanimous spectacle was this! A woman, a weak, timid creature, to give laws to a nation, to guide, to counsel, and to guard them, without the pomp of power or the trappings of magnificence,—to be listened to with respect, and to be obeyed in love. To what refinement, to what civilization must this people have attained! In a republic where there was room for the heart to aspire, for the hand to execute, we behold at once the proof of their moral refinement, and of the high respect in which the females of Israel were held. In this age, to which we think the light of the past “but as darkness that may be felt,” where shall we find a nation as enlightened as this? and why may our search be vain? because the laws of God are not now the only guides of man, and therefore women are not able to show what their nature is capable of obtaining unaided by those laws framed to aid and to guide her. But though, politically speaking, the women of our race may not exert the influence that their mothers exercised of yore; still in a moral point of view their influence is as great, as irresistible, as it ever was; and to point out how this influence may be rendered available, has been Miss Aguilar’s aim in this work. “Extenuating nothing, nor setting down aught in malice,” she has clothed with flesh the outlines of antiquity, and painting them in mortal colours, at the same time that she bolds them up to us as guides, points out with force what we are to shun. Nor does she stop here; in portraying the manners and customs of our race, as developed in the conduct of Boaz on the return of Naomi, she shows the ancient men of Israel to be what we should suppose men reared under the holy guidance and softening influence of the law would be. The laws concerning the religious and civil conduct of the men were all ennobling and purifying in their nature; and when we read of the harshness, and cruelty, and impurity of the men of Israel, the cause is at once pointed out, in their disobedience to the laws of God, and in their pursuing the vicious pleasures and abominations of surrounding people.
Making a temple of each heart, and an earthly paradise of each home where their influence was felt, the laws given at Sinai proved at once their divine origin; proved, too, that although through the weakness of man’s nature, the “help meet” for him lad been the primary cause of his disobedience to the “one command:” still diving wisdom should be vindicated in making her one of the agents, through her loveliness of character, as depicted throughout the whole of “the third period of the Women of Israel,” to spiritualize his nature and bring him nearer in communion with his God. In following the authoress—
“We are now come to an important change in the history of Israel; the first step to her downfall, and the first opening for the fearful flood of misery and crime which nationally and individually deluged Judea. We allude to the election of an earthly king, and the establishment of a temporal monarchy,” which lasted four hundred and fifty years, but which “had in all probability less influence on the social position of the Hebrew women than on any other class, until the universal wickedness spread even to them, and caused the prophetic denunciations against their sins, as distinct from those of man.”
At the commencement of this period we find them endowed with high intellectual faculties, which they had cultivated with success, and imbued with the fire of poetry, skilled in music, and all those beautiful accomplishments which make the society of a refined woman so delightful, nor yet neglectful of attaining that knowledge which enabled them to fulfill the higher duties of wives and mothers.
“Nor did the women of Israel refrain from national rejoicing.”
“They did not smile to scorn the holy feeling of patriotism, which should awaken every female heart to the joys and griefs, triumphs and defeats of her country, as if they were their own. They encouraged, they rejoiced in it; and its very possession and display proves their equality with man, as citizens of Israel, and children of the Lord.”
“Israel in captivity may not indeed be enabled to realize the same feeling of amor patriae as Israel in Judea; yet let us not forget that we are exiles, and sometimes cast a longing look of lingering love to that land which is still ours, and which will once again, at the mandate of the Lord, spring up in renewed and renovated loveliness, to welcome home the weary wanderers ‘from the north, and from the south, and from the east, and from the west.’”
“Nor does this feeling towards Jerusalem interfere with the emotions which we all ought to experience towards the lands of our adoption.”—“Seek the peace of the city (or land) whither I have caused you to be carried away captives,” the Lard himself proclaimed through his prophet Jeremiah; “and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” And if the injunction is so strong to love the peace of the land where we are captives, how much more imperative must it be for us to love those countries where we enjoy equal rights.
“In the chivalric ages woman was often the incentive to noble deeds and generous actions; long, long ere this, had the women of Israel exercised their silent though all-pervading influence. The noble-hearted and wise Abigail, the devoted Ritzpah, and the virtuous and truthful Shunammite, if not the theme of the minstrel’s song, nor yet the watchword of the fierce battle, exercised an influence for good, which, as it sprung from qualities of the heart instead of being but the emanation of mere personal beauty, still exists in all its freshness, a bright example to the women of our own age; whilst the more transient and meteorlike splendour of the women of the feudal ages is lost in the lapse of time. How grateful to each female heart must be the remembrance that, when the law was almost forgotten save the forms, or practised by few of the chosen race; it was to a woman, a woman of Israel, that the young king Josiah sent to learn of the truth of the doctrines contained in that book which Hilkiah the high priest had found.
The Most High had saved his people and broken their enemies to pieces through the means of a daughter of Jacob, the prophetess Deborah; and now again he shows his love and confidence for another descendant of his faithful servant, by embuing Huldah with his prophetic spirit. Must not the reading of these records cause us to cling with greater tenacity to our law? cause us to look forward with a stronger hope towards our restoration? to strive with our whole heart to bring about the accomplishment of that time when Israel shall dwell again under his own vine and fig tree, with none to make him afraid? and where the spirit of the Most High shall again descend upon the sons and daughters of Judea, lifting them, as it were, into spiritual presence of God?
Put whilst these pure and bright spirits should serve as our beacons through life, see we not in the history of the past dangers, even such dangers as encompass us now; dangers that nearly overwhelmed the spirituality of the Israelites, when they were yet a nation; more dangerous to us now in our separation and wandering? And if “Ahab’s natural wickedness was fearfully increased, and made productive of still more horrible evil by the counsels of his (foreign) wife,” can we glory in the strength of our principles, and say, though we take the son or daughter of the stranger to our bosoms, our faith shall not suffer? or say that an inherent principle of our nature, against the influence of circumstances, shall cause the flame to burn less bright? Alas for human nature, self-confidence is the grave in which lie buried the brightest hopes, the purest wishes; nor know we the strength of the temptation, until we lie crushed under its iron grasp.
During the fifth period “a great and melancholy change had taken place in the condition of the Israelites. Their continued disobedience and idolatry had, at length, called down upon them the long-averted chastisement; and in the land of their foemen were now their mournful dwellings. The great armies of Nebuchadnezzar had overrun Judea, and carrying off kings, priests, and people to Babylon, left their beautiful land to desolation.”
“But even in their captivity, a captivity which their sinfulness compelled, God had not forsaken them.” “The firm constancy of the youthful Daniel and his companions, gave them examples of exalted righteousness in the very midst of darkness. The glorious visions of Ezekiel, yet more bold and sublime in imagery than the visions of any who had gone before him, inspired them with hope for the future, and consolation for the present; while, when the period of action came, such men as Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, Haggai, and others equally earnest, were not found wanting in the furtherance of the holy cause.”
Giving a synopsis of Jewish history and of the interesting events that took place during the life of Queen Esther, Miss Aguilar has thrown around this period a force, a vividness, that almost brings the events before our mind’s eye, in all their natural colours. The lovely character of Esther is one that gives full play to the poetry of thought, nor has the authoress failed to seize upon each beautiful trait, that might serve to give her biography more than a passing interest. Though—
“Translated from a lowly and retired home to the sole possessor of a monarch’s love, and a sharer of a mighty kingdom, surrounded by luxury and adulation:—yet so unchanged was her gentle mind, and loving heart, that, in her high estate, she did the commandment of Mordecai, as she had done in her childhood and her youth. And even the stern request of Mordecai, bidding her not to listen to the voice of fear, but to present herself before the king as an intercessor for her people, though repugnant to her timid and retiring nature, still showed that she was ready, at any sacrifice, to obey the behests of duty; and her very command shows her trustfulness in God. ‘Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day. I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.’”
Nor will her noble nature shield itself under false pride, but making the care of her people her own, she throws the power she possesses over the king’s heart, as a shield between them and destruction, and whilst she wards off the threatened danger, raises them to a proud pre-eminence. And this was “wrought not by beauty, or power, or any of those arts which but too often guide the female favourites of monarchs, but solely by the strength of prayer.” But “the same spirit that caused Abraham to refuse the gifts of Melchizedek, lest he should say ‘I have made Abraham rich,’ actuated them (the Jews) to touch not one item of the vast stores, which, from the awful amount of slaughter, might have been their own Accused as we have so often been of the love of gold, above all other love—of seeking by honourable or dishonourable means to increase our worldly stores—of grasping or rapacious disposition—let us point to this single line, ‘On the spoil laid they not their hand,’ and the charge is at once proved false! Let us look back on this—on a hundred other similar traits in our history—and our national character will stand forward as free from such ignominious stain as any other nation in the world.”
But will not this very ordeal of our captive brethren prove that “Life and death are not with us, but with the Lord; and, in His hands, how often does anticipated death become rejoicing life; and the thunder-clouds, which we feared to meet, dissolve, when boldly fronted, into sunshine and bliss?” Even now, when the tyrannical will of the despot of Russia threatens to subjugate the consciences of our spirit-grieved brethren, throughout his vast dominions, that they may bow to the idol he has set up on high, the Most High may be devising, through this mortal’s means, to bring about rich blessings for this suffering branch of Judea, that may bring them nearer to his footstool in gratitude and praise;—gratitude for evils averted, praise for benefits conferred. And even now as then, “may not adversity and captivity retain the Hebrews in that faith, and those forms, which, in their prosperity, they have neglected and despised?”