|Vol. IV, No. 6
Elul 5606, September 1846
Lecturing And Lecturers.
“A free, generous and enlightened nation, honours the high magistrates of its church; it will not suffer the insolence of wealth and titles, or any other species of possession, to look down with scorn upon that which they look up to with reverence, nor presume to trample on foot that acquired personal nobility which they intend always to be, and often is, the reward of piety, learning and virtue.”—BURKE.
The quotation which heads our paper is an extract from the opinions of this great English writer on the attachment of the nation to a fixed, independent church; and we repeat it here, from its pointed relation to the objects for which we are contending, and as fortifying the position we have assumed, though a layman, rude and untaught, save by the grateful sense of blessings unnumbered and undeserved; since we are deeply impressed with the absence of spiritual instruction from the Synagogue, regretting the subservience in which the majority of its clerical officers are held by their congregations, and lamenting, from the experience of our own personal deficiencies, the restricted means for general Hebrew instruction. This view has urged our uncultivated pen to seek to do some service in attracting notice to the facts that the institution of an ecclesiastical board, and an accession of nationally educated readers or teachers, are essential to our people’s resuming their former proud position, of pious worshipers of the true God—ministering with devout hearts and enraptured minds to the greatest of potentates—“The King of kings, and the Lord of lords.”
Of the imperative necessity for immediate action in relation to these matters all reflecting men are convinced: and months since, the editor of this journal, when commenting on the then anticipated election for a chief rabbi in Great Britain, urgently pressed the consideration of the creation of an ecclesiastical body competent to direct in their religious exigencies the people of this continent. At this early period of our settlement and paucity of numbers here, we cannot hope, nor do we seek to revive the “great nor the lesser Sanhedrin,” but an ecclesiastical tribunal for the decision of religious questions is within our compass, and absolutely requisite to instruct a God-fearing people, and to demonstrate that our prayer to the Deity “to restore the ministry of the priests and the chaunting of the Levites” is more than the mere utterance of idle words without meaning and without purpose. We know that many pious men have an objection to the creation of such authorities, fearing the evil effects of conflicting decisions; but the institution we are advocating is not for the purpose of subtle speculations upon the origin of evil, the creation, or the destiny of man; for although the inspired prophets of Israel have spoken since Job dwelt in the land of Uz, the wisdom of those sublime passages:—“Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me of the clay, and wilt bring me into dust again;” “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, out of my flesh shall I see God;” “The Almighty is inscrutable; but He is excellent in power, in judgment, and in fullness of justice He will not afflict”—stands unimpeached and unassailable by all the casuistry of the schools. Nor is the institution we seek to be confined to a congregation, a series of congregations, a city, or a state, but to combine the whole of the Hebrews in the United States, to be founded by a convention of delegates from all existing congregations, entrusted with full authority to yield to the keeping of persons of undoubted piety and known erudition, a portion of the powers now wielded by the various Boards of Trustees; and the effect of such an appointment will be, that in a period of time not very remote, we shall be blessed with a degree of unexampled prosperity and unity in the administration of our religious polity.
The other portion of our charge is the founding of a national collegiate institution, possessing ample means to afford a general education, and to train a body of men, from childhood, placed apart from the commerce of the world, its pollutions and its cares, who becoming animated by faith and fortified by erudition shall be capable of expounding the great truths of Judaism, and qualified to offer with purity the sacrifice of a worship which has stood unscathed amid trials and sorrows, replete with blessings to themselves and mankind.
1n this age, when the value of national traditions is sneered away by a body of semi-educated men, and the contributions of the mighty dead subjected to an enormous discount, obliterating the spirit of ancient historical study, the appearance of a new periodical devoted to the resuscitation of the writings of the sages, and criticisms of that great Book, which in all times “has been spelled by the young and speculated on by the old,” is a subject of gratulation; and from the well known industry and ability of its editors we prognosticate a long and successful career to the “Cup of Salvation;” for the work in England fills an hiatus long viewed with regret. From the highly respected position of the pastor of the Seel Street congregation, it will doubtless obtain a circulation sufficiently extensive to prevent its projectors from being depressed by the anxieties and vexations incidental to a literary speculation, and they will be permitted to devote more than ordinary care to the preparation of its articles. In the number for April, under its “Sabbath Expositions,” we find “Reasons for the Faith of a Jew.” We regret that the author, evidently a man of piety and erudition, should have deemed it necessary to preface his able essay by a note stating, the reading of “Allen’s Modern Judaism” suggested the thoughts therein expressed. We agree that as Hebrews we do not seek polemical discussion, nor as such it “will we suffer the insolence of wealth or intolerance to look down with scorn upon that which we look up to with reverence.” But the party expressing the insolence must be worthy of our reproof; we war not with enthusiasm or driveling imbecility—the one demands respect, the other excites our commiseration. Mr. Allen’s work dates thirty years, since its statements are of no authority and its reasoning of no value; it fell still born from the press; for it is a work the parallel of which any man of ordinary industry can compile against Christianity in all its isms, redolent as the doctrines of the many sects would be of things we might deem "frivolous and absurd." But the work contains within itself a refutation of all its libels; for it gives as the creed of the Hebrews שלשה עשר עקרים the text of which furnishes the respected writer in the Cup of Salvation with his eloquent peroration: “That the Creator is one God;” “That all the words of the prophets are true;” “That the Creator rewards those who observe his commandments and punishes those who transgress them:” the whole of which are founded upon revelation accepted and acknowledged to be true by the church of which Mr. Allen was a professor. Here again the defect of a general knowledge of Hebrew is forced on our attention. How many constantly chaunt the sublime hymn commencing יגדל אלהים חי וישתבח “Let the living God be magnified,” without being conscious that they are recapitulating the whole tenets of the faith! How oft have we heard it slurred over amidst the hum of conversation, the closing of seats and the shuffling of feet! However much our incapacity to understand what we read may palliate the inattention, this indecorum is absolutely unpardonable; the occasional truant may be forgiven, the habitual absentee pitied; but the invariable attendant who within the walls of an edifice consecrated to Divine Service is so forgetful of the holiness of the place in which he stands as to run to and fro, now coming in, anon going out, must be held highly censurable. To remedy this we say to our respected pastors, “persevere in delivering discourses in the vernacular; pursue your course fearlessly; visit with reproof, with censure, all you behold remiss in the conduct of your charge. The good sense of the right-minded will sustain you; do not close the portals of our houses of prayer against the visits of the members of other congregations, and by an adherence to the absurd custom of thrusting honours on a respectable visitor, levy an apparently free donation, but which is virtually a premium, and a price, paid for admission to listen to your discourse. Profound or abstruse essays are not required. We stop to do homage to the ability which, propounding thoughts true and striking, gives expression to them in language which every one can understand; and the man who would wield other men must have that in him which is above and beyond the herd. To obtain the power of analyzing human motive, of fathoming the human heart, of stimulating flickering or exhausted attention, requires prolonged meditation and a mind thoroughly imbued with the treasures of literature.” It were useless to enumerate the many who have illustrated what we here state; living examples are the most satisfactory, and we shall at various periods claim attention thereto. The name which now occurs to us is that of the Reverend Master of the Birmingham (Eng.) Free School, Dr. M. J. Raphall, who by his literary labours for years past, has extensively contributed to enhance the character of the Hebrew in the estimation of the gentile, and manifested a degree of talent fully entitling him to a prominent place in the regards of his co-religionists. In support of our opinion we adduce his late eloquent Lectures upon the Poetry of the Hebrews, lately delivered at the Sussex Institution, London. Labouring under a slight tinge of a foreign accent, his delivery may not always please a fastidious ear, and the style may be considered by some as too florid and declamatory; but in the privacy of your chamber, apart from the imposing contagion of a vast assemblage of applauding admirers, ponder over what the most graphic pen of modern Hebrew writers has traced, and you will, like ourselves, be convinced that “The sceptre has not departed from Judah,” but that the aristocracy of intellect, which from a tribe of nomades caused Israel to became a powerful nation, still hovers amongst the dispersed, whose gathering cry is, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob!” on whose banner is inscribed, “For thy salvation do I hope, O Lord!” and whose fading senses sink into the slumber of death murmuring, יי הוא האלהים “The Lord, he is God.”
New York, 5606.