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Judaism and its Doctrines

A Sermon

Thy glory, O Lord! is above the heavens, and in all parts of the universe, Thou art the same great, omnipotent Power by whose word all the elements from which the world is framed are kept in union and harmony. In the recesses of the darkest mountain, where the living fire melts solid rocks and hard metals, and whence issues the fiery stream which lays waste forests and subverts cities, and in the fathomless height where roll the sun and the stars as luminaries for endless worlds, Thou art the only guiding light to thy servant, the nature of outward things which Thou hast formed. Yet do we discover thy condescension, unending as Thou art! in that Thou hast ever been mindful of the human race, as those whom Thou hadst destined to bear rule on earth, and hast ever given them light and instruction that they might walk before Thee and be perfect. But especially have we, of the house of Israel, been most signally blessed in our having been called by thy providence to be messengers of thy unity and truth, although we are the smallest of nations, because that Thou hadst loved our forefathers, and because Thou wouldst remember the covenant, which Thou, unending Father! hadst made with the children of the dust. O how can we thank Thee for this signal goodness? What can we do to merit thy grace? But truly we feel that it is not our righteousness which calls down on us thy grace, nor our wisdom by which we are upheld. Yet do Thou perfect what we humbly begin, and establish our work by thy might and wisdom, that all the ends of the earth may see that thy name dwells among us, and that we are Thine, as servants and worshippers, and bearers of thy truth. Amen.


We are Jews, as we all acknowledge; about our individual name among the nations of the earth we are all agreed; we are the Israelites of the Scriptures, the Hebrews of the land of Egypt, and the Jews as known in modern times. But if one comes to inquire of different Jews as to their religious opinions, he will be surprised how many varying views he will find expressed, not indeed as derived from the religion itself, but as coming from the <<527>>fertile imagination of the various individuals who express them. It is, however, a well-established fact, that Judaism has for centuries been exceedingly uniform in its principal features; not, that freedom of investigation was interdicted, or that honest difference in many views was not allowed; but that the general ideas which make up the sum of a Jewish system of belief were as nearly as possible uniform and universal among all classes, and, we may freely add, individuals of our people. I will not say that many singular notions were not adopted into the general belief of Israelites, derived from their intercourse with the various nations among whom they lived, and that these notions were not counter to a sound reason and even against the evident meaning of the Scriptures; for it would be folly to maintain that we are so superior to all children of men in intellect and intuitive knowledge, as to avoid the contagion of popular errors and superstitions on the one side, or to escape on the other the influence of a philosophy, which rejects everything as unworthy of confidence, for which we have not the actual experience of our senses.

The Israelites are men; and therefore it would be impossible, unless a special miracle were constantly performed for them, that they should remain entirely uninfluenced by what is thought, spoken, and done by those among whom they reside, and whose actions they are compelled to witness daily and hourly, whether they wish to observe them or not. So, then, we may freely say, that we always received an impulse from without either for good or evil, and our character was doubtlessly materially modified, either refined or hardened, either imbued with love for the gentiles or a bitter aversion for them, in the same proportion as they exhibited among themselves progress or otherwise, civilization or rudeness, love or hatred,* towards ourselves. But with these sole limita<<528>>tions, we may boldly assert, that the religious opinions, properly so called, of the Jews, had not undergone the smallest change for many centuries, so far as the records will permit us to decide; since the Scriptures were always the basis of our belief, and since these have not undergone the least change from the moment they were first entrusted to our custody.

* Many enemies of the Jews have been in the habit to hunt up expressions of illiberality which they discover in the Jewish writings, and to exhibit them to the consideration of their readers as the genuine exponents of Jewish feeling towards the gentiles. But it must be a malignant heart which does not discover the real cause for these expressions. What was the whole world to the Jew in the middle ages up to the end of the eighteenth century? what is it to him now in Russia, Prussia, in Austria, and wherever he is found in the greatest numbers? He is treated in a manner that the brute is treated kindlier in the field than he is. All around him are his enemies; the government oppresses him; the people turn from him in disdain; and the preachers, they who profess to preach a religion of peace and good will to man, fan the flame of hatred towards the rejected of their church. Was this not done by Christians of past ages? is the outrage not repeated in the present enlightened period by those who have the most light? It was also practised by heathens and Mahomedans. Whom then had the Jew to love? No one. Whom had he to fear? All mankind. Is it then to be wondered that he in return hated the world? that he should even think that whatever came into his hand through the error of a gentile was lawfully his? was he not plundered openly, and this daily, by prince and peasant? by bishop and layman? Where then should he get his wealth, the means to satisfy the avarice of his tormentors, but by cunning, trick, and circumvention? And yet he remained the noble, the patient, the hopeful Israelite; he continued kind to his persecutors, and loyal to the land of his oppression; and sought no private opportunities to seek revenge, referring his quarrel to God only, asking from Him who said “Mine are vengeance and recompense,” to look upon the rivers of innocent blood that were shed, and to have regard to the tears that flowed in streams down the cheek of the sage and the matron, of the youth and the maiden, of the bridegroom and the bride, in the anguish of their hearts and the constant dread of the sword and rapine which threatened them. And then you wonder that a truce of illiberality is here and there discoverable in the books written under the spur of the agonized spirit which was then so abundantly everywhere! that men, though they were Israelites, could learn to hate their enemies! It strikes one as most curious that Jews should blush to find such expressions in their books; on the contrary, it is only to be wondered that they still could teach “The righteous of the nations of the world are entitled to a share of eternal happiness;” “The Lord does not withhold the reward due to any creature whatever:” were it not that our wise men taught the pure truth in their doctrines, and felt convinced of the ultimate triumph of the truth, as the sincere Hebrew believes now, too, although in many respects his political condition has improved.

The main principles of our belief then, are, first, the existence of God, including his unity, eternity, unchangeability, incorporeality, and sole claim to worship; secondly, the existence of revelation from the God of all nature, including the confidence in the truth of the prophets, especially the great teacher of Israel, Moses, the son of Amram, and the certainty that this revelation is yet in our possession, and that it will not be exchanged and has hitherto not been changed for any other by the Power who bestowed it on us; thirdly, the existence of rewards and punishments, including the inherent power of God to know all that is done in any part of his world by the beings whom He has created; fourthly, the coming of a <<529>>messenger to be specially deputed by God to fulfill all the promises which have ever been made, respecting the regeneration of mankind, and their being ultimately brought to a true knowledge of the Godhead, by which means much especial happiness is to accrue to the people of Israel; and fifthly, the resurrection of the dead, embracing the spiritual perfection of all the intelligent beings that ever emanated from the creative hand of God, and the perpetual abolition of all imperfections, sufferings, sinful inclinations, and death, from the face of the earth, a state in which righteousness shall be supremely rewarded, and guilt be exhibited in its fullest and most hideous complexions. Now as all these doctrines have been given to us in general terms, no doubt that different persons expounded them in somewhat varying colours, or understood them in different limitations.

But despite of the various outward influences which bore upon us; notwithstanding the many changes which came over us during so many centuries ; and the many wanderings and expulsions to which we were subjected during all this time, we clung to our creed with  the tenacity of affection, and would not yield a single fragment of an idea connected with it, though for so doing we were promised all that men prize high on earth, and our adherence to it subjected us to all that the world calls hardship, sorrow, and degradation.

In former years, no one breathed a doubt against the hope of Israel, against the expected coming of the Messiah to lead Israel again to the holy land, to dwell there in peace and contentment, with God for their King, with the whole world for their confederates, since all were to be subject to the same blessed laws of truth and holiness which we possess. If any one attentively peruses our prayers, those formed in the earliest ages, no less than those composed under the pressure of the terrible persecutions which we had to suffer in Spain and kindred countries, he must be struck with the uniform expectation therein expressed, of a redemption through the son of David, and a restoration of the sacrificial worship at the time of the restoration, when the temple shall again rear its holy presence on Moriah, never more to be destroyed, nor to be defiled by the presence of the unclean and the wicked. Then also he will discover that it formed a part of our liturgy, both in the daily service, and the particular prayers used for the solemn festivals, to entreat the Almighty for a conversion <<530>>of the world to his law, “that the fear of the Lord might be extended over all his works, and his dread over all that He has created, so that all his works may fear Him, and all creatures may bow down before his glory; so that all may form one band, to perform his will with an upright heart, as we his people know already, that his is the dominion, that might in his hand, and strength in his right hand, and that his name is tremendous over all that He has created.” And again we ask, “that the idols may be utterly destroyed at the speedy coming of the kingdom of God, whereby the world is to be reformed, so that all the children of flesh shall call on his name, and the wicked of the earth he turned towards Him; and that all the inhabitants of the world may know and understand, that unto Him every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall swear fealty; that before Him they shall kneel and fall down prostrate, and ascribe honour to the glory of his holy name, whilst they receive the yoke of his kingdom, and He thus reigns ever them for ever and ever.” I could easily adduce many more passages to show what our forefathers understood by the coming of the redeemer, as developed in our prayers, the best standard by which to measure the real sentiments of any people which, like us, has written forms by which to address the Throne of Grace.

As I have said already, the composition of the prayers extended over a long period of time, probably more than two thousand years; consequently, there is the amplest proof of a uniformity, nay, identity, in the religious opinions of the Jews during all that period, as respects the belief in a redemption. Our fathers knew as well as we do of the existence of Mohammedan and Nazarene creeds; they had seen the various triumphs of the crescent and the cross, and the gradual downfall of the many systems of idolatry which at one time were universal in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and the substitution therefore, of the doctrines of the man of Mecca, and him of Nazareth. We had in those days men of great intellect, inferior to none in the present age; we had a Judah the chief, the author of the Mishna; a Rab Ashi, the author of the Talmud; a Saadyah Gaon, one of the first translators of the Scriptures into the vernacular language of the country, which to him was the Arabic; a Judah Hallevy, the prince of poets, and next to David, the sweetest hymnologist; an Aben Ezra, great <<531>>in all the sciences of his day, a Moses of Cordova, universally known as Maimonides, renowned as philosopher, physician, and Talmudist, and versed in all the lore of his age; a Solomon Yitzchaki famous, for his comments on the Scriptures and Talmud, as the light of the captivity under the name of Rashi; and a host of others, who excelled all their contemporaries in wisdom and knowledge; many of our great teachers were principal officers at the courts of their sovereigns, and at one time, nearly every prince had a Jewish physician, so much were they respected and confided in.

But did they for one moment falter in their faith? did they fancy salvation to have proceeded from Mecca or Nazareth? Let their writings testify that they were not misled, and never bowed their pure souls to the inventions of men, but held fast to the standard of the law and the prophets. They saw large empires converted to one system or the other, more rapidly than this takes place in our own days; they beheld the extermination of many idols which bowed and stooped before the advance of new opinions; yet they saw not in this the regeneration of the world; they felt that the sword was yet the arbiter between mankind, and was often unsheathed to aid the triumph of certain religious dogmas, and not rarely wielded to exterminate dissentients from the popular doctrines. They therefore sighed for the day of the Lord, when He will come in his glory to reign alone on earth, when his truth shall be everywhere acknowledged, and his name feared by every one. They forgot not Jerusalem in their prosperity, and though surrounded with honour and ease, they composed many of those elegiac hymns which even now touch a chord of anguish in our heart, as they make us weep over the sanctuary of God, into which the enemy forced his bloody way, and for the sons of Jacob that fell by the sword. These glorious men compromised not their belief by an exposition thereof, to suit either their kind or tyrannical rulers, as the case may have been; at the council-board of royalty they beheld a brighter throne for David erected in the restored Jerusalem, and under the hoofs of the horse of a murderous Arabian,* they <<532>>beheld the fields of Judah covered with flocks of men, and the streets of the holy city crowded with playful boys and maidens, shouting in the innocent glee of their early years, unterrified by the powers of the adversary, who will exist no more. And when they languished in the dungeon of an Inquisition appointed to exterminate their faith, their beatified vision reveled in the overthrow of that abominable system which required their blood as its sacrifice, and they saw the prison-house levelled to the earth, and its builders and supporters, its judges and executioners cowering in the dust before the Lord’s elect, and they gazed on the priests of heaven, robed in white, and burning with intense devotion to the Father of Israel, again surround the altars, to bring thereon sacrifice and incense. And when they stood before the burning pile, with the impatient crowd watching in eagerness till the headsman obtained the fearful command to tie the sainted martyrs to the accursed stake, their soul rose above the din and tumult of the world, and superior to death, it conquered all fear and trembling, and they feasted their sight in the assemblage of the thousands of the faithful who will, at the time which is coming, hasten again to the temple of the Lord, to the city where here He will again cause his name to dwell, and whence are to go out the law and the word of God to all sons of men.

* Alluding to the death of R. Judah Hallevy, who went to Jerusalem to visit the Holy City, the downfall of which he had so beautifully and touchingly lamented in his elegies; and then, whilst chaunting barefoot one of his own hymns, an infuriated Arab rode over him, and trod him to death under the hoofs of his horse.

Were all these great men deceived? were their hopes but the vision of a night? their fond anticipations but the baseless fabric of a dream, or the fevered fancy of delirium? No, it cannot be; their words bear too much the stamp of sobered earnestness, of deep conviction; and they endured too much ever to have yielded themselves to anything but the certain persuasion that theirs was the faith which emanated from the wisdom of God. And thus armed, they cared not what happened to them; was it life, was it death, was it ease, was it exile, it was of no importance to these devoted servants; they were but fulfilling their destiny, as pointed out to them by the unerring finger of Providence, and they followed cheerfully the heavenly guidance, convinced that in the kingdom of their Father there would be ample reward for them, and all who had trusted on to the last.

But these saints now sleep in the dust of the earth, joyfully awaiting their awakening from the grave to an immortal glory, and the fulfillment of their dearest hopes. And there have arisen <<533>>men in our day, who wish for “no portion in David, and no inheritance in the son of Jesse;” who desire to reduce all our hopes to square with the views of tyrannical rulers, or to please states by their pretended identity of views. These men wish to strike out from our prayers all allusions to the restoration of the sacrifices, or the anticipated return of liberated Israel to their ancient domain. These men look for an ideal kingdom of God, wherein our nation is quietly to expire in the universal prevalence of a purified religion. These men wish not to see Israel restored; they ask for no greater happiness than to be regarded as entitled to a few offices by the respective states, and to be placed on a legal equality with the other citizens. They claim as their country exclusively that wherein they were born, or in which they live; and they imagine, or profess to believe, that the hope of a restoration must clash with our duties as citizens or subjects of the various potentates under whom we live protected, and at peace. Such erroneous opinions are boldly propounded, and diversified under a vast variety of peculiar shadings, to correspond with the peculiar degree of Jewish feeling yet inherent in the respective reformers, as they style themselves. But, if it were true that the belief in a restoration of temple, people, sacrifices, and the kingdom, implied necessarily, hostility to the various states in which we sojourn, it would follow as a matter of course, that our forefathers must have been enemies to all the world, by their pertinacity in adhering to their opinions; and hence our enlightened men, as they love to style themselves, the men of progress and of light, become the most obsequious defenders and apologists of all the cruel oppressors who have so multifariously laboured against our creed, by the slaughter, and banishment, and oppression of those who would not relinquish it at their bidding.

To judge from the vehemence which one occasionally sees exhibited when it is hinted that the real belief of the Jew is his national restoration, he would come to the conclusion that a more pernicious doctrine never was entertained by any class of human beings; that it is absolutely a hideous monster, against the approach of which we ought to guard ourselves by all the contrivances of modern science, and which we must deny with the bold effrontery of confirmed infidelity. But it requires no argument to prove that all this denial of Judaism has its source in the <<534>>meanest of human failings, and that it is owing either to infidelity, an entire indifference to religion, or an obsequious yielding of conviction for the sake of flattering secular power, to wheedle it out of some tangible benefit, which otherwise would be denied to the professing Jew.

How differently did the great ones of antiquity act! with how much self-devotion and forgetfulness of all personal interest did they acknowledge their convictions, let the consequences be what they might; and it is precisely this love for things of the world which has caused so much destruction among us, and brought about the painful exhibition of open profanity and shameless sinning which so much characterize our age.—I have stated before, that the progress of science all over the world, not among us alone, has produced a great revolution in opinions, and ideas once acquiesced in, and beliefs once firmly entertained have faded before the light of investigation, which proved their unsoundness. So also were many ideas once common among us, superstitious notions I mean, borrowed by degrees from surrounding influences, the silent inroads of which we could not resist, silently dropped as not compatible with reason and religion, and before long they will not be known any more as ever having had a place in the minds of Jews. But the wicked and the thoughtless have taken advantage of this circumstance, and they have dared to treat as an antiquated error whatever stands in their way and opposes their interests, or that which their limited intellect cannot comprehend, and which their vain-glorious philosophy places in the category of impossibilities.

But it must be evident to every child even, that if religion is nothing more than a system changeable with every change in refinement and scientific progress or retrogression, it cannot be an emanation from Heaven. It is true that it has been confided to mankind for their use and employment, and hence little matters may change with the times, which fact will be clearly reconcilable with the Mosaic code when correctly viewed. But to assert that time has any legitimate business with principles or great observances, would, as said, destroy religion totally as a safe guide in the path of morals and belief which we all feel the necessity of possessing. If the progress of society in civilization justifies the removal of all that men do not find to accord with their own notions of advance in all things: it follows as a legitimate deduction, that if society <<535>>retrogrades, which it frequently has done, and may do again, then all the superstitions and cruelties resulting from a perverted view of duty will become again justifiable; in other words, that whatever is done by public assent, this being the standard of social position, is just and proper, be this the folly of the Crusades, the bloody wars of Mohammed and Charlemagne, for the propagation of their creeds, or the wholesale butcheries of the Inquisitions in the faith ordered and recognised as legitimate by the decrees of many Roman pontiffs. But, I imagine, that the wildest claimant for the right of progress will not say that such acts ever were justifiable, and that the most we can assert is that the perpetrators thereof are to be pitied for their blind ignorance, since they could be guilty of heinous crimes in the name of religion.

Religion itself, however, has never justified any act of barbarity, and at all times there were those who inveighed against the deeds which were wrought within their knowledge, by an appeal to that very code in the name of which the outrages were committed. Now, taking this sober and candid view of the question, we must deny any right of appeal to the spirit of the age as a valid excuse to remodel our religion, upon the arbitrary basis thus attempted to be forced upon us. We want something far more stable than the visionary notion of every one who has skill enough to write a book, or preach a sermon; we want a more permanent support for our light to futurity, than the mad schemes of some disappointed worldling who, because he cannot be a Rabbi among Jews, is ready to become grand inquisitor among their oppressors. But we need not search far for this stable basis, this permanent support, this unfading light; for it is already with us, in those Holy Scriptures which we have in our possession, and which have been watched over with more than maternal solicitude by the Israelites, in all their sorrows, in all their exiles; and what they declare to be right, has ever been our law, has ever formed the matter which we called our belief; and whatever may be alleged to the contrary, the Scriptures alone have always constituted the Jewish religion, and nothing opposed to them can be regarded as of any weight whatever. If this is the truth, and there can hardly be any doubt on that point, it follows that there is a standard, superior to the spirit of any age, which requires no change nor amendment with every discovery or newfangled notion which <<536>>makes its appearance before the world. Now, upon the basis of Scripture do we rest our belief in a redeemer, not upon the mere imaginings of any eminent man of any age, nor upon the scientific discoveries of a college of learned experimentalists. Look at the prophecies from one end of the Bible to the other, and all speak of a change in the affairs of mankind, and Israel in particular, which has not been witnessed to this hour, and which, nevertheless, the course of events clearly points out as certain to arrive.

I have detained you so long already to-day, that I must omit the discussion of the details for a future occasion; and merely finish at present, with a positive announcement of the restoration, which is found in the Haphtorah of to-day, from Ezekiel 37. The prophet was ordered to exhibit, by the union of two pieces of wood, which he was to exhibit to the people, the future union of the rival kingdoms of Judah and Ephraim, which both had ceased to exist at the tune the prophecy was spoken. Ephraim now is lost, and the tribes associated with him are not known among us. Judah is scattered, and fills the whole world with his fugitives. And yet we are promised that they shall become one people on the mountains of Israel, under the rule of one king. And then shall they do more be chargeable with sin and transgression; because, when gathering them from all their dwelling-places, God will himself cleanse them from guilt, and they shall be his people. And he says in continuation, v. 24:

ועבדי דוד מלך עליהם ורועה אחד יהיה לכלם ובמשפטי ילכו וחקותי ישמרו ועשו אותם׃ יחז׳ ל״ז כ״ד

“And my servant David shall be king over them; and one shepherd shall be for them all; and in my judgments they shall walk, and my statutes they shall observe and do them.”

This is the future of which the prophet speaks, and this is the Messiah, the king David, the one shepherd whom we are told to expect. Shall we believe in the God who has so long guarded us, or shall we cease to be Jews for worldly gain, or from unbelief? Decide for yourselves, brethren, and sure I am that ultimately enlightened faith will triumph over worldliness, and we shall all march under the same banner which waved over our fathers, and that we shall continue as the people of God, and merit at length his mercy. Amen.

Friday, Tebeth 10th, December 17th, 5608.