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Religious Education

By the Rev. J. K. Gutheim

Delivered at Cincinnati, Sabbath Tetzaveh, 5607, (27 Feb. 1847.)


A new member has this day been added to our community; a son of Israel has, by a sacred rite, graduated as Bar Mitzvah. He has attained the age which, from time immemorial, was considered the period of religions maturity, and is henceforward amenable to the laws and ordinances of our Holy Religion.

Simple and unostentatious as the manner is in which this act is performed, it nevertheless constitutes an epoch in our life; and the day on which we have been, for the first time, called up to the Torah to bless the Lord for the inestimable boon which He has bestowed on us in the Revelation of his Holy Word—that day is written, with indelible characters, on the tablets of our heart. Who is there among us that does not revert, with feelings of deep emotion, to that hallowed hour when he was permitted to read the Revealed Word of the living God to an assembled congregation? that does not cherish a fond remembrance of the heartfelt congratulations of beloved parents, relatives, and friends, who in their care and solicitude, were anxious to make that day one of holy rejoicing? Years may have passed between the day, when with a bright eye we gazed into an unclouded future, and the present one that recalls it to our memory,—years may have intervened, marked by trials and sufferings, years of disappointment, sorrow, and trouble; the boy may have grown up to a man; time and the struggle of life may have left their impress on the furrowed brow; the hands that then blessed us may have mouldered in the grave; the kind and loving souls that then watched over us, and prayed for us, may have closed their career on earth and returned to their eternal home; yet amidst all the changes that have taken place within or without us, the day of our Bar Mitzvah shines forth like a luminous point, and refreshes our heart with sacred recollections of the past. With a holy delight we dwell on the innocent pursuits of our boyhood’s career; with fond regret we look back to the dear home of our childhood, and to the school where our intellectual faculties were cultivated and the principles of our holy religion instilled into our mind. Such are the reminiscences which the day of our Bar Mitzvah awakens in our bosom, and of which we cannot fail to be forcibly struck whenever we witness this religious act.

And purer still, holier still will be this feeling, if in an advanced age we can look back to that important day over a series of well-spent years; if our retrospect is marred by no frowning prominence that is calculated to awaken pangs of compunction in our breast; if we can lay the hand on our heart and say to ourselves, “Ever since I acted as a free and responsible agent, I have endeavoured to shun vice and to practise virtue, I have been true to my religion, true to my God, ‘who has implanted in me eternal life.’”

If such, my brethren, are the reflections to which a day like this give rise, ought you not to make it your special study, so to train your children, that when they have become responsible for their acts, they are also capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, true and false? must it not be your highest aim so to equip them for their journey through life, that in their intercourse with the world they may be able to draw from the store of wholesome knowledge, with which they have been providentially provided, and to carry out those sound principles, which, at an early age, were inculcated into their hearts? For the happiness or misery of your children, in after life, will mainly depend on the education they have received in their youth. To speak, therefore, on education, let us devote the present hour. Let us examine

I. How ought we to educate our children?

II. For what purpose ought we to educate them?

In answering these two questions, I have selected my text from one of the compositions of the Royal Philosopher, Prov. 22:6.

חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה:

“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.”


The necessity of providing our youth with a good education must be manifest to every one, to the educated as well as to the uneducated. To the educated—for these cannot be but sensible of the manifold advantages they themselves derive from it; and to the uneducated—for these must be keenly alive to that position of intellectual inferiority, in which a neglected or defective education has left them. Both these classes of society will, therefore, and must agree, that by the proper cultivation, alone, of those excellent faculties, with which an all-wise God has endowed us, will man occupy that exalted rank in the scale of created beings assigned him by his Creator.

The success and prosperity in the various walks of life, the temporal and eternal happiness, can only be fully realized by means of a wholesome, sound, and judicious education. The knowledge imparted to the youthful mind shines in refulgent lustre throughout our career on earth, and is chiefly instrumental in the formation of our character, the development of our sentiments, and the consolidation of our views. However much our intercourse with the world, and the peculiar circumstances in which we may be placed tend to modify our way of thinking and acting, the impressions received in our youth will cling to the mind, and can never be totally effaced.

“To train, therefore, the child in  the way he should go,” is a duty that must be recognised by all who are solicitous to insure the well-being of their children. Indeed it is an obligation that equals in its importance the intensity of the love which parents bear towards their offspring. But how shall this education be conducted? How far shall it extend? What shall it embrace? What shall it exclude? These are questions which must naturally suggest themselves to the anxious parent. Is it enough to qualify our youth for their future vocation in life? Is it enough to let them pass through a course of study that will enrich their minds with the ample stores of learning and knowledge that are at our command—to adorn them with all the accomplishments our enlightened age affords and requires—to elicit their mental powers, and urge them on to the pinnacle of art and science? Necessary and beneficial as all this may be, education must not stop here. We must not only educate the mind, but also the heart.  No anomaly must be allowed to exist between the intellectual and moral parts of our nature. The development of both must progress in the same ratio; and whilst our attention is bestowed on the capacities of the mind, the latent germs of morality that are slumbering in the heart must be roused, that they may grow and blossom and bear ennobling fruit.

It is the property of a good education to radiate on every side, to take deep root in the heart as well as in the mind. Care must, therefore, be taken not as to how much it should exclude, but how much it should embrace; at the table of education the food must not be stinted, nor the number and claims of the guests be limited. We must endeavour to provide education, wholesome, appropriate, extensive, fitted for the real wants of all sections of our community in this free country. We must have in view not the past but the present, and more truly the future; he who labours for the present only loses his labour; whilst he is working, the present slips from under his hands. We have to see in the child the future man, and our aim must be to make him master, not of his faculties only, but also of his passions; to give him knowledge, and with knowledge virtue, so that in his future capacity of husband, parent and citizen, in every path in which he may hereafter have to walk, education may render the individual good and happy, and society prosperous and permanent.

The first, best and most effective educators are the parents themselves. In the discharge of your duty you must be guided by love and earnestness, and act with care and caution, discretion and self-command. You must educate your children by word and example. There are no nicer judges, no keener listeners and observers of your words and actions than your children. And whereas man, before his reasoning faculties are fully developed, is, emphatically, an imitative creature, it cannot fail that your children, with whom you are in constant intercourse, and who look up to you for protection, counsel, and the solution of many a problem that presents itself to their untutored minds,—it cannot fail that they will readily adopt our views, and copy your habits. It becomes, therefore, necessary, to show them a good example; to teach them, practically, every virtue which humanity prescribes and religion inculcates; to practise before their eyes deeds of benevolence, charity, fidelity, modesty, honesty and truth, and thus leave nothing but good impressions on their minds. There is a saying of the wise king, “The just man walks in his integrity; his children are happy after him.”—(Prov. 25:7.) The whole life of the just is an illustration of his pious feelings and noble principles; his children will observe him, will imitate him, will follow his precepts, and tread in his footsteps, and will therefore be happy after him.

A principal part of education is assigned to the teacher; and in order to render his efforts effective, it is absolutely necessary that harmony should exist between school and house, teacher and parents. Nothing can be more detrimental to a good education than doubts entertained on the competency and honesty of the teacher on the part of the parents, and expressed in the presence of their children. The fostering of a refractory spirit in the latter, a great obstacle for the teacher in the execution of his arduous duties, is the immediate result. Confidence is the powerful talisman, which at all times should he, religiously preserved. Teacher and parents have to assist each other; shoulder to shoulder they must assiduously and untiringly work for the welfare of the rising generation entrusted to their care. The best instruction will fail, if parents do not act in a corresponding spirit; the moral structure will never be brought to perfection, If that part which has caused so much care and trouble in rearing at school, is carelessly pulled down at home. If children, as the saying is, are a blessing of Heaven, the parents should act towards them in such a manner that they in reality may prove a blessing to them and to mankind; that in their future career through life we may point to them, exclaiming:ברוך שזה ילד ברוך שזה גדל “Blessed he who begat such, blessed he who educated them.”


“But for what purpose shall you educate your children?” This, our second question, is easily answered. They must be educated for the purpose of becoming good Israelites, which name signifies champions in the cause of God. This is the highest and noblest aim we must endeavour to accomplish.

It is a case of very frequent occurrence, that parents who are most careful in providing for their children an education that makes them capable, in a worldly point of view, of occupying with honour any station in life, utterly lose sight of their spiritual welfare, by withholding from them a proper knowledge of the tenets of our holy religion. The divine commandments ושננתם לבניך “Thou shalt inculcate these laws to thy children,” and ולמדתם אתם את בניכם “You shall teach them to your children,” are disregarded, and hence the religious indifference that pervades our community. More especially, however, is this culpable neglect displayed with regard to females, whose defective religious instruction leaves them almost in entire ignorance of the principal features of our creed.

To make, therefore, education subservient to the grand purpose of training good Israelites, religion must form its basis and its keystone, and, thus constituted, it must not be confined to one portion of our community, but must embrace every class and both sexes. Being the half of human society, the half of our life—in some cases more than half—in the domestic, in the youthful portion of our existence, woman claims a larger share than man. The domestic circle is her special domain. What is the characterizing, creative, stimulating, directing portion of each man’s little history, but the span between the cradle and maturity? And this is in the hands of woman. It is in these softest years that the gentlest hand makes the most lasting impression; it is in these holiest times that the purest seeds are scattered,—the truest antidotes against the pains of after years and the corruptions of a more mature existence. No education descends more thoroughly into the whole nature of man. But to educate, the educator herself must first be educated. Not charity only, but knowledge, but wisdom, but virtue, but religion, must begin at home. It is, therefore, necessary that to these guardians and consolers of humanity, power, love and faith should be early given; the power of knowledge, that not unsuccessfully they may know when to warn for, to detect, to expose, and to conquer evil; the persuasion of love, that they may have those balms more sweetening than that of the poet, which take away all its bitterness from the cup of life; the faith of our divine religion, that they may direct our gaze to the regions of eternity. If we would really teach men, our duty is of a necessity first to teach women. No one who has reflected on the organization of society, but will at once see this; he will recognise in a moment how deeply, how beautifully, how wisely the whole is interwoven; the character of woman determining her influence, her influence determining the whole frame of society, and her character the product of her education, as that again is the result of her organization and teaching.

If we look around us and perceive the prejudices that are yet entertained against our race by other nations, we must become still more alive to the necessity of educating the growing generation in such a manner that they may form a sterling clsss of men who, by their knowledge, pre-eminence, worth, and their love and zeal for the ancient religion of their fathers, will conquer those degrading relics of a barbarous age; who, as “champions in the cause of God,” will vindicate the excellence of our sacred creed, and cause our traducers to exclaim, as in the days of yore, “Truly this is a wise and understanding people!” It is for this great purpose that you must educate your children, and they will grow up to be your pride and joy, and secure their own lasting benefit.

Parents!—the weal or wo of your children lies in your hand; your natural impulse will decide for the former. But mistake not the means by which their happiness can be effected. Act towards them that they may have no reason to exclaim over your graves, “They have spoiled me! they have been the cause of an ill-spent life!” but that they may cherish your memory throughout their lives with the deepest feelings of affection and gratitude in the innermost core of their hearts. Train them up by words and example in the way they should walk, and when they are old they will not depart from it.—May our Heavenly Father, in his unbounded love for all his children, bless our exertions; may He enlighten our minds to comprehend his holy law; may he incline our hearts to follow its precepts in spirit and truth, and may He be gracious unto us now, and for ever. Amen.