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An Essay

By An American Jewess.

We would call the attention of our people to the contemplation of a startling fact, and to a consideration of its indications and final consequences. We allude to a subject calculated to awaken the deepest interest, and to arouse in the bosom of every true-hearted Israelite hopes which have lain dormant for ages:—the great revolution in the sentiments and deportment of other nations and persuasions which has taken place in the course of the last half century with regard to the hitherto despised children of Israel; a revolution which is yet far from being completed; which is quietly but steadily and rapidly advancing, and the effects of which are destined to be as irresistible as they are incalculable.

Nothing but a love and veneration for her God-chosen race, and a deeply-seated faith in the truth of prophecy, could embolden a female, from the ordinary ranks of Israel, without influence, with no uncommon mental endowments, and few materials from which to draw her conclusions, to enter upon a theme, to do justice to which might well baffle the powers of profound thinkers, of masculine minds which are in the habit of watching the reciprocal effects of the great movements made by the rulers of civilized states in their social, commercial, and political relations, and constantly exercised in contemplating subjects connected with these: in all which the present essayist is not more skilled than are most others of her sex. This attempt will be found to be but the work of a woman’s mind, after all; with more in it of the heart than of the head; more of faith than of knowledge; of intuitive perceptions than of well-informed conclusions; and is made in the lively hope of calling abler minds to the contemplation of its subject, and has for its only object the indulgence of an earnest desire to see Israel aroused from its lethargy by calling upon its sons and its daughters to recognise their sacred privileges, to believe in their high destiny, and to be faithful to that law by which they have been preserved, to the God who gave it to them for their inheritance, and who will redeem them under its banner.

Proofs of this change in our favour abound everywhere. We may perceive it in the general interest excited concerning us in various political measures of different governments, in our social intercourse with our former persecutors,—even from the pulpit our rights and the obligations of the world to us are beginning to be acknowledged; and the child of Israel may now often listen to the discourses of Christian ministers touching this great theme, the glow on his check and the tear in his eye, called forth by pious pride and holy hope and joy, instead of being, as they have hitherto been, the indications of shame and suppressed indignation at the unjust obloquy heaped upon his race. At length the word Jew is ceasing to be a term of opprobrium, which a feeling of delicacy would often prevent a friendly Christian from uttering in our presence, and is becoming one of peculiar interest and honour. From the light literature of the day we may gather additional and very convincing proofs of this change; and since writers of fiction must necessarily have a foundation of truth upon which to rear the productions of their fancy, it need not excite a smile if we venture to collect from such sources materials to maintain our position. In the novel of Ivanhoe, Scott gives us as correct a picture of the condition of the Jews, and, the estimation in which they were held during the thirteenth and many succeeding centuries, as could be obtained from the most authentic sources; and in the later works of D’Israeli we have as faithful an indication of the far different tone regarding them, which characterizes the spirit of the present age. Isaac of York and Rebecca are characters as true as if they had really existed; and perhaps one of the greatest triumphs of Scott’s genius is the success with which he has breathed into these creatures of his imagination the true Hebrew spirit, crushed, misdirected, and distorted in the one, (need we recall by what more than sufficiently debasing causes?) but in the other high, pure, and proud in the consciousness of a noble descent, native superiority, and high destiny, while at the same time humbly and profoundly pious and patient under those mortifications which have so long been silently borne by our nation, in the same spirit with which David received the curses and the still less endurable insults of Shimei, the son of Gera, when he replied to his indignant adherents: “So, let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who then shall say, Wherefore hast thou done so? Let him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him.”

The Sidonia of D’Israeli seems to be rather the prophetic impersonation of what the Jew is capable of becoming, and will one day be, than the correct representation of what any Jew actually is. His characteristics exist abundantly in his nation; but in all probability have never been so magnificently combined in any one of its individuals. Still, that a writer should have the boldness to draw such characters as his and those of Besso, Eva, &c., making them actors in the present living age, and assigning them distinguished places in the highest and most exclusive circles, is in itself a sufficient evidence of` the great change in the position of Israel to which our attention is directed. The views which this author takes of the Hebrew race, though only new to his Jewish readers as seen through so unusual a medium, must be of startling novelty to the Christian world. What his object is in these productions he has not, as appears to us, fully disclosed; but that his purpose is a higher and greater one than merely to produce a work of fiction of an unusual cast, we cannot doubt. That he has succeeded in this last particular is very certain; for, without alluding to other novelties with which these volumes abound, that a scion of the noble aristocracy of England should be made to feel dissatisfied with having sprung from such a race, and to lament that the blood of the patriarchs does not flow through his veins, is indeed something unprecedented. We must not, however, allow ourselves to be betrayed into a task which has little to do with the subject under contemplation, and for which, besides, we are wholly incompetent,—a review of these remarkable books of D’Israeli; but we will beg the reader to pardon us, if, for the sake of contrast, we furnish a few extracts, with which, doubtless, he is perfectly familiar, from two of the works above alluded to, Scott’s “Ivanhoe,” and “Tancred, or The New Crusade” (new, indeed!) of D’Israeli.

“Except, perhaps, the flying-fish, there was no race existing on the earth, in the air, or the waters, who were the object of such an unremitting, general, and relentless persecution as the Jews of this period. Upon the slightest and most unreasonable pretences, as well as upon accusations the most absurd and groundless, their persons and property were exposed to every turn of popular fury; for Norman, Saxon, Dane and Briton, however adverse these races were to each other, contended which should with greatest detestation upon a people whom it was accounted a point of religion to revile, to despise, to plunder, and to persecute. The kings of the Norman race, and the independent nobles who followed their example in all acts of tyranny, maintained against this devoted people a persecution of a more regular, calculated, and self-interested kind. . . . . . The little ready money which was in the country was chiefly in possession of this persecuted people, and the nobility hesitated not to follow the example of their sovereign in wringing it from them by every species of oppression and even personal torture. . . . . . In spite of every kind of discouragement, and even the special court of taxation already mentioned, called ‘the Jew’s Exchequer,’ erected for the very purpose of despoiling and distressing them, the Jews increased, multiplied, and accumulated large sums, which they transferred from one hand to another by means of bills of exchange—an invention for which commerce is said to be indebted to them, and which enabled them to transfer their wealth from land to land, that when threatened with oppression in one country, their treasure might be secured in another.” (Ivanhoe, vol. i. ch. 6.)

Now let us select a few passages from the reflections of an English noble of the present day, wandering in the wilderness of Sinai, upon a race thus misused by his ancestors.

“Had he not from his infancy repeated in the congregation of his people the laws which from the awful summit of these surrounding mountains the Father of all had himself delivered for the government of mankind? These Arabian laws regulated his life, and the wanderings of an Arabian tribe in this ‘great and terrible wilderness,’ under the immediate direction of the Creator, sanctioned by his miracles, governed by his counsels, illumined by his presence, had been the first and guiding history that had been entrusted to his young intelligence, from which it had drawn its first pregnant examples of human conduct and divine interposition, and formed its first dim conceptions of the relations between man and God. . . . . . The life and property of England are protected by the laws of Sinai; the hard-working people of England are secured in every seven days a day of rest by the laws of Sinai. And yet they persecute the Jews, and hold up to odium the race to whom they are indebted for the sublime legislation which alleviates the inevitable lot of the labouring multitude! . . . . Vast as the obligations of the whole human family are to the Hebrew race, there is no portion of the modern populations so much indebted to them as the British people. . . . . . Independently of their admirable laws, which have elevated our condition, and of their exquisite poetry, which  has charmed it,—independently of their heroic history, which has animated us to the pursuit of public liberty, we are indebted to the Hebrew people for our knowledge of the true God and for our redemption from our sins.” (Tancred, book iv. ch. 4.)

We will leave it for our readers to contrast the descriptions of the personal appearance, demeanour, and dwelling of Isaac of York, with those of Sidonia and Adam Besso, and to make the reflections that must force themselves into his mind upon various parts of these books, which we cannot trespass upon his time and patience, at present, by alluding to more fully. A few more striking extracts from each, however, we will venture to lay before  him. The first is from the reception of Isaac of York as a guest of Cedric the Saxon, which opens the fifth chapter of Ivanhoe.

“Oswald, returning, whispered into the ear of his master, ‘It is a Jew, who calls himself Isaac of York; is it fit I should marshal him into the hall?’

“ ‘Let Gurth do thine office, Oswald,’ said Wamba, with his usual effrontery; ‘the swineherd will be a fit usher to the Jew.’

“ ‘St. Mary!’ said the Abbot, crossing himself, ‘an unbelieving Jew, and admitted into this presence!’

“ ‘A dog Jew!’ echoed the Templar, ‘to approach a defender of the Holy Sepulchre?’ * * * * *

“ ‘Peace, my worthy guests,’ said Cedric, ‘my hospitality must not be bounded by your dislikes. If Heaven bore with the whole nation of stiff-necked unbelievers for more years than a layman can number, we may endure the presence of one Jew for a few hours. But I constrain no man to converse or to feed with him.—Let him have a board and a morsel apart—unless,’ he said, smiling, ‘these turbaned strangers will admit his society.’

“ ‘Sir Franklin,’ answered the Templar, ‘my Saracen slaves are true Moslems, and scorn as much as any Christian to hold intercourse with a Jew.’”

Let us now see Tancred, Lord Montacute, a descendant of one of these zealous crusaders and defenders of the Holy Sepulchre, feeling himself honoured in being a guest of a Jew of Damascus, the noble Besso, and rejoicing that his visit happened to occur during the celebration of one of our festivals.

“ ‘Welcome, noble stranger! the noble Emir here, to whom a thousand welcomes, told me, that you would not be averse to joining a festival of my people.’

“ ‘I would seize any opportunity to pay my respects to you,’ replied Tancred, ‘but this occasion is most agreeable to me.’ . . . . . .

Tancred then inquired after Eva, and Besso led him to his daughter. . . . . . .

“ ‘It is one of our great national festivals,’ said Eva, slightly waving her palm branch; ‘the celebration of the Hebrew vintage—the feast of tabernacles.’

“The vineyards of Israel have ceased to exist,” continues our author, “but the eternal law enjoins the children of Israel still to celebrate the vintage. A race that persist in celebrating their vintage, although they have no fruits to gather, will regain their vineyards. What sub­lime inexorability in the law! But what indomitable spirit in the people!” 

We recommend the rest of this chapter, the eighteenth of the fifth book, to the perusal of our readers, and will conclude our extracts with the following conversation.

“ ‘We ought to have met at Jerusalem,’ said Tancred to Besso, on whose right hand he was seated, ‘but I am happy to thank you for all your kindness, even at Damascus.’

“ ‘My daughter tells me you are not uninterested in our people, which is the reason I ventured to ask you here.’

“ ‘I cannot comprehend how a Christian can be uninterested in a people who have handed down to him immortal truths.’

“ ‘All the world is not as sensible of the obligation as yourself, noble traveller.’

“ ‘But who are the world? Do you mean the inhabitants of Europe, which is a forest not yet cleared, or the inhabitants of Asia, which is a ruin about to tumble?’

“ ‘The railroads will clear the forest,’ said Besso.

“ ‘And what is to become of the ruin?’ asked Tancred.

“ ‘God will not forget His land.’

“ ‘That is the truth! The government of this globe must be divine, and the impulse can only come from Asia.’ . . . . .

“ ‘ Do you visit Egypt before you return from the East, noble sir?’ asked Besso of Tancred.

“ ‘I have not thought of my return; but I should not be sorry to visit Egypt. It is a country that rather perplexes us in Europe. It has un­dergone great changes.’

“Besso shook his head, and slightly smiled. ‘Egypt,’ said he, ‘never changes. ‘Tis the same land as in the days of the Pharaohs; governed on their principles of political economy, with a Hebrew for prime minister.’

“ ‘A Hebrew for prime minister!’

“ ‘Even so: Artim Bey, the present prime minister of Egypt, formerly the Pacha’s envoy at Paris, and by far the best political head in the Levant, is not only the successor, but the descendant of Joseph.’

“ ‘He must be added, then, to your friend M. de Sidonia’s list of living Hebrew statesmen,’ said Tancred.

“ ‘We have our share of the government of the world,’ said Besso.”

It is with still greater satisfaction that we venture to add to the above quotations, an extract from an English journal published by William Howitt, a man whose universal philanthropy, unprejudiced mind, sound philosophy, and extensive information, must secure to him the love and esteem of all denominations, and entitle his opinions to a high degree of respect. To do homage to the great and good is certainly one of the most delightful prerogatives of the human heart, and this pleasure is doubly ours, when we can through such a man as Howitt, pay a tribute of admiration to one to whom as a woman and an Israelite, we are bound by many strong ties besides those of gratitude for her successful labours in the cause of Judaism. Who can doubt that we allude to our own Grace Aguilar? We have neither seen the Journal from which this extract is taken, nor the work of Miss Aguilar, which it notices. We are indebted for our knowledge  of both to a noble-minded Christian friend, who furnished the extract in a letter, introducing it in terms which as they add strength to our to our position, as well as reflect credit upon herself, we take the liberty of prefixing to it.

“I read the other day in Howitt’s Journal (a new periodical, devoted to literature and social progress), a very interesting notice of a work of Miss Aguilar. I cannot refrain from copying it for your perusal, as you may perhaps not meet with this Journal, and such liberal acknowledgments of the just appreciation of Judaism, called forth a warm response from my inmost heart.”

“ ‘The Jewish Faith.’ By Grace Aguilar. No one could read this volume without advantage to his religious spirit and all its sincere emotions, however he might differ from it in religious doctrine. It is ad­dressed to the youth of the Jewish faith, and to them will be a most valuable gift; but scarcely less so to all of us. It is strongly suggestive of the Divine hope which carries our imaginations forward to the period when there shall be ‘one fold and one Shepherd.’ We see in it how the grand simple faith of the ancient people of God is unfolding itself in the light of advancing intelligence; how all that was understood by them in their first ages as temporal, is becoming spiritual; all that was exclusive widening out into universality; how they are reading their Law and their Prophets in the spirit of Him who revealed the Father to us;* and who in emphatic words declared that ‘He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.’ While enlightened Judaism thus advances, we see in file progress of events the spirit of Christianity purifying the doctrines adopted by its professors, (i. e. the professors of Christianity,) exterminating the dark errors of the times of persecution and hatred, and leading us to acknowledge in the Jew, the original possessor of the truth on which our own faith is founded—the unity of God, in contradistinction to the polytheism of every other people. The Jew is the labourer ‘who has borne the burden and heat of the day;’ we have known this long, but we are now beginning to feel it; and it leads us on to a perception of the poetry rand pathos which surround that peculiar race, scattered over all the earth, yet preserving their nationality; acknowledging the hand of God and the fulfillment of prophecy in their temporary degradation; mourning it as they did in the days of old, by the waters of Babylon, and looking forward with perfect faith to their final restoration to their ancient heritage.’ ”

*Himself a Jew who taught nothing new to the Hebrews; but whose followers taught many things true and false which were new to the gentiles.

So then it seems plain that time is unfolding to the world, an age of simple justice to our people, whom an adherence to the Laws of Sinai, a recognition of God’s threatened judgments, faith in His unceasing protection, and hope in His unfailing promises, have preserved not only distinct in race and pure in blood, but in possession of all those faculties, (only wanting opportunities for their development,) which will enable us to soar above the nations by whom we have been trodden under foot; and to prove to the most narrow-minded individual among these, that the people whom the Lord of Hosts has designated as the children of the Most High, are destined to recognise no superior but their Father in Heaven, by whom they will be led with the childlike faith of their first earthly fathers, walking by His laws, which they will once more be enabled to obey in every particular, and trusting alone in His immediate guardianship and intervention. This state of things as we have said is steadily progressing, and will continue to progress until the time arrives when, as foretold by Zechariah, “Ten men shall take hold, out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you.” 

But all this is not to be brought. about either by proselytes from Israel, who must inevitably become lost among the followers of the creeds they have adopted, and with whose blood they have mingled, until they can no longer be distinguished, or by such as through simple unbelief, contemptible shame, hopes of worldly aggrandizement, or the empty smiles and favour of Christian circles of fashion, have taken every measure to cause the fact of their origin to be forgotten, by abandoning the observance of all the distinctive rites of their religion, without, however, adopting those of the sects which they would fain seem to have joined, and are thus living entirely without religion; (we will not now stop to inquire how little they have by these means advanced the objects for which they have sacrificed such privileges:) it is not by any such mistaken and unworthy members that Israel is to be redeemed; but by Israel, true to his God and to every practical portion of that law, the perfect observance of which is not possible during our dispersion; standing out boldly in its individuals, testifying by their daily lives that their faith in the unchanging God of their fathers is superior to every worldly consideration; quietly allowing to other sects their undisturbed privileges, while silently, and with pious pride, rejoicing in the superiority of their own on which God has stamped His indelible seal; and with patient confidence, awaiting, where there is no call for action that conjunction of circumstances by which it shall please the Almighty to assemble the tribes of Israel once more at the portals of His Temple,—“a nation of Priests!”

So far the only perceptible advantage that the Jews have derived from this new, but to them not unexpected impulse, is the removal of some mortifying and depressing disabilities, and an advance to a higher degree of social importance and consideration; but who can calculate the effects of this simple fact? Ages of cruel injustice, during which the Hebrew in his physical and moral being has been subject to every influence that could deform, debase, and paralyse it, and excluded from every means by which man’s nature may retain its native powers, or advance to a higher development, (we bear no ill-will towards our persecutors for this, they were but unconsciously executing the judgments of the Most High,) have failed to crush the energies, or destroy the original intellectual superiority of our race, and, under all these overwhelming disadvantages, the Hebrew mind and Hebrew character have exercised an influence at all times and in all countries, ever felt, if never till now recognised and acknowledged. What then may be the influence of this universally emancipated Hebrew mind, familiar, through uncommon powers of observation, perception, at calculation, combined with the advantages derived from long intercourse with all people, the experience of a residence in all countries, and habits of constant intercommunication, with the language, the history, the learning, the resources, the condition, and the customs of every civilized nation—when brought to act in concert and to combine all these powerful resources for any one great purpose? This too is only humanly speaking, and exclusively with worldly calculations and considerations. But the people of God are not thus only to be spoken of. With all these advantages are to be combined the force and strength of their religious principle, and the direct guidance and protection of the unchanging One who has promised these to them. We have been, we are, and we ever shall be, a Heaven-led, a Heaven-preserved, and a Heaven-redeemed people. Why this should be so is among “ the hidden things” which “belong unto the lord our God,” and human reason, in its pride, will find little satisfaction in pursuing the inquiry; but the revealed and clearly-proved fact “belongs unto us and to our descendants for ever.” The darkest cloud that has ever hovered over the condition of our people, so far from being a proof of the withdrawal of God’s watchfulness over those who, “because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the laud of Egypt, the Lord rooted them out of their land in anger and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them out into another land, AS IT IS THIS DAY,” has been but the shadow of that wing under which we shall be gathered, when—(but here let us again use the words of the man of God, which often as he saw fit to repeat them to our fathers, whom they could not immediately concern, cannot surely be too often or too forcibly repeated to us, their remote descendants, for whom especially they were delivered so many ages ago, (oh! how wonderful!) and whom they do most directly and vitally concern): “when all these things are come upon thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, * * * * if any of thine be driven out unto the utmost bounds of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee.”

The remark has been often made, that in nothing is our nation, to whom the word peculiar has been so often justly applied in sacred and profane writing, more peculiar, than in the fact that from our heaviest afflictions we may derive our deepest and truest consolations, and from our periods of the greatest apparent abandonment of Heaven, food for faith in the undeviating watchfulness of the God of Israel over his people. The truth of His word, including every truth which it behooveth tnan to know, is established by every event of our history. Let any one examine that keystone to our faith—the book of Deuteronomy—especially its twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and thirtieth chapters and then the books containing the history of the states of Israel and Judah under the kings, and compare thern with each other; and with the conduct and condition of Israel from that time to the present, and he cannot fail to be convinced that the eye of God has been ever upon His inconstant and daringly rebellious servant; and, under the strength of the convictions thus forced upon him, that the judgments of God, and not the unassisted hand of mind and undirected force of circumstances have been against us, every doubt concerning the still unfulfilled promises will vanish from his mind, and with something like a spirit of prophecy, borrowed from the undying spirit of the prophets of old, he will almost be tempted to write of those glorious days, marked out for the future destiny of Israel, when by us all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, and man, released from the dominion of Sin, shall live blessed under the dominion of God, with Israel for a teacher, until “it shall no longer be said, Know ye the Lord; for they shall all know Him from the least unto the greatest.”—This daughter of Israel may be deemed, even by her own people, a fanatic, whose weakness is only equalled by her boldness; but since her conclusions are derived from a careful examination of all that we hold sacred in writing, she does not hesitate to declare her belief that not only the tribes of Israel are to be again collected under that pure theocracy which has never been witnessed on earth, except in the Hebrew state, before the kings, but that this theocracy will gradually embrace all the nations of the earth, until the God of Israel will be their universally recognised and only Governor. “Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.”* In the present attempt, she may have been presumptuous, but she has at least been earnest and sincere. If her pen has seemed to be “that of a ready writer,” it is only because it “inditeth a good matter,” and is employed in the cause of sacred, imperishable, incontrovertible truth.

* Zechariah viii. 22.

To her cause then be all the praise, if she has succeeded, and to her inability all the discredit, if she has failed. In either case she will be content .if she call the attention of abler and better prepared minds to the contemplation of this interesting subject.

May 10th, 1847.