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The Violation Of The Sabbath


In several articles which we have laid before our readers we have uniformly insisted upon the impropriety of the police interfering with the observance or the non-observance of a day of rest, since we honestly deem all such matters to be exclusively belonging to conscientious convictions, not affecting the moral welfare of society at large, and hence nowise referable for enforcement to the civil authorities of the country. In other words, we would leave it to every individual to observe a Sabbath or not merely upon the promptings of his own conscience, and not allow the officers of government to interfere in a matter which of right does not belong to their supervision; since the general good of the commonwealth cannot be more injuriously affected by the violation of this particular religious institution than any of all the others which belong to the same department. But we contend, on the other hand, that the institution of the Sabbath is to the Israelite of the gravest importance; not so much because a day of rest is necessary to his well-being, though this is undoubtedly true also, but because the seventh day was instituted as one of the tokens of the covenant between the God of heaven and earth and his chosen people, by the observance of which they would prove their true allegiance to the Author of their religion. But if one coming from abroad were to be transported suddenly to the cities of America or to the villages where scattered Israelites dwell, he would be very apt to imagine that but few Jews could be discovered among the inhabitants; since by those who bear Jewish names the Sabbath is not considered as sacred, but that, on the contrary, it is actually the busiest portion of the week for all practical purposes. And truly a long residence and a somewhat extensive acquaintance with the habits of the Israelites of the western hemisphere will not familiarize one to the open profanation of the Lord’s day which we are constantly called upon to witness; and the longer one thinks of the scandal thus given to the enemies of our faith, he must confess that liberty of action has not improved our moral condition. The sincere believer who, under adverse circumstances, produced by pressure from without, and the great competition which exists in the crowded markets of the Old World, has sacredly observed the Sabbath, and been happy could he assemble around his simple board on the blessed eve of the Sabbath all his household, and whatever guests his humble roof could shelter—how must he feel when he beholds those who, since their arrival in free countries, where no one can of right molest them for their religion, where labour is freely rewarded by a much greater return than abroad have acquired increased means, and are fast arriving at an ample competence, treat the Sabbath as though no precept of the Decalogue were given to enforce it, who labour thereon as on other days, and who resort not to the house of prayer as in their days of lowly circumstance and unrequited toil.

It requires no hypocrisy, no overstrained love of observance to complain of such as these in the bitterness of anguish, and to induce a lover of his people to petition for a new state of bondage, if by such means alone the Israelites can be bound to their God. And we speak with a full comprehension of the word when we designate the Sabbath as emphatically a principal link in the bond of union which attaches us to our Father. Every day is indeed one on which He should be served; every hour should be devoted to his adoration; amidst all our toiling, nay, in the midst of our amusement, He should be present to our soul, so “that  being on our right hand we may not be moved,” or allured into the ways of sin. But for all that the Sabbath appears to be peculiarly fitted for contemplation and a unison of worship among all the children of God. On it labour should cease, it was so ordained; and then all are to have leisure to unite, to flow together in one stream to the house of God, there to pour forth one combined hymn of praise to Him who sanctifies his people Israel with his holiness in having given them a law which teaches them truth without disguise, and grants them light without shadow and obscurity. The larger the assembly, the more universal the rest, the more general the feeling of brotherhood: the more will each individual feel the glow of enthusiasm, and the strength of the impulse to learn to serve God with all his soul and all his might; he will then truly experience the happiness of being a member of a community where, laying aside all occupations calculated to advance our merely temporal concerns, each one strives to prove that he is above the paltry considerations of gain, and that he does rest because God’s law bids him to labour only during six days, and to sanctify the seventh.

But how does it stand with so very many in all the free countries, not America alone, but France, Germany, and England likewise? Do they honour there the Sabbath, so universally, that it appears in reality the day of abstinence from labour? The time indeed was when the desecration of this day was looked upon as the greatest sin man could commit, when the Jew would have submitted to anything sooner than transgress; but this state has unfortunately passed away, and men now labour on this day, and hesitate not to avow their sin. They have lost the shame of being discovered in contradiction to the divine precepts. Nay, even so far have many gone that they refuse to take Jewish boys in their employ if the stipulation be that the Sabbath’s rest should be permitted to them, when at the same time Christians are found to accord this privilege. It is therefore but proper that papers devoted to the interests of Judaism should take notice of such gross violation, and to endeavour to arouse the sense of the community to the degeneracy of the times. It may be that our remarks, inoffensive though they be, will be received with but little favour, that we shall be accused of making a useless exposition to the world of our defects, or perhaps worse yet, that we are merely writing an article to fill up a vacant place in our magazine. We are prepared for all such charges, and any others which may be brought against us. Nevertheless we will lift up our voice to bear emphatic testimony against a system which not alone condemns the adults themselves to perpetual labour, but fastens this curse likewise upon the young Israelites. We shall be met with the objection that Sunday is the recognised Christian day of rest among the other inhabitants of the various countries named, that we have therefore repose enough without regarding the seventh day. But this is in sooth exchanging what God has taught for that which He never contemplated; and it is not merely the day of leisure which the custom of the land and enactments of civil assemblies demand, but the religious sanctification which we need; and how can we arrive at such through the observance of a day which is foreign to our faith, and the foundation of which is based upon an assumption which we must totally reject as incompatible with the views which we entertain in consonance with our whole education upon all that concerns our permanent happiness and our hopes of salvation?

No Israelite has, accordingly, the remotest right to say that he can content himself in this respect with the opinions of his gentile neighbours; let him, if he thinks proper, keep his place of business carefully closed on any day he pleases; let him respect the prejudices of his friends by not even shocking their ears with the sound of music, though in this we think he may carry his complaisance much too far; but let him not think that this substituting what men have arbitrarily invented for a divine enactment can satisfy the demand of his religion. “Six days thou mayest labour, and do all thy work,” is the permission of Scripture; yet it emphatically continues “but the seventh day is the rest unto the Lord thy God;” evidently meaning that under any circumstances that particular period of time must be devoted to abstinence from labour, not because we may desire to remain idle, but because it was designated as “a special mark of devotion and sanctification in honour of Him who is truly the Lord our God. It is the weekly testimony which all Israel are to bear to the sacredness of their faith; and how can they accomplish this by resting on a day which has not this significance for them? and how can they discharge their conscientious debt by an appeal to opinions of all those who have not the same interest in the divine legacy as contained in the law with themselves?—The absurdity of the assertion is too glaring to merit even a refutation, and we will not attempt it. We, therefore, repeat that refusing the rest of the Sabbath to young Israelites is to fasten on them the curse of perpetual labour; since only as a religious institution can the Sabbath sanctify the spirit, confirm the faith, and prepare the soul for its eternal rest in a world without labour or pain; and no statute enactment, no general custom, can effect this for any day not so hallowed by the evidence of the divine word, handed down by the universal assent of our predecessors in the household of Israel; for where the day is not observed from a religious motive, it becomes one of ennui and listlessness; the time spent will hang heavily, and then men will form associations to spend it in any manner save that of mental elevation; and we think experience amply proves, that the Sunday, the so much boasted rest of the Christians, is to many of them, though they abstain from work, anything but a period of sanctification, and, in many countries, we are tempted almost to say in nearly all, except, perhaps, the United States and England and their dependencies, the first day of the week is, despite its statute-hedged character, one of dissipation and simple merry-making far beyond the other days. All this proves that a religious day of repose, whereon the spirit is to be raised to God, cannot be produced through any means other than religion itself; and wherein does the Jew find this requisite? can it be in the imitation of the ideas of those whom he deems erroneous in their conception of the Deity? can it be in the silent assent to the truth of an event in consequence of which the Sabbath of the Lord was repealed by the sinful and arbitrary authority of men “in whom there was no spirit,” which event he honestly believes never did take place? We will not insult the good sense of our readers to attempt answering these questions; they speak for themselves, and force every candid man to confess that a Jew has done nothing to satisfy his religious duties if he substitutes any day for the seventh.

But we fear that it may be a spirit of entire unbelief which actuates many; they see before them the prospect of acquiring wealth, and nothing standing in the way of this pursuit can find favour with them. Nevertheless a Jew without any belief is to our imagination something too absurd to be found in existence; there are multitudes of professed infidels; but their heart, we say it in charity, belies their tongue; they may speak of the progress of enlightenment, of the uselessness of ancestral observance, of one day being as sacred as the other; still in their souls they feel differently, they dread to find their own expressed sentiments confuted by the truth. We would call the attention of these to the moral debasement which must ensue, if the religious barriers which now surround us were all removed.  If the Sabbath can be abolished in practice by the simple assertion that it is useless or inconvenient, then there is an end to all religion and moral; for by the same rule every duty, every obligation, and every observance not watched over by the Argus eyes of the civil power, will fall into disuse, they all having the same foundation—responsibility to the Supreme. Teach then, practically, to the young to violate the Sabbath, take them into your workshops and counting-houses, place them on horseback or in coaches, applaud their unwillingness to attend the house of God on that day, because you agree with them in not viewing it sacred: and you teach them practically to disobey you whenever obedience might clash with their pleasure or self-will; you absolve them from morality, from kindness to the distressed, since in all these deeds the inclination has to be conquered, equally as with the Sabbath, in obedience to the unseen, but ever-present power of the Lord of all. Infidelity is the poorest system for the moral government of individuals and the state; there are not eyes enough to watch every movement; and unless men are governed within themselves, if they do not dread the Open Eye from above, it is in vain that you multiply statutes and heap up penalties; human ingenuity will escape through the meshes of the law, and human cunning will often defy all means of detection. Public opinion is, in truth, a good corrector of intended wrong, where the perpetrator might endanger his character or reputation; but destroy by a looseness of moral this healthy tone, and you remove at once its efficacy; for when immorality becomes fashionable, men will cease to hide in dark corners what no longer carries with it any public disgrace. And we contend that the relaxation of the rest of the Sabbath will work in the Jew an abrogation of moral sentiment. It is one of the institutions of the Ten Commandments, and “thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother;” and “thou shalt not steal,” rest on the same basis; surely the two last are eternal in their nature; and we see not how a Jew, even the unbeliever can acknowledge otherwise than an equal obligation, so far as the Decalogue is concerned, for all the duties therein enumerated.

And as respects the absolute gain, the matter of dollars and cents, and pounds and shillings, we candidly believe, and therefore maintain publicly that no one ever enriched himself, either in America or elsewhere, by working on the seventh day. There appears no blessing attendant on work thus and then done; and we will leave it to those who have habitually violated the Sabbath, to say whether they are any richer or at least more contented and happier than those who have abstained from Sabbath labours, and been satisfied to exert themselves on the days and periods allowed in the law. Only let them consider, that in former years, when no Jew transgressed the Sabbath, they were as wealthy in proportion as they now are, and this in countries where their industry was circumscribed by a multitude of restrictions; and that even now where they are most numerous, the countries where they are subject to disqualifications, they rise in importance, through their very indomitable spirit, the elasticity of character which recovers itself after every application of outward force, and this notwithstanding that the Sabbath is strictly observed. Can it then be said that here and there, where industry can expand without control, it is absolutely requisite that every hour must be devoted to gain? to obtain by constant toil a sufficient amount of the precious metal, the beautiful yellow gold, the brilliant silver? And then there are no mishaps in business to those that so constantly toil, they are always successful, there is no reflux to their tide of prosperity! Is this so, or is the reverse the case? We do not rejoice in the downfall of any man; but truth demands of every one to acknowledge that those who violate the Sabbath are not the most prosperous merchants and mechanics, and many who had accumulated fortunes, as they thought, and then forgot the pious course they pursued when poor, have found to their sorrow that they had sowed the wind and reaped the storm.

There are some who, when they commence business when their means are very limited, excuse their violation of the law by saying that they require all they can earn, every hour in the day, for the support of their families; but that so soon as they are blessed with success, they will then rest and be religious again. But though their success comes, they put off the time of amendment from day to day: they are not yet rich enough,—a little more—a few extra pounds have yet to be obtained; and then when all they expected has come, oh! then they have another excuse—their business is so extensive, so many require them to be on the spot, either to consult, or to purchase, or to employ, that now they would inflict a sort of public injury by refraining from their employment. We do not deal in fictions; we state something very akin to fact, even if not so to the very letter. And what does it prove? But that people will find an excuse for doing wrong at the very time they condemn themselves, and gloss over a palpable iniquity by shallow pretences of intended piety or assumed necessity, when in truth the best evidence of correct thought would be found in a straightforward, correct course of life. No Jew need apologize to a gentile for keeping the seventh day Sabbath: every one will acknowledge the propriety of the Israelite’s adhering strictly to the letter of the law; and when he does so, he need not fix a period more or less distant, when he will attend to his religions concerns.

One of the principal reasons why so many violate the Sabbath, when if left to their own convictions they would be pious Jews, is that they fear their gentile neighbours, or irreligious men of our own belief, would acquire more wealth, or draw off their customers when these find their places of business closed. Now, first, this fear is groundless; establish a good character in your business, state at once that on such days you will not be diverted from the path marked out by your faith: and you need not dread that the respectable and good of all classes will leave you for anybody else. There may be some pursuits where this may not be so; at least we will take for it the word of those who permit themselves to violate the Sabbath; but then we assert that no Jew should put himself in a position where transgression would become necessary, though for ourself we have an opinion that with some little care every pursuit could be so arranged as to avoid this compulsion. Secondly, if even a comparative loss should have to be incurred, we should reflect that we are Jews, and consequently bound as God’s witnesses to submit to every inconvenience, which must attach to us in consequence of our being Israelites. If in olden times we could brave everything only to remain faithful, when we encountered death, pillage, and insult in every shape, only to be left in the possession of our name, shall we now refuse to make sacrifice of a little additional wealth, which is at last not yet obtained, and which, for all we know, will not be lost by our complying with the law? Where is it written that the Sabbath-breaker is prosperous, the strict Jew poor? We have examples enough, and so have all our readers, to gainsay this opinion; and so on the score of expediency, no less than morals, the Sabbath ought to be kept by all who are of our race.

In conclusion, for the present, we would call the attention of our friends to the mortifying spectacle exhibited in so many towns, of Jewish shops and stores being open on the days holy to the Lord. A little union would soon obviate the fear of others gaining while we are resting. Could not such a union of the faithful in Israel be formed? Could not a society like that on Temperance be established, each member of which should pledge himself to the other to keep holy the Sabbath? Such a brotherhood would soon awaken a better feeling of religion among our brethren, and a stranger arriving among us would not be led to suppose that we are all infidels or that the Sabbath is unknown among us. The houses dedicated to God would not then be empty, because they who should be there are in their counting-houses or workshops, and then a true union of hearts and interests would form us into a strong community, able and willing to labour in the cause of Heaven, and we should not bear the reproach of the gentiles that we have forgotten our God, and then it would not be said with truth that by our misuse of liberty we have proved that freedom destroys our national adhesion, and that only in adversity Israelites cling to the God of their fathers.