Vol. VII, No. 1
Nisan 5609, April 1849
The Mission of Israel.
We are denominated in the Scriptures “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation;” it requires, therefore, no argument to prove that the Lord expects something from us more than from ordinary men. The priest is to represent the community at the altar as their delegate to God, and consequently he has duties to perform in that capacity which do not belong to others, and if it be necessary, he is to become the mediator between the Deity and his offending subjects, in case these forget their accountability and follow the inclination of their rebellious, untamed nature. The priest too, from being devoted to matters of worship, should of right be best instructed in things relating to the service of God, hence it may be expected of him that he shall be able to teach those not so well fortified as he is himself in knowledge, and to make easy for them the way to acquire information in divine things. Let us apply this requirement to our own people; and what does it say? But that all Israelites should be rendered fit to stand before God as the priests of mankind, distinguished for superior virtue and pre-eminent for superior knowledge in divine things, so that they may be able to teach all the world by example, at least, if not by precept also, which is the way of light, and where is the place where the precious gold of truth may be discovered.
That all mankind are yet far from the high level of intellectual elevation of which they are actually capable, is a proposition not to be disputed; but that the elements for effecting this<<2>> lifting up are in existence, and actively though perhaps silently at work, is a proposition equally incontrovertible. We for our part deem the variety of religions an evidence that man has yet much to learn; whilst we confidently believe that the Law of God now in our possession is to be made the means of converting all mankind to the truth, and the consequent establishing of the greatest mental development of which our fallible and mortal nature is capable. Equally sure are we, that the Israelites have not hitherto been useless spectators on the progress of the world’s history, and what is more, that they will continue to act as a powerful stimulus to mind in the yet farther advance of man to his proper state of perfection. But are we as a body aware of the nature of our mission? are we alive to the importance of the trust assigned to us? We are afraid not, but that the majority of Jews are too much intent on some tangible advantage to weigh duly the amount of mere spiritual greatness, which we conceive it their province to acquire and then to promulgate; to most of us the admission to the privilege of office-holding and the freedom of university degrees are of paramount importance. Now we are not behind the most ardent in the love of liberty of conscience in its fullest extent; we would contend for it spiritually and physically were its possession denied to us, and the means of gaining it at all placed within our reach. This is one thing; but quite another it is to place it as the highest boon which we ought to desire, and the sole aim to which all our striving should be directed. That man is not free who is a slave to his passions; that man is not instructed who is unacquainted with the ways of his heavenly Father.
But modern Jews are so much occupied with securing their political equality that they seem to think on nothing else; the papers which appear in Europe, professing to speak the sentiments of Israelites, are full of essays on emancipation, but scarcely admit an article which is an exponent of religion. How is this? We will tell the reader. The gentiles have so long laid upon us arbitrary burdens and exceptional, exclusive, and peculiar taxation, that our people, feeling the smart of injustice, are now very eager, over eager as the deem it, to bring about a different state of things; the gentiles have so long claimed for<<3>> themselves the exclusive privilege of holding offices, that our people are naturally desirous of claiming now a share of the benefits of legislation and emoluments of office, since they have so long contributed by service and payment of taxes to the aggrandizement of the different governments under which they live. But they forget at the same time that they are Jews, equally as many Christians forget now that they are Christians.
There has sprung up by degrees such an indifference to religious opinions and observances, not alone among us but also among other denominations, that each one is anxious to prove that he is not tinctured with the prejudices, as they are called, of former times. Now the Jew was persecuted because he believed in the coming of the Messiah, who is to restore his national glory, and to replace the crown on the head of the scion of David; the Christian persecuted him in in the name of a messiah whom the other would not adopt, and by implication, if not in actual words, asserted that his mission, nay, perhaps his very existence, was an imposture, at least a questionable matter, to which he could not give his assent consistently with truth and religion.
Now what is more natural, where both Jew and Christian are indifferent, for the one to sacrifice his hope in a redeemer on the altar of a false patriotism, and for the other to acknowledge that his zeal had all been exerted for a chimera, for an ideality of which he now professes to have great doubts, at least which he cannot view with the veneration bestowed upon the same by his forefathers? We seize but upon one prominent topic, on which lukewarmness has been exhibited of late, and we may leave it to the reader to find others for himself to fill up the outlines which we have sketched; and he can readily discover why the literature of the day has taken so entirely almost a political and literary turn, to the exclusion often of the religious element.
We can find but one excuse, though it is not sufficient, for this deplorable fact, and this is the novelty in which our European brothers find themselves placed. For centuries maltreated and spit upon, they are overjoyed now at seeing a possible end to their spiritual warfare; they are delighted as one who finds an unexpected treasure at the opening prospect of civil equality. They know, or they fancy to know, that their religion as understood by their fathers will always be a bar to their being recog<<4>>nised as equals; hence it arises that they keep religion, practical religion, in the background, and speak of emancipation, civil liberty, and political equality, as the greatest boon for which they have to contend.
But we must condemn, utterly so, the debasement of our character thus presented to the world by some of those who profess to speak the sentiments of our people, and to represent the public opinion of the Jews of the present day. If indeed they are indifferent to religion, which they are in only too many cases, it ought to be the province of the press, where it exists, to combat against it; it ought to defend the good cause on its own merits, without reference to the wishes or intrigues of the gentile world without. Our fathers also contended for the rights of man, though they neither asked for exemption from exceptional burdens nor for an equality in the obtainment of office. They knew as well as we of the present day, that the evils to which they were subjected were inflicted on them for the sake of their religion; that they could avoid them by renouncing, and by not incurring any suspicion of still favouring it. Yet they resisted the threats, the taunts, and the manifold sufferings is inflicted on them with a patience which could have subdued anything save the fanatical rapacity of their Christian tormentors, men learned in the hellish arts of implicating pain on the body, and presenting death in a hundred frightful forms before they finally despatched their victim by a “grace-blow;” for the actual stroke of death was mercy compared with the preceding agonies which the sufferers had to undergo, often in the presence of enlightened judges and ecclesiastics, and which were occasionally witnessed even by the ruling princes, including the high-born dames, the wives of royalty. Oh! it must have been a glorious sight to these and the like to see the flesh quiver on the lacerated limbs of an unbelieving Jew, as he lay extended, exhausted on the rack, with the finger of a physician on his pulse to ascertain whether life yet remained; ha! it must have been God-pleasing to note the agony of the infidel, since in the hardness of his heart he defied the mercy of his benevolent executioners, offering him life and peace, if he would but renounce his abominable religion, which must necessarily condemn him to everlasting hell-fire! And yet our fathers knew this love of the pious, the devout, the noble, the <<5>>royal Christians for their eternal welfare, and they preferred to die, or what is more yet, to suffer living all the terrors of their fiendish tormentors sooner than surrender one element of their faith, sooner than compromise a single idea as taught by their blessed teachers. And now our moderns have so many civil rights in most countries, and are so eager for what is yet withheld, that they in effect cast the severest censure which they can offer on the endurance of their fathers, by explaining away the belief for which the others endured so much.
If ever the Inquisition had its apologists, if ever the most brutal butchers who disgraced a royal throne, yea a John of England, a Philip of France, or an Isabella of Slain, had their exculpators; it is those Jews who now, for the sake of removing the public odium resting on their name, assert that the doctrine of the Messiah, and the hope of a restoration to our land overshadowed by the law of God as our only standard of right, had their origin solely in the persecutions we had to endure in past ages. Absurd as such idle declamation is, it cannot suffice to blind the candid Christian. He knows that the Bible, in being the faith of the Jew, asks of him to confide in the promises of God, and in whatever He has taught, and that it would be difficult indeed, if not impossible, (at least to us the impossibility is apparent,) to expound the Scriptures so as to exclude the doctrine of the redeemer and the restoration of Israel. The Christian, we say, is fully cognizant of this; the denial of Bible truths on the part of the Jew does not impose on the former; if he is an unbeliever in Scripture promises himself, he may be pleased to find the nominal Israelite agreeing with him in sentiment, and lend him his aid to subvert positive religion in general; but in case he is a believer in his own persuasion, which he alleges is founded on the Scriptures of the Jew, he can hold him but in light esteem for not believing what this holy authority so evidently teaches. There may and probably always will he honest differences of opinion concerning Bible passages by persons of different systems of belief; Jews and Christians will therefore in all likelihood always differ with regard to fulfillment and meaning of many prophetic passages; but where words have evidently but one reasonable interpretation, where all other suppositions must appear absurd, we maintain that no Jew can impose by his unbelief on the intelligent of other <<6>>denominations. They will say that he denies his faith for the sake of gain, and sells his principles for the price of public office. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; we, or at least some of us, wish to barter our sacred opinions to curry popular favour, or rather that a few of us may obtain the position of representatives, the title of judge, or of a commander in the army and navy of European nations, a result indeed to be desired upon principles of equal rights among all men, but not if we must renounce what we believe to be true, and which is true.
Some of our faint spirits, and among them we reckon some bold claimants for our rights, paradoxical as the expression must seem, do allege that it would argue little gratitude in Israelites to wish to be considered otherwise than finally incorporated with the states in which they live, wherefore they must yield the hope of a Messiah, not to mention the expectation of our being gathered from the various countries into Palestine, to form again an independent and sovereign state, governed by the Divine law which we now possess. And pray where is the evidence of ingratitude in all this? We must presume that this must be in the implied expectation that Jews whilst having the right, for instance in France, of voting for a member of the legislative assembly, and of being elected themselves to sit there in quality of legislators, cannot love France enough, or be sufficiently grateful for the right thus enjoyed, if they believe that a time will come, sooner or later, but perhaps distant one or two thousand years or more or less, when it will please the Almighty to convoke by means known to himself, and at a time known to himself only, all the descendants from Jacob or Israel who profess, at the period when this shall occur, the Mosaic religion, as it is commonly termed, and act according to its precepts. Observe, Jews do not say that this restoration will take place this year, or in twenty years, or a hundred years hence, simply because they have no knowledge according to their belief of the period fixed for their return to their former state. For all, therefore, they or others know, the Israelites may retain their allegiance to their French home for a longer period than any form of government is likely to endure there or elsewhere. If it then depended on the Jew’s idea of the restoration of his God-governed commonwealth, France loses nothing of his services as long as she can make <<7>>use of them in her present circumstances, and consequently has no right to withhold any privileges from him which other citizens enjoy, because he hopes that either in his life, if God so wills it, or after his death, the Jewish descendants shall be brought by acts directly emanating from the Creator, to be again what they were before France existed, a people one and undivided, in a land to which they have the same right as the French have to France, and the English to England. “If this be treason, make the most of it,” as the eloquent Henry said in the Virginia house of delegates on a memorable occasion, well known in the history of this country.
We, for our part, have learned enough of the mutability of modern governments, to assert against the loudest declaimer for the necessity of Jews looking upon serving the state as their highest duty, even paramount to their religion, that we see nothing so fixed in anything, which human ingenuity can devise, to believe in its permanency. Take for instance France, as an example, since the time we first beheld the light of the world.
We will pass over what occurred before our day, the overthrow of Louis XVI., the republic in its manifold phases, the Reign of Terror, the Directory, the Consulate, and next the Consulate for life; but we will commence with Napoleon on his throne of empire, having we think as many or more departments, than king Ahasuerus’ one hundred and twenty seven provinces, besides dependencies over which his mere will was law. It was not very safe to contradict his authority. Of course the Jews vowed with other French citizens true and devoted attachment to his imperial highness, and they expressed fond hopes for the future prosperity of the infant king of Rome, a baby sovereign in the arms of a nurse. Of course our modern reformers needed no Messiah, when such a hero as Napoleon the First ruled over them, and they desired none for the time when the second of that name should assume the purple, at the decease of the other. But the great conqueror had to yield the sceptre to the restored Bourbons, and Louis XVIII. was hailed king of France, transplanted back by means of the bayonets of aroused Europe. The king of Rome was sent to Vienna, and never saw again the land of his birth, nor the father from whom he had sprung.
Of course, our new men has now a new Messiah in the restored <<8>>Louis; and their parasitical praises of the dethroned Corsican had to be transferred to a new claimant of their ardent love. But lo! the caged eagle reappeared at the gates of his capital, and the new monarch fled for his life to the armies of those who had installed him. The imperial standard again waved over Gallia for one hundred days, and myriads of devoted hearts followed their leader to the bloody plains of Waterloo. There his star set in a sea of blood, and hurried from the land which was so dear to him, he was carried captive to a lonely isle in the southern Atlantic, where he pined away after a confinement of nearly eight years, whilst his rival again was placed in the vacant seat of authority. However hearts might yearn for Napoleon and his fame, all public demonstration was as prohibited by those who bore rule; his family even in every branch was banished from the soil which he had aggrandized by his valour, nay, his mortal remains were left in the distant St. Helena, and not asked for by the nation which cowered in the dust before him whilst he walked on earth.
The fifteen years that the two Bourbon kings ruled in France, gave of course to the flatterers of “the powers that be” ample opportunity of displaying their loyalty, their devotion to the royal house, their detestation for the murder of the Duc de Berri, who was basely slain by the assassin Louvel; and, according to their mode of reasoning, it would have been the basest ingratitude on their part to desire any other government than the mild sway of the restored monarchy, though reactionary in its tendencies, and though the Jews laboured under certain disqualifications against which they in vain complained. The people of France, however, changed their minds respecting the usefulness of their new government; Villele and Polignac had taught them mistrust against those whom they had recalled, as it were by unanimous consent; and “the three days of July 1830,” saw a royal authority overthrown, and a royal family banished by the outbreak of popular fury in the capital, in Paris; and another government, under the auspices of a citizen king, as he was called, was summoned to assume the reins of power. Louis Philippe, the first and thus far the last Orleans king, ruled at first with moderation; but as the government seemed established in his hands, he endeavoured to strengthen himself against sudden outbursts of plebian<<9>> violence which had been so fatal to several of his predecessors.
But no matter what were his measures of policy, for church or state, our reformers desired no other Messiah than the king of the French. They had under the tricolor flag all that they desired, our Palestine had no charms for them, the commonwealth of Israel in Asia was a dream they did not wish for themselves, nor desired to see realized for others. But the throne which seemed to stand so firm, was weaker than a baseless fabric of a night vision; a collision in the streets of Paris with an insignificant mob sufficed for its overthrow, after an existence of rather more than seventeen years, and the praised and flattered and wise sovereign was chased like a timid hare from the land of his birth, to seek refuge in the island where his predecessors and himself had met with safety before, when fleeing before their domestic enemies.
And now behold anew, the republic is proclaimed in France, and those who fawned on Napoleon, who flattered Louis le desiré, who bent to Charles X., who complimented in set speeches the citizen king, the wise Louis Philippe, now are in ecstasies with a form of government without a sovereign prince at its head, as a form more consonant with the Mosaic code than any other. To this proposition we fully and sincerely agree; freedom is the essence of our religion, liberty is the soul which breathes in its records, justice is the basis on which it is founded, mercy the method by which it means to govern. But we speak of the various phases in which, in a period of forty years, the flatterers of governments based on human invention have seen their phantom appear and disappear; and each time it was such as left them nothing to desire, nothing to hope for, beyond that of being French subjects or French citizens as the case happened to be. And even since the commencement of this new era, which has subsisted a twelvemonth, how many variations has the kaleidoscope of the political world presented; and still it is all the same,—our men shout for those who rule, and quietly forget those who had to yield to stronger hands, and to rivals who more than they obtained the popular favour.
Our readers need not fear that we are going to write a political history of modern Gaul or any other land; we have another task before us; we write and speak of pure Judaism unconnected<<10>> with and not asking anything from governments beyond being left alone, a favour which it has not enjoyed in any part of the world except America, since it ceased to rule in Palestine. We contend, accordingly, that we are not responsible for our doctrines to any civil authority; we are empowered to believe or disbelieve in a restoration as our conviction may teach us; and if we think, as we individually do, and nearly all Israel with us, that we shall be restored as a people, the state has no right to itself with it in the least. We repeat that so far as we know, our sojourn in all countries under the sun may endure longer than any now existing form of government will last; and still we look forward to to the time when Israel shall again be a nation among nations, as a matter which will to a surety take place.
But up to the moment of the occurrence of this mighty event we are required by our religion “to seek the peace of the city” where we sojourn; we are enjoined to be obedient to the laws, and kind and loving to our neighbours; and if we take the example of the holy men of the Bible, and this is a measure after which all pious Jews think they are bound to regulate themselves, even our enemies and our oppressors must receive kindness and mercy at our hands.
We do not concern ourselves with the speculative views of the other citizens or subjects who live with us in any one land; they may, for all we individually care, just think as they please, provided they do not disturb us; and in the same measure do we say, that whilst we duly discharge all the requirements of citizens or subjects, we are entitled to all the rights which other persuasions enjoy. Experience proves that Jews who have believed in the change of worldly things comprised in the idea of the advent of the son of David, have been brave defenders of their adopted country on the field of battle; they have served it faithfully in council; they have aided it cheerfully with liberal loans from their hard earnings; they have enriched it by their commerce; they have been kind to all its sects by their beneficence; they have honoured it by their literary labours; and they have left it the example of sobriety, virtue, and moderation in all things. If such can be the course of men thus thinking and believing, the state has the safest guarantee that they are friends to public order, enemies only to vice and its fruits; and that they are able to serve their country, if only their services are required, without attaching to their admissi<<11>>bility to equal rights the degrading condition of renouncing any portion of that which they believe is a part of their faith.
Now, as history proves that no form of government is perfect, and as all is subject to change, the Jew surely cannot be accused of a crime for thinking that in all probability no mere human ingenuity will ever succeed to perfect a system in which injustice shall not lie heavily on some portion of the governed. Hence we may conclude with reason that a time will come when an agent of the Supreme shall be empowered to establish a rule where all shall be happy and injustice shall be unknown. Is this treason? again we ask; and let rationalists assert if if they can.
We have proved from a rigid historical sketch how unstable everything is, the strongest even in appearance; and as the Bible has alone stood the test of ages, we claim for it truth and infallibility, no matter what its opponents may allege. And as to us the Bible was given, it is evidently the intention of God that we shall one day yet act an important part on the stage of the world’s history; and we are therefore bound to prepare ourselves for the change, let it occur when it may. It is possible that thousands of years may elapse ere the son of David comes; but it may be this or the next year; no man knows. But this preparation should be only in the spirit, in virtue, in good deeds; in other respects, we should plant vineyards, plough fields, build houses, though we may be compelled to leave them to others. This does not concern us. We are directed to follow out the plan of Heaven, and whatsoever be the way this leads us to is right; and whatsoever we have been taught on the subject is true; and we need not trouble ourselves by the want of faith in those who would sooner please a gentile king or people, than boldly avow the truth, nor should the frowns of strangers induce us to hide or forego our honest sentiments.
We have but just touched upon a subject of great importance, at least to our own apprehension; but we must leave it for a later period. In the mean time we enter what we have said as a solemn protest against the assertion of some moderns of weak faith, who profess to disbelieve in the coming of the Messiah, and in the restoration of Israel. This view is false and unscriptural, unsupported by reason and historical analogy. But for the present we must request the reader to supply kindly any defect and<<12>> any deficiency which he may discover in the proof and arrangement, which we hope will not be too difficult a task for him to accomplish.