|Vol. VII, No. 5
Ab 5609, August 1849
A Call For Another Circular.
By Jacob J. M. Falkenau.
It is several years since I chose to remain a mere constant and silent reader of the Occident, instead of continuing to be, as formerly, on the list of your correspondents. This time, however, besides, responding to the wishes of some of my friends, my own mind would not justify me in keeping back and withholding from you and your readers some views and considerations on a subject so great and important as that of holding for the first time a convention of all or the most of the Jewish congregations in America. I deeply regret to learn, from the last number of the Occident, that the proposed assembly could not succeed at the present moment, on account of the small number of congregations which have responded to your circular. But, at the same time, this very fact gives me the greater hopes for the final success of your labours in the good cause, and it encourages me to foretell that in some way or other, though not exactly in the way proposed, we shall at the end succeed, and have a long-wished-for and most beneficial convention of the Jewish people in America. For, as matters are now, we cannot but observe that most of the congregations near at hand, the most of those large in number and established for years, and nine out of ten congregations in this city—the very birthplace, and origin of the circular—have refused electing and sending their delegates to join the meeting. I am not inclined in this case to accuse the people altogether of indifference or neglect, much less of guilty motives, for not joining the meeting after many had highly approved of the suggestion at the commencement, but at a time when the call for action had not been seen yet. Since the circular has appeared, I rather consider the not joining as a unanimous objection to both the way of representation proposed to the people, and to some principles omitted in one part, and others shadowed forth in other parts of the circular.
And if such indeed be the case, as I imagine it to be, then matters can easily be put to rights. In the place of a circular written on the plan, and under the auspices of individuals, another circular of a different plan may be written and sent forth, not under the auspices of those men who sent out the present one, but of those congregations near at <<248>>hand, which have actually chosen their delegates; and perhaps all may be well, and go well.
I am fully convinced of the sincere and pure motives of all your labours in the cause, and that in sending forth that circular, it was your only object “to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” I desire you to think the same of me, and of every remark I shall find it necessary to make in this letter; and let us then continue farther to read and understand the words of the prophet and his holy counsel: “These are the things that ye shall do, Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour, execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates.” (Zechariah iii. 15, 16.) There is no use in representing things by parables and hyperboles, nor in guessing and cavilling at notions and conceptions, nor in reasoning and arguing upon matters too remote from or too far beyond the limits of the subject; but to speak the truth, we have to speak plainly and clearly on the point and to the point.
The circular, then, was the call to which the people had to respond, the basis on which congregations had to act, and did act. And speaking of this, is not Mr. Abrahams right in many of his questions and inquiries? And is not Mr. Isaacs too easy in asking no questions, finding no difficulty? I am not so easily satisfied. I meet with too many difficulties in the circular; but at the same time I am as zealous for a convention as a man may reasonably be. I object to one convention where the people did not meet, to seek out another where the people will meet. I am anxious for the success of such a one, and have to show cause why the other did not succeed: I have to reject your circular in order to defend your cause.
Is the meeting to be held on decidedly orthodox principles? This is a question which any orthodox congregation will naturally suggest; and at the very head of the circular it should be answered, yes or no; but the whole circular does not answer it, the word “orthodox” is not mentioned therein. In your leading article, “The Union of Israel,” and in other places, you make a declaration to that end for yourself, announcing the standard under which you are willing to meet and consult with others—but those articles belong to you and your readers only. The circular sent forth to the mass of Jewish people in America should hold forth the standard under which the people are called upon to assemble and take counsel with each other. Such is exactly the proposition made by the venerable A. A. Lindo, when in his second letter he justly demonstrates the necessity “of announcing at the very outset the principles upon which to base the union.” This letter is dated the 29th of January; and in the circular, sent forth a month later, the de<<249>>claration has been totally overlooked. It is true, there is a good deal said in it of “our religion,” “devotion;” but as at the present time these very words have become ambiguous expressions in Jewish families, and as used by the religious press, an orthodox paper ought to speak out plainly what it means, that it may be not misunderstood by others. In all those baneful meetings that have agitated Judaism in Germany within the past few years, every proposition which we have ever heard or read of was made for the sake of “our religion.” The most pernicious principles and doctrines, violations of sacred laws, written and oral, all have been—and, if, not checked, perhaps will be—represented to the people, to the unwary, as promoting the holy cause of “our religion.” There is sometimes, even in sermons, a great contrast between the preacher and his own sermon; the former will say that he is preaching for the cause of “our religion,” and take away his own declaration, and judge from what the sermon itself has to say, and it will tell you that the preacher is speaking of “ir-religion," not of “our religion.”
As, therefore, the words “religion” and “religious” are too indefinite in the case, we may fairly conclude that it is “the omission of a more definite expression for the principles of the meeting,” which the people objected to directly at the opening of the circular.
My remarks upon the various articles commence with the fourth evil: “No means of correct information on ‘our religion.’” I read this article over and over again, and to me it appears to mean nothing, or if it does, it says what to my view is not founded on fact. This article does not apply to schools, but it addresses the people; and in reading the evil in connexion with the remedy proposed for it in the other part, No. 3, it simply declares that “all Israel in America have no means for obtaining correct information on their religion,” unless those books which it is intended to publish in America shall inform them of their religion and their destiny; and supposing those books should never be published, then Israel will never have any correct information of their religion. On the contrary, I think that Israel will readily have the proper means at hand as long as but one copy even of the works of our old writers shall exist. Our law has not been revealed in the English or German, nor in Greek or Latin; every man of science will understand what this means, and the generality of the people and the youth ought to be diligently taught and told the truth.
I well remember—(not having the book at hand, I am writing from memory)—that the German catechism of Dr. A. Beer, published for the use of the Israelites in Bavaria, had to be examined by the then Chief Rabbi in Würzburg, and the Chief Rabbi in Fürth, before it was <<250>>published. We ought to be particularly careful in promoting the publication of, or subscribing to books especially intended for giving correct information on our religion. Is not the letter of Mr. Beckel, in your last number, evidence of what I say? What is there mentioned is merely a lecture delivered to a society, published in a periodical paper: nothing is said of books calculated to give correct information on our religion. We should exercise yet more scrupulous care, respecting the characters of “living books”—I mean the teachers of youth and man.
From this I proceed to Art. 7, the last of the evils. Methinks we had better strike this article all out, and put in another circular as a remedy in its place, that “no discussion or proposition on public worship shall be allowed at the meeting.” The concluding part of this letter will show the reasons for this; for merely to advise “let the Synagogue alone,” would not prevent another from saving “let it not alone.”
I am now at the point that demands a more ample discussion: it is the proposed mode of representation. There is no obscurity to be charged to that article: particular care seems to have been taken that it shall be clearly understood. It says: “The proper mode,” &c. “2d. It shall consist of delegates, to be elected by any Jewish congregation in the United States, each congregation sending one delegate; and if more, &c., then such whole delegation shall have but one vote.” The mode of representation may at first sight appear to be very reasonable and proper; equal rights are given to one congregation with the other; and one would wonder how the people could have had the least objection to this. But on a closer examination, it will be found that just this mode of representation has been the very stumbling-block of the whole project, and will be so with every other plan of union that shall be based upon similar principles. The people, perhaps, will not have taken pains to discuss and argue the matter; but guided by intuitive repugnancy to an unjust proposition, they will answer, and have answered practically, by not responding to your call, and by not sending delegates to join the meeting. On your side it may only be an inadvertence, caused through a misconception of names. You have by inadvertence taken the number of the Jewish congregations for the number of the Jewish people in America. The existing evils and the proposal remedies concern the latter, not the former. The majority of the people, not that of congregations, has to decide—we need the congregations to ascertain the number of the people, but not to vote for them. Take facts as they really are, on a small scale only. Two congregations of thirty or forty members each, and one of three or four hundred members will meet, are each to have but one vote. Would not the greatest <<251>>part of the people, by this representation, be deprived of their rights of suffrage? Would not the mass have to suffer the consequences of wrong decisions? For where no superiority of qualifications is thought to exist, we cannot but denominate a decision as wrong which is made upon a principle which really gives to a minority the right to overrule a majority.
Again, on examining the evils described to exist among us, the proposition may appear more inconsistent yet. The first evil is “want of concert,” and the remedy proposed is “union.” This principal evil would fall to the ground, if the many Synagogues in large places would form but one or two congregations, alike to the Jewish system in every other part of the globe, (even in England the German and Polish Jews form but one body in all matters, except the finances and administrations of Synagogues, and entertain, besides, friendly terms and amicable regulations between each other.) The multitude of congregations is our ruin in America. It is the greatest of all the evils. What good results, then, can be expected to come from evil?—from a majority of the greatest of all evils? This reasoning, perhaps, might appear to be more sophistry than argument, for you will say, “Anyhow, the congregations embrace the people; and is it thus in fact not the same, whether the majority bears the name of one or the other?” I will, however, endeavour to show that there exists a real difference between the two; for, on inquiring into the origin of the evil, we shall not be wrong in saying that it dates no farther back than a score of years. It was not the inevitable consequence of an increased population from foreign and different countries; for in this case every new congregation formed since, in places where the large Jewish communities exist, should have been established by new-comers only, who never before were seatholders or members of any other congregation in that place. This, however, with perhaps some exceptions, is not the fact; neither have the people separated by way of secession or mutual agreement of parties, except in a few cases; but it generally has occurred, that a minority of seatholders or members of any congregation, some designedly, some undesignedly, have tried to find fault and to gain strength, in order to form a separate body; and hence the origin of all that now constitutes our principal evil. It has thus originated with the minority, never with the majority of the people; and consequently I may be well justified in arguing that the results of a meeting of a majority of the people would be entirely different from that of a majority of congregations.
In connexion with this, let me ask another question. Suppose two or three congregations in the same place take a step for the good cause, <<252>>diminishing the evil by uniting themselves into one congregation,—on your system they will then have but one vote; but had they persisted in the wrong way, they would have had two or three votes; and is this the “judgment of truth?” Is it not in diametrical opposition to the principle of our wise men, לא יהא חוטא נשכר? “All these difficulties will be overcome afterwards,” you may say, “for the deliberations of the delegates are to be brought before their respective congregations, and thus the final resolution can pass only by the majority of the people.”
But, in truth, all this avails nothing; it will not remove the difficulties. For what resolves will be brought before the respective congregations? Those only carried by the majority at the meeting of delegates; the others that have been rejected there will not be brought before the people for decision, though, by what has been said heretofore, and admitted, we must conclude that it is only through a wrong organization of the meeting that those representatives have to bear the name of minority, when in reality they are the representatives of the majority of the people; and yet the resolutions offered by them, but rejected at the meeting, should be the very propositions which ought to be laid before the congregations, to be finally decided upon by the people. Let us conclude this argument with the observation, that your proposition of one vote for every congregation, small or large, seems to be contrary to the Jewish laws, which plainly instruct us that the like cases of municipal difficulties and deliberations should be left to the unbiassed individual number of the people, to be decided by their majority.
(see ס׳ א׳ ס״ק ב׳ חגהות מיימוני הלכות תפלה פ׳ י״א)
Taking now for granted that delegates should be chosen at the rate of the number of seatholders or members of each congregation, a certain number has to be adopted as the lowest rate, and for every additional number one more vote has to be granted. If the former be fixed at fifty, then a congregation of two hundred members would have the right to send four delegates or less giving it four votes in the general meeting. In this way all the above difficulties would be removed as far as practicable; but there are still other observations to be made, before the plan can be fairly proposed.
It is indispensably requisite for the functions of the delegates of that meeting, that both the will and the means of the people be truly represented. The above mode of representation would answer for both, if it were the case that the people form but one or no congregations; but since that meeting will consist of various congregations, and as one ought not to interfere with the rights and interests of the other, the circumstances of the congregations must be taken as they are. Congre<<253>>gations might number three or four hundred members, and their means might not be equal with those of but half that number or less. The various congregations have to contribute and to provide respectively for the aggregate amount of yearly expenses. Let two congregations, for instance, have to contribute $500,—the one of four hundred members might be able to pay no more than $100, while the other smaller congregation could contribute the full amount. Can it be expected that the one should sacrifice her rights, and pay $400 for the benefit of all the congregations of the Union; and have but one vote in the general deliberations, while another pays $100, and has four votes? And will you have all the congregations to share alike in the expenses? Then the decision of four votes to one will be that the people cannot afford to do the good, on account of the expenses they would have to bear, while in reality the people can afford it, and have the means; but they would be denied their rights, as they have no vote according to their means, and consequently the means of the people would not be truly represented, and this again would occasion another failure in the plan of union. Therefore, besides the above rate, the votes of the congregations in the general deliberations should be increased in proportion to the extent of their means. Let a congregation of one thousand dollars yearly income have one more vote than the other of less resources, and let this increase by one vote for each additional half that amount. Should congregations not choose to give a statistical account of their finances, the salaries of officers, together with the rent of the Synagogues, &c., or, what signifies the same, the yearly interest of their value can be taken as a base for making that estimate. By this means every delegate would in a manner represent the rights and rank of his congregation; and taking farther in consideration that the delegates will have the power to advise and propose only, though by no means to legislate for the people, inasmuch as every congregation remains at last independent in her rights, either to reject or adopt any or all of the propositions, we may then confidently hope that no objections would be made to a circular sent forth on some such a plan, and that we may succeed to have the desired convention as early as possible.
In conclusion, let us refer to an event in the other hemisphere which in many respects would fairly compare and serve as a precedent and example to the present case. The election of a Chief Rabbi in England, was an event that required the energy and union of all the German and Polish congregations of Great Britain. The law of the land does not interfere, and they were at full liberty whether or not to have an election for a Chief Rabbi—whether or not to co-operate with each other; <<254>>the congregations there are as free and independent of one another as they are in this country. It was resolved to elect a Chief Rabbi by the majority of the aggregate votes of the various congregations. And how was the mode of representation? Did every congregation send one delegate, and have but one vote? No; far from this; it was another, quite a different and true system. The whole convention consisted of about 138 votes; and of these, Duke’s Place Synagogue had fifty, New Synagogue had twenty-five, others less, down to one vote.
Merely at the rate of the number of members, the aggregate votes of both these congregations would have been no more than eight or ten at the most; it was an election or convention for all Great Britain, and two single Synagogues had more than half the aggregate sum of all the votes.
Having concluded our remarks upon the circular, we have now to address the people to discuss one more point, and this is the supposed “want of means.” As it is observed in your own notes, reverend sir, the ready answer of many a congregation upon any new plan, has been, and perhaps ever will be, “that the contribution of members cannot be raised higher; the people are not able to meet any more expenses than they have at present.” But, in truth, what signifies such an answer? Is it not futile and inconsistent in itself? for if every congregation does not possess all the means to do all the good, yet it has some means to do some good; for אין צבור עני “No congregation is poor;” and suppose even this not to be the case, are then the counsel, the advice, and the propositions of a large assembly of good and intelligent men, chosen from the midst of the people, not of too much value and import, to be slighted or neglected? Such an assembly might possibly suggest some plan, which would not interfere with the treasury of any congregation, nor with the salaries of the officers, nor with the contributions of the members; and still the plan might offer considerable advantages to a large portion of the people. Besides all this, however, it may be proven that the people have the means at present, if they had it ever before.
I intend only to reason and argue for the truth: “Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour;” but to prevent becoming offensive in any way, I shall refer to no individual place or congregation, and confine myself to the consideration of the present condition of the people. Let us, for the sake of argument, rather antidate and place the project and call for a convention in the first volume of the Occident, and indeed we may fairly do so, for ever since, more or less, the people have been called upon to unite, assemble, and act for the holy cause of Judaism; <<255>>and then, as now, the ready answer of many was, “want of means.” Since that time, six years have elapsed, and on a hasty perusal of the volumes of the Occident, we count within that space of time an increase of ten to twelve new Synagogues—that is, new congregations formed by members and in places of one or more older existing congregations, besides the new one. (Others erected since, are not included here.) At the least calculation (I am not a good judge in that) these new Synagogues will have an aggregate amount of $25,000 of yearly expenses, including rent, interest on the capital of the buildings, repairs, &c. How could the people, then, six years ago have told us in earnest that their only objection was “want of means,” when these facts show that they possessed and possess the means of providing for a yearly expense of $25,000? How will this answer stand in opposition to a plan for the general good, when such “an enormous sum is yearly spent for increasing ten or twelve times the evil? And I may not be amiss in predicting, at a sure calculation from the past facts, that within six more years we shall have to experience the same, if not a more sad result yet, if the people persist in having no convention, no union, no “judgment of truth and peace in their gates.” But how is it possible that any upright Jewish mind should feel satisfied with the general condition of Judaism in America as it is? When I say general condition of Judaism, it naturally follows that nothing can be proposed to help but a general meeting; one must not snatch at some separate evil, and propose the possibility of some separate plan of remedy. By general condition, I understand all that concerns Judaism, all except the Synagogue. Have you ever heard any pious and learned man make a substantial objection to the conduct of the generality of Synagogues in America? Is there any such objection to be made? and what is the reason that there really exists none? Because the Synagogues are organized and conducted the same as any other Synagogue in Israel. The prayer-book of a Menasseh Ben Israel or a Chacham Asulai, or that which a Rabbi Jacob Emden or a Chavoth Daath, of Lissa, has published, these are also your prayer-books—your document is the national document. But this will answer only for “a Synagogue Society,” not for “a congregation” of Israel. “'The law which Moses commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.”
The circular has informed you of some of the evils; there are more yet as important as the others; they may be expressed by repeating the words of the editor, with little addition and alteration.
Natural rights of man; the blessings of a free and happy country; every sound moral principle; and, above all, our sacred and divine religion <<256>>demand “that those who have conscientious scruples against violating the precepts;” men acknowledged to be religious, learned, and of good character “shall not be forced to do what they believe is wrong.” Where is the document to answer for this? Search in the old, in the present archives of Judaism, where is it? Can any man, Portuguese, German, or Polish, come out and tell us that in any place or country where thousands of the brethren of Israel form many considerable congregations, Judaism is conducted as it is in America? Or can you find the precedent, the example recorded in the pages of our history ever since the dispersion, a period of eighteen centuries?
These are serious questions to the heart and conscience of every good and faithful Israelite in America; and, we must not deny it, there have been, and there are such men amongst us; but these men will say the source of all evil is that we have “no constituted ecclesiastical authority;” they will be more strengthened yet in saying so, by the fifth article of your circular. I dare say, that by the most or all of your readers, it will be understood to have the same meaning, namely, because the people did not and do not elect any, therefore they have not any “constituted ecclesiastical authority.” history itself, of former and present times, will indulge you in entertaining this opinion, by recording the names of Rabbis elected by congregations as their representatives in all matters concerning religion. Perhaps the people have failed all the time, and have satisfied their conscience only on the ground of the supposed justness of that opinion. It has never been demonstrated to them, they will say, they have never been told that “to entertain such an opinion is entertaining a gross error respecting the system of the Mosaic law.” Does the divine law command the people to elect, inasmuch as if they do not elect they shall have “no constituted ecclesiastical authority?” The election of Rabbis, as above described, is but found in history of later times; it dates no farther back than the sixteenth century. By such elections the public charge the teacher to teach them ex-officio. But the divine word never represents thus the people without “a constituted ecclesiastical authority.” (See Isaiah lix. 21.) America has had before, and has at present, its “constituted ecclesiastical authority,” constituted from Mount Sinai, constituted even if the people would never choose to elect any Rabbis.
Good religious conduct, and being learned in the law, these are the two requisites for authority; one as indispensable as the other. Proficiency in learning gives precedence; those accounted the the most learned in the law, in any place, are “the constituted ecclesiastical authority” of that place. The congregations in America, many of them, have <<257>>such men among their own members. Whether or not appointed or elected, no other member or head of a congregation has a right, by Jewish law, to vote or to give ecclesiastical decisions, nor to fix the limits between ecclesiastical and civil matters. As much as the law defends the rights of suffrage of the people in municipal and civil affairs, so much does it exclude the people from a vote in ecclesiastical matters. Decisions of the law are not to be left to the people, even in a supposed case that the people of one place were all totally ignorant. Legal decisions are not left to the aggregate majority of the people of that place, but are to be left to some of them, in a manner coming nearer to the system of the law, (טור חשן משפט ס׳ ח׳ ס״ק א׳).
If the people elect one or a number of those men, qualified as above described, the other learned men of the place cannot revoke his or their decision, unless it be manifestly wrong. If the people elect a great authority, a highly celebrated man from abroad, until the new authority commences, the former is in power. The decision of the new authority cannot be revoked by other learned men of the place, unless it be very manifestly wrong. The law is superior to all. We need not say that other laws of respect, honour, &c., are in connexion with this. If such had been the conduct of Judaism in America, foreigners coming here would have been prevented, by Jewish law, from interfering with our affairs and our constituted authority. But as it is now, nothing but our municipal affairs, has the sanction of the Jewish law,—resolutions passed, by-laws enacted, are illegal in the sense of our, law because they have been decided upon by the majority of the people; or other unqualified persons, though, perhaps, advice has been taken from the learned. Decisions passed by a vote of a majority of hundreds of members are illegal, and those of a small number, even one member of the same congregation, qualified as above described would have been legal and fully sanctioned by law. This point alone is of sufficient import and urgency to call the people together, that they may unite and assemble, resolve and enact “to execute the judgment of truth and peace in their gates.”