|Vol. VII, No. 5
Ab 5609, August 1849
דרך אמונה The Way Of Faith, A Moral And Religious Catechism Of The Principles Of The Jewish Faith, By The Late Rev. Raphael Meldoler, Late Chief Rabbi Of The Spanish And Portuguese Jews’ Congregation (Of London). Translated from the Hebrew, by the Rev. Dr. Meldoler, Presiding Rabbi of the said Congregation, Sec. 1, Part I. London: 5609, 18mo., 30 pp. and 8 pp.
We have received from the translator a copy of the above little book, the title of which explains the nature of the contents, as well as the character of the author and translator, both of whom are favourably known in Israel; and of the deceased we may say, that he was a shining light among his people. The present publication is only an experiment, to test whether the public will give support to the entire work of the late Dr. Meldoler, which was written in the year 5575, (1815,) and has ever since remained in MS. We cannot say much to the credit of the wealthy Sephardim congregation of London, who can, it would appear, furnish funds for all sorts of enterprises, but not to give to the world a useful work written by their own spiritual chief. To review it at full length, would require as much space as the treatise itself; wherefore we must rest content with merely stating, that it is a catechism intended for youth of the age of from twelve to fifteen, and purports to be a conversation between a Rabbi and his pupil. It consists of three lessons, the first, referring to the whole law in general, the second, duties towards God, embracing the first four precepts of the Decalogue, and the third, duties towards man, in elucidation of the six other precepts. As might be expected, the learned Rabbi constantly refers to the opinions of the Talmudists in the exposition of the precepts, whilst he is animated with a universal love for mankind. The <<277>>style betrays somewhat that it is a translation, a difficulty not easily overcome; since, if one wishes to remain faithful to his author, a somewhat constrained construction is unavoidable. We notice that Dr. M. defines אלוה (God) as denoting one who possesses unlimited power; but we certainly do not think the explanation correct, as it simply means one who has power, leaving the limitation to be defined by the context. The term אלהים either means the true God, or the Almighty; again, idols having no power, or judges having limited power; so, also, לא אלוה an ungod, or a thing venerated as God, having no existence. The word שדי the All-sufficient, is more correctly used to express the idea of almighty power.—Kiddush is spelled Kedush; Ahboth, Abboth; these are slight defects; but we call the learned divine’s attention to them to correct the same, when, he issues the entire work, which we hope will be before long, as we think it discreditable to our people that a book of Dr. Meldola should be buried in oblivion, for want of public support. The present publication is ornamented with a lithographic portrait of Dr. M., and is enriched, moreover, with the original Hebrew preface of the author, in which he complains first, that the want of elementary books among the Jews, where the children might derive an easy and comprehensive knowledge of their religion, whilst there is an abundance of the books on the popular system of belief, independently of the attractive nature of their contents, withdraws some to seek for instruction from foreign sources; secondly, of the want of proper system observed by the few among us who have at times endeavoured to supply books; and, lastly, that there had arisen of late (at the time he wrote, 1815), men who, tinctured with unbelief and infidelity, had compiled catechisms in which they endeavour to give wrong views concerning the laws and reasons for the observances which are not found in our old books of authority, by which he conceives incalculable mischief must be wrought. To remedy in a measure these defects, Dr. Meldola composed in Hebrew a progressive book, commencing with definitions calculated for children of five years old, and ending with those suited for those of fifteen and seventeen years of age. As we said, the publication before us is but a very small experimental fragment; and it is left to the public to decide whether more shall be forthcoming. We look for a favourable verdict; for though some works written since the time Dr. M. finished his, may be better suited for younger classes, there can be no doubt that his erudition enabled him to compose a book highly instructive for more advanced scholars, and even for those of maturer years.
Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea, By W. F. Lynch, U. S. N., Commander of the Expedition. Philadelphia, Lea & Blanchard, 1849. 8vo. pp. 308: (Received from the publishers.)—If even the land of Israel is deserted by its inhabitants, and its cities are without its rightful proprietors to dwell therein, it has nevertheless not lost its interest in the eyes of the world, and it continues to this day the object of serious inquiry to men of all civilized nations. As an evidence in part of this fact is the handsome volume before us, containing the Journal of the Expedition, fitted out in the year 1847, by order of the United States government, to make discoveries in the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, that silent and ominous lake which has sparkled in mystery and silence for so many centuries, its waters undisturbed by the bark of commerce, and its shores untilled by the hand of the husbandman. And let it not be thought that the task was without its danger; for, not long before, two Englishmen, Costigan and Molyneaux, who had at different times made discoveries on that sea, perished soon after quitting its inhospitable shores; and even of the small party who composed Lieut. Lynch’s expedition, his second in command, Lieut. John P. Dale, died at Bhamdun, near Beirut, on the 24th of July, 1848, they having entered the sea on the 18th of April, and quitted it May 10th, thus spending twenty-two days in the exploration. The dangers of the climate, however, though well known beforehand, not to speak of those often occurring from the savage nature of the Arab tribes, who now prowl about the deserts and arable lands of Palestine, in places formerly the seat of high civilization, did not deter the enterprising American naval officer, the author of the work and planner of the expedition, from applying to Mr. John Y. Mason, the then Secretary of the Navy, for means and authority to undertake the dangerous enterprise. He was impelled, no doubt, by honourable ambition to do something worthy of record, besides braving death at the cannon’s mouth, which at best requires but a brute sort of courage, and which inferior minds can possess as well as those of the highest endowments; and then he also felt drawn to explore the portions of Palestine which properly belong more to his part of the service than to landsmen, by the desire he felt to trace with his own eyes the scenes which are consecrated to his religion, the Christian, no less than they are to the Hebrew’s faith. And it is at least this enthusiasm, this longing to gratify an impulsive curiosity, irrespective of cost, trials, and dangers, which has led to so much that is good and noble, and unveiled not alone the recesses of past history and the peculiar features of distant lands, but also revealed to man the arcana of sciences, by which <<279>>the progress of society, has been so much accelerated within the memory of the present generation, not to mention the ages which have elapsed before us. It would indeed be a source of gratification to us, as an Israelite, had we cause to be indebted to modern Jews for some portion of knowledge concerning the East and our ancient heritage; for some of those investigations in the countries removed from European civilization, which formerly were the centre and seat of learning. But unfortunately, beyond a simple diary of daily events by a highly endowed lady of our faith, Jews have contributed nothing of late years, as far as our knowledge tends, to an illustration of the land of the Bible by actual inspection and description; and hence we are the more indebted to persons of other persuasions for their zeal and perseverance to accomplish what would otherwise have been left undone.
The Scriptures are valuable alike to all believers in revelation, whether Israelites or not; wherefore we need not wonder that so many learned and enterprising spirits have from time to time engaged in the exploration of lands and monuments of antiquity, calculated to throw light upon the records of the Bible, which have guided mankind in morals and religion. That all the investigations have uniformly tended to remove doubt and confirm belief, only proves that we have always confided in the truth, and that we have not depended for information upon the invention of cunning and deceitful men. Among other Mosaic traditions, all history being this in a strict sense of the word, there is one which relates to the sinking of a valley, called then the circle of the Jordan, and the destruction by fire and sulphur of the four cities therein situated. The locality of the plain is described, also, as containing in part slime or bitumen pits, tenacious enough to prevent persons from escaping after falling into them. The only evidence hitherto possessed of the truth of this, was the presence of that ominous, silent lake, with nought of life in, and scarcely around it. No wonder, then, that it has ever been an object of great interest to the inquirer, and that in this age, when discovery is pushed into all branches of science, the asphalte lake should also be subject to the inroads off the curious. We do not marvel, therefore, that an honourable ambition should have urged Lieut. Lynch to ask of the government for the privilege of leading an expedition to the distant and solitary shores of the Sea of Sodom, or Bahr Lut, as it, is called by the Arabs, who at present inhabit the plains and mountains of Judea, and are greater enemies to the improvement of the country than the unhealthiness or heat of the climate can possibly be. And doubtless he must feel a satisfaction that he has accomplished successfully the self-imposed task, and brought back a correct topographical <<280>>survey, and of the soundings of that sea which now covers the ancient valley of Siddim.