|Vol. VII, No. 5
Ab 5609, August 1849
Part II. Development and Opposition
A Sermon, by Rabbi Isaac Wise, Delivered at Albany, February 12, 5609.
הושיעה את עמך וברך את נחלתך
“Save thy people, and bless thy inheritance.”—Psalm xxviii. 9.
In the first part of our lectures on the Messiah, we spoke of the mission of our people, which is, according to the statements of the bible, “to bring the sacred truth which was first revealed to our fathers to all men;” it is, and was our sacred duty to promulgate the fundamental doctrines, the principal truths of God’s law to all those who seek for them; and this we must do, not through a host of idle priests, monks, and recluses—not through means of Jesuits and missionaries—through hidden and forbidden means, not by means of persecution and cruelty, not with the sword and fire, and Christianity and Mahomedanism have done, and do still, to level the way for their opinions, and doctrines, and dogmas; we are not to promulgate the holy word to the world, as some Christian ministers do, even in our enlightened age, teaching their doctrines by frightening their audience with the curses which they <<230>>pronounce over those who do not believe them; insulting all the world, and condemning the rest of the human family who do not feel inclined to think with the minister’s brain, to speak with the priest’s tongue, to feel with the Jesuit’s heart, to offer their money for splendid churches and foreign missions, a admire and praise them, when they have appeared on the pulpit as a good actor on the stage. These are not the ways we should teach the holy truth, for God prescribed unto us this method of teaching, “Be ye a holy nation;” holy in your heart and in your soul; be ye the true friends and representatives of virtue and innocence, of good morals and piety; “Be ye perfect with the Lord your God,” obey his voice and do his will; never forget your Father in heaven; look up to Him with a trustful heart in the days of grief and pain, of calamity and distress; for He alone is the Rock of Israel; look up to Him with a heart full of repentance and regret when you have sinned, when yon have followed the desire of the dust, and He surely will forgive your sin, will pardon your iniquity; for he alone is the merciful Father of all; He alone is the salvation of Israel, look up to Him when joy and happiness embrace you, when the bright stars of gladness smile on you from heaven; for He alone is the Bestower of joy and pleasure, to Him alone your thanks are due.
Do this, and misfortune and distress will not obtain the mastery over you, and cannot deprive you of the divine strength which our religion bestows; do this, and vice, and sin, and crime, will lose their dominion, they will cease to subdue you, you will not sink from sin to sin, you will not be deprived of the divine image that is enshrined in your heart; do this, and joy, and pleasure, and happiness, will sweeten your life without leading you astray; they will make your heart good and happy without depriving it of the consciousness of belonging to a better and higher world; do this, and you will be holy, and you will have realized the word of truth, and all the people may see it, and learn to walk in the path of the God of Israel. In this manner must we teach the world what God has taught unto us.
It is evident that the mass of the people that came out of Egypt could not comprehend a pure spiritual religion; if God had taught them the fundamental and principal truth alone, without being imparted through means of forms and ceremonies, they could <<231>> not have comprehended it, and the following generations of Israel, being constantly surrounded by nations that served idols, that worshipped the handiwork of men, that were overwhelmed with superstition and prejudice, with ignorance and darkness, would have given up a doctrine which can only be understood by a well-educated mind; therefore, God surrounded and imparted the everlasting truth with corresponding forms and ceremonies, which are accessible to all, leading to mental truth.
But not all men look into the interior of things—not every person seeks for the source of things;—many, very many, are satisfied with the appearance, with the mere outside, with the shadow of things; many, very many, believe what they see, hear, or feel, and ask never if truth is in their belief, salvation in their religious performance, elevation and holiness in the way they pursue.
We have daily occasion to see people act almost like madmen; you can see them spring and dance, sit and stand, weep and sing, mourn and laugh in turns, and each performs his particular ceremony because of a religious reason; they contradict each other in their different ceremonies; they do not reason and think that their ceremonies mean nothing; but they rather condemn each other, and worship God as if they were paying homage to a man, to some capricious king, as if they were to please a fashionable woman, who wants to see her admirers dressed according to the fashion, according to her own taste. You see people still in our days laying more weight and importance upon the forms than upon the benign spirit, upon the principal objects of religion.
You will, therefore, readily see that ceremonies and forms were, and are still, in some respect, unavoidable to true religion; they invite, attract, and guide to truth; but on the other side, they profane the sanctity of religion, they degrade the divine worship into a mere compendium of blind forms, which are of no effect; they cause the everlasting truth to be hidden, unseen, bereft of its benign influence; therefore, development and progress in harmony with the progress of time, were considered elements inseparable from original Judaism. The more elevated and enlightened the spirit of man is, and the nearer he stands to his God, the less he needs ceremonies and forms to guide him to truth, to stimulate him to worship his God; and to trust in Him, to be a loving father, a tender husband, a peaceable neighbour, <<232>>an honest dealer, a good citizen, and a friend of humanity, virtue, and morality. When ceremonies and forms have lost their signification, their stimulating power, they appear like worn out garments, like barren branches on a fruitful tree; they become then a heavy burden, which ought to be laid aside, because being useless and burdensome, they tire the religious pilgrim, and cause him at last to stand still, or to go backward on his way to God.
Open the book of history, and you will find that each century is a step in advance on the way of mental development; the spirit of man has advanced from its very cradle to its greatness and ripeness, which is now proved by the civilization, liberty, and order, for which a strong longing is felt over almost all the earth; by the arts and sciences to elevate and solace the life of man. There is only progress in the human spirit! Progress is the life; cessation and retrogression are the death of the spirit; and in the same proportion as the spirituality of mankind increases, religious ceremonies and forms must decrease; we see the spirit always advancing, always gaining more strength and dominion; and we must judge that at the time when the spirit of mankind will have reached its utmost perfection, when its highest capacities will have been developed, all ceremonies must cease, לעתיד לבוא כל המצות בטלים חוץ מפורים. At that time, when the spirit of man will worship God, the Source of all spirits, when all men will know that God is no man who wants to be honoured by some particular forms—that time is the time of the Messiah; and the man who will finally convince mankind of this doctrine, is the Messiah, not only of the Jews, but of all other nations and tongues also. And if all ceremonies and forms will have ceased to exist, then the fundamental truth of our sacred religion will be universally acknowledged, and Israel’s mission is at an end. This is the ברית חדשה new covenant of Jeremiah.
Let us now open the Bible and see if that what I said is a speculation invented out of my heart, or if it was taught by Moses and the prophets. The principal ceremonies of the Bible, such as sacrifices, temple-service, priesthood, clean and unclean, together with all the particulars pertaining to the same, are wisely bound, to one place—only in the place which God has chosen may these ceremonies be performed, and nowhere else; so when <<233>>they were commanded, they already bore in themselves their final termination,* when they will be worn out by the process of time and enlightenment.
And thus we read in the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy: “And the Lord said unto me, They have done well in what they have spoken. A prophet will I raise up unto them from among their brethren, like unto thee, and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I may command him.” (Every period is to have a prophet who shall teach the people the development and progress of the sacred word consonantly with the just and reasonable demands of the time.) “And it shall come to pass, that if there be a man who will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (For the work of those prophets shall have the end and aim to make the word of the Lord dear and precious to every heart, perceptible to each mind, cheering on and guiding the traveller on the path of virtue, and promising pardon and salvation to every man.) “But the prophet who shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak,—or who shall speak in the name of other gods—even that prophet shall die.” (For the word of God is holy and shall endure forever; nothing can be added to it; it is complete in itself; nothing can be altered in its fundamental structure, for the truth remains for ever unchangeable.) “And if thou shouldst say in thy heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? That which the prophet speaketh in in the name of the Lord, and the thing doth not happen nor come to pass,” (‘being averse to the holy word itself, to human reason and nature,’—Rambam,) that is the word which the Lord hath not spoken; in presumption bath the prophet spoken it; thou shalt not be afraid of him.”
These words are the very first source of the Messiah idea. God will cause prophets to arise for every time and generation, who shall strengthen Israel in their faith, who shall always more and more unfurl the banner of truth before the eye of the world; thus shall the true spirit of religion always more and more take hold of Israel’s mind, and remove the idols of the nations: fictions, superstition, and prejudice, must at last give way to truth; ceremonies and forms must disappear in proportion as the spirit <<237>>of religion truly fills the heart; so that at last Jews and gentiles must meet in the spirit of God, in the centre of truth, in the home of God’s divine word.
Look farther into the words and the history of our prophets and our nation at large, and you will find that these words were literally fulfilled up to this day, and you will find that all the prophets spoke in this same manner. Never have the prophets rebuked the people because they neglected to perform the ceremonies of old. Isaiah said: “What is unto me the multitude of your sacrifices? saith the Lord. I am sated with the burntofferings of rams and the fat of fed beasts, and the blood of bullocks and of sheep, and of he-goats I do not desire. When ye come to appear in my presence, who hath required this of your hands, to tread my courts? Bring no more an oblation of deceit; incense of abomination is it unto me—new moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot bear misdeed and festive gathering. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they have become a burden unto me, I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you, when ye make ever so many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves, and make yourselves clean; put away your evil deeds from before my eyes, cease to do evil; learn to do well, seek for justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as the snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
In the same spirit did this inspired son of Israel say, in the 40th chapter: “In the wilderness” (among pagans) “prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert” (superstition and prejudice) “a highway for our God. Every valley” (ignorance and infidelity) “shall be raised, and every mountain and hill” (idolatry, ceremonies, and forms) “shall be made low, and the crooked” (fiction) “shall be made a straight path” (truth), “and the rough places” (fanaticism) “a plain” (love). “And then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it at once that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken” (unto them). In the same spirit did all the prophets speak; and when this spirit will have taken hold on all minds, then is the time of the Mes<< 238>>siah, which time
Jeremiah called “God is our righteousness;” and he that will finally unfurl the banner of truth, which Israel has borne for thirty centuries (to the nations), he will be the true Messiah for Israel and the world at large.
It is commonly known to every observer, that the air continually struggles to maintain itself in a state of equilibrium throughout the vast expanse which contains the universe. The same struggle occupies the mind of man; each man seeks to become equal with his fellow-men. He that stands low in human nature, either through ignorance or through vice and corruption, wishes to degrade all men to his own brutal level, and he actually does so in words or thoughts, if actions are beyond his reach. The noble-minded also, the man of dignity, virtue, and scientific education, wishes to impart to others his own knowledge, his morality and convictions, in order to elevate his fellow-men to the high position which he holds in the rank of humanity, so as to come to a state of equilibrium with all mankind. And even the noblest mind wishes only to elevate his fellow-men to his own height, but not higher; he does not wish to be excelled by others. This is one of the great features of the human character, that he can see none above him, that he does not suffer others to excel him, if it is in his power to prevent it.
We find the authenticity of this observation verified in the history of mankind. What we have stated here of individuals, is there realized by nations: barbarian nations, the ignorant inhabitants of uncivilized countries, exercised all their power and influence to bring all mankind on a level with them, to degrade all who stood above them in civilization and knowledge; and the most favoured, the most cultivated and improved nations were always the most desirable objects of their enmity and destruction. And, on the other side, the most civilized nations have always tried to raise their neighbours to a state of equilibrium with themselves. The more their efforts were rejected, the more their offerings were refused: the more actively did they try again the difficult task, because it is a necessity for man to do so.
I will not enter into particulars; every reader of universal history will find evidence enough in favour of my proposition. I <<239>>wish now to recall to your mind what I stated in my last lecture, that Providence has prepared two different ways for the people of Israel to fulfill their sacred mission, that is, to communicate the truth to all the world, even the sacred truth, which God himself revealed to our forefathers, for all generations and for all mankind; either Israel must be a holy nation, a pious and virtuous people living exclusively in and for God’s holy word, and teach the world, from their happy home, by the living example which they set to the nations on earth: or that, if they disobey the will of God, and forget their holy mission, they must be scattered abroad among all nations for their sin and the sin of their fathers but that, whithersoever they go, they must take God’s holy word with them, and show it forth to all nations, that all may see it and at last appreciate it. In both these cases, opposition, enmity, and persecution were unavoidable for the people of Israel; and that we were not utterly destroyed, proves the grace and benignity of God, with which he watched over us and preserved us for our great mission. The Israelites, after accepting the word of God, were the uppermost of all nations on earth; truth, in a religious and moral point of view, was their exclusive property and whilst all the world besides was covered with darkness and obscurity, the Israelites had the pure light of heaven; whilst other nations were ignorant of the simple art to read and write, and being without anything like a code of laws, but living in the savage state of barbarism, crushed and devoured each other in a horrible manner, the Israelites enjoyed the benefit of a written law, the basis of civilization, peace, and happiness, the source of liberty and mental development. It was thus a natural occurrence that all nations should be combined against the Israelites, to throw them down from their high eminence,—that all conquerors directed their steps towards the small country of Palestine, which contained the highest intellectual sources of those ages. The Israelites failed in their duty, and fell at last a prey to their brutal enemies and bloodthirsty foes.
Rome, tyrannical, covetous Rome! Carthage, and Athens, and Jerusalem, the three metropolis of the ancient world, thou didst swallow up to die thyself a shameful death! Israel went now from land to land, from east to west, from pole to pole, having nothing from their beloved home but the word of our God. This <<240>>word was unto them more than their life, more than all the earth. Whithersoever our exiled forefathers came, they stood in opposition to all the world besides. Israel had lived for many centuries as a free and independent people, under a free government, with wise and humane laws and institutions; but now they met with tyranny and oppression—the sceptre of nations under which also they had to bend their knee. The sons of Israel had carefully gathered the pearls of the orient for many centuries; the philosophy and science of Greece and India, and all the East, were the principal objects of their occupation; they gathered science from all nations, compared it with their religion, and laid up in their treasure then best materials of all countries. Every Israelite studied the law of God, and copied it in writing, so that all of them were educated in the word of God. But now they stood in opposition to nations to whom books were no less strange than truth; who were as far removed from enlightenment as they were from knowledge; but they were the overwhelming majority, and Israel was compelled to call them lords and masters.
Israel had acknowledged and practised the will of their God and Maker. They were the only people that stood armed with the sacred truth, professing that there is but one only God, who is the Creator, Governor, and Preserver of the world; that man is an immortal image of God, who is appointed to be God’s agent on earth, to serve God and mankind, to raise himself to perfection, and to be through this means happy and good. But among the nations among whom they came, they found on one side paganism, with all its absurdities and follies, with all its cruelty and fiction, and on the other side they met with the Christians of that dark age, who had mixed up the dogmas of Judaism, not properly understood, and the tendency of which they had misconceived, with the principal ideas of paganism; they saw them kneeling before crosses of wood and stone, of gold and silver; they saw them worshipping graven images and pictures of all sorts, and adoring vile priests as the representatives and agents of God; then saw our eternal truth polluted in the hands of monks and priests; God was changed into a Jupiter, the father of a son by a mortal woman, and this son was acknowledged as a god, and this god was a man, and died as another man, to become a god, equal to him of whom he was a son.
<< 241>>They heard still greater absurdities: God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, (for they are alleged to be an indivisible unity,) died on the cross by the hand of men, to reconcile mankind with God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This trinity sits now at the right hand of the trinity, to plead for mankind before this trinity. They saw still more absurdities; they saw priests and people, who pretended to profess a religion of the purest truth and love, sanction and practise not only the most vile deceit, but commit the most bloody cruelties, inhuman crimes of all descriptions. This is surely the condition of those ages when the Israelites were scattered over the world; and thus did our exiled fathers stand in opposition to the whole world; and the result of this opposition was, as a natural consequence, hatred, condemnation, oppression, persecution, and murder.
Our enemies were not satisfied with the cruel violence and endless intolerance with which they treated our forefathers here, but they prolonged their cruelty as far as thoughts could do it, even beyond the grave, and denied us every right to salvation after death. Horrible were the consequences of this opposition! Look yonder, over the sea, at England, France, and Germany, and wherever you set your foot on the ground, it is defiled, polluted by the blood and tears of our fathers and mothers. Wherever your ear listens, wherever the wild storm rages, wherever the hurricanes furiously roar, there the spirits of our slain babes, of our weeping mothers, the spirits of our massacred youth, of our assassinated adults, accuse their cruel murderers before the throne of God. Every page of their history is defiled by our blood; every city in their countries is polluted by the memories of murder and persecution. And why did they persecute so furiously the exiled sons of Israel? Because it is a feature in the nature of man to bring all others to a state of equilibrium with himself; he can see nothing above him: “Do as we do, act as we act, believe as we believe,” said the world to Israel, “or we will swallow you up, we will annihilate you.” But Israel did not, acted not, and believed not as they did; they understood how to sacrifice the earth for heaven, to resign the joys of this life for a better world. And yet they were not swallowed up, they were not annihilated; for God guarded them; his holy word and promises upheld them in the midst of persecution and death, and God did not suffer to perish <<242>>his messengers, whom he had charged and chosen to bring his divine truth to the whole world.
The time of persecution with fire and sword, the time of barbarism is nearly at an end; but Israel is still in opposition to the world in respect to religion. We can never believe the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, nor of the Islam; and those who call themselves converted Jews are certainly impostors, that really believe nothing, but but for the sake of money and honours. And though the majority of our Christian brethren do not believe any longer in the absurdities of the dark ages, they cannot yet reach the pure light of truth; custom and priestcraft still depress the public mind, and Christianity is so much intermixed with the elements of paganism, that it paves the way in many reasoning minds to infidelity and atheism.
The religious questions are not decided now by the sword, but by words and pens. Still there are priests who are too ignorant to say or write something reasonable and true, and who know of no better way to please their audience and readers than to disgrace and dishonour their pulpit and their pen by insulting the Jews and Judaism, by uttering empty and unprincipled words, for which they have neither proof nor evidence. That ministers do so is no wonder, for ignorant and unprincipled men also seek to get their living in an easy way; but that such preachers can find people that will tolerate their abusive language, is a proof that we are still in opposition to a great part of the world; and the consequences of this opposition are still, though milder and more humane, bringing unhappiness and insult on the house of Israel.
This opposition and its horrible consequences were foreseen and foretold by God, through Moses and the prophets. The opposition itself was unavoidable; by the accepting of God’s holy word and mission, the Israelites were too far advanced in the progress of mind not to become the object of hatred and persecution to their barbarian neighbours; but if they had lived according to God’s divine law, He would have shielded and guarded them, and none would have been able to injure them, as Moses several times said in his last addresses: “Only if thou dost carefully hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe, to do all these commandments which I command thee this day, then the Lord thy God will bless thee, as He hath spoken unto thee, <<243>>and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow, and thou shalt reign over many nations, but over thee they shall not reign.” (See Deut. xv. 6; xxvi. 16-19; xxviii. 1-14.)
But they were told that, if they disobeyed the word of God, they should become a prey to their enemies, the helpless objects of hatred and persecution to their opponents, as Moses predicted in the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth chapters of Deuteronomy; but that they should fulfill their sacred mission, even amidst persecution and distress, amidst misery and calamity, the same as if they were surrounded by joy and happiness. But how is it possible with a man to be subjected to persecution, murder, contempt, and hatred, for an idea, for a mere belief, and not to yield to the overwhelming majority?—how to throw off this idea, and live happily with the rest of mankind? This is possible only through a sincere conviction of the truth of such an idea and belief; and this sincere conviction the Israelites brought from their home. This was rendered possible only through the promises of God, that He would always shield and guard us, so that nothing on earth should annihilate the house of Israel; and they who died for their principles, for their convictions, were men worthy of their charge, and they live in the memory of their children and brethren in faith; they were pious, godly men, and have found their reward in a happy home, in a blissful life beyond the grave, in the house of their Father. This firm standing by our religion was only rendered possible through the promises of God that our cause should be triumphant at the end of our severe pilgrimage, as it is said in Lev. xxvi. 44: “And for all that, though they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor loathe them, to destroy them utterly, to break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for their sakes the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt, before the eyes of the nations, to be unto them God. I am the Eternal.” (See also Deut. iv. 25-32 ; xxx. 1-11.) In the very same sense have all the prophets after Moses spoken to Israel. All and each of them brought them word that if they disobeyed the command of the Lord, He would surrender them into the hands of their opponents, and they should be cruelly maltreated, but God would not forsake, them, they should not be utterly destroyed; and at last their cause should be triumphant <<244>>all over the world; all nations should acknowledge the truth, should appreciate the doctrines which Israel brought unto them, which we have guarded and saved with our own blood, with our life; and he that will finally move mankind to accept, acknowledge, and appreciate this eternal truth, he that will make an end to the bitter opposition which has been for thirty centuries the source of horrible events for the house of Israel, will therefore be the redeemer of Israel, the true messiah, the anointed of the Lord, not only for us, but for all the world besides, inasmuch as he will bring unto them truth, and peace, and happiness, and he will be called in truth the father of happiness, the prince of peace.
And until that day comes for Israel and the world at large, we must bear the banner of the Lord as our forefathers have done, fearlessly and valiantly; for our God is with us. The more the spirit of our religion has inspired our heart, and found its way into the mind of others: the more earnestly should we unfurl our sacred banner to the eye of the world, and leave off such customs as have lost their benign influence, and which hide the eternal truth from the eye of the world. The nearer we come to God, and the nearer and closer the nations of the earth approach us the nearer at hand is the time of the Messiah; and when the age will be enlightened enough, sufficiently prepared to receive a Messiah, then the Messiah will be found, and God will send his messenger to unite all the sons of Adam, to combine all the nations into one great family. And until this happy period appears in the history of mankind, we must stand in opposition to the whole world. Be strong, be men in the true sense of the word, and live and die for your principles, for your convictions! Be strong and of good courage, to stand in opposition to a whole world, and say: “Ours is thy truth; we have inherited it of our fathers.”
Yea, be strong and of good courage, for virtue, purity, and piety, for God and his holy word. Amen.
* Upon a subject so momentous as the permanence of ceremonial religion, it is but fair to expect that pious and honest men will differ, and no one has, therefore, a right to accuse the other of heresy for the difference in views which they respectively entertain. To say that the ceremonies are to cease at the time of the Messiah, does not say that there will be another law; because it is the TRUTH which is to overspread the earth as the waters cover the sea, and this is the law of which the prophets who made the prediction were themselves adherents; for they knew of no knowledge of the Lord, nor of any system of belief other than that revealed through Moses. But we do deny that, as yet, there has been any progress to authorize any Jew to abridge in the least of the ceremonies, even granting that they were given only for the sake of preventing the Israelites from lapsing gradually into the heathen nations which surrounded them. For the truth of the law is not yet acknowledged by any class of men other than ourselves; consequently, we must endeavour to keep ourselves separate from the dissentients, not by acting unkindly and unsociably towards them, but by acting up to the letter of the prescriptions which we have received, so as to mark us at first sight as sons of Israel. Wherefore we maintain that the whole advance in the sciences, and the whole progress in civilization, have left us precisely where we stood when Moses gave us the law as the ambassador from Heaven, and prohibited and permitted, unclean and clean, festival and Sabbath, fasting and abstinence, circumcision and the interdict of intermarriage, remain in full force and vigour to this very hour, and until that moment when the Lord, if so He pleases, absolves us himself from the obligations thus imposed. For who else is to absolve us? and what are we to omit, what retain? Is the ceremony of the Sabbath to cease because the electric telegraph is invented? is circumcision to the omitted became the sun is invoked to paint a portrait by the Daguerrian process? or would you abolish the Passover, because of the discoveries in mental philosophy? We could multiply questions, but the above are sufficient to prove the unreasonableness of the idea that ceremonies are useless, and of themselves abrogated by the progress of man. There is, moreover, an occasional retrogression; are ceremonies then to become again necessary? But it strikes us that ceremonies are not an accidental, but a vital part of religion; they are the evidence of obedience from the created to the Creator, which cannot be manifested by the progress of the spirit only. Besides, Judaism could not, hitherto, and cannot now, exist without marking the Israelites, individually and nationally, as a people of a peculiar kind for it is evident that the mere possession of a single truth, we will admit it to be the highest, purest, holiest, and truest, the existence of ONE God, could not be preserved amidst the conflict of ideas which all, more or less, contradict the truth of which we are the appointed custodians. The child of Israel must be reminded by ceremonies, as memorials, that he is not to believe as others do; that he is not to pray as others pray. It is the circumcision of the flesh which is to mark him as a servant of God; it is the Sabbath which is to remind him that he has been commanded to acknowledge the Most high as the Creator of the universe; it is by means of the abstinence from prohibited food that he is to avoid mingling too intimately with those of a dif<<234>>ferent belief; and by Tephillin, Mezuzah, and Zitzith, he is to be reminded perpetually of the precepts which he has received in consequence of his being the chosen servant of God.
It is possible, we know nothing of the contrary at all events, that a time may come when all the world will voluntarily embrace the principle of UNITY as their idea of God, without the intervention of the prince Messiah, or the anointed chief descended from David; in which case the distinctive precepts and peculiar ceremonies would indeed have lost their significance for the time being; but the very first relapse of the world into error would at once compel the faithful to fall back upon all the precepts and ceremonies, and compel them, perhaps, to adopt new and more rigorous measures (גדרים), in the manner of the Talmudists and Pharisees, to guard against the onward rolling of the waves of superstition and unbelief. Without an assurance, therefore, from the Supreme himself, through an authenticated revelation, through an undoubted prophet, we cannot be sure that the reign of error will be finally over, no matter how much soever appearances may favour the hopeful idea; wherefore, again, it follows that no progress of light and knowledge on earth can authorize us to pretermit a single ceremony which is enjoined on us in Scripture; nor do we conceive that Dr. Wise entertains any view differing from us; and we state all we have done, only to guard against any misconception which the Doctor’s peculiar mode of expressing himself might, perhaps, occasion in the superficial reader. We appeal for proof to his peroration, where he calls on the people to remain firm in opposition to the world; when it is evident that only through ceremonial religion can this diversity of opinion, which embodies the essence of Judaism, be made manifest.
It is another affair, quite, with regard to mere outward ceremonies and customs which the peculiarities of any age may have produced. They originate in circumstances; and, therefore, of right, perish when these have passed away. In this manner some mere human institutions have lost their significance, and have fallen into disuse, and others of the same kind are likely to follow; but all this does not touch the essential points of religion, those precepts which proceeded from God himself. Judaism knows a progress in non-essentials, and as regards these we may say יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו “Yiphtach in his generation is equal to Samuel in his generation;” but who shall “prohibit for us the dove,” or “permit the raven?” Neither Yiphtach nor Samuel, nor even Moses himself, no such authority having been given. (See Baba Metziah, passim, in איזהו נשך.)
We come now to the assertion of Dr. Wise, that at the same time of the Messiah, all the ceremonies will cease, since then they will have lost signification completely. But we confess, (and hope Dr. W. will excuse us for so frankly differing from him,) that we do not read the Scriptures then as he does. Because ceremonies are assuredly ordained even for the latest generation of Israelites if the words mean what they ostensibly do, and we refer the reader to Genesis xvii. 9 for the perpetuity of circumcision in the family of Abraham, whatever other nations may be commanded to do; next to Exodus xii. 14, with respect to the Passover; then to Exodus xxxi. << 235>> 13, 16, 17, respecting the weekly day of rest to Leviticus vii. 36, and Numbers xviii..19, for a perpetuity of the priesthood and its institutions; to Leviticus xvi. 29, 33, regarding the Day of Atonement; to Leviticus xvii. 7, with respect to the prohibition of sacrificing to idols; to Leviticus xxii 3, regarding other laws for the priests ; to Leviticus xxiii. respecting the sacrifice of the omer of barley, the Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of Tabernacles; to Numbers x. 8, respecting the trumpets to be blown by the priests on certain occasions; to Numbers xv. 14, 15, in regard to the uniformity of laws for the native and adopted Israelite; to v. 21, and 23, in the same chapter, respecting other precepts; and to verse 38, respecting the Zitzith; to Numbers xix: 10, in reference to the waters of purification; and, lastly, respecting the perpetuity of legal justice, to Numbers xxxv. 29. We have, no doubt, omitted several passages of like import, as we merely copy those which we recollect without laborious reference; but we have shown enough that the main portions of the laws were ordained for all the generations of Israel; therefore not to be abolished whilst a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remains on earth.
We have a few words to say with respect to the sacrifices. They were, as Dr. Wise correctly remarks, entirely bound to the altar, at Jerusalem, as the spot chosen by the Lord to let his name dwell there; with the destruction of the temple, the sacrifices necessarily ceased, (though even here, Rabbi Hirsch Chajes, one of our modern most learned men, maintains that the Jews continued to sacrifice on the ruins of the altar left by Titus, till the final expulsion of our people from, Palestine by Aelian Hadrian, about 130 of the vulgar era, consequently sixty years after the destruction of the temple by the son of Vespasian;) because, without an altar there can be no sacrifice, (see Deut. xii. 1.3., 14.) But this does not say the institution itself has ceased, and that the whole is not to be restored at some future day. On the contrary, the reverse is taught by the prophets: sec Isaiah 1v. 7; Ezekiel xliii. 27; xliv. 15-31; xlv. 16-25; xlvi. 1-15; Hosea iii. 5, (by inference); and Malachi iii. 4; wherefore we must expect that at the time of the Messiah, since all the passages quoted refer to no other, the whole of the temple, with its sacrifices, incense, and order of priesthood, will be completely restored. That the world is to be enlightened, does not gainsay in our minds that human nature will not be materially different; אין בין העולם הזה וימות המשיח אלא שעבור מלכיות בלבד “There is no difference between this and the age of the Messiah, except subjection to government” (universal freedom and peace) is a well-known maxim among many Rabbins; and hence the outward aids to devotion will not be useless even then. Still we do not say that it is impossible that a time may come; when a new creation will render all outward acts unnecessary, when the new heavens and the new earth, of which Isaiah speaks in his sixty-sixth chapter, will be established; indeed, this may be the consummation of the piety of God’s servants; but primarily all nations must be brought under the subjugation of the law, in a manner modified to them, as we read in Zechariah xiv., where the Tabernacle festival is described as universal to all the earth; and the same is hinted at in Isaiah ii. 3,. and Micah iv. 2.
So, likewise, we think, that Dr. Wise has overlooked a passage in 1 Kings xix. <<236>>10, where Elijah rebukes the Israelites for forsaking God’s covenant, pulling down his altars, and slaying his prophets, where ceremonies are especially referred to. Besides this, there are other references to the same; Isaiah only says that without piety, sacrifices arc not wanted, they are an abomination if the offerer be sullied with iniquity to God and injustice to man.
We have greatly exceeded the reasonable limits of a note; but we could not avoid giving our opinion on the subject treated by Dr. Wise, it is too monumentous to be dismissed without inquiry, and we merely quote Scripture to fortify our position. No doubt Dr. W. will continue the lectures on the Messiah, and we therefore invite his attention to the ideas which we have thrown out here, more in the light of an independent dissertation, than to rebut what he alleges, as we confess not to understand him as perfectly as we might do. However, we are glad to have an opportunity of treating on the Messiah in our magazine, even controversially; for honest controversy will elicit the truth.—Ed. Oc.