A Reply To Mr. Beckel’s Letter.
Your valuable periodical contains, in its last number, a letter from a Mr. Beckel, the contents of which are so little in accordance with the true state of the case, and display so glaringly a want of a sense of justice, that an answer is demanded; and as you kindly offered your columns for any one feeling aggrieved, I, as one that is aggrieved, send you this reply.
The letter contains three distinct attacks: one directed against the Rev. Dr. Lilienthal, one against the editor of the Israel’s Herald, and one against the society of “The Friends.” I have, of course, nothing to say, either for Dr. Lilienthal or for Mr. Busch, both these gentlemen being sufficiently able to take care of themselves. My reply will be directed against the attack on the Friends, of which society I have the honour of being a member.
Had the attack been made in any other paper, I would not have taken any notice of it, though it displays an utter ignorance as to our design, and contains still more lamentable misstatement as regards our origin. But as your valuable periodical circulates east of the Atlantic, and carries to our brethren residing there the tidings of what occurs here, and will meet the eye of many a Jew that will condemn us, should no direct answer be given, a reply on our part becomes necessary.
And what is the purpose of this attack? Does it not appear that it wounded vanity or ambition had prompted it? Does it not take for granted that the Friends opposed a projected convention and that they <<271>>must consequently be chastised for this opposition? In fact we are accused of nothing else; our origin is stigmatized as a Jesuitical trick, our motives and purity of purpose are called in question, and our society is thus placed before the world as an institution hostile to the common cause of Judaism. We will answer this unworthy reproach with solid facts, and let the world judge.
In the Occident for the month of April, page 17, we read the following as part of Dr. Wise’s celebrated lecture on “The Light”:
“Why do they (the Jews) so obstinately resist every improvement, though it contemplates ever so much the happiness and elevation of the Jewish religion? Because—excuse me the severity of my words—because ignorance has unduly increased, because the Jewish religion is partly not properly known, and partly misunderstood; and then is ignorance the bitterest enemy of our religion, for Judaism requires more to be known than to be believed in.”
Many of those that now form the bulk of the Friends, had long before harboured the same ideas. Dr. Wise was long before this in friendly communication with us; often did we, in confidential meetings, dwell with sorrow on this sad prevalence of ignorance; and, following the impulse which the above-quoted eloquent appeal had produced, we formed, under Dr. Wise’s own eyes, and with his full approbation, the society of “The Friends,” whose object is to assist in removing the great stumbling block, ignorance, by diffusing light and information in all directions, and this by proper means. The Rev. Dr. Wise has been an honorary member of this society since its commencement and as a proof I subjoin below his letter of acceptance, to show that the society originated in no Jesuitical trick, and that either ill-will or ignorance has been at work to throw its poison at an institution that has been constituted for the common good, that has nothing to do with isolated questions like that of the convention, that numbers among its seventy members many high-minded and intelligent men, men alive to the prosperity of our people and their religion, men that seek no favours, that have assembled from pure motives, and seek to serve the common cause in a manner consonant with their views as to what is right and needful.
It is alleged that Dr. Wise was received even the second time with a great deal of enthusiasm; why does Mr. B. suppress the fact of his being refused a hearing by the Henry Street Congregation,* that invited him previously to preach for them? Why charge Dr. Lilienthal, or any particular person, with having secretly counteracted the good cause, when the natural working or passions and divergence of opinions will<<272>> explain all? Ought we not in brotherly charity to forego to slander any individual, when the cause of the failure lies in the peculiar nature and composition of the Jewish elements? Dr. Lilienthal is not opposed to a convention, but he may doubt that it wall be able to carry out the views of Dr. Wise, as expressed in his lecture and circular, as published in your periodical. He fears, and perhaps justly so, lest it might end in dissatisfaction, and injure the common cause beyond recovery.**
“The Friends,” far from having any Jesuitical objects in view, have seized upon the wants of our people, and will not flinch from their path or duty. They claim a high degree of respectability for all their members; they are all warm and sincere friends of our religion, and alive to its interests. They seek light, instruction, and knowledge in matters of religion; they desire to train the minds and create a lively interest for the good cause, and hope to improve the moral as well as the intellectual faculties of those that can be reached by their influence. They assemble once a week for this purpose. Just look how they go to work. They had lectures on the existence of God, as proved by outward nature; another on religion, as founded on the secret influences of the heart; one on the history of pagan worship and idolatry; still another on the origin, progress, and future of our religion. They had a critical essay on the immortality of the soul; they expect next a lecture on the history of the Jews and their literature. They are promised still farther to have scientific lectures tending to prove the divine origin of the Bible, whilst they have debates to discuss the great questions of the day touching our religion. The question whether a convention ought to be encouraged, was discussed, and strenuously advocated by the Rev. Dr. Lilienthal. Now, as no one can deny that our people generally are sadly deficient in knowledge respecting their religion, as they know little, if anything of their philosophy and literature, their great men and their views, and are even imperfectly acquainted with their national history, our society has a noble field of action; for to fill up this blank, to give and receive information, is the great and glorious object of this society. Now I ask, is not a body of men, thus well informed and trained, better able to judge of the present and its wants, than those that are a prey to blind prejudices and ignorance? A trifling sum of two dollars per year, just enough to pay expenses, gives to the poorest an opportunity to come and hear. In short, the society gives all the facilities possible, and makes all possible exertions to diffuse light a and knowledge amongst our brethren. Far, therefore, from our enthu<<273>>siasm being cooled down, it has been directed in a proper channel, and receives daily a new and refreshing impulse by our steady success. We quote farther from Mr. Beckel’s letter: “If you are the friends of your people, why do you form an isolated society?” The answer is, because you cannot agitate the masses in the Synagogue; for scientific, philosophical, and historical investigations as demanded by our society, are not proper for the pulpit—it is not the fit place to analyze the great questions of the day; and, therefore, we have our peculiar formation and place of meeting, where no one is excluded, and all are heartily welcome that desire light and knowledge.
Mr. Beckel asks whether we belong to that class of men who, insincere in their own professions, assume to prepare people for reform? I will not stoop so low as to answer such a charge. Whosoever has so far forgotten the rules of politeness and propriety, as to doubt the honourable motives of such a respectable class of men as compose the
Society of “Friends,” has forfeited all claims to our friendly consideration.
And all this bitter attack is made against an association which has not yet completed its constitution; has met but a dozen times, and has barely trimmed its sail for its long and arduous voyage. We were unaware that pirates could be found on the high seas of intelligence; we had embarked our best wishes and hopes, and expected to meet the soft breeze of kindness and brotherly love; we anticipated a prosperous voyage; our flag was streaming from the masthead; our motto and mission unfurled to the breeze. Truth was to be our compass, reason our helmsman, hope our anchor. Yet, scarcely had the vessel left the secure haven, when the fiery stream of passions were let loose; the black, heaving billows of calumny foamed around it, and dashed against its sides with angry surges as though bent on its destruction.
Yet we trust in that light above to guide and protect us, the light that has so oft guided Israel in dark and dismal days, and we hope that our bark will arrive at its place of destination, and that the clouds will disperse at the approach of the genial rays of the orb of the day.
It is, in conclusion, but just to state that Dr. Lilienthal does not stand at the head of the society as alleged; but he is, of right, highly valued and esteemed among us as a man of deep knowledge, extensive researches, and mighty intellect; and our confidence in him as; a sincere Jew, has not in the least abated.
I regret very much, Mr. Editor, that this warfare has been provoked. This is my first and only reply. I conceive it to be injurious to our good and holy cause to stray aside from the even path of kind inquiry, <<274>>and resort to calumnies which must discourage the well-meaning portion of our brethren. Unfounded charges are calculated to stifle every lofty and philanthropic effort and set brother against brother. Had the editor of the “Occident,” of whom we expect strict impartiality, only said one word in extenuation of these serious charges, I should have refrained from answering; but the gauntlet was thrown with so much boldness, and in such an offensive spirit, that it had to be taken up, and now we challenge the Jewish world for a fair and impartial verdict.
Sigismund Waterman, M.D.
New York, June 7th, 1849.