|Volume VII. No. 10
Tebeth 5610 January 1850
The Presbyterian Synod of New York and the Jews.
The public was lately somewhat taken by surprise, at the appearance of an address emanating from the highest authority of the Presbyterian society of the state of New York, being no less than a polite invitation to forsake our religion, and to join ourselves to them. They call themselves the true and legitimate successors of the Synagogue, as constituted at the time of Ezra, and assert that the Jews have ceased to represent the true and ancient order of things. Hence they call upon us to examine the claims of their Messiah, and to adopt him as the great sacrifice made for all men; through whose death, moreover, atonement was made once and for all, thereby securing salvation to mankind in general. It may readily be believed that this singular address caused some remark among our people into whose hands it fell, not because it contains anything new, or remarkably well placed in words and supported by weighty argument;—far from it, since the sentiments have been uttered before; the language employed contains enough to afford a strong handle for a counter appeal, and then the arguments barely deserve the name; they are in fact unworthy of the great theme proposed, that is, the conversion of the Jewish world to Christian Presbyterianism.
What caused then the remarks we speak of? Simply that an address should be sent to us at all through the public press, from so dignified a body as the Presbyterian Synod of New York, among the members of which are men, we will gladly concede, eminent for learning and piety. But their addressing us is a <<482>>step neither warranted by propriety nor common sense, unless they can bring forward some new motives and some new arguments, both stronger than ever were offered to us, for a change of religion.
Do our Presbyterian friends think that it is with us a quarrel about church government—whether the one party represents an image of the Synagogue more than the other, or not—which has caused us to maintain our separate organization as Jews? if so, they err greatly.
Much as we love the independent, republican constitution of the Synagogue, in which each congregation is perfectly independent in its civil government of any other, in which the minister, the Sheliach Zibbur, that is, not as the address translates it, “the angel of the Church,” but “the messenger of the community,” (though perhaps they understand by angel, from the Greek word angelos, a simple messenger or a delegate, and by church “the assembled people,”) is the delegated speaker to the Throne of Grace for those who send him, in which the civil rule is placed in the hands of trusty persons, chosen by the people from among themselves; in which all power is derived from the governed, to be exercised only for their spiritual, and often, too, for their temporal benefit,—notwithstanding all this, we say, we consider the whole church system as quite subordinate to the great end of our religion; the church with us is but the servant of the people, to lead them to God, the One, the Great, the Mighty, the Tremendous, the Creator of all things; and apart from this, we know of no church, no ministers or elders.
This is bold language, and will sound strangely in the ears of those who think but superficially; but it is sound and wholesome truth, and we assert without equivocation, that church going, public prayers, and. preaching are nothing, if they lead not to the great result desired, —the upholding of the unity of God. We will therefore neither deny nor affirm that the Presbyterian form of government is nearer to ours than any other Christian church.
But we ask of the learned gentlemen who have fixed their signatures to the paper before us, whether they believe, knowing the Jews they must do, that we can at all value their organization, seeing that it is not its business, as it is that of the Jewish Synagogue, to uphold the unity of God, but to propagate the doctrine of a trinity, against which we have always contended, and against which we <<483>>have borne our public testimony amidst those trials and barbarities endured at the hands of Christian men, Christian rulers, Christian divines, Christian pontiffs, Christian nations, of which the address itself speaks in terms of condemnation.
Do you think, Christian friends, that the Jew cares the least about the form of ecclesiastical law of those who tortured him in times gone by?—that we will take the trouble to consider whether the priest claimed his power as a right derived from the founder of his church, or from the imposition of hands of one who was an ecclesiastic before him? No, we tell you; we look to the doctrines which the church preaches, whether Roman, Greek, Anglican, Gallican, Arian, Calvinistic, Lutheran, Friend, Baptist, Millerite, Mormon, Wesleyan, Puseyite, Swedenborgian, Shaker, Moravian, or whatever shade or shadow of complexion it may assume; and we will withstand the priest who teaches us what we call error, whether he wear a pontiff’s triple crown, a cardinal’s cloak, a bishop’s broidered robe, a vicar’s white surplice, or a canon’s black gown; whether he cover his head with the broad brimmed hat of a Quaker exhorter, or appear with the shaven crown of a servant of the Romish hierarchy; whether he have a peculiar church dress in any shape, or merely come before us with a white cravat as the badge of his office. We tell you we will have none of them; we will argue with them, if they will hear us; we will weigh the reasons which they address us; but they must not expect that the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews shall convert us at this day, when it failed to have the least effect on the Jews of his time. We assert that the Jew wars against the very ideas Paul puts forth, and to enforce which oceans of blood. have been shed; and that it matters not by whom they are broached, for we will resist them as we have done hitherto.
We may rejoice, as rejoice we do, that a large, virtuous, and intelligent portion of Christians have sought and found a model in our Synagogues to govern themselves by; that they have cut loose their connexion with tyranny and misrule, (for there is no greater tyrant than an inflated churchman, who thinks the world made for him to govern, and not that he is there for its benefit,) and adopted in its stead the simple system that the people and their teachers have the same rights, and are responsible to each other for the manner in which they act their respective parts; but this is <<484>>no reason why we should abandon our position, and renounce the object for which we have been so long united in opposition to nearly all mankind; and it would indeed be a woeful consummation of a long and bitter struggle, to retire from the scene of history, and become lost amidst our ancient oppressors, simply because a number not half as large as ours has partially adopted our church government.
And it is at best but partial because our ministers are not like theirs, peculiarly hedged in with privileges and duties; for they are only delegates of the people, chosen when they are wanted, and from among those their electors please; and when they retire from their position, they are free to enter into the active walks of life, without any discredit or hindrance from their brothers. They are not, therefore, angels of the church at large, but messengers from each particular body of Israelites; and whoever is called upon to officiate, if it be even for once; he becomes a Sheliach Zibbur for the time being, and has the same privileges, that is to say, none at all, which a regular minister has.
To be sure, we endeavour to elect worthy men, those who will properly represent the people; we place, or ought to place them on a permanent footing, so that they may devote their time and talents to the service of God in properly serving the people. We do this that we shall not be dependent upon voluntary offers to perform the necessary services of the Synagogue; but having done this, we consider it no wrong on the part of another, whether he be a mere private man or a minister of another place, to officiate with the consent of the people; and without their assent, the greatest and the highest in dignity among us would be a usurper, and not permitted to address the public or to offer up prayers in their behalf.
We do not now speak of Rabbis, or those who have made the law of God their especial study, and who are therefore authorized to be consulted on all matters touching the prohibited and permitted things; but even these are not selected clergymen, in the sense they are among the Christians. Still, with all this freedom of election and liberty of retiring into private life, we may challenge the world to show men more devoted to their calling, and less tainted with crime than the Jewish ministry can show. They are faulty, like all mortals; but it says but truth of them, to assert that their moral and religious character will suffer <<485>>nothing in comparing them with the large body of Christian theologians, who are educated from the cradle for their calling, and always so trained that they may bring the largest amount of efficiency and peculiar learning to the business for which they are destined.
We acknowledge, then, that we rejoice that some light has broken in upon our Presbyterian friends; and we only hope that, as they have proceeded thus far, they will examine into the subject more closely, and then be led to embrace the full effulgence of light which is with Israel. They—the younger in age—invite us to join them: we will in our turn ask them to join us; to call their attention to the ten commandments; to the Deuteronomy of Moses; to the last address of Joshua; to the prophecies of Isaiah, especially from chapter 60 to end of his book; to Zechariah 14, and many other passages innumerable; and if they read them prayerfully and devoutly, they must cease to believe in a crucified god, and adhere, as do the Jews, to the Lord Eternal, the Creator and Saviour, who slayeth and bringeth to life, who woundeth and whose hands alone can heal.
Let us enlarge the place of our tents; let us increase the dimensions of the true Synagogue; let all come who now stand aloof; and they will find that Judaism is no failure, however Christianity has proved so, as one of its teachers has lately professed it to be, if common report speaks true.* We say this in sober seriousness—we never jest on sacred subjects—and we mean what we say, that the world will be ultimately converted to our doctrines, and to the law in the manner the Lord will clearly reveal it for the gentiles, in which the glorious prophecies of the 54th of Isaiah will be accomplished; and it will be by a spirit of inquiry gradually awakened and carried forward through the doubts and misgivings of the force of ancient and preconceived prejudices, that the truth will triumph; and who knows but it may be by such <<486>>friendly encounters as the New York Synod proposes, that the great accomplishment may ultimately be witnessed?
When the article in question first appeared, we had an idea of answering it in the same public press wherein it first met our eyes. But we forbore, knowing as we do the unsatisfactory result of controversy, however friendly conducted; besides, we have often experienced that, when the Jew does appear in defence, those who provoked him seldom or never answer. Is it that they are overcome and defeated at the first onset? Or do they so little value their chosen antagonists as not to deem them worth a reply? Is it their tactics to merely make a parade with showy arguments before the world, in order to produce an impression (not on us, but) on their own followers? If such a motive prompted the address, it was no business of ours to notice it; and having before called for answers, and received none, we would not make the attempt. But as the Rev. Dr. Schlesinger, of whom a notice appears in the last Occident, thought proper to reply to the invitation of the New York Synod, we place both papers on record for future reference.
But is it not curious that, as far as we know, no reply has yet been sent abroad by Dr. [John M.] Krebs and his associates? Have they not seen “the Rabbi’s reply?” Or do they hold back because it appeared anonymously in the public prints? Then we trust that this authorized statement, that Israel Philalethes is no other than Dr. W. Schlesinger, late Rabbi at Sulzbach, in Germany, and now a preacher at New York, will induce the gentlemen in question to take some public notice of a temperate and candid review of their address. We forbear to make any comments on Dr. S.’s production; but we will merely say that, as he has but lately arrived from Germany, he is not sufficiently master of the English to indite a paper in the vernacular, and that it appears, therefore, in a translated form, by the hands of a friend of Dr. S. Probably some few ideas may not meet the approbation of all our readers; but when Dr. S. becomes able to speak to them in the language of the country, he will no doubt explain anything which now may excite a remark. For one, we welcome him to our pages, which we hope he will adorn hereafter by other contributions sent direct to our magazine. With this we close for the present.<<487>>
Brethren, “beloved for the fathers’ sakes:”—
In taking the unusual step of presenting a formal address to you, we introduce ourselves as an ecclesiastical body, embracing nine Presbyteries, six of which are in New York City and the vicinity, and two in China. The ordained ministers of these Presbyteries, who, for the most part, are pastors settled in churches, and the lay delegates from our church sessions, are, according to our constitution, the members of our body. We come together annually as a Synod, and our chief object is to devise and carry out the best plans for the edification of our churches. We are aware of the fact, that you have an immense and increasing influence among our churches and in our country: hence we have resolved as a body to acknowledge your presence and influence, and to send you an address on our common relations and interests.
In respect to both our faith and our spiritual offices, we feel ourselves united to you by strong and pleasant ties. The history of our officers of pastor and ruling elder runs back into the history of your synagogues. It is our own history which we are endeavouring to trace to its fountain head, when we examine how it was the ancient custom in Israel to convene, on sacred days, in the houses of the prophets, for religious exercises; and how, after the Babylonish captivity, synagogues were erected in nearly all the villages of the Jews, for the reading of the law, for the exposition of the Scriptures, and for prayer.
According to our view, the local service of the temple, with its bloody offerings, its altars, its priesthood, and its mysterious ceremonies, was never designed for all the nations of the earth; was very inconvenient for even the Jews themselves, and was unquestionably destined to accomplish its restricted and preparatory work in a few centuries, and then entirely cease; but the synagogue was the institution which God raised up, during the gradual decline of the glory of the temple, that it might carry, simply and yet effectually, all the essential truths, and all the essential benefits of the temple to every city, to every village, and to the door of every family. The temple, with all its awful grandeur and dark ceremonies, was to be dissolved, and everything in it worth preservation was to be committed to the simple reading, exposition, and prayer of the synagogue. God was carrying out gloriously his own plans for the spread of his truth, and the promotion of his glory, in all the earth, when he moved the Jews to multiply synagogues in Jerusalem, and throughout Palestine, in Alexandria, and in Rome.
We look back on Jerusalem, before the final destruction by the Romans, with her four hundred and eighty synagogues, and acknowledge that there is the mother of us all! We see, in your present synagogues, the clearest proofs that we both have the same origin; and we find a special proof of our oneness with the ancient synagogue, in the attestation of history, that in the synagogues of the Hellenist Jews the law was read in the Alexandrian, or Greek, version. The Christian church was the baptised synagogue. Our pastor is your <<488>>Sheliah Zibbur, angel of the church, or Hazan, and it is a Presbyterian peculiarity to acknowledge no office higher than this. Our elders have their origin from the rulers in your synagogues. The different services in our churches likewise run back, in their descent, to the synagogue. And if the great end of God, in the establishment of the Synagogue, was to spread the truth and worship of the God of Israel among all nations, we humbly claim that we are, to some extent, advancing this object, and that the true spirit of the synagogue is among us.
All the oracles of God that were ever read in the ancient synagogue, are read and expounded in our churches. Men go out from us to establish Christian synagogues in the worst regions of ignorant and depraved population in our country, and there to distribute, from house to house, your own Scriptures. You observe that two of our Presbyteries are in China; and some of our most promising and beloved members have gone far hence, to the most unpromising and dangerous fields, not for the purpose of obtaining either the riches or pleasures of this world, but, if we know our own hearts, from love to the God of Israel, and the perishing souls of men.
Now, brethren, we earnestly appeal to you, are we accomplishing the word of God, or are we not? Mention to us any imaginable way in which we may accomplish more for the fulfillment of the promise that all the earth shall be filled with the glory or God, than by the distribution of Bibles, in every family, and the establishment of our synagogues in every neighbourhood. It grieves us deeply that you take no part with us; that you even look on us with suspicion. We are convinced that you ought to be by our side; that you ought to be among the leaders in this work. Many among us severely accuse our indifference to the melancholy fact, that the great body of the house of Israel stand aloof from us. We believe that the day of prophetic promise will never be revealed in its glory while you stand at this awful distance from us. And why this separation? Where lies the fault? The standard of Judah ought to be in the front of the armies of the living God, as they go forward to invade the kingdom of darkness. Why, then, do you not unite with us, and carry on triumphantly the standard of Judah in our front?
There appears to be a complete exhibition of the original design of the synagogue, in the history recorded in the 7th chapter of Nehemiah. The people, men and women, collected together in the street of Jerusalem before the water-gate in a great multitude; Ezra, with several others, stood upon a pulpit above the people, and read in the law from morning till noon; and as they read, they interpreted in the language most intelligible to the people, and explained the meaning fully. This was accompanied with blessings, lifting of the hands and bowing to the ground; and all the people attended to the reading and explanations, reading with silent captivated attention and deep emotion.
Another historical fact serves equally to throw on the original design of the synagogue. Two strangers once appeared in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, and after the reading of the law and prophets, the rulers invited them to speak, if they had anything which they desired to communicate. <<489>>One of them then delivered a discourse on the history of the Jews, and the consummation to which the history was designed to lead, which awakened an intense interest, and drew a multitude of inquirers to the strangers. It is an important question, whether our synagogues have at present the same liberal, enlightening, sanctifying, and awakening influence in society. It is necessary that we understand well those principles or influences which, so far as they prevail in any synagogue, whether of the circumcised or of the baptized, necessarily render it apostate, and turn it, from being a blessing to society, into a curse. On this subject we ask your attention to a few suggestions, which may be equally profitable to ourselves, and which must commend themselves to every enlightened reader.
It is a fearful sign of prevailing degeneracy in the synagogue, when the Scriptures and prayers are read in an ancient language, and the words are not understood, and those who read without understanding, think that they have been really worshipping. We hold to the principle, as of vital importance, that there is no true worship of God in any instance where the understanding is not enlightened, and where the heart is not affected with the truth. It makes no difference how sacred the portion of Scripture, or of prayer, may be, which we read, it is useless and profane to us, unless we understand it. It is an equally fearful proof that the synagogue is far gone in apostasy, when it has ceremonies, of the existence of which, among the ancient people of God, the Scriptures do not furnish the least intimation, and of the propriety of which they furnish no evidence. For instance, your prayers in behalf of the dead, have not even the slightest foundation in the Word of God.
Let the religious duties and religious distinctions of the members of a certain synagogue consist chiefly in peculiarities of food, of dress, of festivals, and such outward things, and here we can infallibly identify an apostate synagogue. How plain and important, and reasonable the principle laid down in the New Testament.—“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
The prophet Isaiah, in severely reproving his people for their hypocrisy, introduces his strongest charge against them in these words: “And their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.” The meaning is, that their fear of God, or piety, had become little more than implicit obedience to arbitrary human precepts. This reproof comes to us in all its severity, if we are governed by human precepts and traditions in our most solemn religious duties; as, for instance, in the solemn duty of sanctifying the Sabbath; when, before sunset, we must commence? how we may then read, by a lamp or fire? what we may permit another to do with a lamp? what prayers we must say in the morning? in what way we must put on the shawl, and handle the fringes? how we must make an offering for the privilege of taking the scroll from the ark, and for the honour of returning it, and for the inspection of the seven portions in the passage for the day? what gestures we must make in the service before the ark? how many meals we must have in the day? and how we must go through the afternoon <<490>>and evening services ? All this looks very like a fear of God that is a senseless precept of men.
It appears to us very clear, that the great object of the synagogue among us ought to be to do good spiritually to all men—to enlighten, sanctify, and save all men. The temple itself, with all its restrictions, was to become a blessing to all nations, and God raised up the synagogue out of its ruins to fulfill this purpose. How sadly, then, does the synagogue forget its origin and its commission, when its instructions and prayers are for none but Jews? The consciousness that we are debtors to all men, Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and barbarians, bond and free, is one of the most essential and powerful sentiments in the bosom of every worthy member of the synagogue. And when this consciousness ceases, spiritual life ceases. The synagogue on earth should be as open to all men, and its richest spiritual privileges should be as freely and earnestly pressed on the acceptance of all men, as the privileges of the heavenly temple are freely offered to all men, if you believe that the gentiles will as certainly enter Heaven, without coming to the light of your synagogue—without embracing your faith and reading your Scriptures, as otherwise; you cannot, in the nature of things, be prompted by any potent conviction of duty, or any sentiment of benevolence, to make sacrifices for their spiritual interests. It is the love of immortal souls, and the fear that they will perish, and the conviction of the obligation and privilege to labour for their salvation, that carry the worthy missionaries of the synagogue, with the Word of life, to the ends of the earth. And where these powerful motives are not felt, it is easy to account for the want of a missionary spirit.
We anticipate that the most weighty reply which you will make to our address, is this—that you have no faith in many of our leading doctrines, and that, therefore, you cannot form any union with us. You will admit at once, that there are some probabilities in favour of our doctrines. Jesus Christ and his apostles certainly stand, in history, as worthy of credit, as the rabbis of the Talmud. There is as great a probability that Paul understood the original Judaism, and explained it honestly in his epistle to the Hebrews, as that the writer of the Mishna understood it some hundreds of years afterwards. Permit us to inquire whether you have thoroughly and candidly examined our doctrines? We are afraid that many of you have never read the New Testament. We hope to be able to supply all of you, who are willing to read, with Bibles containing both Testaments; and we press it upon you to examine the subject more thoroughly and prayerfully. If Christianity is true, it is your highest interest to embrace it.
Have you ever examined the argument in the epistle to the Romans? Have you never felt the force of the proofs presented there, that the gentiles are ruined in sin, and that the Jews themselves never can stand justified before God, in their own righteousness? Is not all this sufficiently proved by the few quotations from the Old Testament, placed together in the 3d chapter? If the sinner is thus, on his own account, under the deadly condemnation of the law of God, is it not clear that the righteousness of Jesus Christ, if he is the person whom we hold him <<491>>to be, is perfect, and sufficient for the most unworthy? How do you account for the origin of our doctrine of justification, if it is a fable? Do you see nothing grand and attractive in the doctrine, that God has entered into different covenants with man; and that, as in the first covenant, all have fallen into sin and condemnation through the sin of the first man, so we must be restored and justified through the obedience of the bead of the second covenant? But our request is that you examine the whole epistle for yourselves.
We commend., especially, the epistle to the Hebrews to your careful and prayerful examination. Here you have the arguments and admonitions of the great disciple of Rabbi Gamaliel, which he addressed to his own people. First, he argues that Christ is superior to angels, and to Moses himself; and then he admonishes us not to destroy ourselves through unbelief, after the example of the Israelites in the wilderness, who, through unbelief, lost the promised rest of God. He argues, further, that the doctrine of the priesthood of Christ has a foundation broadly and deeply laid in the Hebrew Scriptures; that, in particular, David speaks of a single priest who should be after the order or description of Melchizedek rather than of Aaron; and that Christ’s priesthood does correspond to that of Melchizedek, in having no priestly genealogy—in being as a priest without either predecessor or successor; and in having a venerable antiquity, an establishment and duration which prove it superior to the priesthood of Aaron. He argues, that while the Aaronic priests were sinful men, and needed to bring bloody offerings for themselves, Christ was personally free from all sin; that while the high-priest repeated his great atonement annually, Christ has made one all sufficient atonement; and that while the priests made their atonements in the earthly sanctuary, Christ has presented his in the heavenly temple. He argues that the sacrifices of animals were insufficient of themselves to give peace to the conscience of the offender; and that, on the contrary, the blood and spirit of Christ are adequate to a perfect reconciliation and assurance of salvation. He argues that one of the psalms describes the time of the setting aside of burnt offerings, and that one of the prophets speaks of a new covenant unlike the covenant made at Sinai.
It is true that there is an impossibility of any union between us while there is this difference in our doctrines; hence we urge on you again the examination of our sacred Scriptures. We remind you, also, that there may be some minor difficulties in an argument, while the argument itself is, in its essential parts, perfectly clear and irresistible.
Brethren, your history, for fifteen hundred years before Christ, is distinguished by your special favour with God, and, particularly, by the familiarity of your prophets with the mind of God, for the last eighteen hundred years you have suffered the most cruel persecutions; your synagogue has, in all probability, been standing immovably on ground foreign to its original purpose; and you have, apparently, been spared only to show the fulfillment of the threatenings of your law.
Your people were almost crushed through your own violent rebellions, and the revenge of the Romans; you have experienced, most bitterly, the <<492>>deceit of the first friendship of Mohammedanism, and we are sorry to add, that Christendom, itself, in direct opposition to the teaching of our Saviour, has set itself in the most deadly opposition to you. It humbles us to know what you have suffered from the crusades, and in Spain, France, and other countries; and we, as Christians, certainly ought to have less sympathy with your persecutors than you have. In all this bloody history, there is nothing which, properly understood, should prejudice you against us. The spirit of persecution is as little chargeable to the Presbyterian church as to yourselves. We most ardently desire that the God of providence may never employ our beloved country to punish any people for their sins; we especially deprecate being employed to bring new chastisements of persecution on the sons of Abraham; we would have our country exclusively consecrated to the diffusion of the peace of the gospel. Far be it from us to do anything to revive old prejudices against you. We come to you, not as the friends of war—not with clamorous accusations—not in concealed deceit, but in honesty and love. We come to you not in the storm of opposition, but with “a still, small voice,” a voice that speaks of the remission of sin, and everlasting peace,—a voice of heavenly, touching invitation—the same voice that was once heard at your temple and in your solemn assemblies. Horrible will that day be when this voice ceases to be heard in our country. Consider anxiously whether God does not come to you in this small voice, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory!” It remains now to be seen if, in the old spirit of the Pharisees, you will still cast the believers in Jesus out of the synagogue, and meet our address either with aroused opposition or with silent indifference.
In any event, as to the reception of our address, we will still continue to feel a deep interest in your welfare. Signed by order of the Synod,
John H. Legget, Moderator.
Brethren, “Beloved for our Father’s Sake”—Were we to meet your address without, at least, some acknowledgment, we might not only be accused of indifference and want of respect towards you and towards the holy cause in which your labours are engaged, but we might also appear in the unenviable light of not comprehending or appreciating the exalted position allotted by your enlightened body to the remnants of Israel. With sorrow, we must confess that we have to present ourselves to you, beloved brethren, without the authority of any particular established association or ecclesiastical body of our co-religionists, but humbly venture to assert, that in the general purport of our sentiments <<493>>and opinions, we are supported by the pure and lofty-minded of our brethren in both hemispheres.
The joyful evidence of an expiring prejudice, wherewith for centuries the human intellect has been darkened; the sentiments of philanthropy and kindness expressed in your message to us, have not failed to conquer our hearts, and to fill them with lively sympathy, admiration, and heartfelt gratitude towards you.
We admire your generous and noble motive, in the wish to draw closer the ties of our spiritual relations and interests, for the amelioration of our spiritual welfare, and would be wanting in candour and self-respect were we unwilling to acknowledge it. Our hearts are gladdened to see the high import of Judaism recognised in this country, and the sacred veneration you bestow on that source whence we jointly draw our most important religious and moral doctrines; that you are conscious of the vast and beneficial influence of the synagogue on the improvement of the human race; that you consider it an honourable privilege to prove an analogy between our religious tenets and ceremonies, and in your candour not even deny that you are indebted to us for the same.
Most particularly, however, do we rejoice that the barbarities of bygone ages, the useless and cruel persecutions during the crusades, the pillages, banishments, and massacres to a pretended glory of God, are at last viewed in the genuine light by our Christian brethren, and meet with their just condemnation and abhorrence.
We also regard the founder of your religion in a different light from that by which our ancestors viewed him, whose opinions were necessarily influenced by the horrible treatment they received at the hands of his worshippers, and it is with pride that we contemplate that the man, who for nearly two thousand years has been the object of divine adoration of a great portion of the human race, was a scion of the house of Judah. Cheerfully do we also admit the great beneficial influence of Christianity, and its moral doctrines, on the advancement of civilization; but we do not hesitate to give it as our decided opinion, that Christianity inadequately, and in part only, developed the truth which constitutes Judaism, and that, as yet, only part of that truth has been imparted to mankind.
It appears to us that an inscrutable, mysterious Providence has wisely decreed that the deliverance of mankind from deep-rooted polytheism should not suddenly be accomplished, but that the illusion and error should gradually vanish before the splendour and truth of a sublime divinity; and we discern, in the mysterious doctrine the Trinity and Redeemer, the intervening incident—the connecting link—by which, hereafter, to a more perfect human race, the sublime truth will be unveiled. By the abandonment of the adoration of the Virgin Mary, and the refutation of the belief in her immaculate virginity, by Protestantism, a very important point has already been gained.
An adequate and full reply to your address would demand from us arguments too voluminous for our present epistle, and we have, therefore, to restrict and compress our remarks and opinions to your most important questions only.
We also do not hesitate in saying, that the blood-offerings in the temple are, considered by all contemporary Israelites, who have found the subject of their religion worthy of an examination, as inadmissible, and unworthy to be retained in our present era; but that, in former times, according to the doctrines of the illustrious Maimonides, they were a necessary preservative against idolatry.
Although the Scriptures do not furnish a distinct intimation of the propriety of prayers in behalf of the dead, there is still a strong resemblance to prayer in the Lamentations of David, at the death of his son Absalom.
Supposing even that these prayers are of no essential advantage to those slumbering in death—which no human being can positively assert —the idea that, by such religious performance our dear departed might be benefited, cannot but produce a salutary and soothing sensation in the mind of the survivor.
We confess that frequently by our brethren in faith, as also by mankind in general, an undue and extravagant homage is rendered to outward appearances; but this even was the work formerly assigned to our prophets, and now to our ministers and preachers, to admonish and instruct the people how the Lord requires of them to be righteous, to exercise virtue, and to walk before him in humility. “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Proselytism, either for effect or for emulation, was never attempted by us; we grant to every one the privilege to attain salvation “agreeably to his own fashion;” neither do we close our synagogues, our religious works or prayer books, against the believers of a different faith from ours. To whatever church or sect a man may belong, if he only has the fear of God before him, and exerts himself in the advancement of his fellow-beings’ welfare, the path to salvation, according to the doctrines of our religion, is unobstructed.
You see, therefore, beloved brethren, that our opinion on several subjects agree, but that on others again, they widely differ. To us it remains inconceivable, how any one can earnestly believe that by the death of one man, the sins of his whole race are remitted, particularly when we see that a lapse of near two thousand years has worked no beneficial change in sinful man, and the laws of God are violated now <<495>>as then; or how the advent of God’s dominion—according to the predictions of the prophets, a reign of universal peace—can be credited, when, after the death of Christ, wars, persecution, and fanaticism rather increased than diminished.
Is the supposition, that by the virtuous life and fervent prayer of a pious son, a departed father’s soul might be rescued from everlasting punishment, not by far more probable and acceptable than the presumption, that by the shedding of the blood of a single human being innumerable millions of his race should acquire salvation?
By numerous Christian scholars, amongst them the learned, far-famed Gesenius, the attempt to prove the divinity of Christ by the prophecies in the Old Testament has long ago been abandoned; and we only wish to convince you that all those who have acquired implicit faith in God, and the modesty to acknowledge how presumptuous it would be in mortal man to endeavour to explain the manner of his being—“for there shall no man see me and live”—will never bend their knees, or render divine honours to any other being, but to the invisible, living God alone. It is our firm belief, that, sooner or later, you and all mankind will agree with us, that it is blasphemous and sinful in the extreme to render divine reverence to woman-born mortal.
Till the advent of that happy epoch, when from world’s end to world’s end God shall be one and His name one, we will endeavour to entertain brotherly feelings towards each other, and continue, not in words only, but by deeds of kindness and philanthropy, to perform the works of love to all. And the God of love and mercy will judge and reward all men according to their actions. He, who is capable to penetrate the inmost recesses of the human heart—He, alone, sees, who in truth and sincerely walks before Him! He will not leave unrewarded Israel’s faith and firmness, in the hardest trials and strongest temptations;
No mortal, not even the noblest, is free from faults and errors! Let us, therefore, be indulgent to each other, as is our Father in heaven, who to all of us is indulgent and merciful.