|Volume VII. No. 10
Tebeth 5610 January 1850
Dr. Wise on Judaism.
In our last number, when speaking on the subject of the union of Israelites in America, we alluded to the probability that Dr. Wise would soon be prepared to appear before the public with a work on our religion, derived from his great familiarity with our philosophical writings, and his own reflections. Even before our remarks had reached the eyes of our learned friend, we were favoured with a specimen of the book, to wit, the first three chapters thereof, for our perusal and judgment. We consider it as a flattering mark of real friendship, and a correct appreciation of our motives, in Dr. W. to send his MS. to us, knowing, as he does, that we have publicly and honestly differed from some of the views on Judaism which he has occasionally offered to the world in our magazine. A little mind would have been deterred by such a proceeding from leaving his mental offsprings in the hands of an opponent, however unjustly such a character might be ascribed to an honest critic.
We rejoice, therefore, to find in this laborious investigator of our blessed religion one who has independence to state his convictions, and candour enough to see them subjected to the test of the investigation of another, who, though far less learned in the subject-matter, has at least ardour and honesty enough not to utter a judgment without first weighing the difficulties of the case. It is a wise saying of the sages of Israel, קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה “The jealousy of the scribes multiplieth wisdom.” But even jealousy there is none; there is no cause of any between us. All that each one of those chosen to teach the law has to do, is to act in good faith, and to publish the joyful message of salvation and truth as he has received it; and should there be a slight, or say even an important difference between them, is that a reason why they should not harmonize, and endeavour to reconcile the diversity of sentiment through means of a free discussion and a sifting of arguments, to see with whom is the right? And sure we are that Dr. W. will have always the honesty, to confess to an error; and for our individual part, we think that we can assert freely that no pride of opinion will ever prevent us from yielding, in case conviction be brought home to us. It is true that most persons of any pretensions to intellect seldom advance an idea without being in a measure convinced themselves of its correctness; but notwithstanding this, a free discussion can produce conviction now and then, provided only the mind be not shut entirely against the admission of new light; and no inquirer after truth should ever he so satisfied with his own views of things as to imagine that he <<520>>alone is absolutely free from error, that he alone is secured against the “humanum est errare.”
But we must not exhaust our space in discussing a subject perhaps foreign to our present purpose, and only introduced because some persons may not understand how we appear one month as the antagonist, and the next as the friendly champion of the same individual. Having thus stated our position, which we trust is not an anomalous one amongst scholars and men of honour, let us briefly refer to the chapters of Dr. Wise’s work which we have received. We will merely state at the outset, that it is not proper to discuss the merits of a book before its appearance; consequently we shall not give any other opinion than a general one, and this is, that so far as we have gone through with the MS we think that its publication would prove a valuable addition to our general literature, and demonstrate that the ancient acumen and power of grappling with difficulties have not forsaken Israelites at this late period. Throughout there is evidence of deep thought and careful analysis; and the inquiring Israelite will be delighted to find that his peculiar views of God and revelation are based upon such a train of reasoning and natural deduction that neither irreligion nor erroneous teaching can remove the groundwork of Judaism, thus fortified. We trust, therefore, that Dr. Wise may be speedily enabled to appear before the world with his book, and we bespeak for him and it the candid and calm judgment of all friends of our religion; and they will find that, though Dr. Wise has followed the received authorities, such as Maimonides, the Midrashim, Mendelssohn, and others, he has not been a mere copyist, but has drawn largely on his own powers of reflection, and an independent searching of the Scriptures, to do justice to the sacred theme.
The first chapter discusses the first maxim which Dr. W. conceives to be the foundation of our religion, which he states in the following sentence:—“I am convinced by integral evidence that the Eternal is one God, that there is but one Eternal.”* He then defines the subject as follows:—“ ‘I the Eternal am thy God.’ These are the words which commence the important revelation on Mount Sinai. God proclaimed himself by this name (י׳ה׳ו׳ה׳); and though many other names of God were taught to Moses at the revelation on the rock, (Exod. xxxiv.,) still the ‘Eternal Lord is the Eternal,’ stands at the head of that sublime exhibition of the Godhead, as the general idea which includes the signification of all the names which followed in succession, (v. 6, 7.”)
Dr. Wise, after defining the necessity of the existence of a Creator, which we would be injuring if we were to condense the arguments, bases the proofs of the being of God, on the phenomena of outward nature and history, the one exhibiting him as the Architect, the other as the Governor of all things. We will give one more specimen, to show the manner in which the subject is handled:—“In the south of Asia lived Abraham, in the midst of his contemporaries, a shepherd among nomadic owners of flocks. The well-watered pastures on the banks of the Tigris, Euphrates, and Jordan; the soft and mild climate of that region; the natural timidity of the sheep, the ox, and other domestic animals, not only invited to this easy and peaceful occupation, but also rendered it profitable and pleasant to those engaged in it. And these, ever led on the sweet bosom of nature, ever feasting at the richly decked tables of the All-good, ever surrounded by the grandeur of natural objects, and constantly invited to admire and to investigate, found a God everywhere, in the whispering of the gentle breeze, and in the fierce rushing of the hurricane; in the purling of the gentle streamlet, and in the roaring of the cataract; in thunder and lightning; in the earthquake and the eruption of the volcano; in the perfume and the charming colours of the flowers; in the strength and the high age of the cedar:—they found a Deity everywhere; all nature was to them divine and solemn, and they were happy and good. Abraham himself is a representative of the result of the virtue of the shepherds and the knowledge they had of divine things. He examined these single deities, and found them meeting in one centre; and hence he denied the existence of a multitude of deities, as exhibited in outward nature, and believed in the divinity of the CENTRE, from which they all emanated. He pursued this train of thoughts, and taught the same to his son Isaac, who, alter enriching them, left them as an inheritance to his son Jacob, &c.”
The second chapter treats of God’s attributes, and gives a definition of the biblical terms employed to convey them; and in the third, there is a review of the whole subject, as far as developed. We have not been furnished with the whole plan of the work; wherefore we regret our inability to give an entire sketch to our readers; but we hesitate little in saying that, if the whole is treated as skillfully as the commencement, there will be no lack of interest experienced in giving the entire <<522>>performance a careful perusal. No one must, however, imagine to be able to hurry through it without deep reflection, for it requires thought from beginning to end; but it is impossible to treat on the subject of religious ideas, those great foundations of the civil and religious sentiments of mankind, without demanding deep reflection from the reader;—and surely it behooves Israelites, who so constantly repudiate the common opinions of mankind, to understand why and wherefore they stand so aloof, insignificant as they are in numbers, and absolutely powerless amidst the masses of mankind. For the present we must conclude, and express the hope that it may not be long before the public voice will demand of Dr. Wise to emerge from his retirement, with the fruits he has gathered in the field of our literature, and with the experience and self-study he has made his own.