|Vol. VII, No. 3
Sivan 5609, June 1849
Letter From Mr. S. Abrahams
While almost every Israelite in the United States has either heard or read about a “Convention,” for various purposes connected with our religious institutions in this country, is it not better, before wildly rushing into the matter, (perhaps in imitation of the reforming savants of Germany,) that we should stop and calmly inquire what is actually required, what could possibly be accomplished by any such convention, &c.? or go a little farther, and see, before clothing an unknown set of men with unlimited authority, if the desideratum could be ac<<144>>complished by no other means, and thereby better understand the matter before doing that which might for ever after be the cause of much discontent and mischief, or perhaps of entirely destroying the present Synagogue service, and know what are the alterations to be made, what are the improvements to be introduced, and what are the means intended to be proposed for the improvement of the rising generation, &c.?
Is the Law to be read through each year, as at present in orthodox congregations, or once in three or ten years? Is the reading of the Haphtaroth to be abolished or continued? Is the day of rest to be changed or not? Is the second day of the Festivals still to be observed? Who, and what are the characters of the persons now foremost in agitating the question of a Convention? Are they those men who are all known to be orthodox in their religious views, or those whose whole desire is to destroy? What has been their course in Europe before coming to this country, and what their course here? Are we to have German, English, French, or Italian songs introduced into the service in the place of the Psalms, like the Christie Street Temple in New York, or are the old and time-honoured forms to be continued? What are we to have in the place of our present beautiful ritual? Is it the present silent, musical style of the St. Helen’s Place Synagogue, of London, or the two hour recreation on Kippur, of the Hamburg Temple? Is it the “British” improved system of Burton Street, of London, or the more accommodating (to business men) style of Berlin, and that on a Sunday, and for forty minutes? or, perhaps, the present or former form of Albany, where two years since they had about a dozen singing girls and boys on the reading desk, with three men to assist, the table full of loose sheets of music; the whole resembling the study of some music mad “amateur,” much more than a place from which was to be read the law of the living God of Israel? The truth of the matter is, that for the last few years we have had too much talk about reform; and no sooner would such a Convention be organized than the remodelling of the “American” Prayer-book would be introduced, the persons generally preaching up this reform in the Synagogues and prayers being, generally, either designing men, or those who want to alter things that they know nothing about; the latter generally complaining that the whole is wrong, because they know nothing about them; while the former, improving the opportunity, attempt to do that which has been to them a most cherished scheme, the effect of which we too plainly see in the miserable “wreck” of Charleston, S. C., where one of the best, most respectable, and formerly one of the most prosperous congregations in the United States, has been nearly <<145>>improved to entire destruction; for, notwithstanding all the improvements of music and English, the seats on each Sabbath present a most meagre appearance, and the improver, as if ashamed of what he has done, has already a strong desire of quitting the wreck, (now in its most improved condition.) The misfortune is that we have too many agrarians, or levellers, among us; those who would rather bring things down to their standard, than take the time and trouble of raising themselves, and becoming acquainted with the why and wherefore of the different parts of our system of public worship; for, it must be admitted, that no sooner would a different mode of worship, either in form or language, be introduced in this or any other country, than our nationality (a measure most necessary to be preserved) would be destroyed.
Now, can it for a moment be doubted the chief reason for this call is no more nor less than the alteration of the “Liturgy?” Let them try to hide it if they can; for no sooner would these “sages” be congregated, than the “American system” of prayers and service would be recommended, a measure fraught with more danger to us, as part of the Jewish nation, than most people are willing to admit of. At present, a brother from a foreign land entering one of our Synagogues, feels that he is among his family and kinsmen, and joins in the praise of the Lord with them as if at home; there he feels that he has a share and inheritance, there he is known to be one of the seed of Israel, and there is he to be taught that all Israel are brethren; but this great nationality would soon be destroyed, if in every country the vernacular of the land were introduced in the Synagogue service; for, as a matter of course, the English would have to be introduced here. In fact and truth, a Convention clothed with such unlimited powers as this is proposed to be, could, and no doubt would be a great evil, and excite feelings in this country that could not be easily allayed; and much better is it that the project be entirely abandoned, than call together a body whose proceedings would be looked on with so much mistrust as this one would be. As to improving ourselves in our laws, language, and its literature, and making permanent arrangements for the better education of the rising generation, but one opinion can exist; and of all subjects this should press itself the most closely to the heart of every well wisher of our nation. And it is a thing not so difficult to accomplish; as the talent that could be obtained in this country or England, if necessary, is sufficient to supply all the teachers that would be required in a high school, or college, should we be so fortunate as to establish one; and the quicker that we set about this work the better; for nothing is now wanted in this country to place us in a respectable position with <<146>>our coreligionists in the other hemisphere, but an educated clergy. This measure accomplished, and accomplished it must be, all reasons for Conventions, and “American” forms and reforms, will soon vanish.