|Vol. VII, No. 3
Sivan 5609, June 1849
Remarks by the Editor.
In the above three papers we have given our readers a variety of views on the measure of union, which we have so long advocated. Mr. Isaacs’ paper requires no comment, it speaks in direct terms of what is needed. But as Mr. Beckel’s letter is more personal in its bearings than we like to print, it may as well be said at once that we admit it as a matter of justice to the distinguished gentleman who broached lately the meeting of Jewish divines and friends of religion to deliberate about what is required to be done. Whatever opinion we may entertain of the reform he has introduced, according to Mr. Abrahams statement, we cannot deny him, nor can any one deny him, an ardent zeal for the cause of the faith of Israel.
He has talents and learning of a high order; he has the impulsiveness. of genius, and is therefore not the man to propose any measure with a sinister motive. We, therefore, joined him in the first call of the informal meeting, and in the second wherein a convention of delegates is proposed. We both thought that in the ministers of New York we should find at least friendly feelings, that they would encourage by their influence their congregations to appoint delegates to deliberate about what is needed to promote godliness; we thought the enlightened Dr. Lilienthal would be heart and soul co-operating with us, since he has seen and portrayed strongly in his writings the evil effects of uninstructed ignorance and superstition in the oppressed portions of Europe; we imagined that the new Jewish paper would use its columns to at least discuss the subject; but we were deceived; from only one congregation in New York has a reply been received to our circular, and this one of the most orthodox, that of the Rev. Mr. Isaacs; the others have not even thought it worth their while to send an answer to a respectfully worded appeal, and this too on the part of those who at one time had said they would meet us. Perhaps want of time or other unknown causes may have operated to produce this result; but whilst in the face of all this, a separate institution is attempted, and a society organized to scatter light in Judaism, (as though it wanted light!) Dr. Wise and his friends have a right to be heard in the only Jewish organ, which is at their disposal, and which has independence enough to let all parties speak out through its means. If any one thinks himself’ aggrieved by Mr. Beckel’s remarks, we will give him the opportunity of replying through the Occident.
If Mr. A. and those opposing the convention as a dangerous measure, will look over what we have said in our leading article of May, and which in fact is a repetition of what we had said before, they will see that only legitimate results are contemplated, only such measures as will tend to consolidate the interests of our people and religion in this country. Mr. A. admits that we require schools and a college, and who that thinks correctly can come to another conclusion? And still he is opposed to a convention to discuss the ways and means necessary to establish the schools. Can he point out any way in which we are to bring the subject before the people without a friendly meeting? Suppose some friends of religion would be now ready to lend their aid, in services and money, to open a high school, in what way should it be organized so as to meet the approbation of the public? Circulars for various measures have been so often employed that their utter uselessness has been too well established; people receive a letter by mail, or from the hands of a messenger, and put it in their writing-desk, there to sleep “in the tomb of the Capulets,” or they throw it indignantly into the fire, if the object contemplated requires any contribution. Can Mr. A. contradict what we say? Let him make the experiment, let him endeavour to get up a high school with or without a convention; he shall have our support, he may command our services; we will say to him as did the then of Israel to David: “Thine are we, O David, and with thee, O son of Jesse! peace be with thee, and peace with him who helpeth thee, for thy God helpeth thee.” We will join any movement, any set of men, provided good can result therein to the Israelites, especially those of this country, with whom our lot is cast; but we thought, and still <<148>> think, that a friendly meeting of Jewish delegates, representing the various congregations, is the very means to produce the establishment of what we need, which comprises in brief:
All these points are worth a thousand of the baby reforms, as we must needs call them again, attempted both in this country and Europe, which add no more strength to Judaism than a little paint to a rotten stick. But, thank God! our religion is sound to the core; it is vigorous, powerful, living and life-dispensing; it needs none of the pseudo-doctors who are so anxious to present it remedies; but it demands that those who have light shall dispense it; that those who are ignorant shall be instructed; and that those who have conscientious scruples against violating the precepts, shall not be forced by unavoidable circumstances to do what they believe wrong. To judge from what friends and opponents say about reform in the Synagogue, a person unacquainted with the fact, might suppose that we had no other precept to observe than merely going to a place of worship, and reciting a certain number of prayers, more or less, according to the various customs of the congregations. Perhaps some actually do think so. But Mr. A. knows better; he is a man of information, and has seen enough at home and abroad, to know that we want a great deal in this country to promote our religious welfare, and to counteract arbitrary and capricious reforms. Does he not know that congregations have introduced reforms, as they pleased? Of course he knows it; and that neither the Beth-Elohim congregation of Charleston, nor the Immanuel of New York, waited for a convention before they made a new form of worship; and that all those who wish to change will not need an authorization from any body of men to do what they wish to do in defiance of law and custom. The meeting of the German savants was not the precursor of reform, it was the result thereof; and our correspondent may be assured that not a single reforming congregation will take part in the deliberation of a body diametrically opposed to a separate movement.
Our own course having been for near twenty years open to public scrutiny, and having been the first, and for some time the only advo<<149>>cate of congregational union, we think that we are unfairly treated, in having a measure rendered suspected, and a prejudice raised against it, under pretext that our colleagues, at the present moment, are presumed friendly to a reform in the Synagogue. If the measure in itself is beneficial, the accession of reformers cannot render it injurious; on the contrary, it shows that it is one in which persons of different shades of opinion may join, for the general good. We will not speak of our own exertions in the cause of Israel; perhaps at a future day they may be acknowledged, when neither human reward nor praise will affect us any more; but we have a right to expect that candour will at least acknowledge that we are not hostile to the interests which we advocate.
We do not suppose that Mr. A. means to charge us personally with duplicity; for we believe, and have no reason to do otherwise, that he has warm feelings of friendship for us. But there is a manner of discussing things which has in it something of harshness and indiscriminate censure, and this is the one apparently chosen by our correspondent. We believe, nay, we are almost sure, that he does not suppose it possible that we could advocate any of the follies which he denounces. But he has in condemning, or raising a prejudice against the convention, also pronounced judgment upon us as one of the parties against whom he inveighs. Still, we would not deny him a hearing on a measure which concerns not us, but the public, and we are certain that thus we give the best proof that we do not wish to escape just reproach, and a full responsibility for what we advocate.
As measures now stand, the assent of twenty congregations will not be obtained this year. Still, should a large portion of the delegates elected be in this vicinity, we trust that they will meet and propose informally some plan of action for a union hereafter of other bodies than those who have sent them. In our News Items will be given a full list of delegates, chosen up to the time of our going to press this month, and let the public judge whether or not they are such that confidence can be placed in them. We shall not drop the subject, because we have not succeeded now; but we shall urge it again, on every proper occasion, and endeavour by all reasonable means, to remove any prejudice which is removable by reasoning such as we can offer. We stop for the present.—Ed. Oc.