|Vol. VII, No. 6
Elul 5609, Sept. 1849
The Convention, Its Design, Its Utility
AFTER the publication of so many articles on the subject of an Assembly of Delegates, it may possibly appear exceedingly dull in us, but we are constrained to admit that we do not clearly see the cause for all the fretfulness, timidity, and furious zeal displayed in the declamatory effusions of the many writers, whose lucubrations have been admitted into your pages; and if they are to be taken as evidences of the spirit of disunion rife amongst us, we say, Avoid assembling until safer or better times, when the brotherhood enjoined by our faith shall be more prevalent, and the mass have acquired, by a series of years of <<321>>prosperity, what ages of adversity appears not to have taught them, that is, a full knowledge of the truism UNION is POWER.
Citizens of a federation, whose legislatures are professedly Christian, living in the midst of a population, the majority of whom are avowedly believers in the doctrines of the infallibility and supremacy of their church, it behooves us to ponder well, ere we peril by a public exhibition of our weaknesses, the character we have obtained in the community for the universality of our charities, proverbial fidelity to the ties of kindred and faith, and general conservative tendency of our religious precepts. For ourselves we deny the necessity for all this clamour; there is a marked increase in, and a wide-spreading progress of our churches in the states; but this is not a revival of the spirit of religion, neither is it owing to the zeal or ability of the professors of religion; but it is a consequence of the rapid growth of the Hebrew population.
Repeatedly have we shown that our ministers, as a class, have no influence, are unknown, except in very rare cases, beyond the sphere of their own congregation, and, where it is otherwise, its extreme rarity and exception prove the rule. It is not so with the many sects by which we are surrounded; we could enumerate men in the Episcopalian, the Catholic, Baptist, and Unitarian Churches, whose names are not only favourably known through the length and breadth of the land, but whose learning and attainments have achieved a European reputation. Desirous of our own Hazanim or churchmen holding such enviable positions, we are led to inquire if this absence of influence is a good or an evil; is it caused by a want of ability in the men, or a consequence of the inertness of our church polity, or a defect in its established ritual? or is it a natural tendency of the independent democratic constitution of the congregations, each of which has been aptly and advisedly termed “a distinct republic?” in either of the positions are we to deny ourselves the right, or are we deprived of the power to investigate the anomaly we exhibit? Will any of the fundamental principles of Judaic belief, from the Unity of the Deity, the future advent of the Messiah, to the inspiration of the Prophets, be invalidated or weakened by a solemn inquiry, why we have not hitherto had, and wherefore, in future, we should not have an established recognised ecclesiastical authority in this country, capable of expounding the canon laws of our church, heretofore a sealed book to the mass, since laws to be respected must be known? or will it destroy the independence of the self-supporting congregations to discuss the propriety of creating a permanent board, whose authority shall be conclusive and respected in the state or Union, to inspect the scholastic and moral testimonials of candidates for <<322>>the office of Hazan or Shochet, and to pronounce on the eligibility of parties to unite in wedlock, whose right to marriage is alleged to be contrary to our precepts, to decide upon the fitness of both male and female applicants for admission into the pale of our religion,—in short, to fulfill the various legislative duties necessary in a large Hebrew population, for the prevention of a conflict of opinions and the preservation of a dignified, consistent action, and which are in no wise a portion of the administrative duties of the trustees of each separate congregation?
We apprehend that neither the principles of the faith nor the independence of its separate churches will be in any danger from the premeditated assembly, nor can the ruin be achieved which is so despairingly depicted by one of your correspondents. Supposing the proposed assembly a fixed fact, who talks, who thinks of clothing it with unlimited powers? what congregation will invest a delegate with power, to give in their adherence to any notion, which has not previously been maturely deliberated on by them, and obtained their entire and perfect acquiescence? and even then, what power will exist and where to enforce any resolution of change which a supposed majority of innovators in the assembly may pass? Every congregation has an inherent right to arrange and settle their religious rites according to their own will. No power exists or can be created contrary to the political constitution of the country, which in spirit says, “no man can be coerced to profess any form of religious belief, or to practise, any peculiar mode of worship.”
Therefore all these fears are beside the question. Moreover, is it possible today to set up in America a congregation or congregations upon the model and principles of either of the so-called reformed Synagogues of Europe? and will the writer who advocates “no assembly” stand forth and say that (even to discountenance this) we ought to prohibit association and intermarriage with the families of these men? To deny their children entrance into the covenant? and to exclude their dead from interment in our cemeteries? The public and private character of the gentleman alluded to precludes us from forming any such conclusion; his intellect has expanded too much under the perseverance of his meritorious self-culture, to permit of his supporting the excommunication of past times; and in America it is by that alone suppression of opinion can be attempted, much less achieved. It it is not possible, under present circumstances, to prevent dissonance betwixt the services of the various Synagogues, how will it be possible for reformers so readily to overcome the scruples against innovation of the conservatives in the proposed assembly, that non-conformity will stalk over the land, and, instead of being Jews, men will become Deists?
We antici<< 323>>pate the reverse of this. The position assumed by another writer in the Occident of June, “That there is a broad platform on which all parties can meet,” we hold to be correct; and we are with this gentleman (whose appointment as a delegate gratifies us greatly for we estimate him amongst the few exceptions before alluded), in the opinion, that in the constitution of the proposed Assembly there is nothing to intimidate the most devoted believer, but much good may be derived from an interchange of opinions and sentiments upon the generally admitted necessity of action for the improvement of the religious knowledge and devotional feelings of the worshippers; leaving untouched and unscathed the worship. Our view is, that the delegates ought to have been, and some no doubt are, sent to discuss, deliberate, and report, NOT TO DETERMINE the proposed Assembly being but a preliminary to future action. It may propose the adoption of an annual conference or convention of ministers and laymen, similar to other religions.
IT MAY RECOMMEND the establishment of a theological or general educational institute.
It may propound a plan for the creation of an ecclesiastical board or boards.
It may suggest a union of the charities, in all the large cities.
It may propose, recommend, propound, or suggest any action which is deemed serviceable by the assembled wisdom; but that being done, its functions cease, and accordingly as these proposals or recommendations are consistent with the wants and spirit of the times, will its labours be deemed valuable or valueless.
P.S. Possibly many distant congregations are now deterred by the fear of expense attending the proposed Assembly; we are of opinion that there is no necessity for a delegate to be a member of the congregation he represents, they may appoint any Hebrew gentleman of trust and intelligence, resident at the North, reserving to themselves the right of revocation and reappointing for any future conference.