|Vol. VII, No. 6
Elul 5609, Sept. 1849
Sketches En Route.
BEING in Berlin on the first day of סכות, I had a desire to see the great improvements made here in the forms of public worship by the Reformers of this celebrated city; and knowing that these “Gottes Diener” did not observe the second as a day of rest or of holy convocation, I was the more anxious to see them on this day. But how was this desire to be gratified?—for, being a stranger, and scarcely able to ask the most simple question in the German language, it was a most difficult task to discover this place of “pure worship.”
After walking a long distance, from “Unter den Linden” to a place near the postoffice, I found the locality of the Israelitish temple. After satisfying myself that this was the place sought, and thinking that these “improvers” did not commence their service before nine o’clock, I returned to the hotel and took breakfast, after which I retraced my steps towards the appointed place, where everything was to be performed with all the “latest improvements.” But what was my astonishment when, instead of the real temple, I entered an Orthodox synagogue, and found that these stiff-necked people still continued to use the Hebrew language in <<328>>their holy service, and paid no attention to the “march of improvement” in their immediate neighbourhood. The Synagogue was literally crowded, and there were not enough seats to accommodate the large number of persons present. All the Trustees wore a small black silk cloak, and were very attentive to the strangers there, in trying to accommodate them to the utmost extent of their means. But the idea of having lost the opportunity of seeing the “temple” service was a matter of great regret, from the accounts of the “solemn manner” of their service; and there being none on the second day of the festival was a disappointment not easily to be overcome.
Still the loss was soon repaired; for in a few days I was introduced to Mr. G., one of the trustees or managers of the “Holy Congregation,” and by him informed that the “establishment” was to be opened on Sunday, for the better accommodation of its numerous members. Having expressed a desire to see it, on Sunday morning Mr. G. called at the hotel, and with him I repaired to the “Great Reform Temple.” On entering, a man handed each of us a “programme” of the services of the day; for it appeared that these wiseacres have discovered that “variety is pleasing,” and they alter their songs, &c., each day of meeting. The building is of a circular form, and capable of holding more persons than any Synagogue in the United States. There are several Hebrew inscriptions placed in conspicuous parts of the building. All the “audience,” both male and female, sat with their heads uncovered. The service commenced by one of the Doctors reading something, with his back to the “beloved people,” much in the way that the Catholic priests perform the mass. Then the “sweet singers of Israel” favoured the audience with some German singing, with an accompaniment on the organ. Another Doctor, (who appeared to be very cold, for he wore a brown coat buttoned up to his chin,) then went to a shelf behind the reading. desk, took down the ספר, and carried it to the reading desk, and with his head uncovered read two verses, after which he put it away. A little more reading and singing followed, and this closed the services of the day; the whole of this ridiculous humbuggery taking exactly forty minutes. The large number who attended this “holy convocation” was exactly eighteen, men, women, and children, all counted. Thus finished one of the most foolish parodies on religious worship which it is possible to conceive; and it proves most conclusively that if our holy religion or its solemn and venerated forms are to be improved, it must be by other means than those adopted by the Reformers of Berlin.