|Vol. VII, No. 6
Elul 5609, Sept. 1849
Rabbi Nissim Ben Shelomoh
To The Editor of the Occident.
Montreal, 18th Ab, 5609.
Reverend Sir:—In the July number of your periodical, you give extracts from, and a review of a letter received from Mr. Simeon Abrahams, of New York. In connexion with that letter, you refer to R. Nissim Ben Shelomoh, the Messenger from Hamadan, (more generally, though I think incorrectly, known as from Shushan,) Persia, approving the conduct of those who responded to his appeals, and expressing your conviction of his honesty and veracity. From this circumstance, I would conclude that Mr. Abrahams was under the impression that our Persian friend was not, de facto, what he pretended to be. I am the more disposed to such a conclusion, because Mr. A., in a late communication to me, states that, when in Constantinople, “several Persian [Jew]s, who lived near the place where R. Nissim came from, had heard nothing about the matter.” My worthy friend will, I am sure, pardon my referring to this much of a private letter. In a reply, which Mr. A. probably received after forwarding his communication to the Occident, I endeavoured to show him that the Persian’s ignorance of the matter was no conclusive proof of the non-integrity of the Rabbi, or of his mission. This I did at some length. It is therefore not so much to clear R. Nissim with Mr. Abrahams, (who is, I trust, by this time quite convinced of the Rabbi’s probity,) as it is to show the Jewish public generally that “Surely Brutus is an honourable man,” that I beg to present the following considerations. 1. Rabbi Nissim carried with him documents from the ecclesiastical and lay authorities of the “Synagogue of Mordecai and Esther,” the principal Jewish congregation in Persia, of <<316>> Morocco, London, &c., all hearing the most conclusive internal evidence of their genuineness. To show how far misrepresentation has extended, I might state, en parenthèse, that Mr. Abrahams was informed that both Portuguese and German Dayanim in London had refused to countersign the messenger’s credentials. Now not only did they give him the usual letters of recommendation,* but the Rabbi spoke in terms of the warmest gratitude of the kindly consideration with which he was treated by the Rev. Mr. Meldola, presiding Rabbi of the Portuguese congregation, in particular. This gentleman, (whom I have the honour to call uncle,) also addressed me in very favourable terms respecting Rabbi N., long before his arrival in Canada. 2. Some of the representations of Rabbi Nissim are authenticated by the published statements of those who, as having no possible interest for misrepresenting the matter, cannot be so charged; while others are supported by the little we already know of the state of our Persian brethren, and by the greater knowledge we have of their degenerate oppressors. 3. The Rabbi had no other inducement to undertake his mission but a respectful deference to the authority which sent him. He did not receive the usual one-third of the net proceeds for commission; he did not desire to receive the donations himself, but requested that they should be paid either to Mr. Samson (I believe) of New York, or to Sir Moses Montefiore, for remittance to their destination; and he only asked the necessary funds for the expenses of his road.
This was his proceeding, not only here, but wherever he went, excepting, perhaps, some few places where the amount collected was small, and could not be remitted without a heavy and disproportionate expense. 4. The mission was a positive evil to him. He was physically weak and of a too unsophisticated mind to battle with its difficulties, or to become a successful pleader. The poor man had moreover become almost blind from cataract, no doubt induced, as a medical friend, on whose opinion I place the greatest reliance, informed me, by travelling in uncongenial climates; and still he pursued his journey, spite of all its dangers, because “his days were not fulfilled.”
These considerations induce me, like you, “to pledge my word that he is no impostor;” and I will cheerfully endeavour to prove this more fully, should circumstances so require. I would have added, in the fifth place, that his undeviatingly pious and proper deportment while among us would also tend to show his worth; but it is with surprise that I find you remark on his “bad temper.” I trust that you merely allude to his reputed conduct elsewhere, and that you yourself never <<317>>saw any indications of it. I am sure I need not remind you, sir, that when a man finds himself in a place where he cannot make himself understood, he undergoes a sufficient trial of his temper. Every Englishman who visits France, without knowing French, generally experiences this. Then how much more trying must it be for the Eastern traveler, who, let us charitably recollect, is always of a more inflammatory temperament than ourselves, and who finds habits and customs, as well as language, entirely strange to him? In justice to Rabbi Nissim, I must state that his bearing, during the six weeks he resided in Montreal, was such as to leave a most favourable and gratifying recollection, not only among his Hebrew friends, but among many intelligent and respectable Christians also. It is true that Rabbi N. Was looked upon here as a rara avis in terra, being the first Persian known to have trod Canadian ground. But, granting that the Rabbi actually does possess this infirmity of temper, what follows? Simply that, satisfied of his own integrity and the justness of his cause, he eschews—not to say disdains—a more insinuating, conciliatory line of policy, to obtain what he considers should be accorded to him freely and readily. This, however wrong, cannot, or at least should not militate against the propriety of the mission, or deter any one from affording all possible relief. That a more fitting person might have been selected, is very possible; and that, as you, sir, remark, his ignorance of any European language ill qualifies him to make a successful appeal, is very sure; but I would beg to state, on the Rabbi’s authority, that, the Haham excepted, there were few or none better qualified in this respect than Rabbi Nissim himself.
I had intended making some remarks on the information I obtained from R. Nissim, relative to the present state of our Persian brethren; but as this communication has already extended to a greater length than was designed, and as I conceive that anything referring to Israelites, wherever they be, will always find a place in the Occident, I will send you these at some other time, as also will I forward you my “Notes on the state of the Persian Israelites, under the rule of Mahommed Shah;” and should you consider either likely to be worthy of place in your periodical, I will render them at your service forthwith.
Leaving to your sense of justice and impartiality the insertion of the above humble attempt to vindicate the character of a worthy man, I subscribe myself, with sentiments of respectful esteem,
Your very obedient servant,