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Principles of Judaism.

No. III.

To the Editor of the Occident:

Reverend Sir—Since you have been kind enough to insert my letters in your magazine I continue to write on my subject without any farther preface or apology ; only please to recollect, <<15>>that I have stated in my last, that Judaism rests upon four strong and immovable pillars, 1. God is God; 2. Man is His image; 3. Man is accountable here and hereafter to his Maker; and 4. Israel is his own people.

All the duties of a man and an Israelite, in all situations of life, are deducible from these four positions, and all the hopes in life and death, the confidence, the fortitude, the moral strength, the joy of heart of an Israelite, are based upon these doctrines. It would surprise me, if any one should be able to point out a single duty obligatory on man, or any moral excellence, which cannot be accounted for upon one or all of these principles. We have no difference of opinion, I believe, about the first axiom; but with the second and third the difference commences. Our opponents tell us, that man, in his body, will arise at some distant day, being then inhabited by the same soul; and that he will liven early in the same manner as we do now. In connexion with this resurrection of the body is the last judgment and the everlasting damnation of those who deserve such a deplorable lot, besides other things of the same kind. We suppose that our opponents take for granted, that if the soul of man be perishable and die away, a resurrection of the body would be impossible, wherefore they must agree with us in maintaining that “The soul of man is immortal, and can exist and does exist without a body; but that the body of man is subject to mortality, and cannot exist in its proper functions without the soul;” thus we have established the main point, the very basis of our discussion. This dogma of ours is derived from the Bible, where man is called an image of God ; but the dogma of an im­mortal body appears to us to be of no biblical origin, as every impartial student of the Bible will admit, and you, reverend sir, have not yet come out with your biblical evidences.

I shall first consider the matter in a natural point of view; for it appears to me, that the Rabbis expressed the most correct opinion on the matter, when they said כל הנביאים לא נתנבאו אלא לימות אבל עולם הבא עין לא ראתה אלקים זולתך. “All the prophets prophesied only for the times of the Messiah, but the future world no eye has ever seen it save thine alone, O God.” (Berachoth fol. 34.)

Hence<<16>> דתניא כל י״ב חודש גופו קיים ונשמתו עולה ויורדת לאחר י״ב חודש הגוף בטל ונשמתו עולה ושוב אינה יורדת, “It was taught (by the earliest Rabbis) that during twelve months (after death) the body remains uncorrupted; and the soul ascends and descends (visiting the spot where its former tenement is buried); but after twelve months the body dissolved, and the soul ascends to return never again.” (Sabbath fol. 151.)

Hence we read in Moreh Nebuchim of Maimonides, Part I. ch. xl., רוח וג׳ והוא גם כן שם דבר הנשאר מן האדם אחר המות אשר לא ישיגהו ההפּסד “The noun Ruach is also the name of that which remains of man after death, and which is not liable to dissolution, and ibid., chapter xii., we read the same definition of the term נפש.

I shall say nothing about צער גלגול מחילות the idea that the bodies of the dead must roll themselves through subterranean channels to Palestine, where they will be revived; nor about the opinion סעודה וסוכה של לויתן that the pious who have arisen from death shall be assembled in a tent made of the skin of the Leviathan, and that they will eat, at a great feast, the flesh of that fabulous fish, which was killed and salted by God for this purpose soon after the creation; though these are substantial portions of the resurrection creed of those which you please to call orthodox, because they try to explain those singular assertions to be of a parabolic nature; but we have the same right to say all statements about the revival of the body are of the same nature.

I shall confine myself exclusively to the question of the resurrection of the body. The surface of the earth contains one hundred and fifty-six millions, two hundred and fifty thousand square miles of land, including the vast regions of sandy deserts, stony mountains, marshes and swamps, large districts covered with perpetual snow and ice, and other uninhabitable portions. The present population of the globe is estimated at twelve hundred millions; if we suppose one generation to be 30 years, and that since the creation of man be 5611 years, there must have been then on earth 187 generations, which would give the sum of individuals 1200,000,000 x 187 ÷ 2 = 112, 200,000,000,* which <<17>>would give a population of 720 to a square mile, if the resurrection take place in our age; none of our friends has ever lost himself so far in mystical conjectures, as to think it natural that such a population should exist on earth.

* There is evidently an error in Dr. W.’s formula here; we see no reason for dividing the product by 2; our calculation would make the population after these data 1486 to a square mile.

Our old brethren have two different methods to help themselves out of this difficulty; they say first, חוי יודע שעולם הבא אינה עשוי אלא לצדיקים ולישראל “Know that the world to come is made for none but the righteous and the Israelites” (Jebamoth fol. 46). But this is not in accordance with the passage in Daniel, which they suppose to be expressive of the doctrine of the resurrec­tion of the body: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground shall awake; some to an everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting reproach.” (Daniel xii. 2.) If our friends will insist, that Daniel speaks in this chapter only of Israel, then they cannot help saying but that only many of Israel will arise; some of those who arise will be a shame and an everlasting reproach, consequently they must admit, that among those who arise will be wicked people too; to assert the wicked shall arise and die again is incompatible with the text, in which the עולם “everlasting” prohibits such a construction. And if this contradiction is not to exist, our old friends cannot remove the difficulty by the above-quoted conjecture; for it is unquestionable that five children die to one grown person; and what wrong can a child have done? and among the rest of mankind they must reckon חצאי זכאי וחצאי חיב “one half innocent and the other half guilty,” which is a strict talmudical principle; consequently the immense number of 720 to a square mile would be immaterially reduced. They cannot remove this difficulty by conjecturing that those who have risen will be of such a spiritual nature that they have no wants whatever; for this would be no resurrection of the same body, but a new creation; hence, as it is said עתידים צדיקים שיעמדו בלבושיהם “The righteous will arise in future with their garments” (Kethuboth, fol. 112), and consequently they will need clothes; and עתידים כל בעלי אומניות שיעמדו על הקרקע “In future all the tradesmen will resort to the tillage of the ground” (Jebamoth, fol. 49); so they will need, accordingly, the produce of the earth and as they shall eat of the flesh of the <<18>>Leviathan, and dwell in the tent made of his skin (Baba Bathra, fol. 73), they must be nearly the same as we now are; hence, as Jerusalem will be again the capital of Palestine (Baba Bathra, fol. 75), and as the geographical division of that country will be nearly the same as was in time of yore (ibid. fol. 122), the necessity of possession will be then the same as now, so it must be peopled by persons with carnal wants.

It is also said אין גהינים לעתיד לבוא אלא הקב״ה מוציא חמה מנרטקה צדיקים מתרפּאין בה וגו׳ “There shall be no hell in future, but God will take the sun out of his case, and the righteous will be healed thereby, whilst the wicked shall be punished by the same.” (Nedarim, fol. 8.) None can be healed who is not sick. We see, therefore, that they who have been revived will eat, drink, dress, dwell in houses, have possession of land, labour, be sick and healed, consequently they will be the same persons as we are; in which case no 720 human beings can exist on each square mile all over the earth, not even then if we adopt the opinion of Rab (Kethuboth, fol. 112), “that in the world to come all trees growing in Palestine will bear fruits;” and also then not if we adopt the view of Rabbi Jehudah (Yerushalmi, Shekalim, ch. ii), “that in the world to come, grain will ripen once every month, and fruit once in two months.” I am not able to tell you how the ancient Rabbis knew all this, since they themselves confess (Berachoth, fol. 34) that even the prophets mention nothing of the subject; but our erudite contemporaries, who persecuted me publicly and privately, because I dared to say “the Talmud is not divine,” will doubtless be able to explain it all to you.

The second view of our ancient brethren is that when the resurrection of the body will take place, the revived shall live in an unnatural, supernatural, or preternatural state (remember your note under my letter, p. 494); but we have to tell them again that if any one should demonstrate by passages from the Bible 3 x 3 is 8, or will be 8 at some future day, we would reject his opinion as erroneous, contrary to and impairing the truth and divinity of the Bible, which allows no contradiction to nature, and the handiwork of the same Maker; consequently I have no right to share their views on the resurrection of the body.

My letter has grown to a considerable length, which invites me to close it, and consider the matter farther in my next.

Respectfully yours,


Albany, February 18th, 5611, A. M.

Note by the Editor.—We know not indeed that in our whole editorial career we have given publicity to an article with more pain and unwillingness than in laying the above letter “on the resurrection” before our readers. Dr. Wise speaks out plainly enough that he does not believe in it, and that he is satisfied with the philosophical immortality of the soul as all-sufficient in Judaism. He sets out, as our readers will perceive, by laying down four axioms, and insists upon it that we who believe in the possibility of a revival of the dead deny his second and third premises. But we are at a loss to understand how “that man is the image of God, and that man is accountable here and hereafter” gainsays that his body and soul may become reunited after they have been separated. When we say that “the dead shall live again,” we do not say that I am less in the image of God than when we say “they shall not rise.” Accountability is never diminished by such a view or its opposite.

The only question is, Does the Bible teach it? Dr. Wise says that we have not yet brought forward biblical evidences. But we had not yet reached the subject at all in our discussion of “Judaism and its Principles;” we were developing our doctrines gradually, to see what nature, reason, history, and the Bible, the four arbiters of Dr. Wise, would teach us in the premises; and though when the time comes we shall not be wanting to do the best we can to illustrate the question, it is surely unreasonable to expect that we should introduce any heterogeneous matter or hasten the discussion to a close, merely to anticipate the ideas of our opponent in the debate before us.

When we commenced in September last to write on this topic, we merely appended a note to point out the tendency of our remarks; but we did not promise any particular mode nor a limited number of pages to finish them in. Before we got even properly under way, before we had laid down our premises, Dr. Wise, thinking himself assailed, sent us his reply, not against what we had written, but against what we were aiming at. Consequently there can be no blame attached to us, that we have not come forward with biblical proofs in favour of the resurrection before we had reached the topic itself.

Dr. Wise himself brings forward no proof of the kind; and the only biblical passage he <<20>>quotes, to wit, Daniel xii. 2, pointedly speaks of the resurrection, not as a matter of speculation, but as one of future accomplishment. Now even take the word ורבים in the usual acceptation of the word, and translate it “and many,” what does it convey? but the veriest idea which follows, “of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake;” does this say they shall not live? no, it says they shall; consequently, according to Daniel, the resurrection is not a matter of doubt or even possibility, but absolute, unavoidable certainty.

But before going farther we may assume that ורבים has a more extended meaning than many, and can signify the “multitude of those,” &c., which would make the rising from the dust of the ground general instead of a partial event. Whatever may, however, be the true meaning of the prophet, which, as the subject itself is mysterious, may safely be left to conjecture without violating any principle of correct interpretation, the doctrine of ancient Judaism is clearly established, viz., that what is dust now may become endowed again with life, and exist in a state of higher exaltation than it is possible now to exhibit.

Even the denouncement of everlasting shame and contempt carries with it a great destiny, an undying existence, a power of endurance which is also from God, so that the wicked in bearing their yoke magnify even thus the great Creator whose work they are no less than the righteous who enjoy everlasting bliss and life. Our learned readers will perhaps call to mind the beautiful talmudic idea “As well as the Lord gives strength to the pious to bear their reward, so will He give strength to the wicked to bear their punishment.” Few there may be who will fully comprehend the sublimity of this view of the goodness of God; but to the sincerely pious it reveals the most far-reaching mercy even in the deepest idea of human degradation; nothing places us beyond the reach of the Most High, and his mercy and might are with us in the holiest abode of the blest (to use a phrase which is in itself metaphorical, as much as the “Tabernacle of the Leviathan” which the Rabbins employ), and in the region of the damned, if there be a special receptacle for those who are doomed.

Dr. Wise refers to an arithmetical impossibility, and he endeavours to prove that 720 human beings cannot exist on every square mile all over the earth. He argues farther that the Rabbins, the original promulgators of the doctrine of the resurrection, had very narrow views of the existence of the spirit; they invested it with desire for food, clothing, possession of land and property; and he strives to show that <<21>> if such be the state of the revived dead, they could not possibly exist on our present globe with its present dimensions.

But it is surprising to us , how so able a reasoner as Dr. Wise should so entirely forget or rather lose sight of the meaning of the idea of resurrection. For however he may carp at the proposition that it is absurd, unnatural, supernatural, and preternatural, it is in itself only possible by assuming it to be beyond the ordinary laws of nature as understood by us. In nature the dead are finally dead; no one can say that he has ever seen a being deprived of animal life, a fruit deprived of its vegetable life, nay, even a stone disfigured by crushing or otherwise from its original state, restored to what it was originally. We only see changes which once produced are so far irrevocable. But are not all productions beyond the ordinary power of nature? can you point out a single reason why chemistry, electricity, heat, or other agents should have the precise effect which they have? We deal momentarily with agents the origin and operation of which are entirely unknown to us; all we know is that they exist, beyond this all is vague conjecture. Ask the physician why calomel, the proto-chloride of mercury, should be so powerful or remedial an agent, and corrosive sublimate, the deuto chloride of the same substance, should be so fatal to the existence of life. In both these agents we have so far as known to science the same elements, chlorine gas and metallic mercury, only in the first there is one proportion in the other two proportions of a substance which is a great ingredient in the common salt which is so necessary to make food palatable and healthy, and without which the economy of life could hardly be carried on. Here then we have a necessary element, a remedy, and a poison, all derived from one source; and no one will be hardy enough to account for it on any other ground than that it is so.

Suppose now one had argued on Dr. Wise’s plan, 3 times 3 is 9, not 8; and as we know that chlorine and mercury combined form a remedy, it is impossible that they can combine so as to produce a poison, thus ch + m = r, wherefore 2 ch + m are not = p. Would our equation not be laughed at for its absurdity? It is the very thing that in one formula we have 1 ch, in the other 2 ch; the quantities are different, and hence the powers are equally so.

Now we acknowledge that no man can have the power to revive the dead, and to assume it would be to make 3 x 3 not = 9, or in other words, we would have to invest him with a power which he has not and cannot have. Life is not within man’s gift, he only can work with and move within the spheres of forces which outward nature yields to his <<22>>manipulation. So then the electrician can by his Voltaic battery make the limbs of a recently deceased move with a convulsive twitch, and cause him to open and shut his eyes, whilst with this his power ends.

Yet would even this much not have been considered an absurdity within the range of possibility had it been predicted but seventy years ago? And suppose any one had, when the belief in witchcraft was rampant, performed such a miracle, would he not have been burned at the stake as having a confederation with the spirits of darkness? If, however, we assume that there is a Being not bound by nor circumscribed within the powers of outward nature, what is there absurd in the proposition that He should be able to revive the dead? To deny it is to maintain that nature is primitive, and God at best a mere superior agent in handling it, only exalted in a degree above the weaker agent—man. No Jewish theologian can be guilty of defending such a blasphemy; the heathen gods had some such sort of power; they could do what they pleased within the range of fate, beyond which they could not stir; and should the God of Israel be controlled invincibly by Nature which He ordained? He that gives power of life and death within the same substances, should He not be able to arrange death and life to suit his purposes? The resurrection, therefore, is no more nor less than a manifestation of God’s creative power , and as such we assume it as possible; that it will occur we believe, because it is predicted in the Bible, and if even nowhere else, in the twelfth chapter of Daniel.

That there are difficulties in the way of explaining how the resurrection of one or all the dead can take place, after all the flesh and bones have been changed into dust or dissolved into their original elements, no one will deny; we have no standard of comparison by which we could form a natural hypothesis of the idea, so as to represent it in a clear and distinct light. But how will any one explain to us the condition of the soul in a manner separate and distinct from matter? or how is it that a human offspring should have power of speech, and that of a brute be like its progenitors? What is there in nature for which you can find an explanation? what is there in mind which you can explain at all? Still no one, who is a Jew, will for such grounds deny the superiority of the human soul over brute instinct, or gainsay the immortality of the spirit, though it has no longer an outward dwelling to make itself manifest.

Suppose, however, we would argue on Dr. Wise’s plan: Whatever we know of, has an outward shape or form; whatever lives manifests itself through motion and perceptibility; and <<23>>whereas the dead body does not move, nor show that it feels outward pressure, and whereas we have never seen a soul, or anything which has no material form, consequently it does not exist, and when a man is dead, it is all over with him, he is annihilated as far as life is concerned, however it may take some time longer before the particles of which he was composed shall resume their original form, because 3 x 3 are 9 and not 8. Is this legitimate reasoning? who does not see at once that the analogy from arithmetic does not hold good? The product of multiplication is a necessary inherent principle in the numbers required to produce it; it is so and not otherwise, and we cannot imagine any other result without arriving at an absurdity, although it is not capable of any absolute proof of its being so.

But of the power of God we cannot say that it is as we find it, and that it cannot be otherwise; 3 x 3 is 9 and invariably so; God, however, is not limited by Nature, nor in any shape dependent on it; life is merely a phenomenon which is derived from Him, and death a stage or period in it, which only changes its appearance and does not interrupt its continuance. This is based on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the assumption, the correctness of which no Israelite will dispute, that there is spirit distinct from matter, and able to exist without material form or aids. If now a time has elapsed since the body and soul were separated, what prevents God from reinfusing the tenement, worn out and corrupt as it confessedly has been, with renewed animation and power?

The difficulty will be urged, as Dr. Wise does, about the identity. But it is futile to speak of an objection which is only feasible on the plea that it is such if man be the agent. To God it is no more difficult to re-gather the particles of matter necessary to construct a human frame, than to let an infant grow up into a vigorous man, and to let him then decay into a decrepit old man, and next to let him die entirely. The only question here is: “Will He do it?” and that He will is derived from Scripture.

Dr. Wise cites some passages from the Talmud to exhibit the unreasonable ideas which the Rabbis entertained of the state of the revived bodies on earth. To this we may at once except, first, that some of the passages quoted, particularly the one from Kiddushin, fol. 112, do not, to our view, refer to the time of the resurrection, but to the period subsequent to the coming of the Messiah, when, in the opinion of our teachers, the land of Palestine is to be extremely fruitful to accommodate the large numbers of Israelites who are then to dwell therein. That this is not so unreasonable an expectation must be evident from <<24>>a view of the probable large increase of the nation of Israel, superadded, as they will have, many strangers, and the numerous pilgrims who are to resort annually to the temple at Jerusalem, of which we shall treat more fully in the proper place.

And secondly, that there can be no doubt that the Rabbis spoke allegorically when they refer to Leviathan and to the tabernacle made from his skin we need not tell Dr. Wise that our teachers had often from necessity to hide their doctrines under fabulous or parabolical narratives, so as to be understood only by their auditors, who were Israelites, whilst the governments who often persecuted them for their religion’s sake remained ignorant of the principles they were thus privately and extensively inculcating. It is possible enough that what they first conveyed as instructive fables was at length taken in after-periods as the literal doctrine of the Rabbis; and that perhaps it would have been far better, when Rab Ashy collected the Talmudical principles and legends, he had left out all which would in the least be misunderstood. But his not having done so, does not authorize us at this day to assert that our teachers taught contrary to the Bible and nature, because we, forsooth, have lost the key to the mystic language they employed.

It is indeed strange that professed successors of the Rabbis, those who exercise functions which ought not to exist if the Talmud were a tissue of errors, should be found among the followers of Eisenmenger and MacCaul, and libel by their satire or invective those who have transmitted to us with so much care the undefiled Bible, the pure word of God, without admixture and addition. If they had meant to propagate error, they would have been cautious how they preserved the Scriptures, contradict as these would do their assumption on every page. We had hoped that our ministers and preachers would have hesitated long before they cast reflections so unjust upon our glorious predecessors.

But it is useless to deny the fact that our destroyers are members of our own household, and that we are hence compelled to take up defensive armour against men belonging to Israel, even those who are in other respects an ornament to us and our cause. We hope, therefore, that we shall not be charged with a spirit of persecution and proscription, which is foreign to our feelings, in the progress of discussion, which has been forced upon us, and the termination of which we have no means of now perceiving.

We must, at the same time, apologise for the want of erudition which we may display; for though engaged in the cause of our people for years, the calm hours of study, so necessary to an extensive reading, have been denied to us, and we had also <<25>>but little personal intercourse with the learned in Jewish literature, that we might derive additional knowledge from them. It may be, hence, presumptuous in us to discuss this difficult question with one so far above us, as Dr. Wise is, in an extensive acquaintance with the philosophical works written by Israelites. But Dr. W. having in an unfortunate moment given expression to opinions which he had better kept to himself, even if he honestly entertained them (which, by the by, we doubt not in the least), and as he has been challenged and assailed for so avowing them, we cannot refuse letting him give his reasons for his ideas, whilst we deem it our duty to defend what we deem the principles of our belief in the best way we can. Should we be deficient either in knowledge, understanding of the subject, or power of reasoning, we hope that those who are better qualified, especially they who have provoked the discussion, will come to our aid, and help us fight the battles in which we are all alike interested. For the present we must close here, owing to the great length this paper has already attained.