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The Task of the Jews in the United States.

Written on the 9th of Ab, 5611, at St. Louis, Mo.

By Isidore Bush

Has the commemorative mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem lost its meaning and purpose; and become insignificant? has it lost all value with those even who consider these blessed free States their beloved home and not an exile, or a banishment into thralldom, who do not long for Jerusalem, and do not desire to go to deserted Palestine?

At a first glance we might take it for an empty remembrance, to which we were not to pay much attention, and the celebration of which, with fasting and prayer, might be abolished, but for the offence it would give to those of our friends and brethren that adhere thoughtlessly to all rabbinical laws.

But let us look deeper into the matter.

For, if this were so, would not all the joyful festivities in remembrance of our liberations from danger and affliction, our Pesach, Purim, and Hanukkah, have been yet more valueless, without any meaning and purpose for our fathers and forefathers in Europe through 1800 years of degradation and slavery? nay, would they not have actually been a sneer and a reproach wounding to their feelings, if they had regarded these holy days in such a light?

But it was not merely the historical fact, and surely not the bloody ephemeral victory over our enemies, that the vanquished and subdued Jews celebrated until this very day; but the eternal victory of the spirit over earthly power. Those feasts were intended to keep alive in us the confidence in God’s providence, the hatred against tyranny, the sense of freedom, and independence;—and they have done it, with a power which the most unbelieving of us, and even among our adversaries, cannot deny. Our contemporaries of other creeds ask themselves, full of amazement, How is it that the Jews, whom we thought to be a vile <<468>> and low, cringing sect, bare of strength and courage, are so con­spicuous in every struggle for liberty,* and take a far more active part in it than we could expect, from the smallness of their number and the weakness of their means?

* In regard to the revolutions of 1848, this is a world-known fact, testified by hundreds of our names distinguished in those events, and moreover by the fact, that Hungary, Italy, Prussia, and almost all the Austrian States, declared in the first days of liberty’s victory, that their Jewish brethren should become their fellow-citizens, equal in all rights. But even in former revolu­tions they did not hold back. In the North American struggle for independence this was less known, because here nobody asked after the religious opinions of others. The late M. M. Noah assured me, that he knew some who had actively co-operated in it. [There was nearly an entire company of Israelites at Charleston, when the British attacked the fort in that harbour.—I. L.]

The “reactionists” all over Europe have given these very Jews the names of demagogues, instigators of, and leaders in, the rebellion;—and, in spite of it (or for this very reason), the victorious monarchs do not venture to deprive them of their conquered “emancipation,” whilst they take back all rights to which the revolutionary struggles had entitled the remainder of their people. And, in the face of this fact, I foretell that it will be again these flattered Jews, who will give the best of their sons to battle with the sword and the pen, and to offer again more victims for the liberty and well-being of the king-ridden nations among whom they live.

They nobly recognise in this a part of the great task for which they have been chosen and preserved by Providence, and Orthodox no less than Neologists agree in this point.†

† Mr. Meisel, Rabbi of Cracow, who insisted on wearing the Polish Talar and Shubizza, considering every modern dress a sin, took an active part in the insurrection of the Austrian people, so that he was elected a member of the “Constituirend Reichstag’s” Constituent Assembly at Vienna; and Mr. Löw, Rabbi of Papa, who had been excommunicated for his reforms by most of the orthodox Rabbis, joined the army of the Hungarian revolutionists as field-preacher.

Would that all parties, though differing in some views, might coincide with what I declare to be our task here, where such struggles have been successfully fought, and where now the freedom of all of us is only limited by such restrictions as we <<469>> have placed on ourselves, to promote what we believe for the good of the greatest number, or in so far as the imperfection of the laws, which we have framed ourselves, hinder us in the free exercise of our natural rights and powers.

This task has nothing to do with our belief in a Messiah, be he a personal one, to come in some distant period to conduct our posterity to the borders of the Jordan, or be he an ideal one, to come in a spiritual sense and unite the souls and hearts of all mankind into one flock, from the Ganges to the Mississippi. In Europe, my zeal was frequently aroused against those sophists, who wanted to erase, by one stroke of their pen, the idea of a future redeemer,—that hope and trust which comforted and strengthened our forefathers through centuries of bitter persecution, and which many of us need as greatly in their unfortunate present position. Here I cannot avoid esteeming lightly, those who dare to deny the resurrection of the dead, because their brains cannot conceive where they should have room enough, or how this to take place.

They who want to destroy in others the living faith in any manner of religious belief, because it is dead within them, remind me of the woman that said before Solomon’s judgment, “Not being mine, it shall not be thine either.”

Let everybody keep his belief—the more so when it gives pleasure to his mind, satisfaction or consolation to his heart. Notwithstanding this, we can all unite in the one point, that it is our task to bring the principles of our divine doctrine, as it regards God and society, into practical life, and acquire for it public esteem; in other words, we should endeavour, first, to promote among all classes a purified religious comprehension, a deeper knowledge of the Supreme Being and His will; secondly, to cooperate in the amelioration and perfection of the laws of social life, according to the clear and eternal principles of equality and fraternity, of charity and beneficence, of love and justice, as they are given in our Torah, the word of God.

The first part of this our task has been performed already to a great extent by oar brethren in Europe, who have been very influential in inducing the return of Christianity to its original <<470>> pure source; who have largely contributed in the liberation of the priest-ridden world from hierarchic oppression, and have greatly succeeded notwithstanding the chains that bound their tongue and pen,* and in spite of the powerful persecution of the priests, who imbued the very children with fear and hatred against that spectre, which they nicknamed Jew, whereby they possessed the most powerful weapon against us—popular prejudice. Like Mendelssohn, who undoubtedly influenced Lessing, hundreds of our German brethren have exerted an influence on many minds—in particular upon Hegel, Strauss, Feuerbach, not to mention Spinoza, who is the father of modern philosophy, nor those who, born and educated by Jewish parents, left our ranks, or appeared at least formally to do so.

* This abominable “censur” (censorship) had also its good influence, partly because every writing which was forbidden became sought after with so much more avidity; and partly because many an untimely, ill-placed, or inconsiderate word, such as frequently do us more harm than a thousand can do good, was prevented from seeing the light.

The second part of this task, reforms in the social laws, could not hitherto be thought of in the old world, where the struggle for the mere political existence of the nations, for laws that should secure their independence from despotic, aristocratic, and hierarchical despotism had hardly begun. But even here, in the land of liberty, this task could hardly have been performed ere this. It is scarcely one generation since most of our large cities have grown up out of little villages, and prosperous states have been formed out of the wilderness.

The pioneers of this new world had to work, and a hard task it was, for the first introduction of civilization. They had to protect themselves against the inclemency of wild nature, and yet wilder men; they had to lay the foundation for our political and material existence; and they have done it bravely and more successfully than any progress human genius can boast of elsewhere.

Let us hope, that on this prosperous foundation, under the best hitherto known form of government, corresponding more closely than any other of our days to the spirit of our own Holy Scriptures—let us hope that from now and hereafter, the pro<<471>>gress in the region of spiritual knowledge, of philosophy, and religion, and in the reforms of social life, will be equally great, rapid, and propitious; and let us also hope to find our Israelitish brethren in the foremost rank of those who strive and struggle for it.

That this is really our task—that we are to be the “champions of light,”—a “blessing for all the people on earth,” we could easily prove by a hundred Bible texts and by history; but it would be far more difficult, and beyond the scope of this periodical, to discuss the ways how we shall execute it.        

Let the following short rules, or rather hints, be sufficient, therefore, and I sincerely believe that every one who reflects upon them, and who has an earnest will to do his part, will find out the remainder by himself.

1st. Let us openly avow that we are “Jews,” never be ashamed of this long-persecuted name, and bear it with pride: it is a name that has lasted more centuries than any people’s name in history; for who can show us now the Romans, the Trojans, Spartans, &c.? it is a name that has to be respected by every one, and dare not be insulted in this country, even by its most powerful foes.

2d. Give honour to yourselves; when the rose graces herself, she is the ornament too of the garden, says a German poet. Make yourselves respected, beloved, and avow yourselves as Jews, and this very name will receive part of this respect and love, without taking any from you. Do this particularly by choosing different and honourable trades and pursuits. The clothing business and peddling, which the greatest part of you have adopted in some cities, are neither very profitable, nor calculated to give us the honourable position we should endeavour to possess among our fellow-citizens.

3d. Give to the Bible the full veneration that is due to these Holy Scriptures, and which the wisest of all nations and times, and our great philosophers, even sceptics, could not refuse to them. You live among a Bible-venerating people; let them never forget that you have been its bearers to mankind, and when their fathers were heathens, that you knew the Bible in <<472>> its originality and purity; and the gospel even does not contain any moral law, any doctrine of love, that is not already contained in the older and only Holy Scriptures. But do not act like the men who, repudiating the doctrines of those false priests, who have hypocritically or fanatically corrupted the pure idea of the sole God of the Universe, go in their hatred and criticism so far as to deny all, and build new systems, which, in the best case, are no less a perversion of that pure, simple, and eternal doctrine of our Eternal God and Father.

4th. Support as much as you can the public school system, and lend no help whatever to sectarian institutions: do not send your children, neither your sons nor your daughters, to such, and don’t complain about heavy school taxes;—establish no* Jewish school except only the one branch of your religion, history and Hebrew language.

* In this latter clause we differ totally from our learned correspondent. Whilst we would condemn energetically the sending of Jewish children to sectarian schools, where they have to imbibe principles hostile to their faith, such as nunneries and priest’s institutes, we would earnestly recommend the establishment of Jewish seminaries. Our opinion has been often expressed, particularly in our address printed in the May number of our magazine, to which we refer. Equally with this we must, although it is not necessary, repudiate the idea of the non-personality of the Messiah.—Ed. Oc.

5th. Employ the word of defence whenever requisite; but use it only after mature reflection. Jews have always been distinguished for soundness in criticism and encounters of wit, and solidity in debate. Oppose frankly, but with dignity and apparent scorn, those who strive to calumniate us, or to transplant hither the hatred and injurious legislation employed against us in the old countries.

6th. Be brothers to each other; preserve this good reputation which your deadliest enemies have never ventured to take from you—that you are, and act brotherly to each other; assist the brother in need above your means; form societies for this purpose; and, if you have such, do all in your power to procure for these societies the high esteem of all your neighbours. This tends not to any social exclusiveness, like some pretend, just as little (and less perhaps) than a German emigrant society.

7th and lastly, Study and keep in your mind the principles of the Bible, as regards interests on money, the distribution of the country to the landless or real cultivator, the promotion of agriculture, and prevention of land usury. Thus you may go, hand in hand with our noblest social reformers, protected from the errors of the communist and others, sure to advocate an object that must at last be victorious, and a blessing to the world, that all may exclaim, “Indeed, a wise and intellectual people is this great people of the Jews.”