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Mr. Newman’s Reply.

To the Editor of the Occident.


In allusion to some remarks which I could not avoid making in No. 12 of the last volume of the Occident, on the change to the <<200>> opposite extreme, by a late minister once orthodox, a reply has appeared in No. 2 of this volume, signed “C,” the writer of which describes himself as a member of the congregation of Beth Elohim of Charleston, S. C. Judging the said remarks too strong to be mistaken. as referring to any one but to the Rev. Mr. Poznanski, he was induced thereby to take up the cudgels in defence of the latter, and pronounces my assertions a gross tissue of misrepresentations. This, my accuser, I would only ask, Is it not a gross misrepresentation for one who repeatedly declared his utter unbelief in the Bible, and yet calls himself a member of a Synagogue, and even steps forth as the champion for the purity of Jewish religion?

As to the truth of what I have stated respecting the backsliding late minister, here are the plain facts, let them speak for themselves. That gentleman, in the presence of a number of his friends, laboured hard to convince me that all ceremonial laws as given by Moses, which are either unsuitable to our age or inconvenient, are no longer binding on us, any more than that (Deut. xxii. 3) “when thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof.” (I repeat his own words.)

To my inquiry whether circumcision and Sabbath ought not also be abrogated, as very unsuitable and inconvenient, he remained mute. Having either taken upon himself or consented to make alterations in the creed adopted by the Jews in general, such as the resurrection and the coming of a Messiah, which he rejects altogether, he likewise found fault with the belief “that this law now in our possession is that which was given to Moses by God,” and substituted in its place the belief “that the Divine Law now in our possession is that which we received from Moses.”

What could have been the object of this alteration? And why did he so obstinately refuse to assent to my urgent entreaties to reinsert the words as they were in the original, if only to conciliate those of his Jewish brethren who suspect (and not without reason) the motive for altering a creed so vital to their faith? The many years he had been the spiritual guide of his congregation, he of necessity had frequently to pray publicly for the resurrection, for the coming of the Messiah, and for our return to the <<201>> land of our fathers. And even at a funeral, which happened to be during my sojourn there, I heard him in the service he was reading, most solemnly and impressively repeat the sentence (Is. xxvi. 19): “Thy dead men shall live, &c., and the earth shall cast out the dead.” When subsequently I questioned him how he consistently could utter such prayers for what he neither expects nor desires? his answer was, “he understands these words differently from what they are generally understood.” Then surely his successor in the ministry cannot be blamed for honestly having refused to allow him to read prayers for his congregation on כפור—knowing him as he did, that he meant not what he is understood to pray for.

I am far from condemning any one for his belief or unbelief according to his conscience; but of a minister, I am sure, his friends who are honest men, must agree with me that he should teach and speak directly what he means to convey, and they cannot consider all I had occasion to say on the subject, as uncalled for and gratuitous. For it is the duty of every layman who at all cares for his religion, to watch those who take upon themselves to lead the opinions of their coreli­gionists, and expose their errors or insincerity—be they ministers or editors. One of the latter class, I regret I cannot help taking this opportunity of noticing, has, to my mind, committed a great error (for I doubt not it was inadvertently) in express­ing his sentiments in the cause of humanity in terms irreverent of the Divine Law. I refer to what has appeared in the Asmonean of May In an article headed “Teaching by the Gibbet,” the writer advocates the abolition of the last punishment for murder, if even the most atrocious for, asks he, although the inspired book says “blood for blood,” does it not equally whisper, “Thou shalt not kill?” And it is therefore time that a custom so barbarous should be done away with.

Such reasoning I can very well understand if coming from a follower of the New Law, one who considers that to be a substitute for the Old, the commandment therein to mankind in general (Gen. ix. 6): “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” does not concern him;—seeing in what manner his Lawgiver did deter the witnesses from testifying against the woman <<202>> taken in adultery, he not only is justified, but is in duty bound to reject the evidence of all witnesses in criminal cases; as no witness can be found without sin.

But an Israelite, a believer in the immutability of the Old Law, emanating as it does from an immutable God, and finding therein besides that quoted above (Exod. xxi. 14), “But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour to slay him with guile, thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die;” (Numb. xxxv. 31.) “Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death, but he shall be surely put to death:” I say, one who believes this so peremptory and unequivocal commandment to be Divine, cannot consistently denominate it “a barbarous custom,” and, led away by false humanity, even dare to make Scripture on that point contradict itself. It nowhere whispers לא תמות, “Thou shalt not kill,” but calls aloud לא תרצח, “Thou shalt not murder;” and killing, judicially, cannot be murder.

Yet the said editor, in his publication of June 5, 1851, referring to the same subject, asks his learned friends who disagree with him thereon, to turn to the 4th chap. of Genesis v. 15, where they will find that God would not permit Cain to be put to death; and by commuting the punishment of the murderer of his brother to that of banishment, He clearly taught mankind the right of forgiveness. But his learned friends would reply that his inference is false; for Cain did not break any law, since there was then no law yet regarding murder. Besides, though he intended to hurt his brother, he could not have premeditated to put him to death, as he could not have known what death of mankind was. And as to his question: “If for the crime of murder we are to take upon ourselves the infliction of the death penalty, why are we to set aside the punishment of death which  the Almighty awarded for the commission of so many other crimes—as Exod. xxi. and Levit. xx.? I answer, ye have not set it aside; but we have to conform to the moral laws of the nations we live amongst, who were never called upon to obey the laws exclusively given to the Israelites. But had we the power we still would have to adhere to them: and such members <<203>> of us who look upon them as antiquated and barbarous customs, and consider pure Judaism untenable, would either have to desert it, or submit to it altogether.