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Thoughts on the Jewish Ministry


We have often found fault with the state of the spiritual guides of American congregations; and we mean again to speak on the subject, since there is nothing of greater moment which we can present to the notice of our readers. Every one of them, separately and alone cannot, we confess, do much to remedy the evil; but at last communities are composed of individuals; it is therefore the duty of every one to inform himself correctly of whatever is to be presented to him for his action, that he may, however humble his lot, act understandingly, and not follow blindly the lead of some self-appointed public governors, who are to be met with in republics of all kinds, from the state down to the corporation of a village church. It is now precisely these leaders who are often the least informed on matters in which they wish to direct others, and they generally make up in bold assurance and reckless assertion what they lack in solid knowledge. It is, therefore, a great evil that in some places the affairs of the congregations have been put into the hands of men who, however expert in business and acquainted with the ways of the world, and whose claim to be the trustees of Synagogues often depends solely upon their possession of superior pecuniary means, or other fortuitous circumstances, have not the requisite religious information, nor a religious character superior to that <<386>>of other persons, to constitute them absolute judges of what is necessary to the advancement of the interests of Judaism in this extensive country,—interests which are daily taking a wider range, and becoming hourly more engrafted in the body politic.

Our friends need not fear that we are going to embark in a political discussion, because we say that Judaism is becoming hourly a more potent element in political life: since we do not wish to go into state affairs, but merely to remain steady to our branch—that is, the religious life. Still has the state an interest in the good conduct of all its citizens, and all these again have the obligation resting upon them, as such, to contribute the utmost they are capable of towards the happiness of the larger family of which they are an important integral part,  Hence the more the number of Israelites increases, in consequence of which they are becoming more influential in the direction of the destinies of the country: the greater is the necessity that no useless obstacle should be put in their way, either by design or accident, which might prevent them from doing all they can possibly achieve for the benefit of the whole community in which they live.

Now, we hold it that the Jew is only then most useful, patriotic, honest, and capable when he exhibits a strict conformity to his faith, as this is independently of the fear of punishment on the part of the state for a violation of its laws.—a restraint not always available, and, therefore, not to be relied on at all times,—the only safeguard others have for his fulfillment of the duties of the citizen, either in private or public life. As Jews therefore are increasing, their means of becoming religious ought likewise to increase, to enable them the better to act well the part which Providence assigns them as inhabitants of a country, where personal freedom and equal laws are the unalienable right of every inhabitant, who chooses to claim his share in the administration.

The state itself cannot assume the right to interfere in the manner how we are to perfect ourselves in bur moral duties, and however great its interests may be in the premises, it cannot compel us to listen to moral instruction as adults, nor to send our children to religious schools; for however desirable it may<<387>> be to see all men good, and in consequence happy, it would degenerate into tyranny were the state as such to assume the mental training of all its members, in a manner which the persons in power might happen to resolve on. Granted even that every citizen would accord them honesty and capacity to carry out this great scheme; nevertheless would it not be safe to entrust one man with such an absolute control over the conscience of another, as to fix an invariable and unvarying rule how he shall be fitted for civil government through means of religious instruction.  Only where the state is based upon a divine legislation, fixed and unalterable, can it prescribe such a uniform standard; but a theocracy is not to be thought of in the present state of the world; hence can the government not set itself up as the arbiter of what are moral truths, in which every one is to be grounded and trained. Some countries get over the difficulty by endowing, as such, various and diverging religious schools; but independently of the absurdity of making Catholicism orthodox in Ireland, Presbyterianism the same in Scotland, the Episcopal Church supreme in England, and Brahminism protected in Hindoostan, with its schools, its priests, its idols, and its abominations there must be many minor subdivisions of the inhabitants without the government, protection for their principles and opinions, through which they evidently suffer injustice.

So, also, in France, though Catholics, Protestants, and Jews see their clergy paid from the public purse, it is deplorable to notice how, under this apparent equality, the proud governing Church of Rome sees its ministers amply endowed, whilst the poor Jewish Hazan has the pitiful sum of 500 francs per annum allowed him to drag out a precarious existence. No doubt England does all that her circumstances allow in the anomalous position in which she is placed, overburdened as she is with debt and taxation, weighed  down by an established church, and still in danger of dismemberment, unless she can succeed in conciliating the Catholics of Ireland and the Pagans of India. So France, perhaps, solves the difficult problem as near as may be, in paying such salaries to various churchmen, staggering as she does under a load of taxation and a deranged state of the finances, as comport with the respective importance and numerical strength of the various <<388>>sects in the commonwealth. It is a step in advance, both on the part of Britain and France, that they, in a limited measure, endow institutions other than those connected with the established prevailing churches. But there is one radical error which, if  avoided, would relieve the state of a great burden, and simplify the government to a wonderful degree, whilst at the same time, a great cause for discontent would be removed: that is, not to pay churchmen, of whatever kind, out of the treasury of the  general government: not to support any religious colleges, and to recognise, in no shape whatever, the existence of any religious creed. Religion is the affair of the individual: and however much may be done to produce uniformity and fusion of opinions, there will be divergence and contrariety: hence it is wise to give up as hopeless and impracticable at once, that which will establish itself as such after years and ages of fruitless trials.

It is, accordingly, our opinion that in the United States the people have alighted on the best idea.—to let religion alone as a state affair; and the more distinctly this is kept in view, the less interference there is on the part of the government in matters of conscience, among which we reckon the observance of a day of rest, and the rules regarding what constitutes lawful marriages, and similar matters: the more will the general happiness be secured, and the less the discontent always inseparable from the best system of civil rule. But the less the state does or has a right to interfere in purely conscientious matters. The greater becomes it the duty of individuals to do that for themselves, under a perfect republican system, which tyrannies, either popular or monarchical, in vain endeavour to effect elsewhere on public grounds. If there is no means to compel me to be a relgious conformist, I ought to vindicate my freedom and exemption from governmental espionage and surveillance, by showing that I can be both better versed in religious knowledge, and observe my duties to God and the state more energetically, simply because I act from a free choice, and not from compulsion; that 1 am more bound to God, whilst I acknowledge no superior on earth, whose frowns would compel me to pay an unwilling homage to the Creator even; for so is the heart of man—compel him to be what <<389>>he should be, and he will revolt from an obedience which, if left to himself, would be a spontaneous offering.

Now we need not remind our readers of what they know themselves without our telling them, that we Israelites labour under a great disadvantage compared with the many sects around us; that is, our limited number of adherents, and the consequent small public opinion which we have in our favour. Other societies are nearly all more numerous, and therefore constitute of themselves important elements of power; a man, therefore, rising among them, or making himself useful to them collectively, acquires at once a solid political influence, which he can wield in case of necessity, or when his interests prompt him. Besides this, he is encouraged in any public enterprise by the certainty that he has a large body of wealthy, intelligent, and well-educated men to second his labours, and to participate in the responsibility. The ministers of religion whom they have, either let them be volunteers, as those of the Society of Friends, or paid officers, as among other associations, are members of a well-organized brotherhood, with privileges either the result of custom or absolute and direct concession from the communities with which they are connected. Hence both the laities and the clergy are animated by an esprit du corps, a certain fellow-feeling, which will be observable in any case of emergency.

Accuse now any public religionist (we cannot well find another phrase) of any crime or misdemeanour, and unless the guilt be so evident, so beyond measure manifest, you will not see a conviction once in a hundred times, from the simple fact that his disgrace would reflect disgrace upon thousands similarly situated as he is; the order, the profession must be preserved from public reproach, although a culpable individual might thereby escape. Do you ask, Whether we approve of this screening of the culpable? we will tell you unhesitatingly, No; let each man stand or fall by himself—this is simple justice. But we cannot stop to discuss the propriety or even justice of certain matters which are interwoven in the affairs of life; all a journalist has to do is to point out their existence, unless he sets himself up for the time being as a judge to redress grievances. If we, therefore, could effect it, we would expose to public scorn every delinquent, whether he put reverend, or right reverend, or most reverend and doctor of laws and divinity after it. This, however, as every one will easily see, would be not alone a thankless but impracticable task: and, therefore, however we might be inclined to deplore the perversity of man which would screen guilt, merely from expediency, and trample on justice from policy, we cannot do anything to apply a remedy since even a public denunciation of criminals like these we speak of would not obtain the credence of those belonging to the same body. You might speak for years, and all the satisfaction would be that the tables would turned against you, and you would be denounced as a calumniator, whom to stop by fair or foul means would be rendering a service to the community at large.

Hence, where so much is to be gained, where so high a position, an exemption from pains and penalties can be secured, where so good a standing in society can be reached, it is no wonder that many will be found ready to embark in the clerical profession as a means of comfortable settlement in an honorable and permanent, if even not lucrative profession. Those who feel an inclination to guide their fellow-men in the path of virtue and morals, those who feel sincerely for the tenets of their religion and those even who have failed in mercantile and other pursuits, need not hesitate to study diligently the branches in which they will have to be proficient, in order to be able to assume office which will be readily accessible to them, as it is notorious that, notwithstanding the many seminaries for the training of divines, there is no over-production of students of divinity.

Laymen, too, even the wealthy and influential in medical and legal professions, and among the merchants and great mechanics, will not hesitate to devote much time as churchwardens, trustees, Sunday school teachers, managers of public charities, book concerns, publication societies, and many more things of the same kind, and spend a great deal of money themselves, and induce others to do the same in the establishment of colleges, missions, Bible and book funds, erection of churches, parsonages, and for whatever else funds may be demanded by the various denominations in the country. No man likes to be found standing alone, even doing good; but when there are many to participate in <<391>>any movement, it is quite easy to find men ready to engage in the most difficult enterprise, and not a few are willing to com­mence, in the hope that others will be prepared to follow. Hence we often read in the papers that Mr. So and So has subscribed ten thousand dollars, conditional that nine others shall, within a given period, contribute a similar sum towards endowing a college, seminary, or book fund; and it is but rare indeed that a man has an opportunity of not complying with a conditional subscription towards any public object, if the only obstacle in the way is the necessity of others joining him.

So also with regard to religious conformity. In the first place, the laws even in free America, being passed by those who represent the opinions of the majority, will uniformly be found, unless by a rare exception, to favour in some manner the peculiar religious views of the majority of Christians—not so much to favour directly sectarian principles, although this is at times plainly avowed, but because the representatives know of no other ideas, and dream not that they violate any one’s rights by deciding as they do, as judges or legislators. The whole public opinion is accordingly Christian in its tendency, although Christianity is not the law of the land in theory, nor often so avowed in practice by the enlightened magistracy and delegates to the various legislative assemblies, both state and national. In the second place, the certainty of being held in countenance by so many conformists to the same practices, is a powerful incentive to be outwardly religious, after the fashion of any one particular sect. Thus, for instance, it would require a great deal of self-denial for a single person to appear in the garb of Friends or Dunkers he would attract too much of an unenviable notoriety, to which he would expose himself, unless he were an enthusiast whose mental excitation almost bordered on madness. But let hundreds or thousands affect a certain style of dress, although it be not acquiesced in by all or even a majority of the inhabitants of a place, and the most timid and retiring even will not hesitate to adopt it, especially if some religious ideas are connected with it.

Since now the Christian sects are so extensive in numbers and powerful in association, many who otherwise might show no <<392>>regard to the observances expected of their followers if left to their own convictions, will quietly fall into the ranks of outward conformists, to avoid being noted as singular and exceptional in their conduct. Let no one tell us, for example, that the Sunday is observed so much more strictly in England and America than continental Europe, from sincere conviction of its necessity on the part of the masses; but we think that we should come nearer the truth were we to aver that it is the fortuitous circumstance that at the reformation in Scotland, the opponents of the Romish church borrowed and applied to themselves the Bible phraseology, which otherwise only denotes and speaks of Israel proper, and thus clothed the church festival, the Sunday, with the dignity of the Jewish Sabbath; and from the fact that the Puritans, in emigrating hither, brought over with them the ideas that prevailed in this respect among them in Europe, coupled with the fact that the respecters of the Sunday have always employed all available means to force its observance by penal enactments upon others, which ultimately succeeded in inducing the greater number of those who, as elders or ministers, have the direction of public opinion, in blindly conceding to the first day a degree of sanctity not warranted by anything derived from primitive Christianity; and that this has of late years again contributed to induce the common people to yield their acquiescence in the same direction, for fear of being marked and denounced as irreligious, by which means they would naturally suffer great inconvenience. That this might produce great injury to many, no one acquainted with the course of business in a community will deny. Let there be several candidates for pubic office, and our word for it, that he who most flatters the majority, by adopting their mode of dress, conduct, and speech, will obtain their suffrages, in preference to him who has the independence to avow his own opinions, and to carry them out in his daily practice. Mankind do not love contradiction; and no matter how liberal we may be, we will be pleased with the irresistible flattery which any one pays us in adopting our ideas as the basis of his thinking and acting. We could enlarge, and may do so hereafter hut for the present we will rest, in the full persuasion that we have said enough to be understood by our readers.

<<393>>Now let us cast a look at the body of the Christian ministry, and we shall find them, generally speaking, carefully trained for their profession, with a prospective independence from the interference of their respective flocks. They are, at an early age, set aside from the rest of men to the work of the ministry; they are educated as theologians, and taught to look on themselves as a peculiar order, to whom secular pursuits must be in a great measure interdicted; and in consequence, though occasionally a few change the ministry for other professions, it is more than likely that their places will be fully supplied by those who leave the law and medicine for the service of the church. We need  not speak of it as something particularly remarkable to see the ministers looked upon as equals of the highest of the land—that it is a common thing to treat them with respect and deference, and to endeavour to cheer them on in the discharge of their duties; for whoever chooses to open his eyes must discover this at every turn. This results in what is also universally known, that sons of wealthy families, men of brilliant intellects, literary celebrities of all kinds, will not disdain to enter the ministry, no doubt as much from an appreciation of the comfort and independence which they can obtain in the service of the church, as from a sense of duty, which we will cheerfully accord to many, say the most of those who preach the doctrines of Christianity.

It is not that the profession is likely to bring wealth and ease, nor an exemption from severe mental toil; for in the best supposable case, except in some richly endowed benefices in England, and the high church dignities in general, there is perhaps enough to insure a livelihood; but not sufficient to secure a growing family against the hardship of straitened circumstances. Still, with all this disadvantage, which the commercial, trading, and professional classes have a chance of being exempt from, there is something so attractive in the position of a public teacher, in the influence he exerts over the minds of many, the high estimation he is held in by those who listen to his instruction, that, as said, many are and will always be ready to undergo the severe preparatory mental training, and the subsequent deprivations from many social pleasures and the disadvantage of limited means, in the acceptance of church offices.

<<394>>Christian sects will always have in this manner the means of propagating their doctrines, example to encourage and stimulate the wavering, and an educated class to stand forth as public instructors and hence they can flourish even better in a republic, where the state cannot be invoked to protect and endow them simply because those who belong to them have a deep interest in doing more than government can accomplish, and the free will of those who deem it their spiritual interest to uphold either one or the other society, must induce many to combine for the preservation and spread of their peculiar institutions. The state also is thus served for by educating a large number of public teachers, who, from feeling and interest, watch over the morals of the community, and reprove where they find cause for censure, the peace of the commonwealth is more firmly secured than by the employment of a vast number of preventive officers and detective policemen, since the terrors of religion, an element not to be despised in a state, are lending their aid to the secular arm to restrain evil-doers.

(To be continued.)