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The Congregation Beth Elohim

To the Editor of the Occident:—

As it is the province of the press to guide and enlighten public opinion on all questions affecting the moral and religious welfare of society, and as you have always avowed yourself an advocate of its purity and freedom, I hope the following remarks, in correction of important errors in three articles in your periodical for July, will receive an insertion. I shall enter upon very few arguments, but confine myself almost exclusively to facts, as the best mode of refutation. When we go by the <<314>>record we do not give play, in serious matters, to the imagination; neither do we draw beautiful pictures according to our wishes, nor portraits according to our partialities.

In answer to my first article in the June number of the Occident, signed “C.,” Mr. Newman begins by accusing me of disbelief in the Bible. Mr. N. here makes a false and reckless accusation, founded, I presume, on some random expression of some one in the opposition. Can he adduce a single fact, can he refer to a single act in support of his assertion? We defy him to the proof. What does such an accusation moreover indicate? Let the reader bear in mind that Mr. N. professes to be the great advocate of high moral and religious principles. But is this assertion of his a specimen of his lessons of virtue, or of right, or of justice, that he preaches to mankind? Is society to be improved and its virtues to be expanded by propagating slanders and maligning character? The man who does this dishonours and does not dignify society.

With regard to Mr. N.’s report of the conversation with Mr. Poznanski, I was not present, but intelligent gentlemen, of known probity and honour, who were, give a different version from Mr. N. But the latter gentleman attaches great importance to Mr. P.’s silence, when he questioned him regarding the abrogation of the Sabbath and Circumcision. Poor Mr. N. could not perceive that if he was so coarse and indelicate as to put such a question to Mr. P., in his own house (where the conversation was held), an answer could not have been returned, except in indignant language, which Mr. P. had too much refinement and good breeding to do in his own domicile.

I now beg to take leave of Mr. N., as the major part of his argument was answered in my first piece, signed “C.”

In reply to the article signed “S. N. C.” I shall be very brief. He has to learn that to command respect he must be correct, candid, and intelligible, in establishing and elucidating his positions. In the first place, when the schism of 1840 took place, instead of the founders of the congregation withdrawing, as he says, they, poor men, had all withdrawn to their graves, for not one of them was alive to unite their lamentations with S. N. C. The positions of this writer are so much at variance <<315>> with common sense, and are put together so loosely and disjointedly as to have their own refutation on their face. He says, that Dr. Eckman found, on his arrival in Charleston, that “all positive religion was rejected; no religions instruction was communicated in the Synagogue; prophecy was denied; hence the denial of all that is doctrinal and national.” What a bright and beautiful picture is here drawn of the religion of intelligent and highly educated men, many of whom occupy intellectual and high moral positions in society. Will S. N. C. inform us what kind of religion was observed in the Synagogue? Was it Jewish, Christian, Mohamedan, or Pagan? Intelligent men generally have some guide in their aspirations to the Almighty. If “all positive religion was rejected; no religious instruction; prophecy denied; hence the denial of all that was doctrinal or national,” what was there? S. N. C. wants logic and common sense. There is no use in refuting what cannot be understood.

Again, he says, that Mr. Poznanski requested Dr. E. “to preach against all observances, whether Biblical or Rabbinical,” and “has acknowledged to Dr. E., that it was of no consequence where the Bible came from.” And, farther, that “Mr. P. told Dr. E. that he did not believe in the prayers, but detested them.” It would be descending too low to refute such rant. It is concentrated malice and misrepresentation combined. It is devoid of character, because devoid of either truth or reason.

S. N. C. finds fault with the remark used by C. in the petition to the Board of Trustees, requesting Dr. E. to retire, that “Religion is a holy abstraction from all worldly contentions,” and says he never knew before “that religion was an abstraction.” C. never uttered such a puerility. As S. N. C. wants comprehension, C. will endeavour to enlighten him. We contend that the professors of religion are not to commingle in worldly contentions; nor to be influenced by the baser passions, or the viler impulses of mankind. Their place is in the temple of the Divinity, and not in the purlieus of vice. If men wish to indulge in the holy influences of religion they must attend the house of God, and there pour forth their orisons on the altar of the Most High. But S. N. C. is an advocate, I suppose, of the Jesuit doctrine, “that the end sanctifies the means.”

It is farther said, that Dr. E. would not permit Mr. Poznanski to read the prayers on the Day of Atonement from horror of his heterodoxy. He did read them* conjointly with Dr. E. But his consistency had to receive other shocks, and his purity to be farther tainted; for they not only stood side by side during the whole of that hallowed day pouring forth their devotions on the common altar of their religion, but likewise during the whole of the autumnal holidays.

* This fact can be ascertained by referring to the Parnass.

As for the assertion so vauntingly made, that Mr. Poznanski was requested to give a translation of the Creed prepared by Maimonides, and that he palmed a different one on his congregation, the charge is ridiculous and foolish. A committee was appointed by the Board of Trustees, of whom Mr. P. was Chairman, to prepare a creed as it was understood, in conformity with the principles of Reforms. The creed of Maimonides is translated in every Prayer Book and Catechism. Who, after this statement, believes that the Board of Trustees could have been so ignorant and stupid as to think that the creed prepared by Mr. P., and strictly scrutinized by the Committee, and adopted by them,† was the Maimonidean creed? As it would put a schoolboy to the blush, to use such an argument, the advocates of Dr. E. would consult silence if they would conceal their shame.

† This fact can be ascertained by referring to the Board of Trustees, the President of which was one of the Committee.

Another correction of the numerous misrepresentations of S. N. C. and I am done.

He says the petition requesting Dr. E. to retire, was signed by eighteen congregators (voters); and that requesting Dr. E. not to retire, was signed by fifteen congregators and four contributors. Such is not the fact.‡ The petition of the latter, was signed by eleven congregators and four contributors, the latter are of no avail from having no vote.

‡ A reference to the record will prove this.

In regard to the article headed “The Rev. Dr. Eckman and his Congregation,” I shall confine myself exclusively to the record, in refutation of the assertions made there. My chief object in replying to you, is that the friends of Dr. E. must not expect to <<317>> build up his reputation for orthodoxy, consistency, and sincerity, at the expense of truth, nor at the sacrifice of anything derogatory to the character of the congregation of Beth Elohim.

I beg leave to premise here, that we do not intend to enter into any elaborate refutation of the charges trumped up by Dr. E. and his adherents, against the orthodoxy of Mr. Poznanski. That gentleman has retired to private life, where he enjoys the love and admiration of a large number of his late congregation. He has ability enough, if necessary, to take care of himself; but he adopted a rule, many years past, never to reply to reflections on his official conduct. He was aware of the endless and bitter recrimination of religious controversies, and wisely determined to avoid them, and to treat with utter indifference, all calumnies on his public course or character.

You say that “Dr. Eckman, before his election, took pains to let no doubt rest on his principles; that he disapproved of many of the innovations.” Now, sir, to show how much Dr. E. objected to Reform, and how much consistency and sincerity he has evinced in his whole career, I beg leave to introduce here, the chief portion of the Circular of this congregation, containing the project of our Reform, and to which Dr. E. was referred.


“1st. The service of the Synagogue of this congregation is conducted with the accompaniment of an organ.

“2d. The sermons and prayers are preceded and followed by hymns and psalms, sung by a choir in Hebrew and English.

“3d. The Pentateuch is read through in the Synagogue once in three years.

“4th. The Haphtorah and some other Hebrew portions of the service are omitted.

“5th. The second days of the holydays are not observed by this Congregation.

“6th. Various other improvements have been made in the mode of worship, with the view of promoting devotion and decorum.”

This, sir, is the embodiment of our reform. Upon it we are ready to stand or fall. It is our alpha and omega. The only inquiry now is, has Dr. E. come up to the mark or has he falsified his declared and recorded opinions? To come at <<318>>the truth of this, let me lay before you extracts of letters from Dr. E. to Mr. Poznanski previous to his acceptance of office.*

* This correspondence took place at the instance of the Board of Trustees and the letters have since become congregational property, and are now used in defence of the Congregation.

Extract of a letter dated Richmond, Va.. April 22, 5610, from the Rev. Dr. Julius Eckman to the Rev. G. Poznanski.

“If, as I suppose, there is a desideratum of a minister in your Congregation, I cannot have the least objection to have this letter proposed to an honourable committee: on the contrary, I shall be under obligations to you for doing so, and be ready to give any information relative to myself that I possibly can.”

Extract of another letter from the same to the same. dated Richmond, April 26, 5610.

“Your information in the circular shows me that your reforms are not only allowable, but even on Rabbinical grounds highly commendable, with the exception of the second holyday. Well, it is not your fault that the Rabbinical Minhag collides with the word of Scripture. My object in offering my services is far from selfish. You therefore will oblige me to send me the outlines of the picture. Everything which has no influence on the practical life, and is bordering on aerial, is of no consideraon. Your modification of the creed, as, for instance, אחד rendered ‘one in unity,’ is quite correct, as he is an absolute unity, while every other one is but relative: we expressedly say אחד ואין יחיד כיחידו, and again, ואין יחידות כמוהו and therefore are quite astonished at the objection. About the Messiah, &c., this is bordering on the ideal. What is it good to [wrangle?] about terms which have not since two thousand years been determined? If, however, there are some more serious changes contemplated, you will oblige me to tell me, that I may have some estimate before I embark in such an important undertaking. Honoured sir, this is far from being calculated to express any doubts about the admissibility of what there has been created, but a mutual understanding is highly desirable. Again allow me to tell you it will be necessary to confute aggressions against a community of which I am fully convinced they merit the highest esteem.

Could a greater latitudinarian in reform be required, than what Dr. Eckman here avows himself to be? Endorsing in the strongest and even in fawning language, all and more reforms than were ever contemplated sanctioning the creed, and even touching, gratuitously, on the vital subject of the Messiah, in a manner that evinces, if not disbelief, indifference. These are stern and indelible proofs. They <<319>>show a want of that stability and sincerity of character that adorn and dignify the pious divine.

After this correspondence Dr. Eckman came on to Charleston, was elected, and began to officiate as minister of this congregation. I beg leave now to close this lengthy communication with the following extract from the petition sent in to the Board of Trustees, requesting Dr. E. to retire. It explains in detail the reasons that influenced the petitioners.

“Your petitioners, in approaching the subject of their complaint, would premise that they entertain no feeling of disrespect or unkindness towards the Rev. Dr. Eckman, our present minister. That they regard him as a gentleman of deep learning, and of capacity to discharge the sacred duties of his calling. That they had cheerfully tendered their assent to his accepting the office of Hazan, under a conviction, from his written and verbal acquiescence in the established principles of their reform, that he sanctioned, and would uphold it.      

“Your honourable body will readily admit that in the preliminary arrangements with Dr. Eckman, that any evasion, or distrust, any faltering on all the points of reform which had been adopted for the last ten years, would have at once proved fatal to the reverend gentleman occupying said office.

“In good faith, therefore, they had a right to expect that Dr. Eckman would have sustained the reform with undiminished zeal and rigour. They hoped that in his lectures he would have confined himself to general expositions of the principles of Judaism. A fertile field was before him to trace the history of our faith, so rich in precepts of virtue, so fruitful in acts of hallowed devotion, and so abounding in examples of sacrifices on the altar of our religion. But Mr. Eckman thought proper to deviate from this course in his lectures. He introduced irrelevant topics. He arraigned individual opinions on doctrinal points. He made sacred subjects debateable ground; and the piety and forbearance of the minister were sunk in the controversialist. Instead of being chastened by exhortations addressed to their hearts, a large portion of our congregation were chastised for supposed defection from the religion of their forefathers.

“A minister of God has but one solemn duty to perform. His mission is from on high. He should preach no other than holy precepts and holy truths. He should mollify enmity, and propitiate passion. A contrary course to this mars the beauty of that divine harmony that should command his most fervent praise and devotion.     

“His own adherents acknowledge that the subject of some of his lectures are ill-timed and improper; that he is too violent in denunciation; and that  such recrimination in the pulpit but leads to its degradation.”*

* About the time that the above petition was presented, Dr. E. had become so acrimonious is his lectures, that one of his own friends, a trustee, had to introduce a resolution into the Board, requesting Dr. K to desist in future from commenting on the creed.

“We regret, therefore, to express our opinion that the Rev. Julius Eckman is deficient in the qualifications of such a minister as is required by our congregation.”

Charleston, S. C.

Remarks by the Editor.—Our correspondent is right in presuming that we are for free discussion; and hence his article appears as a part of the discussion on the elements of religion, although, much to our sorrow, it has just now assumed a somewhat personal form, which we regret more, perhaps, than the parties immediately interested. Had we noticed the refection of Mr. Newman on “C.” as though he were a disbeliever in Scripture, we would to a certainty have struck it out, as, whether true or not, it has, no connexion with the subject-matter. But it entirely escaped our notice; and hence we are glad to receive from “C.” an authoritative contradiction, as we are always rejoiced to place every one right before the people; and the more so, as it assures us in this case that another man of intellect adheres fully to the standard of our belief. At the same tine, we must believe that Mr. N. spoke from what he had heard, and what he fully believed to be true.

This being disposed of, we must say that “C.” makes a weak defence for Mr. Poznanski’s silence to Mr. N.’s question. In an argument it was no rudeness in Mr. N. to ask Mr. P., especially as a report was current, and generally believed, that he had spoken lightly of all observances, and had rather obscured than otherwise our article of faith which claims implicit belief in the revelation of Horeb. It was Mr. P.’s business to speak out boldly, or he should not argue at all. Nor will it answer to say that now he is a private man; for his creed, as “C.” confesses it to be, and not that of Maimonides, yet encumbers the wall of the Synagogue. Remove this—let Mr. P.’s friends so longer fight his battles—and then can he speak as having retired, but not whilst his works remain. Mr. P. was not so afraid when he or his friends challenged us to an argument, in the winter of ’41, when we were at Charleston, on our way to and from Savannah. We might well have waived the argument, on the plea that we ware unprepared, as was the case indeed; but we did not shrink from the contest, and we have yet to learn that Mr. P. was incontrovertible, notwithstanding the load of learning he summoned to his aid.

“S. N. C.” did not say that the religion professed among the congregation was other than the Jewish; but he meant to convey that the practice thereof was sadly neglected. Will “C.” assert the contrary? About the facts of “S. N. C.” we must leave him to speak for himself; and we have no doubt that he can give a good account of what he wished to convey. It is likely enough that he has been misinformed in slight details; but he certainly did not make a willful misstatement.

As respects the creed, we are certain that it is news to the people as much as to us that a new one was designedly made by Mr. P. He ought to have told the public long since that he had discarded Maimonides altogether;—it would have saved a great deal of discussion, and healed the breach now existing long ago; since few indeed would willingly have professed a Judaism à la Poznanski, had they known that this was asked of. them. Are they now willing—being certified by “C.,” and he is good authority—to follow a creed invented on the spur of the moment, without discussion, without consultation, and which no one was prepared for? We ask Mr. P.’s devoted friends—Do you recognise him as your prophet?

Our limits compel us to be brief, wherefore we must dismiss for the  present C.’s reply to us with a few words only. We do not set up a claim of strict orthodoxy for Dr. E. The public will judge of him by his works; and his views on the resurrection are surely good. There are many, however, in Charleston, who will substantiate Dr. E.’s assertion that he had an argument with Mr. P. on the first day of his arrival; and, that Mr. Ottolengui, the President then being, was aware of this divergence between the new and the retiring minister; and this is all we said, and it covers the whole ground.

The reform programme, we trust, is not more sacred to the parties than the creed of Israel; and still they have relinquished the last. How, then, can they stand by the first? They surely ought to permit a little divergence against their orthodoxy—it is only fair.

When Dr. E. speaks of the Messiah, as ideal, it is no denial of the doctrine of his coming. Ideal is only opposed to practical; the last it is got; but nevertheless it is vital in its influence on our faith.

Dr. E. professes to be a reformer; hence he had no objection to take a Synagogue of the German reform kind, as in Hamburg; but this does got my that he must subscribe to all the new inventions which Mr. P. had suctioned, and which he (Dr. E.) did not know the extent of till after his arrival.

Dr. E. shall be welcome to make any reply in our next. For the <<322>>present we must stop for want of room, but not for lack of inclination and ability. We may recur, perhaps, to the subject ourself.