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The Jews and the Mosaic Law

By Isaac Leeser (1843).

Response from "A Professor of Christianity"

I have read with much interest the manly and temperate remarks of a "Native of Germany," published in the Whig, in vindication of the Jews from the calumnies of the Quarterly Review. So far from feeling any desire to perpetuate the prejudice which has so long existed against that unfortunate people, I would on the contrary do all in my power to remove it; for I entertain no doubt that many of them are as exemplary in their moral habits, as good citizens and as kind neighbors; and therefore equally entitled to the favor of God as those who profess to be Christians. Neither am I disposed to find the least fault with them for continuing in the belief and practice of that religion which was delivered in fire and tempest on mount Sinai, so long as they believe their present happiness and everlasting salvation to depend upon it. I conceive it would be depriving God of the essential attributes of mercy and justice, by rendering Him incapable of saving his rational offspring from perdition, whether they be Jew or gentile, heathen or Christian. They are all equally the objects of His love, whatever may be their faith or condition in life; even though the force of external circumstances brought about by the pride and injustice of man, may seem to render Him partial in the distribution of His favors. It is declared, on what Christians believe unquestionable authority, that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation those who fear Him and work righteousness shall be accepted of Him. It is in the contrite heart that He manifests Himself, amongst every people and every color; and not to any privileged few, who claim to be the favorites of Heaven. It has always been the custom of particular sects and particular nations, to appropriate to themselves the especial grace of God. But, according to this assumption, all those who believe differently are in danger of the divine displeasure. How partial, how unjust, is such a belief calculated to render a Being who is emphatically pronounced to be Love!

It cannot be expected, under the present condition of the human mind, that all the nations of the earth will ever arrive at that state in which there will be a uniformity of belief in what all may deem essential. The same causes which actuate them to think differently now, will continue to produce the same effect, until mankind shall be released from the fetters of prejudice; and from the influence of education, example, and authority. But amidst the endless variety of nations that people the earth, I have never heard of any that did not acknowledge the existence of certain obligations to a superior Being, and have recourse to some plan to testify their duty and allegiance. Whence could such impressions have been derived but from the fountains of truth, how much soever they may have been subsequently obscured by the inventions of men? The scriptural writers abundantly declare that God has written His law upon the hearts of all men; and by consulting that law, that still small voice which says to us, "this is the way, walk ye in it," we have every assurance of pleasing Him whom we revere.

So far, therefore, from excluding the Jews, and I may add, every other nation, from the benefits of salvation, I am free to acknowledge them equally the heirs of a glorious immortality with the Christians; and equally acceptable in the eyes of a just and merciful God, in so far as they respectively strive to perform His will. To every man is given a certain duty to discharge, a certain talent to improve; and it is doubtless the same with nations: and as all are faithful and obedient in the performance of this duty, would it not be derogatory to the divine goodness to presume that they will be debarred from the enjoyments of a future state? In accordance with this view of the subject, I think a greater responsibility rests upon Christendom than any other division of mankind, in proportion to the superiority of that system of morality which they profess to venerate: and this brings me to notice (which, indeed, was a principal object in taking up my pen) some remarks which "A Native of Germany" has used in reference to the duties imposed by the Jewish and Christian laws. He says, if I understand him, that no glorious truth, no moral doctrine, is brought to light by the gospel, which was not equally inculcated by the Old Testament or the Talmud. The moral duties taught by the gospel, according to the light in which I view them, are of a far higher order, and of more universal application, than those enjoined by the Mosaic law. It is true that one of the commands of the latter is: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor like thyself;" but viewed in connection with other parts of that law, the meaning of the term neighbor is by no means so comprehensive as it is under the Christian dispensation. It only extended to those of their own tribe or nation under the Mosaic system; whereas under the gospel, it is made to embrace all who may be placed in a situation calculated to excite our sympathy and demand our assistance. See the parable of the Samaritan. That the Jewish precept did not extend to other nations is evident from the fact, that the Jews were commanded, or believed they were commanded, to wage war against the neighboring countries, to slay their inhabitants and dispossess them of their inheritances. This is so common a feature in the Jewish history, that it is unnecessary to specify any particular passages. But what was the command of the blessed Author of the Christian religion? "Ye have heard it has been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, resist not evil." "Ye have heard it said, thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, love them that hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." And the most conclusive reason is given to sustain the force of this divine injunction; namely, that our heavenly Father makes His sun to shine, and His rain to descend, upon the just and the unjust. Is there not far more sublimity in these high commands of universal application, than in the Mosaic precept of so limited operation? Again: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." These exalted precepts were intended to be our rule of action in our intercourse with all men; the polar star by which to regulate our course whilst travelling the journey of life. I am here speaking of a genuine Christianity, such as we sometimes see exemplified in the world; not of that mongrel and monstrous species which too often usurps its place. And it is with sorrow that I am here compelled to ask "A Native of Germany" to extend that favor to us which he solicits for the Jews; and not to judge all of us and our religion by the practices of some. I confess there is, too generally speaking, such a lamentable diversity between our profession and practice, that they are the direct antipodes to each other.

Let it not be said that these heavenly injunctions cannot be fulfilled. Surely they never would have been promulgated, on what Christians must deem such high authority, if they had been beyond our attainment. It has often been urged that if any nation were to comply literally with the commandment, to love our enemies, and on no occasion to resist them by force, it would soon be overrun and plundered by warlike and avaricious neighbors. But, fortunately, there is a living fact to the contrary; a fact which merits one of the brightest pages of history. I allude to the settlement of Pennsylvania by the illustrious Penn, whose colony flourished amidst tribes of fierce barbarians, while other settlements on this continent, supported by the force of arms, were with difficulty effected. Here is a splendid illustration of the effect produced by the practice of the Christian virtues, against which there never was any legal enactment by any people: and I am informed that to this day the Indians cherish a lasting friendship for that society of which Penn was the ornament and the founder. In like manner, if we were to do as we would be done by, what changes would it produce in the world? No longer would be exhibited the singular anomaly which our country presents, of being the freest nation on the globe, and of holding at the same time, in corporeal and mental subjection, a million and a half of our fellow-beings. Such a state of things could not exist. But yet we are a people making the most exalted profession of righteousness, holding in pious contempt the Jew and the heathen, and handing them over to reprobation without the least mercy or remorse. Is not, then, the language of inspiration as applicable now as it was then it was uttered? "This people draweth nigh unto me with their lips, and honoreth me with their mouth, but their heart is far from me."

A Professor of Christianity.

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