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Judaism and its Principles

(Continued from p. 335.)

We left off our discussion abruptly in stating some objections to the doctrine of the Messiah as received among us. We will now resume it, only asking of the reader to peruse the last portion of our article over again, so as not to lose the connexion.

Another objection lately urged in Germany and France is, that if we could remove the belief in a coming redeemer from our articles of faith, we should close for ever the door to the encroachments of Christianity among us; since thus its only point of entrance would be effectually and for ever blocked up, and all appeals to us, whether we did not expect a Christ in some one shape or the other, could be met by an emphatic negative, and hence all discussion relative to his character and object would be both absurd and useless. To act upon such an assumption, even if it were scriptural, would be degrading Judaism into a mere negation of Christianity, a character entirely unworthy of its holiness and truth for by this we would confess that our position, to use a military phrase, was in instant danger of being turned by our watchful enemies, and rendered untenable at the first onset an our exposed flank. For one, we cannot <<374>>share such a nervous fear about the danger to Judaism as being threatened from the batteries of Christianity, which would enfilade it from some convenient eminence the moment we admit the existence of a common ground, which both our systems call more or less fundamental.

One thing seems to be overlooked in such a method of arguing, which is, that Judaism is something more than a mere negation of any other system of belief, and that it is true, not because Christianity, Paganism, or the Islam, is false; but because it is founded on a basis true and firm in itself, and requires accordingly no contrast to render its portions beautiful to the eye, nor any discord to make its harmonies more agreeable to the ear. It is the nature of absolute truth, that no matter how near error may be like it in appearance, the difference will be readily understood the moment both are presented to the investigator.

So let us admit that of all the counterfeits in religion, Christianity approaches nearest to Judaism; and that, of all the various sects which the former comprises, the Unitarian view is the most consonant to our opinions. Now, what do we lose in making this admission? Is therefore the world obliged to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Ghost, in order to be saved, in case the Trinitarian is the true type of Christianity? or that a more perfect law was communicated through the one the Unitarians call the Son of God, not in the sense the other sects regard him, but after a fashion of their own —a law purer and superior to the code of Moses? or, to come nearer the question at once, must we reject the belief in the unity of God the moment many millions embrace this creed, so that we may remain in a contradiction to the world?

But we may be answered to the last question “that this is irrelevant to the discussion; for we should all expect the monotheistic principle to become the prevailing opinion of mankind with regard to the Deity, to believe that our religion, thus far, will and must become the universal faith all over the world; wherefore it has no analogy with the admission of a Messiah, which might allure many to adopt a false Christ instead of the real one.”

It must, however, not be lost sight of, that whether <<375>>we adopt a messianic belief or not, Judaism has other distinctive features, which the Bible demands; and, if these can be preserved, if even all men believe in the unity of God, there can be no reason why the doctrine of the Messiah alone should expose us to a loss of our members, in the midst of the conflict of opinions which is constantly kept up among the various branches of men. We presume that even those who wish to banish the redeemer from our faith have a full belief in the permanence of Judaism; that all will admit that the Bible demands a perpetual succession of those who practise circumcision, the Passover, Sabbath, and other ordinances, and that, in short, the duties which the word of God enjoins must remain obligatory on Israelites, though their theology, which now distinguishes them as much as their practice, should be embraced by all others. It is time enough to prove this, if our erring brothers should presume to deny it; for the present we will assume it as a generally acquiesced in opinion, which all assent to in quality of their being Israelites by descent and belief. It must therefore be evident that any and every approach mankind makes to the standard of truth exposes us, its guardians, more and more to the danger of relinquishing our identity and separate position in the world; consequently, if we were to exist for no other purpose than to maintain a principle of negation, our existence would by degrees become perfectly useless, and we would of necessity be amalgamated with the rest of the world, either suddenly or slowly, whether we maintain the doctrine in question or whether we yield it up at once, in obedience to the all-devouring spirit of the age.

We all admit, both those who are orthodox Jews, and our opponents, that the idea of the ONENESS in God will ultimately be the sole faith proper on earth; and, at last, our only difference is respecting the means which are to produce this great and universal reform; and hence there is no way of getting over the difficulty which the advocates of the new idea burthen themselves with, and they must look with trembling instead of joy towards the period when the Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day when He shall be ONE and his name ONE; for at that time, if their fears are well-founded, Judaism must <<376>>expire as a body the soul of which is taken away, and be also perfectly useless, as a worn-out garment, the fragments of which have lost every value, not being convertible into any useful substance.

But if we believe that notwithstanding truth shall spread, our religion will be in no danger of annihilation; if we regard it as the rock on which all that is holy is founded: we may, as we do, look forward with joy to the hour when all that is false shall perish; when all idols shall fall to the ground; when all error shall be uprooted for ever; when all that have breath shall hasten to the feet of the redeemer ruling in the name of the Universal Sovereign in Jerusalem, dispensing justice, scattering light, spreading truth, over the whole universal earth, with Israelites as the standard-bearers of the vast array of believers, with ordinances of their own, distinct in the midst of mankind, as the lion is pre-eminent among the beasts of the fields, the most majestic, the most powerful, the most renowned among all those who are the handiwork of the Creator.

It is perhaps labour lost, some of our readers may think, to refute so weak an objection as the one we are discussing; but little do they know, if so they judge, how multifarious the garments of error are in its combat with truth, and how very often it appears as the actual champion of a glorious principle, in the hoe of being able the better thus to defeat it. Those only who have spent much time in debating various questions have any conception of the labour required to guard all the avenues which beset a question before the actual argument is commenced; truth itself is always, to use a significant phrase, contained within the space of a nut-shell, and the Mahomedans are right in regarding every bit of paper as sacred, since on the piece not larger than the nail of a finger the creed “God is” can be inscribed. Were it therefore that error would not be ingenious in its defences, all argument would be brief indeed; but no one loves to confess himself in the wrong, to utter, “I have sinned in thought or deed.”

Hence, no argument, however trifling, is unworthy of a refutation, especially if we see that it is the cloak which some, perhaps honest, men (as we will deny to no one the claim for sincerity which he demands for himself) <<377>>throw around the deformed limbs of unscriptural heresy, so as to make it attractive to those who in sincerity and truth adopt the word of God as their rule and guide. It is moreover much to be regretted that learned men should have mostly confined themselves to issuing, as it were, their dicta how the people should believe, instead of descending to the level of the common understanding, to elucidate and defend our principles, though to their elevated and far-reaching mind all was as clear as the light of the sun. What, for instance, does it avail to say that those who deny the Messiah are not Jews, when you only denounce, and prove your own opinions solely by reference to an authority which the common people would gladly admit if they but knew it? We cannot now dwell on this topic since it would lead us away from our subject proper, and then we wanted merely to show that no opinion, if ever so absurd, is undeserving of a calm and a candid refutation. If now one single Israelite might be induced to believe, unless convinced of the contrary, that the belief in a redeemer would expose us to the inroads of Christianity, and that hence it is opposed to the best interests of our faith in general: it would be well to meet the question fully and fairly, and leave no means untried to prove the fallacy of such fear, and consequently the absurdity of any argument drawn therefrom.

We may admit, for argument’s sake, that it is more difficult to persuade an unbeliever of the truth of Christianity, than a Jew who believes in the doctrine of a Messiah to come; though, if we examine the record of conversions to the popular creed, we shall find that thousands of unbelievers, from their own professions, Jesuitical Catholicism, and embraced a monastic life against one pious Israelite, who forsook the Synagogue for the Church. But even if it were otherwise, and that the weight of numbers should be on the other side, it would argue nothing more than that truth and error strangely meet in a single point, as the two extremes of a line bent into a circular curve at last must touch each other; besides which we may also claim, as a well-established truth, that the convictions of one man, or of a hundred individuals, are not, <<378>>necessarily, grounds of conviction for another person.

Say, therefore, that, instead of a few, millions of conversions from the ranks of Judaism had taken place, and that they all were owing to the point of union which we have in common with Christianity, the belief in the Messiah: it could be nothing else than to assert that all these were misled, by a semblance of truth, into absolute and real error, which has no foundation nor support in the principles of orthodox Judaism. But how does the case stand of late years at least, for we know personally little or nothing of the history of apostates in older days, with respect to conversions? Were they the Rabbis, those who defend the Maimonidean Creed? Were they the ancient matrons, the blessed mothers in Israel who led their children to the fold of the Great Shepherd? Were they the ardent youths, full of religious fire, burning with the zeal of a pure faith for the covenant, and the law of the Universal King? Were they the maidens, worthy daughters of the congregation of Jeshurun, who lived humbly in their ancient hope, when the allurements of the world offered them glories instead of shame as the adherents of another creed?

None of these are they who forsook our communion; but men who imbibed gentile learning in gentile schools, whose faith was gradually undermined by philosophical theorists, who, disbelieving all revealed religion, ridicule Judaism and Christianity; women who could not bear the alliance with their brothers, and sought for brilliant matches amidst the sons of the stranger; young men who coveted offices which, as Jews, were denied to them; mothers who fancied they beheld their sons crowned with public favours as members of the popular churches; traitors who sold themselves to the enemy for filthy gain, for money paid as the price of their salvation; of sinners who, having once broken all religious restraints, having violated the Sabbath, eaten of the flesh of the swine, omitted circumcision, allowed their children to be inducted into a hostile communion, and permitted their wives to worship strange gods, were ready to forswear their God at the first temptation:—these and others like them are they who figure among the list of the apostates from our faith, and who are glorified in the annual reports <<379>>of conversion societies, and the lists of those who, in tyrannical countries, have relinquished Judaism as an unprofitable or dangerous profession.

It is mortifying in the extreme to confess it, but it is nevertheless true, that many who had enjoyed a high degree of scientific education, instead of devoting themselves to promote the religion of their fathers, have left it for the sake of profit, or to obtain some political post which, otherwise, was denied to them as Jews, and that many others who had acquired wealth, and thereby a sort of fashionable position in society, conceiving themselves too elevated to enter into matrimonial affiances with their humble fellow-Israelites, became apostates in order to enjoy the privilege of becoming incorporated with respectable Christian families. It is of these that the apostates of the present generation are composed, not of those who believed in Christianity because they found in Judaism a base on which it rests for support, but because they actually did receive, or expected to obtain, some tangible advantage from making an outward changes in which the heart had not the least share.

We recollect hearing an anecdote of a changeling, who, after waiting for years as a Jew, without being able to be advanced in his profession as a lawyer by the late conversionist King of Prussia, at length listened to the voice of seduction, and became a Christian; and brought his family to the same miserable plight. Some one, after awhile, asked him, when the conversation turned on the little conviction which is to be found among apostate Jews, “Doctor, you surely acted from conviction in embracing Christianity;” “Indeed I did,” he promptly replied, “from the conviction that I could never rise as a Jew.”

Let this purchased creature stand for a type of his class, and we have a ready solution to the large number of two thousand, who, in the course of about thirty years, became converted in Prussia; but we would merely remark that these two thousand do comprise men, women, children and dependents of all sorts, and are not confined to adults and therefore not even to those who acted thus basely from a due regard to their interests. Another thing will strike the intelligent reader, that, humiliatingly large as the <<380>>number of traitors to truth is, it will not be found unduly so, amidst a population of 200,000 Jews which Prussia contains, if we take into consideration the immense bounties offered to apostacy, and the well-known fact that the smallest civil or military office was denied to professing Jews. Education was, indeed, left purposely free to all; every youth of intellect could freely enter any college, even if he had no means, and acquire the highest education attainable in any part of the world; but no sooner was his college course completed, and he applied for an employment, than he had offered him the choice between starvation and abjuring his faith.

Add to this that some had, doubtlessly, become tinctured with infidelity by the study of a vainglorious philosophy in the universities, and been corrupted by the somewhat free life of the student: and it will be apparent that an entire backsliding, when profit and ambition gilded the path of iniquity, was not alone likely, but probable, and that hence the number of apostacies is absolutely small, but one per cent to the whole population, and relatively, likewise, when the means at the disposal of the government, the state of religion in Europe, and the newness of scientific acquirements to our people are taken into account.

These men would have joined the Islam, become Parsees, Brahmins, or anything else, because they had, literally speaking, not any faith to abjure; their lips pronounced a vow in which their soul had no share; they felt the cold water of baptism thrown on their face by the hands of a priest, perhaps as great a hypocrite as the neophytes themselves, and they left the church ready for political preferment or military glory, washed clean of their Judaism, faithful adherents of a church professing to be the sole means of granting salvation. Should, thereafter, their wickedness have flashed up in their spirit, had they the severest and bitterest pangs of conscience it was all the same, their mouth had denied their God, and repentance was beyond their reach, for the state, after opening to the Jew the gates of salvation, could not consent to allow him to lapse again into a state of earning damnation through a return to the Synagogue.

We should like to see the man who could exhibit to us any proof that the doctrine of the Messiah had anything to do with <<381>>the modern conversions; and if analogy holds good, as it generally does, we may assert that the same phenomena occurring in the fifteenth century of the vulgar era, in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, were based upon the same reasons,—to wit: a keen appreciation of self-interest; for as Jews they would have been persecuted or expelled; but as Christians they were loaded with favours, and had the choice of clerical preferments and though those offices required a professed state of worldly deprivations, history must be exceedingly deceptive, if in secret the ecclesiastics did not seek ample compensation for their outward abstinence.

Among the high dignitaries of the Catholic church, we see accordingly the names of apostate Jews or their immediate descendants; and if they were also found among the most bitter persecutors of our faith and its followers, it only proves that they, by an overdone zeal for the opinions of the majority, endeavoured to remove from themselves all suspicion of being in any wise favourable to Judaism. We may perhaps discover a just retribution in the fact that the new Christians were constantly subjected to the espionage and oppression of the Inquisition; so that their dissimulation, no matter how well feigned, could not silence the voice of conscience within, nor lull into quiet the fierce spirit of malevolence which closely watched their movements, and left them not a moment free from apprehension.

It was thus that many noble families of Spain gradually lost their identity, and are now no longer to be recognised among their countrymen; and were it not for those far nobler than the others who were made so by a patent from the kings of Castile, Aragon, Catalonia, and Portugal, the name of Spanish Jews would be known no more among Israel; but it was that band of faithful servants of the Most High, composed of the rich and the poor, the elevated and the humble, the intelligent and the simple, the scholars and the teacher, who cast off all earthly glory and followed the lead of their God over the howling desert or the raging sea, who knew no happiness not sanctified by religion, no hope not adorned by the brilliant rays of faith.

And who were these exiles? who were these who sacrificed their lands, their houses, their fields, their vineyards, their warehouses, their <<382>>castles, their wealth, their pleasures, their country, their schools, their Synagogues, the graves of their father? say, who were they? We will tell you. They were the ardent believers in the restoration of Israel; in the glorious coming of the son of David; in the ultimate redemption of mankind from the thralldom of error under the mild sway of the Prince of Peace, whom the Lord will send to redeem all the earth and restore the sanctuary at Jerusalem to its pristine glory. But not for a moment were they led by this hope to suspect that the popular belief which men endeavoured to force upon them was at all akin to the spirit of their holy faith; that the man who was called the Christ of the gentiles had anything in common with the root of Jesse, who is to stand as a banner for the nations; that in the gospels there was an approach of the new covenant which God has promised to write in the hearts of his people, and which is never more to be broken; they could never see in the burning piles, in the drawn sword, in the reeking scaffold, a symptom of the reign of universal peace which we all so ardently covet; and hence they knew that truth was not with the blood-shedding priests, nor with the rapacious kings who revelled in the plundered treasures of their innocent victims.

No, we say; it is Impossible that any Jew can be misled to see in the founder of Christianity the idea of his glorious hope, and hence we need not fear any encroachment from that side, whether it be presented as a boon of mercy or as a bribe to the traitor.

The greatest danger to be apprehended is the love of imitating the follies and fashions of the upper classes of the Christian communities among whom we live, or to fall into the vices and vulgarities of the lower orders.

Times were when the Jew, repelled by the whole of the non-Israelitish world, sought for safety in his religion: his faith was his solace, and the Synagogue and schools his places of recreation, and the law his only study. The world without him was, to his class, nothing but a blank; his pursuit to obtain a living was circumscribed to the seeking of petty gains by small business. This monotony was only varied by violent persecutions, by false accusations of which he could not even divine the origin, the object of which he, however, knew <<383>>well-enough to be the plunder of his hard-earned and toilsomely-obtained wealth. He felt himself trodden under foot, despised by the world, abandoned by governors, hated by the people. Nevertheless he could remain steadfast to his religion: his very insignificance was his shield; the uncouthness of his exterior the element of repulsion which kept him aloof from the contamination of the opinions around him. He had no worldly joys: if he had earned enough when the sixth day had arrived to celebrate in a higher degree of ease the blessed Sabbath, he was content. And behold! around his table are assembled his wife, his children, his domestics, and whatever strangers have come under the roof-tree of his humble domicile to do honour to the holy day of the Lord; and, with the seven-pointed lamp lighted, the snow-white cloth spread over his table, the two-fold loaf covered over for the blessing, he first salutes the angels that accompany him, so tradition tells him, from the house of God to his domicile; he next chaunts the praises of the virtuous woman, in the words of the proverbs of Solomon, and then around the table all present stand erect, whilst he seizes the brimming cup, and pronounces the sanctification and thanks for the return of the Sabbath.

Holy joy beams in his eye; there is now no sorrow, no care; for the day of the Lord has spread out its soothing mantle with the nightfall after the sixth day, and in the Jew’s house and heart a peace unknown to the six days of labour has entered. And when the meal is ended, the Lord of Hosts is thanked for his goodness in providing the food and sustenance for all his creatures, “for his mercy endureth for ever;” and the hymn, too, is not forgotten, and the master of the house addresses the guests, and they respond, “Bless, oh ye faithful, the Rock of whose gifts we have eaten: we are satisfied, and have left some, according to the word of the Lord.” “Have mercy on thy people, according to thy kindness, O our Rock; over Zion also, the dwelling of thy glory, the appointed place of the house of our excellence; and may the son of David, thy servant, come and redeem us—he that is the breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord.”

And thus it ever was: in times of peace and trouble, in poverty and wealth, it was the hope of the glory of <<384>>the future of Israel which kindled a light which no sorrow could quench, and richer than the richest potentate the Israelite felt himself in his humility, conscious that the promises of the Most High could not fail of their fulfilment. Alas! that the days of singleness of faith have for the moment left those who now are at liberty; that worldliness and ambition have usurped the place of humility and contentment; and that the simplicity of ancient Judaism should veil its face before the conceits of philosophy.

But sooner than yield our hope, we would welcome again the oppression which enkindled the hope, and be in the midst of the fear without, that the eyes of the whole nation might be turned anew to their God, thirsting for his salvation, and panting for his coming as the roebuck thirsteth for the brooks of water.

(To be continued.)