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Jewish Emancipation.

by Isaac Leeser

Our readers are aware that the liberty of conscience and political equality enjoyed by the Jews in Northern America (United States and Canada) and the West India Islands, as also in France, Belgium, and Holland, are not granted to them in other countries, but that we are subject more or less to certain disqualifications for the sake of our religious opinions. It is not alleged that we are not intelligent enough for the rights of men, but that it is unsafe to intrust us with political power in Christian countries. Even in at least one state of this confederacy, to wit, Massachusetts, and probably also in New Hampshire, Jews are ineligible to certain offices; in North Carolina they are eligible to none whatever. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the question of removing these disabilities has never been brought forward, to our knowledge; but in North Carolina, at the late revisal of the constitution, a clause equalizing the Jews was positively rejected; whereas, at the same time, Catholics were emancipated, though they were before that time also excluded from all political functions. We may incidentally mention, that civil disabilities attach to this day in New Hampshire to Roman Catholics; and this therefore is the only state where any sect of Christianity is proscribed by the others; and within a year the proposition to remove this restriction from the constitution was negatived by the popular vote. We are thus particular, to avoid any suspicion as though we would conceal any fact which might establish the charge of illiberality against certain portions of this confederacy, which we have always held up as the seat of that equality for which Jews had sighed in vain for many centuries previous to the American Revolution. In dealing with any subject, it is best, according to our view, to state all that can be said, so as not to be compelled to contradict or limit afterwards what has once been advanced. Although, therefore, the admission made, that in some states of the Union the Jews are not admitted to political rights, may perhaps be used as an argument in other countries, still we cannot avoid stating that the fact is so, and we will add, at the same time, that it is an exception merely to the otherwise absence of religious disqualification in all the other states; and that in all the three mentioned, but few Jews can be found. It must be observed, at the same time, that the Jewish religion is nowhere subjected to any restriction, and that if we desired it we could erect places of worship in every town, although we could not be elected to the offices for which the profession of Christianity is considered a pre-requisite. The time was when Maryland acted upon the same principle of exclusion; but it is now about fourteen years since this odious feature was banished by the good sense of the people of that enlightened state. During the many years that the question was pending, (for this triumph of liberal principles was not achieved without much labour, nor until after many delays,) the few highly respectable Israelites who then lived in Maryland took a noble stand in defence of the good cause; they made no concession; they did not explain away the features of their faith, which might appear harsh and unpalatable to the Christians; but asked for their rights, and obtained them, as becomes freemen, unconditionally and without any trammels whatever. And at the present day, the Jews in Maryland are free, like all the other citizens. At the time when this act of justice was awarded, there was not even a Synagogue in all the state; hence it must be considered as the abstract triumph of liberality over bigotry and prejudice; and we therefore rejoiced the more at the passage of the bill in question, since it proved that Americans will be just whenever they are properly enlightened, although no political advantage can result therefrom to those active in procuring the passage of such a measure. Since the equalization of the Jews, they have increased very rapidly, especially in Baltimore; and at the present moment they are engaged in erecting a new and larger place of worship, the former one being found too small and inconvenient for the number of worshippers that resorted thither.

We refer to this subject at present merely to give our ideas concerning the manner in which some Europeans endeavour to obtain political privileges. We allude to the reform gentlemen, who have endeavoured to make it appear that the new order of things attempted to be introduced by them in the Synagogue will qualify those favouring it to more consideration than the others, who adhere to the ancient order. As an evidence that we do not do the persons in question any injustice, we will transcribe a short passage from the Jewish Chronicle, a paper lately revived in London, and supposed to be in the interest of the Burton Street Synagogue:

“Since the third reading of the bill* in the House of Peers, a deputation from the West London Synagogue of British Jews, headed by Sir I. L. Goldsmidt, has had an interview with Sir Robert Peel. We believe that the object of the deputation was not to importune the minister to extend the benefits of the present measure, but to place before him certain facts connected with the advancement of British Jews in the several branches of letters and science, in the different learned professions, as well as in the improvement of the worship of the Synagogue, during the last few years; and thus to induce him to originate, or to support in the next session of Parliament, a bill for full and complete emancipation. We know not the results of this interview, but we hear that the gentlemen forming the deputation have every reason to be well satisfied.”

* See Occident, Vol. III. No. 2, page 108.

So far the Chronicle. We however think that there are but few among our readers who will otherwise than condemn the spirit which this account betrays; and as a public journalist, one of the few who have undertaken to speak for Israel, we must take this opportunity to enter our solemn protest against such proceedings. Of course we assume that there is no mistake in the statement that the deputation headed by the distinguished financier did call on Sir Robert Peel, and deliver themselves in the manner stated; and sorry should we be to be hereafter convicted of having done any undeserved wrong to the gentlemen in question. But to drop all farther preface, we say and maintain, that such representations will do more, if they have any weight in certain quarters, to retard Jewish emancipation, than the malevolent efforts of our bitterest enemies. What is alleged by those called in Germany “Judenfeinde” (enemies of the Jews)? Nothing more nor less than that a Christian state ought not to grant privileges to Jews, not because they are not honest and men, but because they are unconverted Jews, and hence natural opponents to Christianity. No matter how many phases and changes the discussion has ever assumed, this manifestly lay at the bottom, that Jews are not Christians, and that the Synagogue is not the Church. But it never entered into the heads of the bigots who wield these arguments of the old school, that both positions may be true, and yet it be but justice in the state to let the Jews enjoy all the rights of man, and to let Synagogues be erected unmolestedly for those who prefer to worship there to visiting a church. They have shut their eyes to the fact, that in the few countries where the Jews are fully free equally with the Christians, the state has suffered no injury, though the Jews are not Christians and the Synagogues are as far from being churches as ever.

Now see what say our own seceders—(we use the word seceders in no invidious sense, and only mean by it those who have left the old Synagogue forms for something of their own contrivance)—yes, what do they say? They inform the Premier that the Jews of Britain have lately made progress in the arts and sciences. This Sir Robert must have been aware of without the deputation of our London friends: he knows well enough of Arthur Lumley David, of Dr. Hyman Hurwitz, of Dr. M. J. Raphall, of Rev. D. M. Isaacs, of Samuda, S. Hart, the Goldsmids, Sir M. Montefiore, and many others, both living and dead, who are an honour to the name of British Jews; of these, therefore, he could judge himself whether others such as they were (for three of those named have gone to their account) or are, ought to be entitled to the civil privileges now denied them, or not. But we fancy that this information was not requisite nor meant to be conveyed to the minister who now wields the destinies of England; it was simply, however, to inform him of “the improvement of the worship of the Synagogue during the last few years, and thus to induce him to originate, or to support in the next Parliament, a bill for full and complete emancipation.” But this appeal is abhorrent not alone to all Jewish feelings, but to a common sense view of the precious rights of conscience. We fear that with all the great enlightenment of Europeans, they do not understand correctly what true freedom is. For if we go upon the broad ground that every man is at perfect liberty to judge for himself whether he will worship with any particular church, or not at all;—let us be understood, we do not defend irreligion; but as far as the state is concerned, it has no right to inquire to what society a man belongs, or attach any political disqualification to him if he belongs to none whatever. This dereliction he must be accountable for to God only; in a purely civil relation, man has no control over the enforcement of any religious act by his fellow-creatures. So then, according to this view, the question of our faith cannot be drawn into account at all upon simple abstract principles. But if even we concede that the state may inquire about a man’s creed, as was actually done in Great Britain until very lately with dissenters of all kinds and Catholics, it appears extremely unwise to inform Sir Robert of the reforms in the Synagogue, “thus to induce him” to do something for the emancipation of the Jews. What is the natural inference from this phrase? Simply that, as some Jews have lately adopted some reforms, they are for this reason mainly entitled to more civil privileges. Two errors are thus committed: first, the reforms do not fit Jews more for equal rights than these were before they were commenced; and secondly, the reform spoken of has as yet been established in England only by a very small portion of Israelites. We will admit that they are highly respectable, intelligent, and wealthy; they form a community every way worthy of consideration; but still there are others equally as trustworthy among the so-called orthodox party, which, by the by far outnumbers them. So far therefore from the fact propitiating Sir Robert, he might have told them that they represent but a minority of Jews, and that was the greater portion refuse adopting the new reforms, the whole body should therefore of right be excluded from the desired privileges, because the reforms necessary to qualify them have not been adopted. Absurd as such a position would be, we see no other solution of the absurdity committed by the committee, always assuming that the report is strictly according to fact.

But this consideration of the case is not its most important bearing. It proves how greatly we may be injured by party men and party measures. Our opponents are only too ready to watch for any thing like a division among us; and such a scene as that lately enacted at London will put weapons most powerful into their hands; for they may say: “Your own fellow-Israelites have admitted that under the ancient rules of the Synagogue you are not worthy of public confidence.” It requires however no great acumen to prove that this position is totally at variance with the facts. We may freely challenge the world to prove how the Synagogue can be in the least degree injurious to the state; and this is, we contend, the only question which a wise government should take into consideration. Were the Jews banded together, through the permission obtained from their religious chiefs, for the purposes of any immoral enterprise, or if any absolution had ever been granted to malefactors upon the plea of Judaism, then would we say that there existed a shadow of a reason to dispute our claims. But we come boldly and say, We are men of Israel, true and faithful to our God, to our religion; and we wish to be placed upon an equal footing with all other citizens, in order faithfully to serve the state; and the same truth we bring to our religion, we will bring to the service of our country; for as a citizen or subject, the Jew has no separate interest from the Christian, though as a religious person he cannot, and therefore does not, acknowledge the truth of any dogmas and facts not consonant with his belief:—It will be seen at once that this has nothing to do with reform, or no reform; that is a question between ourselves, and with which neither Sir Robert Peel, nor the Emperor of Russia, nor the King of Denmark has of right the least concern; hence it was both impolitic for themselves and unjust towards their many co-religionists, to urge such a consideration upon the minister. If now the Jews of England cannot obtain their just rights except by approaching in the least a standard more agreeable to their Christian neighbours than ancient Judaism promises to be, we hope that they will have independence enough to refuse such a boon, so grudgingly given, and bestowed from such unworthy motives. An emancipation obtained by such degrading concessions, would be the worst of slavery; for the mind would in this manner have to debase itself in order to obtain a share of political freedom; and where the mind is enslaved, external freedom is a worthless bauble; and men thus emancipated will, by losing their self-respect, prove practically at the first call of temptation that they were unworthy of the liberty conferred on them. No, give us freedom as ancient Jews, or leave us mere protection; and we state fearlessly and openly, that whatever errors may be chargeable to old-fashioned Jews, say even that they were bigoted and looked with distrust and dislike upon Christians, it will be found upon investigation that all these faults are clearly traceable to the unmitigated oppressions they had to suffer every where; and that wherever the burdens have been lightened, the feelings of Israelites have undergone a happy change; and that were universal toleration once established for two or three generations, all vestiges of prejudice on our part would be banished. In this manner ought the deputation of British Jews to have spoken, and in this wise only could they represent the wishes not alone of their countrymen, but of Israelites all over the world, no matter where living, whether in tyrannical Russia or in free America.