|Vol. I, No. 7
Tishry 5604 October 1843
The following letter from the Rev. Benjamin Cohen Carillon, of St. Thomas, reached us by a late arrival, and as he is desirous of having his views made public, we cannot withhold it from our readers, some of whom will probably recollect him, from having seen him during his residence in the States. In giving this letter publicity, we must by no means be understood as sharing all the sentiments of the reverend gentleman, though we cordially thank him for the stand he has taken against the abolition of our form of prayer by the introduction of the one lately adopted in London. We hope that Mr. Carillon will pardon us our candour in saying that we utterly disapprove of some of his views published some years ago at Curaçoa; since notwithstanding this we accord to him the use of our pages whenever he has any thing to communicate which is of interest to Israel and Israel's creed. And as the Rev. Mr. Marks is a reader of the Occident, we offer him also our magazine in else he thinks himself aggrieved by anything which has fallen from the Rev. Mr. C. By thus offering our pages to persons who entertain different opinions, we hope that we establish the claim to the impartiality which we announced in our first number; though we trust that our course hitherto has amply proved that we have opinions of our own, and independence enough to give utterance to them when occasion demands it.
We call the attention of the editors of the Orient, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums, and the Archives Israelites, who all have published the advertisement of the St. Thomas Congregation, to Mr. C.'s letter, which will prove to them that the American Jews are not so ready to embrace every innovation which is sent to them from modern Europe; and we hazard little in saying that they will be found at the hour of trial upon the side of Scripture, ancestral customs, and reason, to a greater degree, than those who boast of such superior knowledge in matters relating to science and religion.
Rev. Isaac Leeser,
Respected Friend,—As I know how much you are interested in the welfare of our people, and above all, in their religious development, I believe it will give you satisfaction to be acquainted with the situation of my congregation, and with the improvements I have introduced there. When I arrived here, I found the congregation number about five hundred souls, and it increases with every day. We have here Jews from all parts of the world, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Dutchmen, &c. In former years the religious spirit had almost died away; but thank God, there is now a revival. Many who before did not keep the Sabbath now do so, and every week the Synagogue is better attended.
I cannot sufficiently praise Mr. Aaron Wolff, the president of the community. He has established a Sunday-school, where all. the children of the congregation are taught our blessed religion. Your "Catechism for Younger Children" is used, as being the best existing in the English language. We moreover have made a law, sanctioned by the king, "that all the children have to be confirmed when they have entered their fourteenth year;" and for the purpose I have composed a confirmation, which ere long I will take the liberty of sending to you, to have it printed under your care. All offerings except one, when called to Sepher, are abolished, and the greatest order reigns in the Synagogue during divine service. As very few of the children could read the sacred tongue, I established a school where I teach the Hebrew gratis, and in one year I hope, under the blessing of Israel's God, to see all the children able to join in the worship.
On my arrival, I found the congregation disposed to adopt the prayer book of the "Reformed London Jews." Almost every one was provided with a set, and they had only waited for me to approve it. To the amazement of many, I rejected that book entirely, and I will give you my reasons. 1st. The most beautiful hymns of the Portuguese liturgy were left out. 2nd. Why should I sanction a prayer-book adopted by a few laymen having no Rabbi among them? My greatest reason, however, was that the Rev. Mr. Marks had dared to deny all Talmudic authority.* Now, denying the divine claim of the Talmud, or its authority, are two different cases. Mr. Hurwitz, who certainly knows more of the Talmud than Mr. Marks, has said that "The Talmud is not divine;" and so do I say. But I agree with Mr. Hurwitz, that the Talmud is the satellite of Holy Writ; that it contains those illustrations and interpretations of Scripture which were given by our blessed teacher, Moses himself; and that by denying the authority of these illustrations and interpretations, we deny Holy Writ itself; because without them, Scripture would be unto us as a sealed book." The presumption of Mr. Marks is the greater, as even the Christians acknowledge the authority of the Rabbis, in whatever concerns the rules of grammar. Nay, dear friend and fellow-labourer in the vineyard of the Lord, I would not approve a rite established by men who speak so lightly of those noble Rabbis, the pillars of the Synagogue, the spiritual fathers of Israel, and, under God, the cause of our existence as a peculiar people. I confess that we are at liberty to alter customs, to substitute prayers; but we must not touch the essential points of our religion. I would like to know whether Mr. Marks lays Tephillin or how he wears the Tsitsit? If he does, then he contradicts himself, as it is only by Rabbinic authority that we know how to obey those and most other commandments.
Nevertheless, I have granted several alterations which I shall communicate to you at another opportunity. Suffice it to say, that this congregation gradually increases in piety and faithfulness, and that the Eternal Unity is worshipped in this Island by the children of that people which "He hath given for a light to the gentiles," and chosen to be "the witnesses of his Unity."
Hoping that the God of our fathers may spare you many years, for the spiritual well-being of his chosen ones, I remain most respectfully yours,
B. C. Carillon.