|Vol. VI, No. 10
Tebeth 5609, January 1849
The Proposed Assembly
We are pleased that “the Call to Israelites” in our last, has attracted the attention which the subject more than our words demands; and we have already received various letters, two of which being intended for the public eye, we give them insertion without delay. It will be seen that in Cincinnati a plan has been started to appoint congregational delegates, one which we should greatly prefer to a self-constituted body, no matter how great and endowed the individuals thereof may be.—We also learn from another source, that an idea is entertained in that city to address the congregations in other places by means of a circular, inviting their co-operation, and requesting them to appoint dele<<509>>gates to attend the meeting to be convened as above. The only objection to this procedure would be the delay it might cause; it is always difficult to bring masses into action, no matter how individuals may feel on the subject.
But we shall offer no objections of any sort, to any plan of action which may finally be adopted, convinced that any union will be better than the utter state of isolation now prevailing. We therefore forbear offering any suggestions of our own the present month, and merely content ourselves with giving the letters of the reverend Messrs. Isaacs and Gutheim, just as we have received them. We have no doubt that they will be attentively perused by all our readers who feel for the welfare of Israel, and trust that good will result from agitating the subject in all its bearings, if even the meeting should have to be postponed to a later date than at first suggested by Dr. Wise.
Whilst on the subject, we may as well notice the objections contained in a letter received from one of our valued friends and an occasional correspondent for the Occident, on whose aid we firmly relied, and whose presence at the meeting we took for granted. As far as we know the Assembly is not to be on the pattern of that of the German Rabbis, against which we were one of the first, if not the very first journalist to protest with energy and effect; no legislative action is to be attempted with our consent; all resolves are to be merely advisory, neither obligatory on the members themselves nor the congregations they represent; it is to retard the spirit of wild reform with which many individuals from abroad and at home, are imbued, and to give, as far as a united effort can succeed in so doing, the spirit of the age a wholesome direction. No one will call “the raven permitted or the dove prohibited,” or will be authorized in the least to touch any of the dogmas or practices of the Synagogues; but all reforms should be established on legal principles, and be within the limits of our received opinions.
It must not be lost sight of that we are not now circumstanced as we were a hundred years ago; there are positions inimical to Judaism and all positive religion, to be met and conquered, if we wish not to let our blessed religion sink through our supineness in the minds of its adherents, or rather those born to its observance. It is true that the שלחן ערוך is an excellent compendium of laws, and a good bond of union among all Israelites; but is it known to many? is it observed by all? By its decisions all profess to be governed; it is only necessary to diffuse the knowledge of its contents among the community. How is this to be done? is it by taking no steps to diffuse intelligence? is it by letting all abuses alone, and allowing them to take root when and how they please? We fancy that this would not <<510>>strengthen religion; this course would not convert the sinners, nor confirm the wavering. Our learned men, nay the very learned gentleman who writes us in objection to our plan, are known only with few exceptions in the place where they live; and were it not for the means of the public press which we control, it would be difficult for them to find access to the public ear at all.
Is this right? Evidently not. Those who are endowed with knowledge of religion should and must be brought forward; they should and must become the guides of the people; the community demands light and instruction; and they, whom God has endowed with wisdom, cannot be allowed any longer to rust away, like a cast off blade, their brightness dimmed in an obscure corner. We want union to glorify the law; we want it to elevate the character of Judaism; but should our project be made use of to work injury to the good cause, we pledge our word before its consummation, that we will oppose it with all the energy which we are capable of, and stand aloof from all union with those who would bring evil and dissension into the assembly of God-fearing Israelites.
But we fear no such result. The effects of ill-digested reforms, as carried out in Europe are before us; and that person must be fool-hardy indeed, who would try to transplant to America the poisonous weeds which are already becoming loathsome to those who formerly scattered the seed thereof. Besides, we can assure our reverend friend that the ultra reformers will not join us; they wish to stand aloof for fear of being overwhelmed by the popular vote; we trust, therefore, that we shall not, on the other hand, have to encounter the opposition of an ultra orthodox movement, which cannot produce any good results by standing alone as opposed to a combination of honest men for the furtherance of Jewish principles and education in this country.
We know there is danger in everything; the best laid schemes are liable to abuse; but we trust in the Lord that we may all be guided by his spirit, and only resolve on that which is for the benefit of all. We say candidly that we have no plan of our own to offer; but if Israelites from all parts of the country do assemble for mutual consultation, it cannot be otherwise than that something good will be brought forward, which will prove beneficial to the good and holy cause which is entrusted to our keeping. America is destined to be a great refuge to Israel; let us be the pioneers of those who are to come hereafter; let us pave the way for the establishment of a sound religious system, sound religious schools, and the appointment of learned, pious, and honest ministers. More than this is not for the few as yet here to accomplish; but to do this is our bounden duty, or else, we conceive, that we should be recreant to our trust, and unworthy of <<511>>the privilege of speaking and acting freely as Jews, as freemen, as men who acknowledge no sovereign beside the great and eternal King. We close for the present.—Ed. Oc.
In the last number of your work, I perused your article, a “Call to Israelites,” and Rabbi Wise’s address on the same subject. Perceiving that the Rabbi calls on me and others, not to let our voices be heard last, I at once, in compliance with his wish, and in consonance with my own inclination, give in my adhesion to the proposed meeting, and promise to support the cause with my purse and person. To enter at present into the duties that will devolve on the expected meeting אין כאן מקומו; let it suffice to be observed that our vital interests require, and the voice of posterity demands that some steps should be taken to “raise the drooping vine,” that we should unitedly exert ourselves to promote the welfare of the common cause, to demonstrate to the world that our faith is not a sterile belief of incomprehensibilities, but a creed based on the solid rock of ages. And I know of no better plan to expedite that event than that we should meet to discuss the best means that can be adopted to improve our religious polity, to elevate our coreligionists to the standard they are destined to occupy, to train an efficient ministry, to have public instruction in every Synagogue, to educate our children, in fine, on orthodox grounds to devise ways and means to bring the forms and ceremonies of Judaism to the state of perfection enjoyed by the parent stem. No doubt from the large body that we expect to assemble, differences will exist, as they do even now, (for I and many others would with you prefer the place of meeting to be in our city, to which she is fairly entitled); but let us hope that animated by the pure principles of our holy religion, all our differences shall merge into fellowship, and be instrumental in bringing about that glorious day foretold by various prophets.
S. M. Isaacs.
Rev. and Dear Sir,—
The Call of Dr. Wise, and your prefixed and appended remarks have attracted the attention of the Jewish community of this city. The question of a Jewish convention is being laid before the three congregations. A preliminary meeting has been held by a number of gentle<<512>>men who are keenly alive to the importance of such a measure, and sanguine of salutary results that are likely to grow from such a union. It must strike one, however, that the meeting proposed can only be of practical use if it be composed of accredited delegates from the different congregations of the United States. A meeting of individuals, be they ministers or laymen, in their individual capacity, a self-constituted convention assuming even but a recommendatory character, can be of very little effect; whereas the concerted action of congregational representatives will have a priori the sanction of the respective congregations represented, who nevertheless may be at liberty to reject or acquiesce in, any proposed measure. Would it not therefore be well to recommend a representative convention, and urge the election of congregational representatives?
Anxious to have the subjoined report published in this month’s Occident, no time is left me for farther illustrating this suggestion, but I hope that it may be duly considered.
J. K. G.
A meeting of several gentlemen for the purpose of devising a plan of action with regard to “The Call to Ministers and Laymen,” by the Rev. Dr. Wise, published in the Occident for December, was held on Monday evening, the 11th of December. The meeting was organized by Mr. Elias Mayer, being elected chairman, and James K. Gutheim, Secretary.
The chair having stated in brief and appropriate terms the object of the meeting, and the importance of the cause involved, the subjoined preamble was offered by Mr. Lewis Abraham, the appended resolutions by various gentlemen present, and after a lengthened and interesting debate, the preamble and resolutions were adopted as follows:
Whereas, approving of the sentiments expressed in the letter of Dr. Wise, and the remarks of Rev. Isaac Leeser thereon, and being anxious to form a proper system of representation, in order to bring about a unity and consolidation of action among all the Jewish congregations of this country, be it therefore
Resolved, to recommend to the three congregations of this city the expediency and utility to convene a meeting of their respective members for the purpose of maturing the best mode of proceeding with regard to the matter above referred to.
Resolved, that the presidents of the three congregations be requested to communicate to the chairman of this meeting, the action they may be pleased to take.
Resolved, that the Secretary be instructed to transmit a copy of the <<513>>proceedings of this meeting to the Editor of the Occident, for publication.
Resolved, that we do not adjourn sine die, but that the Chairman have power to reconvene this meeting at pleasure.
After which it was moved to adjourn.
Elias Mayer, Pres’t.