|Vol. VI, No. 12
Adar 5609, March 1849
The Proposed Assembly
On the Formation of a Union of the Congregations of Israelites in the United States
By Mr. A. A. Lindo, of Cincinnati
Having in Letter I. endeavoured to show the unreasonableness, under existing circumstances, of expecting that through the individual efforts alone of the respective Synagogue authorities, the important duties obligatory on every Jewish community can be effectually performed; and thence concluding, that the proposed meeting of ministers and laymen, would resolve to recommend the formation of a Union <<605>>of the congregations as a means by which all our wants might be supplied: it may be presumed that the meeting, publishing its proceedings and resolutions, will resort to steps for inducing the congregations to take the matter into their hands; when, it may be hoped, those of New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, will unite to commence forming the Union, and invite the other congregations to join it.
On so extensive a measure, questions, in the shape of doubts, &c., will probably suggest themselves to many; such as, “The principles upon which to base the Union;—Its objects;—The means by which to attain these objects;—and the effects the union may be expected to produce on our community.” We will endeavour to anticipate these questions, not by entering into every detail upon so many points, but by a few words on each; and few as they will be, we trust they will suffice to convince one and all of the practicability of the measure; the manifold benefits that will accrue from it; and consequently impress the obligation it lays us all under to endeavour to promote it to the utmost of our ability and power.
The principles upon which to base the Union of the Congregations, claim to be first considered.
It cannot fail to have been perceived that the obligation we are under to maintain the religious unity of the nation, forms a prominent feature of Letter I.
The Jews in the States, as elsewhere, are bound by a code of laws which, regulating our religious institutions, observances, &c., is received by the whole nation and preserves its integrity;—we cannot condescend to notice, as exceptions, the very few that have taken upon themselves to innovate upon these established laws.
The propriety of never losing sight of this principle, is too self-evident to need being farther insisted upon.—Nothing will tend more to the promoting of peace, harmony, and good feeling among our communities in these States; to their progressing in improvements of all kinds, and to their being regarded with respect and esteem by their brethren in other countries, as well as by the people among whom they dwell;—it may therefore be permitted to suggest that, at the very outset, the following be announced as the principles constituting the bases of the Union:—
To the greater portion of our coreligionists, we shall not urge farther the necessity, under present circumstances, of resorting to the decisive course now suggested; they will at once perceive it to be a wise provision, calculated to allay the apprehensions of some, and to render hopeless the expectations of others, who mistakenly consider that our condition would be bettered by inroads upon our present religious forms and observances, overlooking that, through the uniformity they induced, our people have presented to a wondering world the unparalleled spectacle of a nation preserving its existence and identity, notwithstanding its terrible vicissitudes, that would have annihilated any other.
We deem ourselves bound, however, to spare no pains to those of our community, who, taking erroneous views of our own actual position, disregarding certain significant signs of the times around us, and not weighing duly our responsibility to God and man, appear unconscious what our destiny imperatively exacts of us. We will strive to convince them how greatly the divine purposes to the whole human race, through our instrumentality, maybe impeded by their yielding themselves up to the too-prevailing disposition of the age, to consider everything ancient as worthless. We would warn them that what they might consider slight and unimportant innovations upon our established forms and observances, would inevitably lead to evils they would be the first to experience and deplore, of which an astounding and instructive instance shall be given.
That we have been selected from, among all nations for purposes connected with the divine economy, is not exclusively the belief of Jews, because explicitly announced in the Scriptures, but being strongly corroborated by the whole course of our history and that of other nations, its truth has been forced upon those even who would be disposed to dispute it but for the eventful proofs that support it.
Those purposes were of no less importance than to redeem mankind from the withering effects of idolatry;—to civilize them, by softening the heart and humanising the disposition;—to teach them to know their God, their relation and duties to him;—to impress them with righteous principles, and instill into them benevolent feelings to<<607>>wards each other, and towards every other living thing, over which dominion has been given to man.
Those great truths and righteous principles that, without fear of contradiction, it may be affirmed, would never have been discovered by man, his beneficent Creator vouchsafed to reveal and embody in his Law committed to our keeping, with the declared intention that through us, his chosen people, its light might be dispensed to all the other families of the earth.
Grievously as many of our forefathers had sinned, there have never been wanting, even in the worst periods of our history, faithful stewards of so sacred a trust; and from the termination of the Babylonish captivity to this day, that character, with scarcely an exception worthy of notice, may justly be claimed by the whole nation; witness the hundreds of thousands that have perished since rather than betray it.
The awful responsibility attached to that trust has been for ages fully recognised by our people; a proportionate anxiety has, consequently, been always evinced to preserve, in their utmost integrity, the books in which are recorded these truths and principles; and for that purpose the maintaining of the religious unity of our nation has been ever considered an indispensable requisite.
The efforts of the spiritual guides of the nation to maintain that religious unity have proved most successful; for our people have long held the even tenor of their way, turning neither to the right nor left, but exhibiting always the same features, while all around them has been constantly and for ever changing.
The comparing of this constancy with the mutability of all earthly and human things, is well calculated to confirm the belief, that the truths and principles entrusted to us, are of divine origin; for the explicitness with which they are announced proclaims divine wisdom, as providing for that constancy, by excluding all pretexts for sectarians and schismatics disturbing the peace of our people.
There has been, notwithstanding, an exception, and a notable one, to the foregoing remark:—one involving consequences to ourselves and to the world at large that may well excuse the devoting to it some portion of our space.
From the period of our people being led captive to Babylon, the mission of the nation has progressively developed itself in various unmistakable effects on the nations with whom we have been unavoidably brought in contact. Idolatry, through that intercourse with the gentile world, received a shock that has prepared the way for its total overthrow eventually.
Again, as a warranty to their opinions and practices, they professed to believe their leader to be the Messiah, without, however, assigning to him a divine nature.
Insisting still on the immutability of the Mosaic law, they adhered strictly to its tenets and requirements. They believed in the one and only God; preserved the rite of circumcision; abstained from forbidden meats; observed the Sabbath on the seventh day, and celebrated the usual national festivals; but confessing, contrary to the belief of the mass of the nation, to the actual advent of the Messiah, and innovating on certain of our established religious practices, caused them to be at once classed by the rest of the nation, as sectarians and schismatics.
They were at first distinguished by the denomination of Nazarenes, in reference, possibly, to the reputed place of their founder, and subsequently as Ebionites.
On investigating the origin and progress of Christianity, we find that what, originally, could be deemed no other than a Jewish sect, continued during one hundred years and upwards, to adhere to the Mosaic tenets and institutes; by that time many gentiles had joined them but the rite of circumcision and abstinence from forbidden meats proving barriers to a more general influx of converts, they were dispensed with, not, however, by or with the concurrence of the original Jewish sect, which continued to adhere to them, but by what might now be properly considered an entirely distinct sect from them.
This soon led to the gentiles’ predisposition to polytheism, their proneness to philosophise on the divine essence and government, operating to give rise to dogmas and speculative interpretations of the divine economy, which the Jewish sectarians beheld with unconquerable aversion; for they would not admit of the divinity of him whom they had not been unwilling to receive as the Messiah. A mortal like themselves; they utterly repudiated the dogma of a triune God! and resolutely maintained that the old [covenant] had not been superseded by a new dispensation.
These, which had become the favourite and fundamental tenets and doctrines of the great body of gentile converts, distinguished now by <<609>>the appellation of Christians, placed the original Jewish sect in the awkward predicament of consorting with neither Jews nor Christians.
Through the persecutions they encountered from the latter, as “Judaising Christians,” and from the Romans, as “Jews,” they finally became extinct, some reluctantly joining the church, and others uniting themselves again to the Synagogue.
Such was the fate of those who doubtless acted conscientiously, but certainly unwisely, when they made light of separating themselves from the great body of the nation.
Were the evils attending their ill-judged step confined to themselves?—No!—Nor have its consequences been visited upon our nation alone; for we have only to turn to the pages of history to learn what have been our sufferings, and of those likewise not of our creed, through the endless perversions and torturings from their obvious sense, the plainly expressed tenets and doctrines of the Scriptures have undergone.
The reprehensive character of the remarks made on the foregoing notable instance of sectarianism among us, might appear to justify the charge brought against our nation, of entertaining the idea that it is exclusively under the care of the Supreme Being; all other nations being left to shift for themselves as best they might.
Had this charge been confined to avowed disbelievers in a divine revelation, it would scarcely deserve notice here; but being joined in by Christian ministers, professing to believe in such a revelation, causes no little surprise; since, by concurring in the narrow views taken of the Divine economy by disbelievers, they contribute, in no small degree, to confirm them in their disbelief.
Surely, Christians must feel, when they charge us with entertaining so ridiculous a notion, that it was totally groundless. They must know it would be at variance with the whole tenor of Jewish teachings, derived from their Sacred Books, and with that promise to the Patriarchs, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This single passage of the Bible ought to suffice to set the matter at rest; we know, however, that it will not, nor will what is urged throughout the whole of these letters; for we are perfectly aware of the motive for continually trumpeting forth to the world a charge so totally void of truth, and we deem it, consequently, our duty not to allow the occasion to pass without a few words from us in vindication of the truthfulness of the Word of God, which is directly attacked by the daring assertion, that the old has been superseded by a new dispensation, the motive for indulging in the charge against us.
We will first quote from Gibbon, an avowed disbeliever in a Divine revelation, who, treating, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, of the Jews and their institutions, says, “In the admission on of new citizens, that unsocial people was actuated by the selfish vanity of the Greeks, rather than by the generous policy of Rome. The descendants of Abraham were flattered by the opinion that they alone were the heirs of the covenant, and they were apprehensive of diminishing the value of their inheritance by sharing it too easily with the strangers of the earth. A larger acquaintance with mankind extended their knowledge without correcting their prejudices, and whenever the God of Israel acquired any new votaries he was much more indebted to the inconstant humour of polytheism than to the active zeal of his own missionaries.”
It is extraordinary enough to find, just before the passage quoted, another that might have furnished the author with a solution of that apparent want of zeal he seems to consider censurable; referring to our Laws, he says: “With the other nations they were forbidden to contract any marriage or alliances, and the prohibition of receiving into the congregation, which in some cases was perpetual, almost always extended to the third, to the seventh, or even to the tenth generation. The obligation of preaching to the gentiles the faith of Moses, had never been inculcated as a precept of the Law, nor were the Jews inclined to impose it on themselves as a voluntary duty.”
True! undeniably true, most industrious historian! but still this proves not that the Jews think God’s providence is exclusively bestowed on them; nor that the sublime truths and moral precepts entrusted to them are not intended for the whole human race.
These truths and moral precepts were certainly not commanded, nor intended to be enforced “by the sword, the rack, and the stake,” nor were mankind to be entrapped into an acknowledgment of their Creator <<611>>by such insidious means as are now practised to seduce us to abandon our faith, means which our historian would have been the first to condemn; but there were other and sufficient modes provided, by the Divine Lawgiver, for his people’s accomplishing the mission upon which He sent them, as shall be shown in due time.
We shall now turn to the concluding passage in the Reverend H. H. Milman’s History of the Jews, in verification of our statement, that Christian ministers, unwittingly it maybe, but not less certainly, assist unbelievers in a Divine revelation, to strike at the root of that revelation.
The reverend gentleman says:—“This, however, we may venture to assert, that true religion will advance with the dissemination of knowledge; the more enlightened the Jew becomes, the less credible will it appear that the Universal Father intended an exclusive religion, confined to one family among the race of man, to be permanent; the more evident, that the faith which embraces the whole human race within the sphere of its benevolence, is alone adapted to a more advanced and civilized age.”
We really cannot compliment the reverend gentleman with having, any more than Mr. Gibbon, formed just notions on the Divine economy and its workings, as disclosed in our Sacred Books, in our history and in that of other nations. What does he mean by true religion? Dare he insinuate that the religion given at Sinai, by the Deity himself, is not a true religion? Will he maintain that the truths, moral precepts, and just principles it embodies are destined to perish? Will he contradict the declaration of Omnipotence that those truths, precepts, and principles shall endure for ever, and consequently the religion, likewise, which is based upon them, to become the standard for the guidance of all mankind? If the reverend gentleman intended not to enter into so awful a controversy with his Maker, what becomes of his meaningless expressions and assertions?
We suspect that the faith the reverend historian had in his mind’s eye when he wrote the quoted passage is not exactly the faith which Jews have divine authority for believing will eventually become the universal religion of this globe.
In support of Jewish principles and opinions, on this and other points touched upon in the reverend author’s History of the Jews, countless passages from our Scriptures might be adduced; we refrain from appealing to any at present, reserving to ourself to make ample use of them in our next, intended to be devoted to giving a brief exposition of the Divine plan for the government of man, as disclosed in our Sacred <<612>>Books; by which will be perceived the mode laid down for accomplishing the mission of our nation, and the consequently gross ignorance of it, betrayed by the Jewish sect alluded to, when they separated themselves from the great body of their people;—the ridiculousness of the charge that vanity actuates us, to suppose our nation is exclusively under the care of the Universal Father!—the mistake the reverend gentleman labours under, in imagining that the religion given at Sinai was, altogether, applicable and intended “to be confined to one family among the race of man;”—and in reference to the opinion he evidently entertains, that the faith he holds is intended to supersede ours, and to become the universal and permanent religion of the human family, we are bound to tell him, that such an opinion is at variance, not only with the teachings of our Scriptures, but of those others likewise deemed authority by Christians: we confine ourself to referring to the 1st Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, chap. 15., verses 24 to 28, as conclusive evidence of the correctness of Jewish opinions.
This passage, to our limited faculties, plainly indicates that the faith the reverend gentleman believes will be spiritual, is destined to experience the fate of all sublunary things. We should not be surprised, however, that the ingenuity so often displayed to force the meanings of our Scriptures to suit Christian views and purposes, will be employed to give to this passage in Paul’s epistle, an interpretation quite different from its obvious meaning.
A. A. Lindo
Cincinnati, 29th January, 5609.
With much pleasure I read in your Occident of last Kislev the leading article,—A Call to Israelites,—the spirit and tendency of which must animate every considerate person; in a word, the subject in question, together with the letter of the Rev. Dr. Wise, should be hailed with pleasure by every pious member of Israel, and I trust will act as a stimulant among our various congregations and arouse them to action. Your note on this most important undertaking holds out an inducement to any individual to express his opinion; I humbly submit mine. Should you view this in a favourable light you may make such use of them as your valuable periodical affords. I venture this at some risk, not having consulted any one, but am fully persuaded that a union of all the congregations in this country could easily produce a vast <<613>>amount of usefulness, and would do so if but a practicable plan were submitted for their serious meditation.
The beginning of all things should be attended with the fear of God; to fear God is to love Him, and be obedient to his holy will and commands. Our sages advise us עשה לך רב והסתלק לך מן הספק Procure thyself an instructor, that thou mayest not be in doubt. I would suggest that a competent person be elected as a Chief Rabbi, assisted by three Dayanim. The selection of this body to be composed of men of tried moral character and sterling abilities. Doubtless such can be procured to establish a school or college, over which the Chief Rabbi shall have the entire control, assisted by the Dayanim, for the purpose of educating the youth of our persuasion in all the elements of literature, but above all to inculcate the true doctrine of our religious law and government on a sound basis; to receive a limited number of young men who are already advanced in their education, for the purpose of being prepared for the ministry, who would be valuable assistants to the establishment, and ultimately prove useful teachers in any place where they may be chosen to sojourn. Theology being their chief study, they would become competent pastors to the flock over which they may be called to preside. The Chief Rabbi shall be responsible for the qualification of those to whom he may grant the diploma of the college, he shall be prepared to answer every שאלת חכם in the Union, if endorsed by the elders of a congregation, or addressed to him from any Shochet to whom he has granted Cabala, and to answer all questions of law to all women.
The Rev. Dr. Wise has truly remarked in his letter, They who are not thoroughly acquainted with marriages and divorces should have nothing to do with them; this is of consequence, and I would remain silent if what has already occurred in our midst did not affect the community at large. The law of God has been offended by an illegal marriage, the issue of which may be spread far and wide. What guarantee has society against the infection of an incestuous connexion, which even the tenth generation cannot purge? This alone is sufficient to show the necessity of placing marriages under the guardianship of a Chief Rabbi. The union most desired should be a permanent one, every congregation contributing $100. I am led to believe that there are 40 congregations in the Union, which would yield $4,000; each congregation to have a vote in the election of the Chief Rabbi, and his three associates; for every additional $100 which a congregation may contribute yearly, they shall have the privilege of sending a young man to be prepared for the ministry. At a moderate estimate, we may <<614>>calculate that each congregation have yearly 15 marriages, which, at $1.50 each, would amount to $900. The fees of the שוחטים and every legal investigation, &c., would produce $100. It is to be supposed that in a country so large as ours 200 boarders would be obtained whose parents would be willing to pay $150 yearly for a mercantile and classical education; this would realize $30,000 which, together with a proportionate number of day scholars, would contribute largely towards the support of the establishment.
In reviewing this matter it is but reasonable to presume, that from a revenue of from $30,000 to $40,000 yearly, men of the most eminent qualifications as teachers could be amply remunerated, rent of the premises, and all other necessary expenses paid, and yet leave a net surplus to pay the interest accruing for the capital which may be advanced for this object. Such being the inducements now submitted, no reasonable man should neglect the opportunity to avail himself of the advantages offered, but rather feel proud in furthering an institution of so high an order, in preference to all others.
In making the above estimate I do not presume to be correct. Should each congregation give only $50 per annum, marriage fees as above being $600, and Shochatim fees, &c., only $400 a year, still would this yield $3000 per annum, and this revenue alone would be sufficient to pay the Chief Rabbi $1000, and three associates $666 each.
I hope this rough sketch will be sufficient to call attention, and have confidence that you will further the object by your able co-operation in your journal. I trust you will accept this in the spirit it is offered. With regard to union of system in our worship, that must be approached with caution; a good ministry would go far to attain that object; whatever may be the result of your contemplated meeting in New York should it be beneficial, will meet with my hearty concurrence.
The House of Israel daily pray the Father of all to unite us in one band, to perform his holy will with an upright heart, such is my wish.
Cincinnati, January 8th, 5609.
I respectfully inform you, and the readers of your magazine, that I visited last week Parshath Yithro, my German brothers in New York, in order to hear their opinion on the proposed unity of all the Congrega<<615>>tions. I delivered a lecture in the Synagogue, Shaaray Shamayim, to a very crowded house, in which I plainly discussed the subject under consideration. In a private meeting of my friends, being too numerous to mention each name, it was resolved, that W. K. Frank, Esq., the President of said congregation, should call a meeting of the Boards of all the German Kehilloth, which he readily did with a praiseworthy zeal. The meeting of the Boards of the three German Congregations took place Sunday evening (February 2d). Mr. Frank was elected Chairman and Mr. Danziger Secretary. Rev. Dr. Lilienthal addressed the meeting on the subject in impressive terms, and introduced me to the assembly, to the majority of which I was an entire stranger. I laid open to their view the present condition of Judaism, the disease, as also the remedy. After a full debate, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:
I was perfectly astonished at the joyful welcome which was bid to our proposition of union, and I found the gentlemen composing these three boards all zeal and enthusiasm for the cause of Israel. High praise is due to all these gentlemen.
I met in New York three gentlemen from Cincinnati, viz., Mr. Lewis Abraham, Mr. Elias Myers, and Mr. Frederick Lindo, by whom I was told that the people did not fully understand my call in the Occident; wherefore I take this occasion to explain my views more fully. I thought, in the first place, to convoke a meeting of all pious and learned men to deliberate on a plan to unite the Congregations; but I find now that everything this first assembly might have done can be <<616>>done by the public press. I therefore call now upon all Congregations to elect, at the next general meeting, a delegate for each Congregation, and to inform Rev. Mr. Leeser of the result of their election; and as soon as twenty delegates are elected, Mr. Leeser is to appoint place and time of the first convention. As this election can best take place on Passover next, the first number of the Occident that appears after Passover may communicate the result of the elections, and announce also the time and place of the first convention.
The first convention is to draw up a constitution for this body, and set forth how far they can go, and what is to constitute their principal problems. The end and aim of this body must always be to unite, to instruct, and to elevate. Reform questions of Synagogues shall only then be discussed, if petitions of Congregations bring the subject fairly before the same. In a circular, which will reach all the Congregations, the necessity and utility of such a convention will be described in more particular terms. I think the first convention will have to do enough with the constitution of this body, with a thorough plan for our press, with a plan for good schools and schoolbooks, for means to organize our ministry, and to create an authority to decide in religious questions, during the recess of the convention, &c. But it is not for me to prescribe what this body shall do.
I understood, moreover, that some persons, in different places, have discovered two points to oppose, not me, but the plan of union. They said I agitate the Jewish body; for the sake of getting an office, and farther, they aver that I am a reformer. ישפט ה׳ ביני וביניכם, I will never accept any salaried office from this convention; my motives are honest, and I will not give up the plan, whatever may be said or thought, till I have tried everything that can be tried. You aver that I am a reformer, to prejudice the people against this sound plan; to be sure, I am a reformer, as much so as our age requires; because I am convinced that none can stop the stream of time, none can check the swift wheels of the age; but I have always the Halacha for my basis; I never sanction a reform against the Din. I am a reformer, if the people long for it, but then I seek to direct the public mind on the path of the Din; but I never urge my principles upon another, nor do I commence to start a reform in a Synagogue.
“But why do you cry out against me; speak to the people that they may go on;” convince them of the stand-still principles, let them send delegates that represent those views, and the no-reform principle will carry the day. This convention will be the expression of the public views; whereas, I am only one man, and I cannot alter these views.
I trust that the people will be convinced, that the proposal is an honest and pious one, that the better thinking class will exercise all their influence to realize this plan of union and progress, that they will induce their respective congregations at the next general meeting to elect delegates for the first convention, to elect honest men, men of truth, piety, and knowledge, who represent the expression of their respective congregations; and we will go on and erect a memorable monument in the history of Israel, and effect that our children and grandchildren may still look upon it with confidence; that the House of Israel may have a solid centre to maintain its sacred faith, to justify and develop our principles before the eye of the world and may our fountain be blessed.”
Albany, Feb. 14th, 5609.