|Vol. IV, No. 2
Iyar 5606, May 1846
Lecturing And Lecturers.
Whilst other nations have preserved scarcely for the space of a few years their festivals and their mysteries, we celebrate with inflexible purpose our religious observances from century to century."--Josephus.
The present age is distinguished in a peculiar manner, by the interest which is awakened to the social and moral condition of our people. It is felt that the creation of the most unlimited wealth does not compensate for national debasement, and its consequence, worldly scorn; but that the true course to preserve the prosperity of the Hebrew, and maintain the integrity of his faith, is to promote the diffusion of religious intelligence, and to labour for the elevation of the moral character of the people. Hence we find that every number of the Anglo-Jewish Journal, "The voice of Jacob," teems with paragraphs exhibiting the strenuous efforts making in the metropolis of Britain, to disseminate a true knowledge of the riches entombed in the literature of the ancient people, and that the advent of the reverend new Chief to his office, has given an impetus to the good work, which, it is not assuming too much to infer, will most materially operate on the habits and opinions of all our coreligionists who may come within its sphere; for the inevitable effect of the many years, spent in dispersion and under oppression, has been the undermining of the general knowledge of sacred lore, and the creation of a lax mode of observance of the ceremonial code, most fatal to the preservation of our religious unity.
Holding that the course of the Hebrew has been one of religious retrogression, we are constrained to notice, (but in doing so, write more in sorrow than in anger,) that the tendency to change exhibited in the desire to simplify religion, as it is termed, is a step towards infidelity; and, the crude and, thoughtless efforts at alteration, the contracted endeavours of the petty few, to adapt to native customs the forms of a ritual, which has stood the test of so many centuries and the chimera, of expunging from the service of a congregation calling themselves Hebrews, the language which Abraham spoke, the characters in which is recorded the only unquestioned history of mankind--a language which stands wholly without a parallel in the philology of the world,--these are bubbles blown up by philosophic vanity-- motes floating in the beams that will dissipate and perish ere sundown. Every age, every century, has produced men who have laboured in an unwise path, forgetting that "to innovate, is not to reform"--and whose labours for change, if successful, would have been the flux amalgamating the Hebrew with the idolater, to the annihilation of the former's identity. If there be any who sigh for a service more glittering than our chaste and solemn ritual, we fell them that it is not left to us to begin each a voyage of discovery for himself, to create forms, compile or compress services, or arrange symphonies. That the Hebrew's faith has a foundation decreed imperishable by the Great Omnipotent's fiat--that, however speculative rationalism may seek to overlay or enfeeble it--it is a mystery, which oppressed, yet flourishes--of a consistency unperishable and unchangeable, founding us a separate nation, the depository of a supreme code of ethics, the heart of which centres in Judaism, whilst the spirit is spread through all civilization; and this estimable felicity of position ought to render us more fully alive to the imperative obligation of defending it, and more solicitous of culling the blessings we enjoy, than vainly to labour to identify ourselves with the religions around us.
It is argued by the advocates of change, by the men who claim to represent the spirit of the times, that their reform has no other object than to increase public reverence for the pure light and words of the law, as contained in the חמישה חומשי תורה and in order to effect this, it is necessary to shear the formula of service of a great portion of a liturgy of great beauty, antiquity, and authority, alleging that the precepts of our institution are too strict and too rigid to be practised it the present day, and that with the orthodox ritualism is carried to extravagance; and although there is much energy and apparent fervour in the Synagogue, that there is little reverence and less real piety--that our leaders or teachers of old--the men--those august men who stood forward in the day of Israel's distress, and incontestably proved their belief in the truths of the faith they taught, by the mist powerful, because the most costly testimony which men can offer, the devotion of their lives, were bigots, and their precepts, of institution and instruction, bigotry amounting to idolatry. It was not our intention to enter on the discussion of doctrinal points; we freely admit our inability, from education or habits of thought, to do justice to so important a subject; but we could not resist recording our humble belief that the theories of these sectarians are inconsistent with Judaism; that we hold their course to be like the lightning, striking only to destroy, and feel assured that if it were successful it would annihilate
that peace and blessing, without which life has no dignity, and death no solace, and for which mankind stands in nowise indebted to the world, that with all its proud appliances
can neither give nor take away, but which in affluence or direct poverty, is granted to and blesses him who daily bends the willing knee before the shrine of "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity," to whom it is said, "every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear."
Who that knows, and knowing bases his devotion upon his knowledge of the preciousness of the principles of the creed which the Deity in his all-merciful wisdom graciously granted to Israel in the wilderness, and which it is the duty of every man, professing to be a child of Israel, for ever to transmit unaltered, will not, with us, lament that the religion should by some be reduced to a mere matter of speculation? It has hitherto been held that no man was qualified to excel in any human art, profession, or science, without constant discipline and unremitting efforts; but we have found men immersed in cares and worldly pursuits, venturing to bring their finite knowledge and experience to bear upon the truth of divine inspiration, and holding themselves qualified to alter the religion conformably with their circumscribed views and opinions; those religious observances of which Josephus twenty centuries since boasted of being celebrated with "inflexible purpose from century to century," are subjected to the same disengaged spirit of criticism; and the result fully corroborates the truth of the axiom, that there is no certainty in things upon which the thoughts and imaginations of men can exert a controlling influence. Yet, we think, that if there is aught connected with humanity which should be held immutable, "fixed at the beginning and fixed unto the end," it is man's faith; and that the witty and eccentric Sheridan was oracular when he held "that a deliberate disposition to make proselytes in infidelity, is an unaccountable depravity--whoever attempts to pluck the belief or the prejudice on this subject, style it which he will, from the bosom of one man, woman, or child, commits a brutal outrage, the motive for which I have never been able to trace or conceive." Holding fixed religious opinions ourselves, we cannot contemplate a continual movement in advance of religion, in the course of which, all its peculiar doctrines shall be gradually absorbed, and lost in the light and splendour of what is termed increasing knowledge; for the main object and advantage of a creed is, to prevent this perpetual fluctuation, and to fix religious opinions, by bringing them continually to a definite test.
It is pleasing to reflect on the facilities now afforded for instructing the people in the great truths of religion; and we hail with intense satisfaction the commencement of a course of lectures in the various Synagogues of Great Britain; and it is a matter of pride, that America holds equally as prominent a position in this salutary movement; for we have admired, and we hope profited, by many very excellent lectures we have heard and read on this continent, and esteem the publication of all such as a valuable adjunct; for it is by these means the hearts of the people will be improved, nor is it difficult to perceive by the establishment and perfecting of these lectures, that the commentaries and doctrines of the great masters of our ancient theological councils and schools, will become widely disseminated, understood, and appreciated, forming a conservative power within the minds of our people, which will prove a valuable aid in preserving the faith from the assaults of infidelity, and the insidious decay and ruin of apathy and ignorance.
It has been stated by a valuable labourer in the good cause, an esteemed lecturer of New York city, "That it is from the pulpit the people must learn the true nature, ends, and uses, of all the divine dispensations towards us." This was a truth enunciated in a happy moment of fidelity to a most important charge, as it is in the sanctuary and from its stated ministers alone, those purifying principles are to be learnt, which are infinitely more efficient than any human laws in restraining vicious propensities, and in creating, and cherishing a spirit of piety and devotion; but it is the living expression of these principles that captivates the hearer, not the principles themselves, for devoid of this expression they are more objects of dissent or approval; and then what care, what precision, ought to be used in placing these principles before a congregation composed of the youthful and the aged, the active and the indolent, the reflective and the heedless, the happy and the sorrowing; and every audience indiscriminately drawn together will be composed of these classes. Are the character and the talents of those to whom this important task is assigned investigated with the care which the inquiry demands? are they invariably נקי כפים ובר לבב "clean of hands and pure of heart?" or are not the possession of a good voice, and an ability to read Hebrew fluently, sufficient qualifications to entitle the holder to an election to the office of Hazan?
This is a subject which must in future come more forcibly before our people; for notwithstanding our inflexible resolution, to preserve our ritual in that incomparable language which has been the channel of the nation's prayers and praises for so many ages, the knowledge of its comprehensive power is too limited, the mode of instruction adopted by our modern Hebrew teachers too defective, or the time devoted to its acquirement too short, to preserve the solemnity and effect due to the recital of the prayers; and therefore it becomes imperative to make some alteration; for with the talented and immortal Burke, "I would not exclude alteration, but even when 1 changed, it should be to preserve." "In what I did I would follow the example of my ancestors, and make the repairs as nearly as possible in the style of the building;" therefore we support an addition to the service in the form of lectures in the language of the land, as the most valuable aid which in the present defective state of education can be adopted for disseminating a correct understanding of that divine revelation, on which all our hopes of the future depend, and which enables us to say that we are a "remnant of a mighty and a holy nation," which, under the word "covenanted to a thousand generations," stands indestructible; for when, as now, they were wanderers, and went from one kingdom to another people,לא הִנִיחַ לְאִיש לְעָשְקָם "He suffered no man to do them wrong."
The praise which we hear lavished on what is termed a beautiful or an eloquent lecture, are ofttimes much out of place; for men are seldom at the trouble to analyze what they hear, or possess the requisite industry or ability to discover the particular features constituting its excellence; hence it is seen, that many lecturers, extremely popular and rated as men of ability by their followers, fall below mediocrity when their labours are investigated with impartial judgment. It must be admitted, however, that this is a task in the performance of which there exists great liability to give offence; the populace will not permit their idol to be displaced from its pedestal without manifesting their indignation, although it may be shown that for any felicity of oratorical power, for any burning words, or striking originality of thought, you might look in vain, the speaker being lamentably deficient in all the attributes of good oratory, and in the style itself. Now much there is which good taste can seldom approve; the manifest superficial acquaintance with the subject discussed, the affectation of superior knowledge, the tart rebuke instead of the mild reproof, the overstrained fervour, and the repetition of thoughts, imposes but indifferently upon the unreflecting and the indolent, therefore fails entirely when practised before the thoughtful and the studious. How few men there are, who, taking a view of any subject, can place their conceptions clearly before an audience, or, being blessed with fertility of thought, are endowed with facility of expression. Some there are, who possess the singular faculty of rapidly mastering books and systems, while others, no less indefatigable, lose themselves in coming the details. the pulpit-lecturer exercises an influence without parallel for importance, and his opportunities for benefiting or injuring his fellow-men are incalculably great, as his very errors are multiplied indefinitely by means of those he instructs, for--
Lecturing at present excites attention, it excited curiosity, it does even more, it awakens inquiry--inquiry leads to reflection,--reflection produces enlightenment, and according to the talent and ability employed, will the movement spread, acquiring importance and prosperity by the fructification of seed deeply sown, or languish and die from the inefficiency of the lecturer to inculcate these imperishable truths, that a belief in God, a faith in true prophecies, and a sense of moral duty, are the mainsprings wherewith to sustain the fortunes of a nation.
New York, 5606