|Vol. IX No. 4
Tamuz 5611 July 1851
The Congregation Beth Elohim, of Charleston.
The attention of the Jewish public being directed to the movements of this congregation, we beg leave to lay before them a statistical and comprehensive sketch of the past and passing events which have agitated, and are now agitating this body.
At the period when the Rev. G. Poznanski was elected, for a probationary term of two years, Hazan of the K. K. B. E., it was one of the most orthodox, religious, and charitable in the United States. After the expiration of one year, the Congregation, in consideration of his ardent zeal in the cause of our holy religion, his piety, and conformation to all the laws, both Mosaic and Rabbinical, elected him for life.
As soon as this event took place, a course diametrically opposite was immediately pursued by Mr. Poznanski, which was the cause of the disastrous outbreak in 1840, when upwards of forty of the most conscientious and strictly conservative members were scrupulously compelled to withdraw (among whom were the founders of the Congregation), and to leave in the power of its rulers not only that sacred edifice, which was identified with many holy associations, but were denied any participation in the management of the Karen ka-yemet fund, to which they had largely contributed, until it had accumulated to the sum of $25,000, the interest of which was appropriated to support the very individual who, by his arbitrary and anti-Jewish conduct, caused another dispersion in Israel, and depriving the aged supporters of the Congregation, their venerable matrons and their <<204>> children, not only of a place of worship, but also of the privileges of sepulture; for, immediately upon their withdrawal, the constitution of the K. K. B. E. was amended, as, follows:—”Any subscriber, Yehid, or member of this Congregation, male or female, who shall habitually attend Divine service at any other place of worship within the city than that of the K. K. B. E., or subscribe thereto, as members or Yehedim, shall be charged annually one hundred dollars.” We do not deem any comment necessary.
The Congregation remained in a lethargic state until its second revolution, in 1843, which involved it in an expensive and tedious lawsuit, and ended in the withdrawal of about twenty-five members, who were opposed to the abrogation of the second day of the holydays, and other innovations, suggested by Mr. Poznanski. This event caused a great deal of unhappiness and dissension among families who had hitherto lived in peace and friendship until the advent of Mr. Poznanski and the promulgation of his new doctrines.
These twenty-five joined those who had withdrawn in 1840. The K. K. B. E. is now threatened with a third and probably final dissolution, when this event takes place; and of its near approach indications never were more palpable. It will, no doubt, cause the overthrow for ever of the unhallowed and vain panoply of power with which its present rulers are invested.
It numbers at this time about forty members, and is divided into two parties, whom we shall call, for the sake of distinction, Radical and Conservative. Their present minister, the Rev. Julius Eckman, was elected about eleven months ago (Mr. Poznanski having resigned), on a probationary term of two years. This gentleman is a regularly ordained רב מובחק בישראל, and empowered, by virtue of a diploma honourably conferred on him, under the seals of the Rabbinates of Berlin and Prenzlaw (which are two of the greatest acknowledged authorities of Europe), and was duly prepared by an examination at the Royal Frederick Wilhelm College at Berlin, and by his having been a Civic Universitatis Berolinensis rite inscriptus for the space of five years. He was elected contrary to his expectations, as he <<205>> had expressed himself to all those who called on him previous to that time, as being entirely opposed to the principles avowed by their late Hazan; and in his inaugural address he expressly told the Congregation that he appeared before them simply as a teacher in Israel, and objected to being considered their spiritual head.
The cause of this division into two parties of such opposite extremes originated as follows. The Rev. Dr. Eckman, from repeated conversations, on his first arrival, with Mr. Poznanski, and from personal observations afterwards, found that all positive religion was rejected; no religious instruction was communicated in the Synagogue (as Mr. Poznanski did not lecture); prophecy was denied; hence the denial of all that is doctrinal and national. The non-observance of the law not only passively connived at, but his exposing some laws that might offend our modern delicacy to the view of his adherents, the more effectually to prove there was no necessity for observing them; his request to Dr. E. to preach against the Rabbis, and all observances, whether Biblical or Rabbinical; and his acknowledgment to him that it was of no consequence where the Bible came from, convinced Dr. Eckman of Mr. Poznanski’s daring infidelity, as Mr. Newman calls it.
Dr. Eckman kept silent until Yom Kippur, when Mr. Poznanski was called to take part in the sacred functions of that day. This Dr. Eckman, as an honest man, could not consent to, and privately remonstrated with Mr. Poznanski on the great crime of profanation. Mr. Poznanski replied that he not only did not believe these prayers, but he detested them; whereupon Dr. Eckman denounced him to the Parnass, not only as an infidel, but inimicably disposed to the very institution of Judaism, and positively refused to take any part in the service of that day. The personal friends of Mr. Poznanski immediately arrayed themselves in open hostilities against Dr. Eckman, and have waged them until the present time. The great injustice of this persecution, being so evident to the public, and Dr. Eckman’s straightforward course in the cause of religion and truth, have drawn to his standard of true faith a large number of the most respectable and intelligent <<206>> members of the congregation. The Radical or Poznanski party numbers exactly eighteen; the Conservative party fifteen members and four congregators. The remaining eight or nine are indisposed to take any part in congregational affairs.
The public denunciation of the creed by Dr. Eckman, at the Tabernacle lecture-room, some weeks ago, as being anti-Jewish, and as having been surreptitiously introduced in the Synagogue, gave publicity to the following facts, viz.:
The Building Committee received instructions from the Congregation, in 1841 to have “our creed translated and placed in the Synagogue,” and recommended the assistance of their Hazan, the Rev. G. Poznanski, for that purpose. The Committee accordingly informed that gentleman of the wishes of the Congregation, to which he assented, and this prepared creed was played in the Synagogue as our (“the Maimonidean”) creed. It contains, like that of Maimonides, thirteen articles, and purports to be “Elements of Jewish Faith.”
This Committee, with the exception of Mr. Poznanski, with fearless magnanimity, have recently expressed that they have no pretensions to Biblical or Rabbinical lore; that they never supposed that this creed aimed a blow at the very vitals of Judaism; they received it in full faith of its really being that which the Congregation requested them to procure, viz., a translation of “our (the Maimonidean) creed;” and, if it were anything else, it was not the acknowledged creed of the Congregation.
A public meeting of the Sunday school attached to the K. K. B. E., under the sole control of the ladies of the Congregation, was convened soon after this; and this creed, which had hitherto been taught, was rejected, and for ever expelled from the school. It would not be out of place here to answer the objections of “C,” in the last “Occident,” to the view Mr. Newman takes, in his criticism on this creed, of the substitution of “the divine law handed by Moses to our fathers,” for the universal belief, and correct translation of Maimonides, “that the law was delivered unto Moses by God.”
The only article of faith necessary for any believer is that of <<207>> תורה מין השמים. If this is admitted, the other two proposed by “Albo,” and the twelve according to Maimonides, follow of themselves, as the whole Bible is there acknowledged to be given by God, and all the contents binding. But this very article is distorted and rendered inane by the alteration introduced in Article 8th, where, instead of the universal belief that the Law was delivered to Moses by God, it is, in Mr. Poznanski’s creed, only considered as a divine law, delivered by Moses unto our fathers. Now, a “divine law delivered by Moses “may mean no more and stand no higher than a “divine poem” by Milton, a “divine hymn” by Dr. Watts, “divine service” by an incompetent layman, or a “divine comedy” by Dante. The word “divine” is of less import than “sacred,” and “divine” and “sacred” less than “ holy.”
The drift of the translator may easily be perceived by comparing Article 9th, which immediately follows, when, instead of the positive and emphatic assertion of Maimonides—viz. : “We believe with a perfect faith that this law will never be changed or altered, and that there will be no other law given by the Creator, blessed be his name,”—he simply states that “we believe the divine law will never be altered or changed.” He has expunged, or forgotten to translate, what we so very much want to hear;—viz.: that “the Creator, blessed be his name, never will give any other law.”
“C” also states that Mr. Poznanski “never advocated doctrines that conflicted with the cardinal principles of our religion.” It is not difficult to infer what a man’s moral and religious principles are, when his own words and actions sufficiently indicate them.
First: in his discussion with Dr. Raphall, when asked if he believed in the Bible, i. e., the Law and the Prophets, he, in the presence of both congregations, replied, after a long hesitation, Y-e-s,—several of his own congregation inferring, from his evasion and long consideration, that he did not fully believe.
Secondly: the non-obligation of observance of the ceremonial and Rabbinical laws, as expressed to Dr. Eckman and Mr. Newman.
And, lastly, his extreme inconsistent course; viz.: coming to <<208>> Charleston as a pious and orthodox Mosaic and Rabbinical Hazan, and in a short time afterwards subverting our faith, by introducing into the Synagogue one of his own manufacture, which is replete with infidelity and irreligion.
The Poznanski party, finding themselves reduced in the last ten years from over one hundred voting members to only eighteen, and destruction approaching from exposure of their leader by Dr. Eckman, determined, as a last resort,—they being in the majority in the Board of Trustees,—to transmit a petition to the Board with the request that Dr. Eckman should resign, as they did not think he suited their views. This petition, signed by the eighteen members, was accordingly sent in, and a resolution passed; by a vote of 4 to 3, that Dr. Eckman should comply with the wishes of the petitioners. A contra petition was also sent to the Board, signed by fifteen members, and four contributors, requesting Dr. Eckman to take no regard to the resolution of the Board of Trustees, as he was elected for a two years’ probationary term, and that they had the highest opinion of his learning, piety, integrity and zeal, and that perseverance in the faithful discharge of his clerical duties will ultimately secure to him the approbation of a large majority of his congregation.
We understand also that “C” is the author of the petition requesting Dr. Eckman to resign, which petition contains a definition of religion, according to the ideas of his former teacher, for Dr. Eckman’s edification,—viz.: “Pure religion is an abstraction from all worldly contentions.” With some few men, religion is a colour; a lifeless, abstract notion. But abstraction is not pure religion. Religion must manifest itself in our actions in life, ay, it must embrace the whole sphere of our activity and affections. Our religion teaches us למען השמרו ועשיתם “observe and do,” “perform and act.” What abstract religion means we humbly confess to have no idea of, but would respectfully advise “C” and his party to desist from contentions against “pure religion.”
S. N. C.