I hear every day the charge made by Jews that not only do the
rabbis preach a distorted and false Judaism, but that they do not
believe even the little which they preach.
I hear it charged that what you teach the Jewish children in
the Sabbath schools, and what they profess as your teachings on
Shebuoth is not the doctrine which you believe in your "heart of
And when I have indignantly protested against this charge
of base hypocrisy on your part and ask how such facts as charged
can be reconciled with your calling, I am answered that many of
you are "rabbis for revenue only." It is said that many of you
teach what your congregations like to hear, rather than what
it is proper for them to know.
It is charged that many of you eschew sermons altogether
and lecture upon social, political, literary and philosophical sub-
jects, in order to avoid all questions of doctrine. Finally against
some of you the indictment is made that you employ your position
in Jewish pulpits to assail before Jewish congregations, the most
OPEN LETTER TO THE RABBIS. 153
sacred doctrines of Judaism, not even sparing the Torah itself.
"Can such things be ?"
I asked one of your number once if he could reconcile a re-
pudiation of the verity of the Old Testament with Judaism. "My
dear friend," said he, ''would you have me preach what I do not
believe? Would you have me teach the truth of the testament
when as an educated man I know it is not true ?" I answered him
as a friend, that I would not countenance hypocrisy nor restrict
in any manner the liberty of thought or speech, but that there
is a time and a place for all things. I conceived it then as I do
now that the duty of every man is to teach the truth as he believes
it, but if truth as he understands it, is in conflict with Judaism, a
synagogue should not be chosen to preach it.
It is an insult to decency for any man to accept the position
of rabbi and retain it as such, and in a Jewish pulpit to assail
Judaism to a congregation of Jews. It were as proper for a Cath-
olic priest to preach Judaism in a cathedral. I advised my friend
to be a man and resign his place. I advise all rabbis who are not
Jews to do likewise. A few have done this, and as free lances
preach what they list. I may not, nay, do not, admire their teach-
ings, but I admire their manhood which prompted them to with-
draw from connection with a church that they were unwilling
to undermine while paid to support it. Pray tell me, am I not
right? Do you blame me? I trust not, but if you do censure
me, give me the benefit of your reasoning, so that I may feel even
more charity for those rabbis whom I have observed to teach anti-
Jewish doctrines from a Jewish pulpit. They have not resigned.
If all the charges which I have stated be false then they should
be emphatically denied by every one of you. Nay ! if any of them
be false, in so far, they should be negatived.
But you ask me, what is it that you wish? Wait! Let me
show you some of the effects of the Jewish revolution in America.
On June 3d, 1887, in a prominent Jewish periodical, there
appeared without comment by the editor, a sermon on the Jews,
preached by W. H. Campbell, in the Congregational church at
Carthage, Mo., on October loth, 1886. In the course of the
sermon the following significant language was used :
154 LEO N. LEVI MEMORIAL VOLUME.
'The strict requirements of the old orthodox party is becom-
ing a thing to be talked about in our Jewish families. While
they do not look with approbation upon the marriage of their
children with Gentile families, yet their family education is such
as to open the gates for such marriages. In the last few years
three such marriages have fallen under my own observation. A
few years ago the daughter of Rabbi Wise, of Cincinnati, one
of the leading Jewish teachers of this country, editor of one of
their papers, actually abandoned her home and married a Roman
Catholic. This simply shows the drift of the Jewish tendencies.
It shows us that invincible rampart of Judaic exclusiveness is
giving way, and that they with all the people of the earth, may yet
be reached and moulded by the blessed gospel of the Nazarene.
"The Jew lives today in the declining shadow of his father's
religion. He still disbelieves in the divinity of Jesus, but he is
abandoning the 'traditions of the elders' and placing himself on
the broad ground of agnostic or rationalistic disbelief in all re-
ligion, where in common with the thousands of our countrymen
he may be reached by the Church of God." ,
The writer has been deeply impressed by the circumstances
which provoked, if they do not warrant such expressions.
But a few days since I had occasion to confer with a gentle-
man in respect of matters affecting Jewish affairs. In the course
of the conference, I appealed to him for aid in the construction of
a Jewish synagogue. He declined on the ground that there was
no reason why he should contribute for such a purpose, for, said
he : *T am a Jew only by the accident of birth. It is true," he
continued, "I don't believe in Christianity, neither am I an atheist,
but in that I don't believe in the inspiration or verity of the Old
Testament, nor in the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion,
I can not consider myself as a Jew, otherwise than as a member
of the race, and for that fact I am in no wise responsible."
Recently in one of our largest cities, a gentleman of prom-
inence and ability delivered a so-called lay-sermon, in which it
was proposed to set forth the religious views of the American
Jews. In this lay-sermon, the lecturer denounced as obsolete doc-
OPEN LETTER TO THE RABBIS. 155
trines some of the most important and cardinal tenets of the
I could continue the recital of facts and occurrences which
:give prominence and imminence to the question agitating my
mind and the minds of others viz.: "Is this so-called reform
movement in America merely an intelligent and conservative
movement designed and calculated to preserve Judaism by ridding
it of mere trivial forms and ceremonies instituted by rabbis in
a former age, or is it a revolution affecting doctrines and prin-
ciples which if allowed to ripen will separate the Jews in America
from Judaism and make them easy prey for other denomina-
Has this question not occurred to you? The Rev. W. H.
Campbell has evidently considered it. The American born Jew
is considering it, and moreover he proposes to have an answer
to it. It is not easy to solve the problem, because we have no
common locus standi, except that we want to preserve Judaism.
Having reached thus far the old question recurs: What is
Judaism? I read and you do, in the public prints, sermon after
sermon in reply to the thread-bare question, Why am I a Jew?
The question is monotonously uniform, but the replies are only
uniform in that they all disagree one with the other. In view of
such a state of affairs I deem it small wonder that my fellows
exclaim "A plague on all your houses."
Let us ponder boldly; 'tis a base abandonment of reason to
resign the right of thought. My reverend friends, wax not wroth
at these questionings. Do not discard them with a sneer of con-
tempt. Do not deride the presumption of laymen who question
your motives or deeds. Remember that you claim the right to
probe into the motives and deeds of Moses. Nay of Israel's
God himself. Shall you be exempt? Shall we not question?
With such examples before them, you must be patient when the
people doubt you, and ask an account at your hands.
We want light. There is a chaotic condition of affairs now
existent than precludes an intelligent selection of our course. Tell
us, what is Judaism?
When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick
156 LEJO N. LEVI MEMORIAL VOLUME.
weather on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the
first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his
latitude and ascertain how far the elements have driven him
from his true course. Let us imitate this prudence and before
we float farther, refer to the point from which we departed, that
we may at least be able to conjecture where we now are.
To that end I beg particularly to propound certain inter-
rogatories, to which I most respectfully pray for replies either
' in the pulpit or the press.
I ask these questions in no captious spirit, and I sincerely trust
that each of you will regard them as entirely proper to be asked
and necessary to be answered.
1st. Is Judaism a religion that may be defined so that it can
be distinguished by its elements from all other creeds, or is it sim-
ply any system of doctrines professed by Jews?
2d. If it be a religion per se, are its fundamental doctrines
and principles of divine or human origin?
3d. If it be simply the doctrines maintained by the Jews, then
state what is Judaism when the Jews do not all believe alike.
Will the creed of the majority be entitled to the name?
4th. If you answer yea, to the foregoing interrogator)^ state
if the few hundred thousand reformed Jews have not moved
without the pale of Judaism.
5th. If on the other hand you answer that Judaism is a
religion per se then state if its cardinal, fundamental and dis-
tinctive doctrines are not of ancient origin, whether human or
6th. Being ancient and well defined, and giving character to
the religion, are these doctrines and principles the proper subject
matter of change and if so by whom may they be altered?
7th. Who is invested with the authority to make any change
in principles and doctrines as maintained aforetime and whence
was that authority derived ?
8th. If you answer that reason is the authority, then state
who shall test the quality of the reason, and whether if reason
conflicts with Judaism, it may be substituted for and take the
name of Judaism.
OPEN LETTER TO THE RABBIS. 157
9th. Was Maimonides a Jew, and did he or not know what
Judaism was, as taught in the Old Testament?
loth. Is the Old Testament the proper source whence to
derive the truths and essentials of Judaism?
nth. Is the Old Testament true?
I2th. Is the Old Testament an inspired book, or only the
work of human hands ?
13th. Did Maimonides correctly state the doctrines of Juda-
ism in his thirteen articles ? If not, in what particular did he err ?
14th. Is it true that the rabbis in America are not in accord
in their conceptions or definitions of Judaism?
15th. Is it true that many rabbis preach what they do not
1 6th. Is it true that many rabbis believe that which they know
conflicts with Judaism and hence do not preach it?
17th. Is it true that many rabbis are rationalists, pantheists,
agnostics, materialists or skeptics? Do you belong to any of
i8th. Do you believe in a personal god ?
19th. Do you believe in the efficacy of prayer? That is to
say, do you believe that God hears and either grants or refuses
the prayers that we utter?
20th. Do you believe that Israel has the divine mission to
teach God's word?
2 1 St. Do you believe in revelation as narrated in the Old
22d. Do you believe in the sanctity of the Sabbath as a God
23d. Do you believe that a religious obligation rests upon
the Jews to practice the rite of circumcision?
24th. Do you believe that the Jews are simply a religious
community or a race of people with a divine mission ?
25th. Do you believe that there exists any material difference
between Judaism and any other^ religion which teaches simply a
pure monotheism and morality?
. 26th. What are the distinctive and essential elements of Juda-
158 LEO N. LEVI MEMORIAL VOLUME.
27th. If anyone does not believe in them does he not cease
to be a Jew from a religious standpoint?
28th. Do you believe in them ?
29th. Do you believe in anything that makes your belief in
30th. Have you defined Judaism as you would have it, or as
In conclusion let me again urge you not to ignore this appeal.
It will not go unnoticed. The inquiring mind must be satisfied,
and unless you desire to encourage the prevailing indifference
and hasten the hour when we "shall sit in the shadow of our
fathers' declining religion," you will give earnest heed to the
problems presented above. "Under which King Benzonian?
Speak or die."
Awaiting your prompt and favorable consideration of my
great dilemma, I remain.
Your Most Obedient and Respectful Servant.
THE JEWS OF TODAY IN AMERICA.
Address delivered at Memphis, Tenn., 1884.
Some years ago a distinguished Rabbi in my presence pre-
dicted the early decHne and fall of Judaism, and the Jews. His
gloomy views were based upon the fact that among those Jews
who were not indifferent to their religion, there was discord oper-
ating to bring about ruin.
So far from agreeing with him, I ventured to prophesy that
in the American-born Jew would be found a force not only to
perpetuate the Jewish religion, but to endow Jewish social and
communal life with such dignity and virtue as would add new
luster to our history. It is not yet timely to claim that my fore-
cast was correct, but unless I am mistaken in the trend of the
hearts and minds of the young American Jews it was not without
It is not to be gainsaid that in every direction we find affluent,
educated and talented young men who chafe under certain social
limitations ; who sneer at their race and religion, and who, with
ostentation, manifest not only indifference to, but contempt for,
both. But to a great extent these are governed rather by self-
glorification, than any deep-seated aversion to Jews or Judaism,
and beneath the thin veneer of such self-worship, there abides
an ineradicable, although suppressed, devotion to the traditions
and duties, if not to the doctrines, of our race.
The Jew, while lamenting, loves the restrictions that environ
him. The scars of conflict, although disfiguring and fraught with
pain, are ever the sources of pride and the objects of affection to
him who wears them. And so the Jew, who perforce recognizes
the limitations which surround him as the evidences of his long
and heroic struggle with relentless foes, in his innermost heart
loves those limitations for the story they tell.
l6o LEO N. LEVI MEMORIAL VOLUME.
For all this, there are doubtless many of our young men who
are so far dissatisfied with their race and religion that they wish
to separate themselves from the one and to throw off the other.
But if there be among us some weaklings who ostensibly or
actually seek to kick over the ladder by which they have ascended ;
who would destroy the family Bible because in its pages is to be
found the family religion, and on its fly leaves the family pedi-
gree) it is undeniably true that the great majority of our youths
are loyal to their people and to the essential principles of the
There are wide differences between the Jews born in America
and the foreign fathers who begot them. The thrift, industry, forti-
tude and domestic virtues which distinguished the father appear in
a lesser degree in the son, but in the latter, in a greater degree, are
to be found a liberal education, the graces of refined society and
the pride engendered by an atmosphere of religious and political
freedom. The father spent his youth under conditions that nat-
urally narrowed his point of view. Everywhere for him was
constraint. Even the study of his religion was conducted under
iron rules, and the observance of them enforced with such rigor
that no latitude was allowed for expansion of thought. When
he departed from his native home and established himself in
free America, it was entirely natural that the restraints which
obtained on the other side of the Atlantic should be thrown off
without moderation. Not equipped by education to make nice
distinctions, and accustomed to the mechanical observance of
religious ceremonies, there had come to exist in his mind a con-
fusion between the spirit and the forms of the religion. When,
in the enjoyment of the new-found liberty, some of the forms
which had been regarded as sacred, were no longer observed, in
a spirit of bravado, others were set aside, and finally, to a large
extent, a derision of the religion took the place of its former
slavish observance. The acquisition of wealth intensified the
disposition to set aside the religion. It would be unjust to say
that Mammon had been set up to be worshiped, but it would be
less than the truth if I should fail to say that in many cases the
ea,<,^er quest for gold had become so absorbing that neither time
ORATION DELIVERED AT MEMPHIS, TENN. l6l
nor inclination was left for the religious life. But with the off-
spring of these emigrants the conditions were different. They
grew up in an atmosphere of liberty. No restrictions of any kind
were imposed upon them. They were not driven to hardship and
suffering by the lash of poverty. They were not debarred the
privileges of education, but, on the contrary, wherever talent man-
ifested itself in a youth he was urged, not only by his own inclina-
tion, but by his elders, to develop such talent and to follow some
learned profession. And so we find that while less than three-
quarters of a century have passed since any considerable settle-
ment of Jews in the United States, the walks of every learned
profession and every avenue of art and science are frequented
by Jews, who almost invariably have forged to the front rank.
These young men, if compared with their fathers, are lamentably
ignorant of the religion and history of their race. They have
devoted no time to that study of the law and commentaries thereon
which is regarded in Europe as the crown of glory, but they
have not remained altogether uninformed, and the larger outlines
of Jewish history and the essential elements of the Jewish faith
have found lodgment in their minds. If they be Americans, more
than Jews, their very Americanism makes them bold in respect
of their Jewish lineage. The courage and chivalry which they
prize as Americans make them cling with tenacity to the fortunes
of their people, and if this seems to operate at times to their detri-
ment they face the situation without quailing. They are Amer-
icans with all of the American assertiveness, pushing, jostling
and rushing through life, giving and taking blows with courage
and good humor, striking better because they are Americans and
enduring better because they are Jews. And to such men to
whom the intellectual life was a choice, the religious life becomes
The barrenness of materialism fails to satisfy the aspirations
of expanded souls, and they seek, not in musty books nor in
cabalistic characters, for their faith, but in open volumes which
tell in plain and simple language those essential truths, concern-
ing which there can be but little dispute. They are discontented
with existing conditions. Philosophy is unacceptable as a sub-
l62 LEO N. LEVI MEMORLAI. VOLUME.
stitute for religion and as yet they are groping for a religion
which satisfies. On the one hand they reject a ritualism which
overshadows righteousness, and on the other, new departures
which destroy devotion. But the worshipful leaven is at work
within them and will cause them to follow Abraham who de-
stroyed the idols in his father's house, and upon the sands of the
Chaldean desert found and communed with God.
This religious spirit is, however, of recent birth ; indeed, it
may be characterized as embryonic. It has taken neither shape
nor form; it has set up no dogmas or creeds; it is simply an
aspiration after the truth, not so heavily covered as to be suf-
focated, or so naked as to be frozen. But it manifests itself as
all true religious fervor does, in a yearning to serve the Almighty
through service to mankind.
This development of a religious spirit is not new in the
history of the world ; indeed, I think I may safely say that the
substratum of all religion consists of the love which man bears
to his fellow-man. Upon this foundation he builds upward until
he has an adequate conception of the relation between himself
and his Creator.
The aspirations to which I have referred have developed and
are developing energies that are daily seeking subjects upon
which to operate. And these latter are not wanting. To the
young men and the young women of our race in this country
are coming problems, some arising from new conditions, and
others handed down by the short-comings, or short-sightedness
of the preceding generation. These problems are pressing and
numerous. I shall not attempt to advert to all of them, but those
which I shall mention will doubtless suggest others that are of no
It is only within the past two decades that we have had such
an influx of ignorant and poverty-stricken co-religionists as to
make their presence in this country a matter for serious reflection.
Prior to the recent persecutions of the Jews in Russia and the
Balkan provinces, the emigration to this country from Europe
was gradual and voluntary, and those who came were able, by
unaided efforts or the assistance of relatives and friends, to estab-
ORATION DELIVERED AT MEMPHIS, TENN. 163
lish themselves firmly and safely in their new homes. Their
prosperity came rapidly; suffering and poverty were rare, and
out of the exuberance of charity the prosperous made provision
for the poor and the suffering without any careful study of the
proper bounds and exercise of benevolence.
Such organizations as were created were at first altogether
local, and based upon unpretentious European models. Aside
from the benefactions thus administered, individuals not only
contributed to every applicant for alms, but sought out deserv-
ing cases of want for the pleasure of alleviating the distress
thus discovered. It goes without saying that even in small com-
munities great impositions were practiced, but those who were
imposed upon contented themselves with the reflection that it was
better to give to ninety-nine unworthy beggars than to refuse
one who was really deserving. This superficial view has been
the prolific mother of many mischiefs in philanthropic work.
A moment's reflection should convince any one that it is not
sufficient to have the charitable impulse and follow it by benefac-
tions, but that it is also necessary to regard charity as a duty,
the performance of which challenges the highest intelligence, firm-
ness and wisdom. The bestowal of alms upon the unworthy is a
corresponding denial to the deserving.
As the Jewish population of the United States increased the
philanthropic work that demanded attention overtaxed the pow-
ers of local organizations. In the larger cities eleemosynary in-
stitutions were established undertaking to provide for helpless and
deserving persons, for the care of whom the benevolent societies
were incompetent. It would be difficult to overestimate the en-
thusiasm exhibited in the formation and the conduct of such insti-
tutions. Local pride was inflamed and, especially among the
wealthy, was there a generous rivalry in the amount of contribu-
tions offered for the establishment and maintenance of these vari -
ous asylums for the poor. Men of more or less capacity volun-
teered their time and attention, as well as their money, and their
efforts and their sacrifices were rewarded by the applause, not
only of local communities but of our people in all parts of the
country. The distinction thus bestowed upon the managers of
164 LEO N. LEVI MEMORIAL VOLUME.
organized charities stimulated the founding of others in which
like distinctions were sought. A somewhat too rapid multiplica-
tion was the natural result. It was not deemed necessary to study
whether or not a new charity was demanded or whether one was
more deserving than another. It was sufficient that what was
projected was good in itself, and that the means to carry it out
were forthcoming, either as the result of voluntary contributions
or such as were obtained by personal solicitation on the part of
those whose pride was enlisted to achieve success. This success
was estimated by the amount of contributions obtained, and the
manner in which they were employed. Costly and beautiful
edifices were erected, furnished with every comfort, and, I might
say, almost every luxury that ingenuity could suggest or money
provide, and a rivalry sprung up between the different institu-
tions in which each sought to do better than the other by the
objects of their bounty. Those who were charged with the man-