Wilhelm Herzberg.

Jewish family papers; or Letters of a missionary online

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PRINTED AT THE INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL OF THE HEBREW ORPHAN ASYLUM,
76th Street, bet. Third and Lexington Aveb.

1875.



Jewish Family Papers;



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TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN OF

Dr. WILHELM HERZBERG (" Gustav Meinhardt "),

BY THE

Rev. Dr. FREDERIC de SOLA MENDES,

Adjunct Minister of the Congregation " Shaaray Tephila" New York.



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October, 1875.






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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by the

American Jewish Publication Society,

in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.







NOTICE TO SUBSCRIBERS.



The two remaining works announced on last page for publication
in 1ST.") have been withdrawn for the present. In their stead the
following essavs arc issued with this volume: —

*

Zunz : — Tiik Jewish Moralists of the Middle Ages, from
his work " Zur Geschichte und Literatur."

Perles: — Tiik Wedding and Funeral Ceremonies of tin-.
Hebrews in Post-Biblical Times.

For 1876, and by special permission of the Author's heirs, the late
Dr. Abraham Geiger's Classical Lectures on the History of Judaism
will be issued early in the Spring.

The selection of the works just named will, we trust, satisfy our
subscribers that we are earnestly striving to attain the objects for
which the American Jewish Publication Society has been established.
viz.: to make accessible to the English-reading public the best and
most-reliable sources of information on the Philosophy, History, and
Literature of Judaism. Acting on behalf of an Association that
embraces men of all shades of opinions, we take our stand on per
fecthj neutral ground. The works proposed for publication are
judged solely by their literary merits, without any reference what-
< ver to the particular views and sentiments, which must be looked
upon as those of the authors or (regarding prefaces and notes) of the
translators only, and as in no way committing the officers of the
Society.



PUBLICATION COMMITTEE

Of tin: A. ./. P. -V



PREFACE.



A few words on the origin of the following translation will testify
to the value of the work which is here presented in a new dress to
the English-reading public. The Translator was yet studying at the
Breslau Theological Seminary when the book was first brought
under his notice by a fellow-student, one of its most enthusiastic
admirers. A large number of copies were at once procured and read
with avidity by our comrades. It is impossible to describe the
applause the book called forth : never had we read so glowing and
so powerful a vindication of pure Judaism. We were rejoiced that
the country which had produced an Eisenmenger, a Wagenseil,
Schudt, Pfefferkorn, et hoc genus omne, should have yielded in our
day too so triumphant a Defender of the Faith. Our venerable
Director, the Very Rev. Dr, Frankel (to whom be peace!) was as
enthusiastic as any of his young disciples in its praise.

It was then that the undersigned conceived the idea of rendering
the book accessible to his English brethren. The work of translation
was commenced and carried on in leisure intervals for the next few
years. In January, 1874, in conjunction with Mr. A. Herzberg, then
of London, brother of the author, a prospectus was issued in England,
proposing the publication of the work by subscription. The project
was heartily indorsed by the Very Rev. the Chief Rabbi and the
Rev. Dr. Herrman Adler, the latter of whom kindly made valuable
suggestions as to omissions and alterations proper in a version to



VI PREFACE.

come before average English readers. The matter, however, not
being taken up by the Anglo-Jewish public, the work is now pre-
sented to the Jews of America under the auspices of the American
Jewish Publication Society.

The translation here offered contains all the alterations agreed
upon for the London issue. Being the result of the intermittent
labor of years, it is hoped that most imperfections have been elimi-
nated ; the peculiar philosophical character of the middle portions,
however, has rendered the translation somewhat more difficult than
the general run of German books.

The Translator has added a few notes, explaining references which
would otherwise be obscure to the ordinary lay-reader, Hebrew or
Christian.

Trusting that this little work will be well received by our brethren,
both Jew and Gentile — the former of whom will derive valuable
support and information, the latter respectful and considerate instruc-
tion therefrom — a hearty " God-speed ! " is wished it by

New York, October, ff-ff THE TRANSLATOR.



LETTER I.

S , Sept. 20th, 185-.

I arrived yesterday and am living with Rabbi Nathan. All
passed off easily, more easily than I expected, and the Lord be
praised, I stand on the threshold of my longed-for labor.

I am sitting in a back room of the old Frankish house ; my win-
dows look out upon a large yard filled with children at play. Now
and then their merry laughter reaches my ear, as I sit poring over
a fine edition of the Mishna, 1 which my kind host has permitted me
to bring to my room. At one time my heart beats high within me,
in joyful, almost boastful exultation, and then again I shudder and
draw back, and call myself unworthy, weak — but am I not fighting
for a higher power ? Is not my aim a lofty one, and if I reach it,
do I not labor for all eternity % But let me tell you about my jour-
ney in proper order.

I left Hartlepool, whence I wrote you last, in the Neptune, at mid-
night, and arrived, after a rather rough passage of forty-eight hours, in
Hamburg. The boat remained all night, I know not wherefore,
lying in the middle of the Elbe, but the passengers were allowed, if
they chose, to disembark. I had been so unwell on the voyage, and
the air in the cabin was so close and oppressive, that I honestly
longed for the comfort of a respectable hotel.

My fellow-voyagers had passed the time in playing cards all the
way. Among them was a tall, pale young man, who was equally
anxious with me to reach terra ftrma. There were plenty of boats
alongside, and looking out our luggage from the pile the steamer
had brought along, we soon landed in the pitch dark night in the
quay. I was agreeably surprised to find that the Customs-authori-
ties, so troublesome with us, left me quite undisturbed, and with the
pleasant feeling of a difficulty overcome, I was whirled along into
the town. My companion asked me whether I intended to put up
1



2 LETTERS OF A MISSIONARY.

at any particular hotel ; if not, he proposed the King of Portugal,
where he usually slopped ; I had no objection, and thither we went.

The change of scene, the anticipation of the new circumstances I
was approaching, had so excited me that I became more talkative
than usual, and my companion's melancholy taciturnity and short
answers did not attract my notice. His pale face, as he listlessly
stared into the flame of the street lamps, drew my attention. I asked
him, in some concern, if he were unwell, and no great persuasion
was needed to draw from the poor fellow the history of his misfor-
tune. He had failed, he said, in business, through fraud on the side
of his partner, and had to flee from his native town, leaving his
young wife and an infant three months old. He had spent two
months in England in great distress, looking for a means of liveli-
hood, but in vain. He intends now to give himself up to justice,
and purchase the vicinity of his darlings with imprisonment. For
the present, he intends to hide in Hamburg and await news from
them ; I had to promise him to seek out his wife and child in

S -. I was sorry for him, but his confidence, especially in such

a delicate personal matter, seemed to me too easily given, and it
made me somewhat suspicious. I rejected therefore, without much
ado, his proposition that we should hire a room in common, held no
more conversation with him, and upon arrival at the hotel, had
myself shown into a chamber where I could drink my tea alone.

I sat quietly by the cozy fireside and let the wounds of the past
cross my mind in review. What have I done that I should not be
rejected like the rest? Verily, many are called, but few are chosen,
and, mindful of my unworthiness, I am overcome with humility!

I saw myself a timid boy again, hurrying over the Moorfield hills,
and wandering about our splendid park in my early solitude. I do
not remember ever having joined in boyish games; is it only that I
have forgotten ? I know I often stood wondering afar off when the
others romped in joyous childish sport; just as, later, I used to
watch, not without an envious feeling, when the young men of my
age whirled along in the dance, holding some blooming girl in their
arms. They enjoyed a pleasure I did not comprehend, because I
never had experienced it; I should indeed very much have liked to
do so, but I knew not how to set about it. Why did not the boys
ask me to join them in their play, like they did others, whose par-



LETTERS OF A MISSIONARY. 3

ents they were incessantly begging for permission ? Why did they
fall to whispering to each other when they caught sight of me, and
grow silent when I drew near? I could not imagine the reason.

How powerful, even in the boy, was the instinctive sense of grati-
tude for deeds of benevolence ! I thought the world centred in me,
and I would execute something new, something unheard of: I
would become a benefactor of my brethren. In my dreams I beheld
myself possessed of King Solomon's signet. Then I would fill the
boxes of the poor, secretly and by night, with glittering gold, and
with delight depicted to myself their joy when they unexpectedly
discovered the treasure in the morning. Poor child ! hoping to
make men happy — with gold!

You gave me a peculiar education. I was not suffered to enter
the close class-room, had no need to fear the rod of the angry school-
master who stood among the boys like the arbiter of worlds on the
day of judgment. I used to go to the rector. Why, I knew not. I
never asked myself why I studied Hebrew in addition, while the
other boys had enough with their Latin and Greek, nor why I had
to learn all those curious customs and observances. I should have
liked the study well, almost too well, if that man had not been my
teacher. I know you did not like him either. His dignified, pomp-
ous air when silent, and that continual sweet smile when he opened
his lips — I never ventured to be myself, to be natural, in his pres-
ence. For he was always wound up, always the same : the same
sanctimonious vanity always shot from the small, black, piercing
eyes ; the same saintly humility Avas always displayed on his flat fore-
head and sharp-cut nose. "I wonder whether he winds himself up
at ni<_>ht or in the morning'?' 1 I used to ask myself; "I should
dearly like to see him once unwound!'' I did not fear the man, I
rather felt disposed to hate him, and when he went so far as to pat
my head with his hand, I shuddered and felt a repugnance amount-
ing to disgust. When I sat in front of him, with my head bent
over the book, attentively translating the Hebrew words, if I came
to a difficult passage and looked up into his ashy face, with its high,
bald forehead, there he used to sit leaning back in his chair, his
shallow black wig displaced, and his own red hair sprouting out
beneath it. I could not speak then : I could not hear him — I saw
his lips moving, talking to me ; but my childish mind was so full cf



-1 LETTERS OF A MISSIONARY.

dread, that it seemed convulsed, and my members refused their
office.

He never punished me. He was silent when he saw I did not
speak, and sent me home. Like a released captive, I walked along,
reeling under the oppression of his presence, until the meadows and
gardens roused me, and running and jumping made me forget what
I had felt. I used to go then better prepared for the next lesson ; I
translated fluently and noted his corrections, but I dared not look at
him ; if I did, the same spell came upon me ! Every other man I
looked free and openly in the face ; from this one, I recoiled as if I
bore a sense of blackest guilt in my soul, known to him alone ; I
shuddered before him as before a guilty conscience !

How different it was in your lessons, my dear father! You I
could look at, and how I loved to look ! Your earnest, calm counte-
nance, in which the firm, blue eyes gazed upon the questioner,
inspiring confidence ; the calmness and humanity of your whole being
penetrated me with beneficent warmth. Still I used to prefer being
with you out of lesson-time. There was no difficulty with secular
instruction, but oh! those religious lessons! Not an hour, but an
eternity they used to last ! When the lesson commenced, I felt like
a pilsrim taking leave of his friends and entering the flowing desert,
and when the clock struck, I sprang up joyfully, like a prisoner
released.

I took to every other branch of knowledge easily, but theology
remained a closed book with seven seals. To please you, I learned
the subject by heart, mechanically, and sighed as I blamed my weak
intellect that could not fathom its meaning. My dearest wish was
to have a genius for theology, in order to delight you by my pro-
ficiency in your favorite study. But as soon as I tried to penetrate
to the se?ise of your words (and I loved you too well not to try often),
I lost my composure, and while I listened to you with my eyes bent
on the book, with all my powers strained to follow you, the same
awful sensation fell upon me that the rector used to inspire. But
when, bewildered and in speechless dread, I raised my eyes, expecting
to see that man's pale features^ and I gazed on your true, kind eyes
instead, a curious sense of confidence pervaded me, for I saw you, and
my eyes would not cease gazing. I saw my benefactor — the modest,
pious man, the friend of the poor, who had taken the destitute boy



LETTERS OF A MISSIONARY 5

into his house, and cared for him more than a father could. Yes,
noble-minded man, I forgot your words, thinking of yourself, or, let
me confess, I heard you not, \felt you: joy and admiration of your
kind heart quite tilled up mine. But with all this joy there was min-
gled a strange and painful feeling : you loved me so well, and yet I
*could not understand you !

How curious children's hearts arc ! Grown-up people look down
like gods upon them, and yet they are men too, with more intense feel-
ings, weaker passions, and nobler impulses. We should never forget
they are human beings in miniature : more resembling animals, it is
true, but nearer also to the angels. As a child, I had curious feelings,
which I do not even understand now. I used actually to pity you,
my dear father, as you looked me earnestly in the face and taught
the doctrine of Salvation, or used I to pity myself"? I know my
heart was full of tender compassion, and when you used to speak
eloquently and earnestly — why shall I not confess now that I am no
more bashful, confess what, as a boy, I kept hidden like a crime from
you, would fain have hidden from myself? Your words reached my
ear — but no farther ! You spoke in German, my mother-tongue :
Chinese would not have sounded stranger, and all the inspiring pictures
and parables of the Evangelists passed like unsubstantial shadows
before my eyes. And — why shall I not speak the truth and illustrate
what I owe to you? — and the foolish lad used to grow terrified espe-
cially at the picture of the Sufferer! Oft did you paint in glowing
enthusiasm the pains he took upon himself, to redeem mankind ! You
showed me the glorious form nailed to the cross, and purple drops of
blood oozing from his hands and feet, falling on to the yellow sand !
I watched how the bitter agony distorted his mild features, and I
shuddered at the sight !

I have so long laughed at your doctrine of orignal sin that I almost
begin to believe it ; for what else could it have been but my sinful
sensualism that combated that man's moral excellence? "Death!
death ! " it rang through me like the tolling of a funeral bell ; I am onlv
just entering life, and they are teaching me to leave it ! Misdirecting
a longing, which only in dreams yearns for the welfare of humanity,
crippling the holy emotions of a pure and noble heart, they strive to
make the future man believe that a woman's virtue is the highest of
all! Wherein should I imitate him: him, the example of all man-



6 LETTERS OF A MISSIONARY.

kind ? I could not work miracles, I could not preach better than
he ; what remains — but to die like him f I froze with horror at the
thought, and sat like one dead, till you closed your book and gave
the sign for freedom !

How happy is the child's disposition that can cast off the burden of
the past like a knapsack from the shoulders ! In the open air, in
the company of my flowers, my fowls and pigeons, not a recollection
of my former dread remained. Yet I was not quite emancipated from
it. It came back at night. I never told you; I do not know why,
I was afraid to tell you. That "was the reason I asked you, shyly
at first, then imploringly, to let me have a candle burning all night;
you refused with good-natured chiding, and I slunk away, ashamed
of my weakness. But when I lay in bed, and old Esther came and
took away the light — she did it as late as possible, good soul ! — then
I drew the coverlet over my head, for I knew It would come. An 1
It did come. Horror and agony settled on my chest and pressed
and crushed me down. What was it that lay like a hundredweight
upon me, so that I gasped for breath, and thought I was suffocating?
Was it not the pale form of the Sufferer, who embraced me with
giant arms ? It bore upon me, crushing me with savage glee ; I
gasped and groaned ; it sought to kill me, I resisted and wrestled with
all my strength. In agony I uttered a cry for help — who called?
All was silent, all in fearful gloom. I had awakened. I lay bathed
in perspiration, and dared not draw down the coverlet, my only
protection, one hair's-breadth from my head, for around my bed the
figures of my dream stood like exorcised spirits, and stretched their
lean arms toward me. Thus I remained in a fever of terror, and
waited for dawn. The first ray of light reassured me, I drew down
the counterpane, ventured to put my arms outside, and after I had
timidly gazed around the room and seen nobody was there, I lay
down and enjoyed a short doze. You know now, dear father, why
I was always a pale, weakly lad. Often you used to take the books
out of my hand and send me out into the fresh air. It was not the
need of that. It was the need of sleep, and that fearful nightmare!

I fell asleep by the fireside in the Hamburg hotel, thinking of my
boyhood's fearful dreams, and lo ! — they came again ! The Form
threw me to the ground, knelt upon my breast. I struggled for
breath in vain under the load, again I heard those fearful groans out



LETTERS OF A MISSIONARY. 7

of the corner of the room, and It glided close by me ! — I was unwell,
my father; truly, I was unwell. I awoke. The fire had gone out,
the candles burned deep in their sockets. I got up and looked at
my watch : night was nearly over. In deep anxiety I walked up
and down my room. I examined my past life, summoned to my
recollection every one with whom I had ever come in contact, but could
not find myself guilty of any crime. True, human-like, I had often
erred ; but I could detect no sin that could warrant the consciousness
of such guilt as I experienced in my dreams. What was it that so
persecuted me ; that, with a blow, annihilated my hard-won repose?
I had striven with all the powers of my mind, had investigated and
pondered for years, and had attained at length, if not conviction, at
least consoling faith. Am I another being when unconscious ? Was
a flow of blood, a morbid disturbance of my nerves, to shatter thus
my plans like wretched card-houses? My heart leaped within me in
deadly terror, like a roe startled by the hunter's shot ; I was alone,
alone, and nobody to give me succor!

Is the curse mightier than the blessing? Does the Lord visit the
iniquity of the fathers on the children unto the thousandth generation ?
Thus hath He not promised ! What is it that terrifies and misleads
me ? Have I not devoted my earthly life to the poor lost sheep of
Israel in order that they may partake of true life ? Ah, I have it ;
surely my crime is that I have as yet done nothing toward this end!
When I have done for one of the wanderers what you did for me,
father, then will everlasting peace fill my breast ; I shall expiate the
sin of my people with the help of Divine grace : I shall be happy
when I have done my duty !

Enough for to-day.

Yours, in truth, .

Samuel.



LETTER II.

Skptembkr 28th, 185—.

My journey from Hamburg was not marked by any event of
importance, and I found myself next morning at my destination.
The day for which I had so often longed had at length arrived, and
it was with a beating heart that I took my seat in the stage. The
journey was tedious, seemed interminable, but at last the coach
stopped before a small, unpretending house, and I sprang down. A
dirty, narrow lane with small stores, at the doors of which dark-eyed
men and women were chatting. I knocked, and gave my card to
the old servant who opened. She led me to a room and bade me
sit down and wait. Trembling with excitement, I walked up and
down the room. Would they receive me without suspicion ? Would
not the next moment witness the crushing: of the long-cherished
plan? And what right had I to force my way here under a deceitful
mask, and carry discord perhaps into a quiet family circle ?

Fie upon those foolish qualms of conscience ; inspired only by childish
bashfulness ! My goal rose like a naming beacon before me, and I
thought of my vows to you. My eyes flashed once more then, my
heart throbbed violently : was I not imitating those great martyrs
who fought against error with mental weapons ? What our great
predecessors did for the heathen, we will do for the forsaken children
of Israel. They are still accursed wanderers on the face of the
earth ; they arc wretched ; we will comfort them. How is it
possible they should not be sunk in sin, when they know not Him
who took all sin upon Himself? That baseness and crime should not
be their lot, since the iron hand of tyranny has ruled them for centu-
ries ? The lirst part of religion's miracle has been accomplished, the
European heathen has been converted, and truth spreads ever farther
r the earth ; but the holy, the chosen people is still banished
from its King's royal presence, still is it stiff-necked and obstinate;



LETTERS OF A MISSIONARY.

but'love shall effect Avhat hatred failed to do, and fulfill the whole of
the great prophecy.

With these thoughts in my mind, I remained standing in the
reception room, until the door opened and the Rabbi appeared. He
was a man of middle stature, in a long old-fashioned robe, with a
small velvet cap upon his head. A dark, almost melancholy cast of
countenance, Avith quiet, soft eyes, and a long gray beard, which
accorded well with the dignity of the man's whole appearance.

I stood perplexed, uncertain how I should greet my uncle. He
approached me slowly, took my hand and kissed me on both cheeks.
" Blessed be he who cometh ! " said he, " welcome, Samuel, my son ! "

He held me long in his arms : when he released me, I saw tears in
his eyes. I was touched, for I had not expected such warmth.

" Uncle, you remember my father ? "

He looked at me reproachfully. "How should I forget my own
blood, my younger brother, who grew up at my side ? He lacked
your quiet countenance, he was wild and restless. He soon went into
the country as a peddler, while I sat in the Beth Ilamedrash (college)
and studied. Then he married and emigrated, over the ocean, to
America. Thirty years ago ! At first I hoped for a letter from day
to day, from week to week ; then I gave up the hope. I often
reflected, ' He does not write because he is not prospering ' — then I
felt that he was dead, and I grieved I knew not of his end. At last
I received your letter with that of your foster-father ; what joyous



Online LibraryWilhelm HerzbergJewish family papers; or Letters of a missionary → online text (page 1 of 24)