Isaac Leeser.

Discourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 online

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Online LibraryIsaac LeeserDiscourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 → online text (page 1 of 26)
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y tfAavnani^






IN THE YEARS 55985601,




: yv }"i2' uroazi vxi 'n oxa 'im HD NiSn
: 'CD 'jo 'DT

" Behold ! thus is my word, says the Lord, like the fire, and like the
hammer that shivereth the rock." JEREMIAH xxiii. 29.







Entered according to act of Congress, on the 12th January, in the year
1841, by ISAAC LEESER, in the Clerk's office of the District Court for the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania.



I. Call to Repentance ..... 1

II. The Redemption of Israel .... 12

III. The Mission of the Prophets .... 23

IV. Religious Education and Repentance ... 34
V. Obedience to the Law . . . . .45

VI. The Resignation of Aaron .... 54

VII. The Uncertainty of Life ..... 69

VIII. The Revelation on Sinai .... 85

IX. Religious Union ...... 98

X. The Sorrows of Israel . . . .. 109

XL The Requirements of the Law .... 122

XII. The Duty of Contentment . . . . 137

XIII. The Way of Life . '" . . . - . . 149

XIV. Salvation through Repentance . . . 162
XV. The Covenant of Abraham , ' . . ' . 176

XVI. Religious Education, 1. . ... . 188

XVII. Religious Education, 2. . . 201

XVIII. Religious Education, 3. ^ . . . . 215

XIX. Motives of Charity . .. > , ._ , 234

XX. Funeral Address . . . ' . 243

XXI. Persecution of the Jews . . . . .248

XXII. Prayer at the S. S. Examination, 1. . . . 261

XXIII. Prayer at the S. S. Examination, 2. . .265


THE kind reception which has been extended to my first series of
Discourses, published four years ago, and the frequent inquiries for a
continuation of the same, have emboldened me to appear again before
the public with this new claimant of their favour. The present col-
lection is rather less than a half of the former ; since various inter-
ruptions, which I need not enumerate, independently of the shorter
period during which they were delivered, prevented me from speaking
as often as I might have wished. It is truly to be regretted that so
far public addresses on religious topics have constituted but a small
portion of our devotional exercises in all the countries where the
English is spoken ; and I believe that it may be said without any
vanity on my part, that in our Synagogue was the first attempt made
for about ten years past to give religious instruction in lectures. It
can easily be imagined that there are many difficulties in the way of
a successful pursuit of the calling of a public teacher among our
people in this country, owing chiefly to the fact, that we are com-
posed of persons from every European nation, and that therefore to
many the English language is partly unintelligible, especially as in
an oration the ideas cannot be always conveyed in very simple
language, without divesting the subject of all dignity. Still much
might be done in furtherance of the introduction and support of
teaching by lectures, if those sufficiently well acquainted with the
vernacular tongue of England and America would lend their coun-
tenance, and elect either ministers capable of speaking no less than
reading after the accepted mode, or appoint public lecturers in
addition to the usual officers of the Synagogue. No doubt the latter
method would be more in accordance with the public wants ; because
the Reader proper has to perform duties sufficiently laborious without
having to preach when the usual service is finished, or during the
same. Besides this, it is not likely that, generally speaking, there


will be found many capable of officiating with equal ability in both
capacities, of Preachers and Readers ; especially as the requisite
qualities for both stations have little in common beyond an acquaint-
ance with the Hebrew language ; since our worship is altogether in
this tongue, and no one can be competent to expound the Text
correctly without being, to say the least, moderately well versed in
the original dialect of the Bible. But there are two difficulties in the
way ; I mean the smallness of our congregations, and their limited
means, greatly opposed to carrying out this plan, even if competent
preachers could be found, which is not the case now, except in very
small numbers, owing to there being no schools of our own on a
liberal scale, either in England or America. Hence the whole num-
ber of preachers as far as known to me among the Jews speaking
English is but four ; to wit : Mr. David Isaacs of Liverpool and
Manchester, England ; Mr. Samuel M. Isaacs of the Congregation
Benai Yeshurun, New York ; Mr. Moses N. Nathan of the German
Congregation, Kingston, Jamaica, and myself. It is true that occa-
sionally lectures were delivered before the above commenced the
calling of public teachers and since, by the late Rev. Gershom M.
Seixas of New York, the late Rev. Emanuel N. Carvalho of Philada.,
Rev. A. H. Cohen of Richmond, Dr. Jacob De La Motta of Charles-
ton, and several other ministers, besides occasional volunteer lectures
from laymen, (if such a word can be with propriety used among
Israelites ;) but no appointment was ever made with a view to ser-
mons except in the case of the Messrs. Isaacs, since Mr. Nathan and
myself were only elected as Readers, and our speaking has therefore
been a voluntary matter. The general wish, however, which has
been expressed by many congregations to have sermons delivered in
their Synagogues, chiefly at Charleston and St. Thomas, and the
Portuguese Congregations of London and Jamaica, will no doubt
lead ultimately to capable persons being appointed as teachers of the
Word, and may induce several intelligent young men to qualify
themselves for the ministry by careful preparation. The great evil
hitherto prevailing has been that literary attainments have not been
expected of our Readers ; but it is to be hoped, that either additional
officers will be appointed, or that those only will be selected who, in
addition to a good voice and an acquaintance with the liturgy, have
sufficient capacity to speak to their brethren if occasion requires.
There is however in the usual management of the Synagogue some-
thing inconsistent with the appointment of men of endowment to the
station of minister, inasmuch as the temporal rulers have too much



direct interference with the Hazan in every public act in which he
can engage. Now it is all well and proper to leave the management
of every temporal concern in the hands of the President and his
assistants ; but the minister should not be in the discharge of his
proper duties altogether subservient to the temporal managers, who
ought to confine themselves strictly to their branch of duty, and
leave the public worship in the proper hands of those elevated to
conduct it. It is in the nature of man to desire freedom of
action; and the same feeling therefore which renders us restive
under political subjection, will also create an uneasiness, far from
promoting harmony, in the minds of ministers of religion if they
are rendered subservient to persons who evidently cannot be more
religious and better informed than they are themselves. No doubt
this evil originated in former years in the large congregations of
Europe, who were always provided with Rabbins and teachers in
sufficient numbers to require of the Reader nothing more than certain
duties in the Synagogue, for which the chief requisites were, besides
a correct moral and religious conduct, a thorough knowledge of the
accepted tunes and the manner of performing the service, and these
qualities very often constituted the whole of the qualifications
demanded or desired. But the times have changed ; and in America
and England up to this moment there is not more than one Rabbi
who can preach in English, the others being Germans, and those
who are in this country came among us but recently ; consequently
it seems but reasonable to extend to the Readers some more con-
sideration than they now enjoy, if the public expect duties from
them, which their predecessors did not or could not accomplish. For
as it is now, few indeed will be found, who have minds of sufficient
capacity to acquire a knowledge of sciences and languages to qualify
themselves for the station of Reader and Lecturer, when they see
that the pursuit of the legal and medical professions give them so
much more ease, influence, and importance in society. It may be
said, that persons should bring into the ministry a devotion to this
noble calling, which will rise above the annoyances and deprivations
of life* yet this is all well enough when the mind has once reached
this elevation of piety by a long train of reflection and a long course
of virtuous actions ; but it cannot be expected that young men will
qualify themselves for a station which is fraught with annoyance and
deprivation, when the same labour otherwise directed will have very
different results. And surely it is the interest of all those feeling
sincerely the holiness of our faith, to make it by their acts better


understood and more loved, or, in other words, to be the means of
inducing those endowed with high intellect to step forward to assume
with pleasure and an animated ardour the responsible office of
teacher of that blessed religion which is our own inheritance, and
our heavenly patrimony from ages which reach to the verge of

In Germany, principally I believe in the larger cities, for instance
Hamburg, Berlin, Glogau, Prague, Frankford, Munich, and no doubt
other places, Rabbins and lecturers have been appointed chiefly with
the view of delivering weekly or occasional sermons ; and of these,
the fame of Bernays, Salomon, Kley, Plessner, Sachs, and others
has reached us even at this distance; and lately Miss Goldsmith of
London has rendered a service to our literature by rendering twelve
sermons of Dr. Salomon into English, although it must be remarked
that occasionally this learned preacher endeavours to force his own
peculiar views rather too glaringly upon our attention. But it is to
be expected, that, as with every thing else, there will be a difference
of opinion among the honestly thinking in matters of religion like-
wise, the more so since of late certain persons calling themselves
reformers have endeavoured to introduce changes in our mode of
worship. Now Dr. S. is the principal organ of this portion, a small
one indeed thus far, and hence we cannot be surprised that we cannot
always approve altogether of his ideas or of the manner in which they
are represented to us ; though to do him justice his style is very
beautiful and fascinating, and his advice generally wholesome and
pious. It is to be regretted that as yet the works of our other
preachers have not obtained currency among the English-speaking
Jews ; still we may indulge the hope that by degrees such a taste
may be awakened among them, that they will desire to possess these
books, when the demand will no doubt be answered by some one
capable of executing the task.

Whether preaching has been extensively introduced in the other
European countries, I am not able to tell, not having any means at
hand to answer the inquiry satisfactorily. But there is no doubt that
a general desire for information has been awakened, and that in many
places persons adequate for the labour have been summoned to extend
a knowledge of religion among us. It is therefore also gratifying to
announce, that latterly the Congregation at Baltimore and the German
Congregation of this city have appointed public teachers solely for
the purpose of diffusing instruction. But as both congregations are
mostly composed of Germans, and as the gentlemen elected are not


yet acquainted with the English : the speaking is necessarily done
in German, and hence it becomes in the first instance useful to a
section only of our people residing in this country. Nevertheless it
is a source of congratulation to see the increased demand for
religious knowledge, and it is to be hoped that this good spirit may
not alone be permanent, but become extended to other places which
are yet unsupplied with proper teachers. Thus much may be said,
that, although some may not at present perceive the use and import-
ance of an addition to our service, which is at times somewhat long :
the usefulness of sermons will nevertheless at length be generally
acknowledged so soon as a perseverance therein shall have demon-
strated that thereby much information has been diffused, which must
necessarily be the case, if the preachers or ministers are properly
acquainted with their duties and alive to the wants of the people.

Upon the whole, however, the English and American Jews owe it
to themselves to do something for the spread of religion, by establish-
ing schools for general and religious education, whence ultimately
they may derive proper persons to become ministers and readers.
For no matter how much learning may be diffused in Germany
and elsewhere, experience has proved that learned men even
coming from there are little qualified, except by a long and painful
course of study, and then only in a defective manner after all, to
become good pulpit orators. It is one thing to learn to read and
write a foreign language, but something very different to acquire a
facility for expressing one's ideas with propriety and ease, which is
so highly necessary in the composition of sermons. And if the
ministry should then be sought by those whom the people know and
esteem, and who are of their own friends and kindred : the standard
of respectability of a Jewish Reader would be raised, and his station
carry also with it more weight, than it now does when the congre-
gations are compelled to elect entire strangers to the highest honour in
their gift as Jews, as they but rarely find native citizens qualified for
the station in any manner whatever.

Not many years back such an advice would have been useless,
owing to the then small number of Israelites in this country. But
they are daily increasing, by immigration from the crowded districts
of Europe ; and although the newcomers are themselves unacquainted
with the English, still their children will understand in all likelihood
no other language ; hence the necessity of providing for the wants of
the rising and coming generations. All that is wanted is, union, con-
cert, and harmony ; and though our beginning may be small, our
end will still be very great.



As regards the present publication I have to remark, that it is, like
its predecessor, the sincere effusion of my heart and conviction ;
there is but little of artificial structure or a careful choice of words,
although I have always endeavoured to keep close to the standard of
Scripture as understood by us. Whoever expects to find evidences
of deep learning in these discourses will surely be disappointed ;
since I can advance no claim to any extensive knowledge, and if I
could, I would think a sermon not the vehicle for conveying it to the
public, believing, as I do, that a religious lecture should be so simply
constructed as to be intelligible, for the greater part at least, to the
humblest capacity. The preacher ought to seek to enlist the feeling
and judgment of his audience, but not to astonish them by the dis-
play of his own depth of information, by which he would clearly
strive to glorify himself, without doing the least towards extending
the kingdom of the Lord over the hearts of the flock intrusted to his

I cannot conclude these remarks without returning my sincere
thanks to my friends at home and abroad who have so kindly, and
in many cases without any solicitation, recommended and circulated
my works, especially the first series of Discourses. This was an
act of kindness I had no right to expect, and could only proceed
from a belief that some little good might be derived from my labours.
It would indeed be a source of high enjoyment to one whose days
have not been free from sorrow and trial to be able to believe, that
his striving has been of some use, if even it be only to arouse his
brothers in faith to step forward unto the holy work, and to labour
with more success and prosperity, though hardly with more honest
zeal than their friend,

I. L.

TH,-I A i k- CTebeth, 18th, 5601.
Phlladel P hia 'i January llth, 1841.








GOD of truth, in whom there is no injustice ! we have sinned
before Thee ; how oft transgressed thy precepts, and departed
from thy righteous commandments. The measure of our iniqui-
ties has been filling up ever since we came on earth ; and not
alone that we have erred ourselv'es, but our example too has led
others to stray far away from the road of salvation. Rebellious,
frovvard, and perverse, we have disregarded the eternal welfare
of our immortal souls, and have dared thy vengeance, O Creator
of all flesh ! by obeying impulses to sin the end of which is
perdition and thy just indignation. But, Father, King, Saviour !
look on our forlorn state ; degraded by our sin, dispersed by our
transgression, captives by our rebellion ! Have mercy, we pray
Thee, for thy own sake, if not for ours; display thy power over us,
not for the sake of our merit, but because of thy great an*d holy
name, that is profaned among the nations ! for why should the
gentiles say, " Where now is their God ?" For we know Thee
to be the omnipresent, ever wakeful Ruler from whom nothing
is hidden, as Thou hast said through thy prophet, "Were a man
to hide himself in secret, should I not see him ?" Teach then to
the children of man, that the descendants of thy servants yet



receive thy especial providence, though fallen by their sins !
Guide us unto thy service, enlighten our souls by thy know-
ledge, and remove from us the heart of stone, in order that we
may serve Thee, O Almighty One ! with a willing spirit in sub-
missiveness and truth. Let it also be heard proclaimed from
before the seat of thy mysterious presence, when the gates of thy
judgment-seat are closed, that the sins of thy people have been
forgiven, and that their transgression has been pardoned, and
that their backsliding has been cured by thy mercy. May this
be thy will, now and for ever. Amen.


The recurrence of the season of repentance has called us
again to the house of our Father, to offer up in his presence the
sacrifice of a contrite heart. For disguise it as we may, it must
be acknowledged that the names of Rosh Hashanah and Kippur,
awaken in the mind of an Israelite ideas of devotion and a re-
newal of a resolution to become reconciled to Him above whom
by our misdeeds we have haply offended. Be it admitted that
this is owing to our system of education, nurtured by early in-
struction, encouraged by example, and perad venture fostered by
the fear of punishment. Admit it to be so ; yet we say, Blessed
be that system, honoured be that early instruction, welcome be
that example, aye, thrice blessed be that fear which tend to
draw closer the bonds which unite man to his Maker, which, so
to say, remove the barriers which stand between us and our
happiness. For, what is it that is to be effected by this exhibi-
tion of devotional feelings ? is the greatness of any one man or
sect of men to be promoted thereby 1 or is the wealth of a class
of priests to be augmented? will it bring power to the teachers
even of religion 1 None of these can surely be the result, as in
our present state the influence of religious superiors is but little
heeded and can, from a combination of circumstances, not be
very extensively exercised; on the contrary, whatever is done
for the extension of religious feelings is solely beneficial to the
community at large, because every participant is thus rendered
a more worthy, more intelligent, and more happy member of
the community, than he could otherwise be. For name not the
delusive dictates of a worldly philosophy, that would inculcate


honesty from mere prudential motives ; such motives will not
stand the test of temptation, they will yield to the influence of
interest whenever this loudly calls. Name not love of honour !
Ambitious men seek elevation whenever the opportunity offers,
regardless of the means which lead to their desired end. 'Wisdom
also and learning in worldly things are not safeguards against
temptation, for the wise are not always wise, nor are the learned
always prudent No ; neither prudential philosophy, nor ambi-
tion, nor wisdom, norwordly learning, will save you from doing
the wrong ; but only the knowledge of the ways of our heavenly
King ; for this will guide you ever aright, and in acting ac-
cordingly you need never fear of injuring yourselves or others.
When then I see a multitude enter these walls, when I hear, as
I have heard, a unanimous shout of praise ascend from the
mouths of hundreds of believers to the great Eternal's throne, I
feel a wish that thus might ever be their desire to serve Him whom
their words declare their God, for thus would it be well with them
and their children for ever. But alas ! we leave the house of God,
the Day of Atonement is past, and yet rings in our ear the
shout, " The Lord he is God !" the voice of the cornet yet
vibrates within us : when we forget that we have been actors in
a holy scene, witnesses of a sacred work, listeners to the word
of truth ; we enter anew into the deceitful press of worldly en-
gagements, forget the Rock who has formed us, mindful only
of augmenting our wealth and increasing our importance in the
eyes of men. It is sickening to reflect that so much devotion
as is at times suddenly seen to flash up, as does the light of
some dim lamp when a sudden change of wind causes the flame
to shoot upward, should sink down again into dimness when the
exciting cause is past. Happy indeed it is, that the wind of the
passions cannot extinguish the sacred flame, or else we should
be left in total mental darkness, like the traveller in a swampy
desert whose taper expires beneath the gust of air which he fain
welcomed as cooling his fevered forehead, burning under the
agony of weary exertions. Yes, it is melancholy in the extreme
to be conscious that so many Days of Pardoning of Iniquity have
recurred, and yet the worshippers then assembled did not remain
permanently united to their God, whose forgiveness they invoked
with apparent sincerity ! Does any one think it enough to wor-


ship once a year ? Have we not the ordinance of the seventh
day as a perpetual covenant between God and the children of
Israel ? why is this not also observed ? Ha ! is it interest, the
desire for wealth that counsels us ? But wo ! wo ! that gold
should tempt us to forego the pleasure of a tranquil mind and a
peaceful soul rejoicing in her attachment to God ! Wealth ! O
how fleeting its blessings ! how deceptive its hope ! Religion !
O how everlasting in its blessings, how sure the hopes it in-

Yes, this land was blessed, is blessed. Fruitful are its fields,
extensive are its forests ; through untrodden regions extend its
majestic thousand rivers; its sea-shore is crowded with the com-
merce of the world ; its sails whiten every ocean ; through its
numerous towns resound the shouts of merriment ; the people
are secured against oppression, if they but preserve the spirit of
their laws; peace maybe said to dwell in the boundaries thereof,
and each man may sit under the shade of his fruit-tree with
none to make him afraid. If ever prosperity seemed to have
taken up her abode in any land, this might have been pointed
out to the inquiring sage ; since all the elements of contentment
were so profusely scattered abroad. But lo ! the avarice of man
has destroyed much of the good we once saw, and the hammer of
the artizan has been arrested in the midst of plenty and peace;
the weaver's loom stands idle, and even the press, the supplier of
intellectual repasts, is almost paralyzed in an age boasting of
knowledge and refinement. It is not for us to enter deeply in
the causes of this spectacle ; enough it is so ; and does it not
teach us, in a language not to be misunderstood, that worldly
pursuits will not always secure the object desired ? and that im-

Online LibraryIsaac LeeserDiscourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 → online text (page 1 of 26)