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

. (page 21 of 26)
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 21 of 26)
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most enlightened, who pat faith in ridiculous pretensions* to
revelation which would have disgraced the age of the cru-
saders. Now a superstitious mind is constantly alive to un-
founded apprehensions, and invests things with power which
are either powerless, or are at all events innocuous ; which
fancies will at length destroy a healthy religious sentiment, and
banish perhaps a reliance on the protection of the Supreme.
Moreover, superstition, by substituting a resort to acts for-
bidden by the letter and spirit of the law, not unfrequently
engenders fanaticism, which is a furious adherence to notions
bearing a semblance to religion which are far, veiy far, distant
from this holy principle; and superinduce at times acts of
barbarity at which sober reason has cause to shudder. Yes !
go to yonder hill and survey the crowd gathering below ; hear
their shouting ! behold their evident ecstasy ! and do you know
the cause ? Watch well ! see yon youth decked out in fantas-
tical garments see the maiden in similar habiliments following
her ardent brother ! behold around them are aged men bearing
in their hands images of what they call their saviour ! and
regard how the youth and the maiden fix their gaze steadily
before them or on vacant space, carefully shunning to cast a
look upon the idolatrous figures which surround them ! Now
hear the populace heaving forth their curses at the unbelievers
see the lighted stake, the executioners heaping up the fagots
for the intended sacrifice ! and what think you betokens this
horrible, this fantastical exhibition? It is a noble scion of
Israel's household, it is a high-souled maiden worthy of the
ancient mothers, who are in the enemies' power, and are led
forth to execution, because they will not forswear the God who
redeemed our fathers ! Their thoughts are turned to the Lord
of their spirits, their souls are in communion with the One King,
the everlasting God ; they will not listen to the false priests who
offer them life, honour, and w r ealth, if they will forsake the
renowned name which they inherited from their ancestors ;
and from mouth to mouth of the immense crowd it is whispered
that the infidels remain unrepented, (for so it is called in their

* Mormons, and other similar fanatics.
VOL. in. 18


vain delusion,) and they heap maledictions upon the unfortunate,
and eagerly thirst for their martyrdom. Now the devoted sister
and the ardent brother for the last time on earth cast a fond
look at each other ; their cheek is not blanched, their eye does
not quail ; but persevering in their high resolve, their arms are
bound to the stake, and soon the flames ascend in curling wreaths
over their heads, and with their last breath they seal their devo-
tion and their love for the Holy One and his law; and their
spirits speed hence to those realms of bliss, where truth needs
not to fear the demon of falsehood, where the sword strikes not
to wound the innocent, where the flame does not consume the
followers of our holy faith. And yet their persecutors think
that they are doing an acceptable service to the God of love !
They rnurder the innocent, and fancy that He, who said that
" from the hands of all living he would require the soul of man,"
could look upon such barbarity with complaisance and favour !
So direful are the effects of false belief, so repugnant to huma-
nity the actions which it often prompts ! You may say that
the picture just drawn belongs to times that have long since
passed away ; we will admit it in a measure ; but human
feelings and frailties are the same in all ages, and we capnot
tell how far a system of folly may be carried, if no steps are
taken to guard against its extension or its re-entrance, if it
even should have been totally banished. Besides this we are
occasionally witnesses of isolated deeds of barbarity and self-
immolation, produced by a wrong bend of the mind, when it is
under the influence of moody melancholy, caused by a false
view of the attributes of God ; such as the ideas of a total
rejection from grace, an impossibility of repentance, an impla-
cability of the Merciful One, a supposition of atonement through
a mediator only, and similar unscriptural errors. Happily
these errors are not properly belonging to our people ; we are,
perhaps, freer than any other class of men from gross supersti-
tion and false belief; we may freely say that Israelites have
for the greater portion a general and correct knowledge of the
unchangeable truths of the Bible : it is nevertheless not to be
denied that minor superstition has not been always foreign to
us, and that we have often borrowed the erroneous notions of the
different countries in which we happened to live. I need not


entertain you with the details of the confident belief in the
existence of witches and ghosts, in the efficacy of charms and
conjurations, of good and evil omens, of signs and portents, which
belief is even now not altogether extinct, to convince you of
the correctness of the assertion ; your own knowledge of the
subject is amply sufficient without extraneous proof. Nor is it
necessary to investigate how such absurdities were ever en-
grafted upon the doctrines of Holy Writ which energetically
teach the opposite views; enough for our purpose that we in
the process of time did not escape the contaminating influence
of error which ignorance had caused to prevail among gen-
tiles ; and hence we are bound to warn those who are to watch
over the education of our children, be they parents, guardians,
or teachers, to use every effort to guard against the growth of
superstition, and not to permit their charges to become ac-
quainted with such absurdities if it can be avoided. So likewise
they should be very careful that children hear nothing of the
erroneous ideas concerning the Deity which are contrary to our
religion ; since these errors will more or less check the growth of
true piety, and prevent them from acquiring early or correct
comprehension of the attributes of the Lord which are con-
tained in the law.

The subject of correct ideas of religion and the errors of
superstition is of so great importance, and occupies necessarily
so ample a field, that a moralist might will be excused if he
were to spend many hours in depicting it in its various ramifi-
cations. But as our present object is merely to regard it in
connection with a general system of education, we must leave
it in the unfinished state it has been presented to you ; since the
intention is more to give you means for reflection than a com-
plete illustration of the benefits of truth and the injury resulting
from falsehood. You will however readily distinguish, that
the duty demanded of you to inculcate pure, unadulterated, re-
ligious doctrines, in early youth, is of the highest importance ;
and that consequently you, as parents, are also bound to watch
yourselves in this part of education over the developement of
the intellect of your child, and to see that through the agency
of others no errors are instilled which might prevent the spread
of truth and piety. Hence it is requisite, that the child be not


left in the society of those who would either from ignorance
or design counteract this part of domestic education; and if
you hava to entrust him to domestics occasionally, forbid them
energetically to indulge him with superstitious stories, or to in-
struct him in any manner in doctrines foreign to our religion.
So also, you should never use terrors of a mental nature to
frighten him ; or to make strange noises as though an extraor-
dinary being were coming to inflict some indefinite vengeance
for any act of disobedience. All this is totally wrong. You,
the parents, should make your words respected by every one in
your house ; in all worldly matters your orders should be law,
obedience to which you should by all means enforce ; but more
than all your child should be told that he is bound to obey you,
because you are his parents, who provide for his wants and
watch over him with fondness and care, that, as far as lies in
your power, no evil shall happen to him ; be in earnest in your
determination, and command nothing about which you may
afterwards be indifferent ; and you will have no occasion to
call in the aid of frightful figures to insure obedience. In the
same manner, when you think proper to reward your child, do
not employ the agency of a supernatural being to bring the gift
to him ; a few times he may acquiesce in the truth of what you
tell him ; but he soon will see through the shallow device, and
detect the pious fraud of his progenitors. It weakens your au-
thority, when you are convicted in the mind of your child of
deception ; but reward direct, tell him you give him this or that
trifle (it is no use to give valuable things,) because he has done
his duty in a manner to elicit your approbation, and that you
hope he will often give you cause to show him your satisfac-
tion. Although now I would recommend a rare resort to re-
wards, as children should early learn to love virtue for its own
sake and not on account of pay : still if rewards are used, let
the child have an opportunity to connect them with the appro-
bation of his parents and his own good conduct ; he will thus
be taught to love his duty, and perform it to please his kind
father and his affectionate mother who are so anxious to make
him happy.

To. encourage the child in obedience it is a good plan to
render the gradual execution of religious duties the means to be


employed. There are happily in our religion certain offices
by which youths can become gradually initiated into the way
they should go; and tell your child therefore that he shall be a
participant in the others as soon as he shows himself worthy
by a previous observance of the duties already open for him.
Among these initiatory acts we may reckon the offices in the
Synagogue, which can happily be held up as objects of emula-
tion to young children even, and which should be attainable
only by obedience and good conduct. So also the reading of the
weekly section of the prophets, attainable only through diligence
at studies and worthy behaviour ; it will give a degree of zest
to youths and make them look upon themselves as having a
portion in the service of the Lord, and stimulate them to be-
come yet more familiar with the ceremonies and observances,
and to induce them to be careful in supporting the degree in
religious standing they have already attained. There are so
many other acts by which a gradual initiation may be brought
about by judicious and religious parents, that it is not necessary
to dwell any longer upon details which must at last be left to
their good judgment. One thing however I must mention, that,
as there are no mysteries in our law, you should endeavour to
explain every observance as well as you can, exhibit the scope
and extent thereof, and give the reason for its institution
wherever the Scriptures give us such a reason; and where no
cause is assigned, for instance in those laws called statutes or
ordinances, you may, or rather should, tell your child at once
that such commandments were instituted by the wisdom of
God to preserve Israel a distinct people among all other nations
of the earth, to be consecrated to his service. You gain greatly
by this exposition ; for by expounding to him the reason, where
this is discoverable, say for instance the observance of the Pass-
over, in commemoration of our redemption from Egypt; the in-
stitution of the unleavened bread, to celebrate the unprepared-
ness of our forefathers when they were released from bondage ;
the annual Pentecost, to call to mind the promulgation of our
heavenly code from Sinai, you at once raise in your child a
patriotic sentiment of attachment to Israel at large, and a de-
sire to do something to become worthy of participating by his
acts in the goodness and protection which the Lord has pro-



mised to his people. You can in no manner whatever excite a
greater love for religion ; and by degrees he will endeavour to
copy your actions without your being obliged to demand it
from him ; on the contrary, he will think himself favoured if
you take him with you to the house of God, if you permit him
to go with you to the chambers of the sick, to be near you at
the interring of the dead, and to have by your bounty the means
to drop his trifle into the collection made for the poor. And if
he sees you earnest in your conduct, the thought of doubting
will not arise within his mind ; and he will gradually become a
willing, understanding, but not a blind, follower of the Mosaic

It evidently is therefore your duty not alone to show your
child a holy example in your own person; but to keep those from
an intimate footing in your house who speak slightingly of, or in
opposition to religion. If you wish him to grow up entire with
his God, you should withdraw him from evil communication; for
as we illustrated with superstition, the mind gradually becomes
tainted with the corruption of unbelief and lukewarmness, if it
is constantly or even occasionally exposed to the deleterious
poison which flows from the mouth of the ungodly. Their agree-
able manners and pleasant conversation are no excuse for your
tolerating their intercourse ; and if such persons are from neces-
sity admitted to your fireside, you must insist upon their keep-
ing silence on disputed matters of religion. You may think it
your duty to effect if possible their conversion ; but do not dis-
pute before your child, till he is old enough not to be affected by
the doubts of your antagonist ; fo you cannot tell how an argu-
ment badly conducted by the defender of religion may operate
injuriously upon the happiness of one who may appear an
uninterested listener. We will leave out of the question that
arguing with an unbeliever seldom carries conviction with it;
since the haughty pride of the human heart not unfrequently
refuses to yield, even if the arguments brought forward to
sustain its positions are weak and untenable, and often resorts
to abuse and ridicule if nothing more tangible is at hand. I
say, we will not take this danger into view, where the child
may-see sacred truths treated with contempt or levity; for even
if this should not be, and you should succeed in silencing the


arguments of your opponent and he confess himself vanquished :
still the bane of infidelity has been infused in your child's ear,
and the danger incurred of having thereby shaken the before
tranquil acquiescence in religious truths. It is not that religion
is weak, or that its tenets are not defensible by the most cogent
arguments ; but that it is unwise to do any thing to chill the
ardour of youth by exhibiting in its presence exemplifications
of those wicked men whom it is much better to know in theory
only. It is deplorable enough that in riper years our constancy
should be exposed to the temptations of the world, and to have
our hopes attacked by the shallow arguments of a sensual phi-
losophy, which attracts us because it promises a gratification of
the passions undisturbed by the admonition of Scripture ; and
surely it is best to let the days of early youth pass in tranquillity
and an entire acquiescence in paternal admonition, and the
pious instruction of our first teachers. There is no question,
but that much of irreligion is owing to an early unsettling of
conviction by wicked associates, and by hearing the command-
ments spoken lightly of; for the Scriptures inveigh against evil
companions for adults who possibly may be fortified by a long
course of reflection, how much more should such be deprecated
when they may tend to corrupt the mind of children. And
these are the words of the first Psalm : " Blessed is the man
that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in
the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful ; but
whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and doth meditate in
his law day and night." Let it be therefore your endeavour to
surround yourselves only with those who honour religion with
words and actions, let those only be the inmates of your house
from whom no bad examples are likely to operate on the mind
of your child. In this exclusion of irreligious persons there is
no bigotry or persecution ; for as the guardians of the peace of
your household you are as much bound to ward ofF dangers to
the mental welfare, as you are sedulous to exclude the incen-
diary from destroying your domicil whilst you are wrapt in
unconscious sleep. And in this instance also no less than in
every other, prevention is far preferable to a cure ; and it is
almost reduced to a certainty, that the child, if not vitiated by a
corrupting influence, will grow up gradually a true follower of


Such a selection of associates around your table becomes the
more necessary from our present state of dispersion in small
numbers all over the world. We live in the midst of commu-
nities whose system of belief is not only different, but who reject
totally, I may say the whole of, the ceremonial and religious
observances, if we except a substitute for the Sabbath. The
consequence is that this corrupting influence, I mean to say the
different conduct of the majority, is active beyond all calcula-
tion, and it only requires the addition of infidel or careless Jews
to sap completely the foundation of faith in the individual, un-
less he is strongly fortified by a knowledge of our holy law and
a uniform observance of its precepts. These requirements can-
not be looked for in children ; and hence it is evident, that they
should hear and see nothing done in their immediate presence
which is counter to the doctrines of our religion. By this
means it is to he hoped that the spirit of true piety may be kept
alive in the minds of your offspring, and they may live to trans-
mit the same to succeeding ages in its untarnished excellence
and undiminished lustre.

As your child advances in years you should adapt the govern-
ment to his increasing intellectual capacity ; and as soon as he
is old enough for comprehending it, you should enforce obe-
dience by persuasion, which should never degenerate into en-
treaty, for the parents should never be petitioners, if they mean
to preserve the authority which nature has given them. Mild-
ness coupled with earnest firmness should always be exhibited,
and no relaxation of discipline should be accorded upon any
pretence whatever. It is also your duty to keep cool, no matter
what the offence of the child may be, and to judge with calm-
ness of the degree of guilt which he has incurred. Where
moral remedies fail of producing reformation or enforcing obe-
dience, physical means should be resorted to, even to the use
of the rod. Scriptures here give us a rule, which we should
not set aside for all the fancies of modern theorists. For so
says Solomon (Proverbs xiii. 24) : " He that spareth the rod
hateth his child ; but he that loveth him chasteneth him be-
times." And herein too the blessed Creator sets us an exam-
ple ; for when admonitions fail of working a reformation in
man, punishment is sent to snatch the soul from the jaws of
perdition. If therefore you truly love your child, if your views


reach farther than the day, if you can bear to look upon his
tears more than tolerate evil conduct : chastise him for every
great dereliction, when you are convinced that mere words
will fail of the desired effect. Cruelty however should not be
indulged in, nor should punishment be inflicted whilst you are
angry, nor before you have judged carefully of the degree of
the wrong which you deem deserving of the rod. Reason with
him, tell him wherein he has failed, prove to him why he de-
serves and obtains punishment ; and it is highly probable, that
one infliction of the rod will have a much happier effect in cor-
recting error, than a thousand barbarous beatings in the mo-
ments of anger, where the child is but too apt to think himself
ill-used, and which proceeding may produce a moodiness and
a sullen yielding to a command, without the most remote
thought of reformation. Consider that indulgence and undue
severity are both calculated to produce a relaxation of disci-
pline ; for if both the parents are tyrannical, or if the father
alone punishes with undue rigour, the offences committed in
their absence will not be reported to them even by those who
have cause to complain, as they will prefer not noticing the
injury to having the child cruelly beaten or otherwise cruelly
punished ; and impunity thus obtained is eminently calculated
to invite a repetition of the offence which a mild punishment
might have guarded against. Let it be a rule with you, that
you expect good conduct and obedience, and insist upon the
members of your household reporting to you any flagrant wrong
done in your absence ; but let your own deportment be so, that
they see that you govern with moderate firmness, and they will
then have no cause for hiding the delinquency of your child
from your knowledge. You will in this manner have a chance
of having a constant watch over your child's conduct, which
is a great point gained ; and he will be afraid to offend, for he
can find no means of escaping detection, and knows, that he
will be punished if he transgresses. It is with children as with
grown men ; it is not so much the degree as the certainty of
punishment which deters them from transgressing ; and a judi-
cious parent will let no opportunity pass to prove, by a firmness
that will not yield where punishment should be inflicted, that
he means to be obeyed. , If a child now is kept under constant


control, without feeling often the means that make him so : he
will become habituated to obedience, and a moral, religious
course of conduct ; he will learn to love virtue and holiness ;
and as he grows up he will have these sentiments engrafted in
his spirit, and it is highly probable that, strengthened by hea-
venly grace, which is never denied to the pure in mind, he will
be kept upright in the way he should go.

Another requisite to a proper training is, that both parents
should coincide in the government of the household. If the one
deems it necessary to punish let the other not interfere, espe-
cially in the presence of the child. It is a positive encourage-
ment for misconduct, if he sees that he is screened when he has
transgressed ; he will learn to despise the authority of the one
that indulges him, and to hate the one that punishes ; both
thereby lose their authority ; and if in later years the father for
instance should be gathered to his native earth, the indulgent
mother will have ample cause to repent that she was the means
of teaching by her weakness lessons of insubordination and dis-
obedience to a child who now laughs at her commands, and
treats with scorn the entreaties of his remaining parent in her
declining years. No, parents ! be united, support each other
in doing your duty by your child ; if the father frowns, let not
the mother fondle ; if the mother punishes, let not the father
extend protection ; but be it your study to act in the fear of
God, and teach your child by your mutual attachment, from
which he sees no deviation, to love you equally, to fear you
equally ; that he may be stimulated to honour you both alike
as the law requires ; and that, growing up in obedience to the
religion of our fathers, he may indeed merit the blessing of a
long life on the earth to your satisfaction and the well-being of
all his associates, and become a child of immortal glory through
a love of God and the fear of his word, which are the beginning
of all wisdom.

May the name of the Lord be blessed from now and unto all
eternity. Amen.

Kislev 2nd
Nov. 27th




O GOD of everlasting! we approach Thee to crave thy
blessing and the grant of thy protection from the many evils to
which we are exposed. Give us fortitude to submit to thy
visitation, and strengthen us with thy undeserved grace, that
we may remain firm in obedience when the allurements of sin
would withdraw us from the path of life. And as Thou ever
nearest the prayer of the humble and penitent : permit our
words to come before Thee, and despise not the outpourings of
the heart of the outcasts of Israel in the regions distant from

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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 21 of 26)