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 23 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 23 of 26)
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regularity of the movements of all the beings whom we can
observe, and the use one thing is to another prove that this
superior, universal Power is also one and uniform. Yet even
this simple doctrine will require a length of time to become
perfectly familiar, readily as it impresses itself with immovable
conviction upon the minds of educated Israelites. Let us next
view the second cardinal article of our creed : " There is a
revelation from the superior, universal, one and uniform
Power;" again let this be taught without much argument,
which, let me remark, will naturally have but little weight with


children, for they will sooner take your simple assertion, when
they once have confidence in you, than listen to reasoning
which is perhaps beyond their comprehension. So then tell
them, that the Lord God, or the ONE as we called Him, made
himself audibly manifest to our ancestors and other great men
of former times, and communicated to them the duties they
should observe, and those acts which they should carefully
avoid. And as therefore we thus know what is right, which
is also our duty to do, and what is wrong, which is what we
should avoid : we will be held responsible for our actions which
we do when we are not under restraint or impelled by una-
voidable necessity. This at once will open for you an oppor-
tunity to descant on reward and punishment; and you can tell
your charges, how the Lord made man of soul and body, and
that though the latter is destroyed by death, the former will yet
survive, and receive then such reward for past conduct, as He,
the Lord, may deem just and proper. We concede that these
principles follow so clearly from each other, that a reasoning
person will readily admit them as true; but again we say, it takes
time to impress them sufficiently upon the understanding of the
young ; and once telling them, will not suffice to prevent the
growth of error from other causes. Besides this, as soon as you
teach the child that there is a revelation, it is natural that he
should ask to be informed, what this revelation is ; will you then
dismiss him with a mere reference to the Bible, and tell him to "go
and read ?" Suppose you were to pursue such a system with the
study of grammar, do you really think that any progress would be
made in it ? And yet you assert, that religion of all sciences
requires no teaching, and that it is time misspent to inculcate it !
No, brethren, our holy faith is simple and pure ; but it demands
actions as well as belief, and these actions are a proper study for
youths, and the Bible a book which merits and should receive
a thorough reading and a sound interpretation in all our schools.
It is the word of salvation, it is the word of truth, it is the will
of the God of truth who desires thereby to render us fit for ever-
lasting happiness. And, therefore, we demand, that it be the
first study both as to time and duration, which you should pre-
sent to your children, that they may become early familiar with
its principles and duties, and have a long season to apply these


to life, and regulate it by the doctrines which you offer for their
acceptance. In the same manner you are bound to prevent
their becoming familiar with the doctrines which we call
erroneous, and against which the Scriptures warn us as injuri-
ous and calculated to make us forget our religious duties.
Hence it arises, that it is exceedingly sinful to send children
entirely among gentiles, to eat and drink with them, and to
become thoroughly imbued with their doctrines ; since this
course is certainly the most injurious in forming a Jewish
character. And as parents have not always the leisure or
information to become their spiritual guides, it evidently be-
comes the duty of all true Israelites to send their children to
Jewish teachers, who have the fear of God before their eyes,
and who execute the sacred trust of rearing the young in the
way they should go in a manner best calculated to effect this
most desirable object. These should be aided by the parents
in maintaining a wholesome, though mild discipline over the
children, and they should omit no opportunity to make religion
better understood, more loved, and more sincerely followed,
than unfortunately it has been in many places in our own days.
Believe me one thing, brethren ! that the falling off which we
all have to deplore in religious observances, is the offspring of
ignorance and want of education. In former years there pre-
vailed an error of teaching abstruse points of legal knowledge,
to the exclusion, to a great extent, of pure scriptural knowledge.
Sciences were then inaccessible to our oppressed people, and
hence many wasted their powerful intellect, which being re-
pressed was nevertheless not extinguished, in detecting points of
difference and matters of disputation in the law, which now
have but little value in the changed aspect of things which of
late years has taken place. Nevertheless was there a great
devotion to religion, and the strictest observance of even the
minutest things was the crowning glory of those days. But
when the access to sciences was opened to us, a new spirit was
suddenly called into action. Scripture was more sought after,
and the ancient disputations and comments greatly neglected,
much more so indeed than they should have been, for with all
their faults they contain matters of profound wisdom and deep
reflection. Yet even this modified study of our religion has not


in many places maintained its ground, and has there, alas !
receded to a point of perfect inattention to so holy a pursuit.
In several towns there is not even a single school where the
Scriptures are expounded and the holy language of our ances-
tors is taught ; so that some, judging from appearance and a
fancied necessity, have thought it expedient to advise to banish
the latter as useless from our form of worship. And now we
see the effects of this deterioration, in the ignorance, unpardon-
able ignorance, of many in the essential points of their religion;
in their unacquaintance \\ith the Hebrew tongue; in their
omission of the observance demanded of them, and in the
neglect, I almost might say exclusion, of the teachers of our
blessed faith. It is true that there are but few places where
there is not a minister appointed to do the necessary offices of
religion, and what is more, public worship is generally well
supported, if even tho number of attendan s is not very large;
but I speak of a class c f teachers of religion, not merely public
servants, who should have the formation of the mind of our
children specially delegated to them, and give instruction in
the doctrines and principles of the law which has descended to
us from our ancestors. -And it is such as these who are not
cared for, not wanted ! whilst parents themselves are loo busy
to be themselves the teachers of their children ! It is a crying
evil, a sin of no small magnitude. A man would be stigmatized
as illiberal and unenlightened who would refuse sending his
child to any school, and merely give him an occasional Jesson
at home in the rudiments of reading and writing; and in truth
he would be guilty of a great wrong, by leaving him behind the
march of improvement. And so well is this subject generally
admitted, that but few indeed can be ibi:nd who g ve not some
schooling to their children, and ma^y spend large and liberal
sums to teach them whatever is ornamental ai d useful, and not
unfrequently give extravagant prices for mere u eless accom-
plishments, that they may not be a whit behind the spirit of the
age. And yet these very parents find it impossible to pay for
the religious education of their childr ;n ! as though every thing
should be taught but the word of the Lo 'd ! Is it then sur-
prising that we are retrograding in religious knowledge 1 that
the gentiles who formerly could lear.i from us are generally


better acquainted with Scriptures than we are '( They, we will
state it to their credit, are respectful to their public teachers,
they endeavour to seek for information in various ways from
them, and listen to their reproof with becoming deference. This
was formerly also the case with us, when the schools of our
teachers were filled with listeners, when they might reprove and
admonish, and the community would obey their instruction.
Perhaps you may say, that in those times there was too much
power in the hands of these men ; admitted ; but what can you
say in defence of a state of things where the opposite fault is
so prevalent as not to admit of any concealment from the eyes
of our opponents ? Let us be candid ; the evil has reached an
alarming height, and it is high time that a remedy were applied.
As it is however now among us, the difficulties in the way of a
thorough change are truly great and appalling; for whilst there
are not more union and harmony to effect a general good, and
whilst the uninformed obtrude their ideas of reformation, or
whilst the unworthy and irreligious assume the place of teachers,
nothinar can be done. But the change must commence with

o o

the individual members of Israel themselves. They must learn,
in the first place, to disregard the opinions of those who differ
from us in their rule of faith; secondly, they should admit no
one to teach who is not qualified by education and a thorough
moral and religious conduct for the task he assumes ; thirdly,
whenever a teacher is appointed he should receive the coun-
tenance of all the community where he lives, and whilst he is
in the discharge of the duties for which he has been appointed,
let him not b'e unduly interfered with or checked by the tem-
poral rulers of the Synagogue ; fourthly, let no one attempt to
imitate the example of the vainglorious who speak of reforming
our worship, or, in other words, of forcing their own crude
notions upon us instead of those opinions we have always
cherished ; and lastly, if no competent teachers can be obtained
at the present moment, let such inducements be held out that
youths whom the Lord has endowed with wisdom will seek to
qualify themselves for teachers in our academies, and to be-
come lecturers and preachers of the Word in our Synagogues.
But it need not be expected that success can attend the produc-
tion of sound capable teachers, whilst we are ruled, as in many
VOL. HI. 20


countries, by the direct interference of the gentiles, or as in
others, by our yielding constantly to what is termed public
opinion in withholding our children from proper Jewish schools;
whilst incompetent or unworthy persons are elevated to the
same responsible rank ; whilst our teachers, when appointed,
receive not the countenance, respect and support of the com-
munity, and whilst their energies are cramped by the interfer-
ence of the ignorant and ungodly, who decry their honest efforts,
and strive to bring confusion in our midst by the introduction
of pretended reforms. The plan just hinted at may not be
attainable in a few years ; there are doubtlessly some difficul-
ties in the way ; but still impracticable it is not. We have
gone astray from our former devotion to the law ; why should
it be impossible to bring us back ? You may perhaps say,
there are no such persons among us who are fit to follow out
the details ! This is only true in part. The whole plan can
only be carried out into practice by slow degrees, particularly
that of freeing ourselves from gentile influence ; but still there
are many wherever Israelites dwell who can do a great deal to
forward the blessed work. Let the attempt be made by a
united effort, and some success will at once attend it. And
have we not seen in this very place an initiatory course of
instruction imparted for several years past with a success
which many at one time despaired of? And why should not a
general Jewish education succeed just as well, if the same
spirit were displayed which forwarded the pious plan just men-
tioned? And of one thing be assured, that as soon as there is
a demand for teachers, they will be forthcoming'; for the time
never yet was that the law of our God had not its devoted
followers, who meditated therein day and night, and from
whose lips flowed wisdom and instruction.

My advice is, therefore, brethren ! that schools for general
education under Jewish superintendence should be established
forthwith in every place where they are not, and be reformed
and put upon a permanent footing where they are already in
existence. The sciences can well be blended with the study of
religion ; and do not imagine that the teaching of the former
will be hurtful to the latter, or that the careful study of the
Bible and commentators will retard the progress in science.


They who tell you the opposite are either not acquainted with
general knowledge or ignorant of the language and tendency of
Scripture ; or they confound what is unessential or merely an
abuse with the fundamental doctrines and duties which have
been handed down to us. It is not enough to let your children
have an occasional glimpse as it were at God's word, and then
to leave them to draw their own conclusion ; it is not enough
that they have once in a while a lesson in Hebrew or religious
books ; but they should be constantly under such guidance that
they may daily learn more familiarly our own national speech,
and drink in, literally, the proper understanding of the words
of the living God. For then will piety entwine itself with their
soul, and will become a part of their very nature. It will then
not be necessary for you to threaten punishment for disobedience
to their duties; for they will practise cheerfully what their in-
telligent teacher impresses on their mind, provided you do not
counteract at home, by injudicious levity on sacred subjects, a
direct contradiction of what is taught at school, or an exhibition
of irreligious conduct, the impression which is produced by him
you have chosen as their moral guide. If you have capacity,
introduce frequently religious conversation ; explain a history
of the Scriptures, expatiate on the beauty of a commandment ;
have the Bible read, and whenever the Hebrew is taught let the
children render for you a passage into the vernacular language.
For there is nothing so effectual in filling the mind with willing
obedience, as a thorough understanding of our duties ; and
whence could we obtain this in greater perfection than from
the words of the Bible themselves? And thus also says our
text : " And ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of
them, when thou sittest in the house and when thou walkest by
the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." In
the first place permit the children to obtain correct information
by such agents and means as have been pointed out to you.
Then let your conversation revert to the same when you are at
home in the bosom of your family ; let prayers and devotional
exercises be a portion of your domestic economy ; thank the
Creator for the gifts of life, the food and the law, for bodily
and spiritual blessings which have been bestowed on you ; let
them see that you are willing to acknowledge your dependence


on the Lord, and anxious to derive information from his word,
and they will be stimulated to acquire likewise a holy feeling
and to grow in grace and piety. When you are abroad with
them draw their attention to the beauty of the objects which
everywhere present themselves, and tell them that the whole
is the work of the One great universal Power whom you wor-
ship. Tell them also of the goodness He manifested in chajig-
ing for a time the course of nature to effect the redemption of
Israel from bondage, and the announcement of the law from
Sinai. When the time for repose draws near, let them pray
and repeat the confession of our faith, and do yourselves parti-
cipate in their devotion. Let the same be the case in the
morning, when you and they are awakened to a renewal of
God's favour by being again permitted to enjoy his blessings
for another day. In this manner will religion become natural
to them, and will be the ruling principle of all their actions, at
least you have according to the law laid the best foundation for
a virtuous and happy life. In making religion, however, the
rule and conversation of the household, you are not told to ex-
clude rational converse on other subjects ; but merely to let the
concerns of the immortal spirit have a portion of your thoughts
and speech no less than the affairs of a merely physical kind.
Nor is innocent recreation to be excluded ; on the contrary,
religion should impart cheerfulness, and play and amusement in
moderation are by no means incompatible with it.

In short, hold yourselves in this as well as in other matters
close to scriptural instruction, and you cannot go astray ; and
the wise king of Israel, in enforcing a strict observance of the
law, told us also there is a time for all things. Do this, brethren
and friends ! in the spirit of true piety, and devote not all your
leisure to amusement, but spend occasionally an hour for the
moral progress of your offspring. The task may at first be
rather awkward for you ; but practice will render you more
ready, and in a little while you will become excellent instruc-
tors, and you will be rewarded by the greater docility and more
prompt obedience of your children ; and know that by no means
whatever can you fit them better to become favourites of God
and beloved of man, than by rendering them faithful Israelites
and strict adherents of the law of Moses. If thus you consti-


tute your fireside a school of piety, and your home the sanc-
tuary of religion : well may then the name of the Almighty*
appear on the door-posts of your house and of your gates, as
indicative that there dwell they who in this remote generation,
and in this land so far distant from Palestine, forget not the an-
cestral custom, uphold the ancestral law, and look forward to
a return unto the now waste hills of the once lovely land, under
the guidance of the son of David, whom the Lord will send to
spread over the whole earth peace, freedom, piety, and devo-
tion to the Almighty's will, even as He ordained in the law
which He of old proclaimed from the mountain of Horeb to the
adoring children of his servants whom He had redeemed to be
his people for ever.

O God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, display thy won-
drous power over us, and incline our heart to follow thy com-
mandments ; and support us in our endeavours to obey Thee,
and let not the confusion, and anxiety, and cares of life lead us
astray from thy righteous path. Preserve us by thy grace, so
that all the nations of the earth may see that thy name is
called over us, and fear to injure us, thy heritage. Amen.

Kislev 16th )
Dec. llth I

NOTE. The foregoing three lectures on "Religious Education" by no
means present this important matter in so complete a light as I might
wish ; but I thought it best to close the subject for the present ; yet I pro-
mise myself, if the views here offered meet with favour, to enlarge upon
them at a future day.

* The Mezuzah.






ON SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12. 1837 HESHVAN 14, 5598.


O LORD of heaven and earth, whom neither the heights of
heaven nor the depths of the abyss can contain, who art
without beginning and without ending, we come before Thee
to invoke thy blessing upon our endeavours to serve Thee, and
on our striving to fulfil the behests of thy will. Strengthen our
resolve that we may resist temptation, and guide our steps that
we be not lured away upon the destructive road of sin. Cause
good to result from our charity, and bless every trifle given in
thy name, that it bear fruit a thousand-fold, and suffice for the
needy that he may never more -require the assistance of flesh and
blood. Grant prosperity to the labour of each individual, that
every man may receive his support immediately from thy liberal
hand. Bestow thy blessing upon this land and its inhabitants
amongst the lands that are blessed of thee, and fill the granaries
with corn and the fields with abundant increase, so that the
small means of the poor may be enough for their support. Above
all teach us humility; so that if blessed with prosperity we may
not wax proud and incur thy wrath by a neglect of thy holy
precepts ; and that if punished we may bend our head in meek
submission to thy just decrees. Let it be further thy will to


grant that our prayer may ascend into thy presence, and
speedily light up the lamp of the son of Jesse thy servant, and
let all the world see thy glory, when Thou returnest to Zion the
chosen dwelling of thy name, there to let thy presence abide
among us for ever. Pour also the spirit of thy wisdom over us
and all the children of thy creation ; so that all may devote
their hearts to serve Thee who alone art God and King. Amen.



r i .

The benevolent daughters of our people composing the Fe-
male Hebrew Benevolent Society of Philadelphia have deputed
me again to lay before you a brief account of their steward-
ship of the funds entrusted to their care. And well it was that
your liberality gave them more extended means in the year
that has just elapsed and been mixed up with the resistless
tide of eternity, with the years that have been and are passed
away for ever. For, sorrow, poverty and anguish have not
been absent, and every day almost some hapless stranger, some
lone woman, has presented claims which could not be over-
looked, and which have been supplied as far as the funds of
our sisters have allowed and as actual necessity required. Yes,
persons to whom the tongue of this land is unknown have re-
sorted hither in search of a happier home than their own native
land afforded, and when arrived found themselves overwhelmed
by dire and oppressive want ; what now would have been their
situation if not some kind helping hand, under Providence, had
stepped forward to supply the couch for sickness, the fireside
for refreshing heat, the bread for the infants, and the shelter of
the friendly roof for the aged and infirm ? Acts of this nature


have been accomplished in the last year, by the judicious appli-
cation of the small means, small for so extensive a use, placed
at the disposal of the society ; and thus blessings have been
scattered, joys diffused, and sorrows lightened ; and the friend-
less stranger, friendless as she thought herself far from her native
soil, has found friends and protectors in the kind daughters of
Israel who, true to the characteristics of their race, are re-
tiringly unostentatious, merciful in their sympathies to the suf-
ferings of their fellow-mortals, and kindly intent upon bestowing
the fruits of beneficence to all who need. It is not as the eulo-
gist of the society and their doings that I say this, but merely
because last year* I was called upon to appeal to your gene-
rosity in support of their treasury, which appeal was so liberally
answered, that it appears to be obligatory upon me to state
briefly that the funds collected have been so applied as the
donors had a right to expect, and thereby to foster the virtuous
resolution of again enabling our sisters to keep up to its full
measure the system of charity upon which they have been
hitherto acting. And truly there is need of this bounty ! For
the transactions of this and other charitable institutions, here as
well as in neighbouring cities, amply prove, that with increased
means the annual surplus has not increased in equal propor-
tions ; for the poor of other countries, chiefly from the over-
populated districts of Europe, annually crowd hither in increased
numbers to obtain under the protection of equal laws and the
untrammeled exercise of their industry a more extended reward
for their labours than can be procured in their native land. Na-
turally enough, among the many of small means, persons in the
pinching state of indigence may be induced to sacrifice their
little, their all, in order to reach this land, perhaps this very-
city, and no sooner are they arrived, than they feel that even
here a person must have, to use the language of the people, a
start in life; or perhaps sickness or other afflictions may at

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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 23 of 26)