S. (Solomon) Schechter.

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ing it. But in respect of all I have written above I shall not hold
myself guilty if I transgress, if such transgression be the result of
forgetfulness ; but in order to guard against it, I shall read this
through weekly.

I also command my children to take upon themselves as many of
the above regulations as may be in their power to observe, and also
to bind them {i.e. the regulations), from generation to generation,
upon their children. And he who carries them out, and even
adds to them, at pain of discomfort to himself, shall merit a spe-
cial blessing. And this is the text of the will which I, the above-
mentioned Solomon, draw up for my children, may God preserve
them. That they shall pray thrice daily, and endeavour always
to utter their prayers with devotion. Again, that this prayer
shall be said in the Beth Hammidrash, or in the synagogue to-
gether with the congregation. Again, that they shall apply all their
powers to maintain the synagogues and the houses of study, which
our ancestors have built, as well as to continue the endowments
established by my ancestors and myself. They must always en-


deavour to imitate them, so that goodness shall never cease from
among them. Again, that they shall always have a chair on
which a volume of the Talmud, or some other Talmudical work,
shall lie ; so that they shall always open a book when they come
home. At least, they shall read in any book they like four lines
before taking their meal. Again, that they shall every week read
the Lesson twice in the Hebrew text, and once in the Aramaic
version. Again, to take three meals on the Sabbath . . .

Again, that they shall be always modest, merciful, and chari-
table, for these are the qualities by which the children of Israel are
known. Let also all their thoughts and meditations be always di-
rected to the service of the Lord, and be as charitable and benevo-
lent as possible, for this is all that remains to man of his labour.
They shall also endeavour to regulate their diet according to the
rules laid down by Rabbi Moses (b. Maimon, or Maimonides), so
as to fulfil the words of Scripture : " The righteous eateth to the
satisfying of his soul." And let them always be careful not to take
the name of God in vain, to be honest in all business transactions,
and let their yea be always yea. They shall always be under the
obligation to train their children to the Study of the Torah, but
one shall devote his life exclusively to the study thereof. And
it shall be incumbent upon his brothers to support this one, and to
invest his moneys, and to provide for him that he and his family
may live respectably, so that he be not distracted by worldly cares
from his studies. Let also the elder love the younger brothers as
their own children, and the younger respect the elder as a parent.
Thus they may always bear in mind that they are of a God-fear-
ing family. Let them love and honour scholars, thus to merit the
honour of having scholars for their sons and sons-in-law. This
will they shall themselves read weekly, and shall also make it in-
cumbent upon their children, from generation to generation, to
read weekly, in order to fulfil what is written (Gen. xviii. 19),
" For I know him that he will command his children," etc., and
also the words of Isaiah (lix.21), " And this is my covenant," etc.
But as often as they shall read this will, they shall also read the
two letters below written, which Rabbi Moses ben Nachman sent
to his sons, with a view of being serviceable to them in many re-



spects. Should, heaven forbid, they be by any sad accident pre-
vented from fulfilling the injunctions above laid down, they must
fine themselves by not drinking wine on that day, or by eating one
course less at the dinner, or by giving some fine in charity. . . .

And this is the letter which the above-mentioned Rabbi
sent from the Holy Land to Castile, when his son was
staying before the king (in his service) : —

"... May God bless you and preserve you from sin and pun-
ishment. Behold, our master. King David, had a son, wise and
of an understanding heart, like unto whom there was never one
before or after. Nevertheless he said to him (i Kings ii. 2) : ^ And
keep the charge of the Lord thy God,' etc. He also said to him :
^And thou, my son, know the God of thy father' (i Chron.
xxviii. 9). Now, my son, if thou wilt measure thyself with Solo-
mon, thou wilt find thyself a worm — not a man, merely an insect ;
nevertheless, if thou wilt seek God, he will make thee great ; and if
thou wilt forsake him, thou wilt be turned out and forsaken. My
son, be careful that thou read the Shenta^ morning and evening,
as well as that thou say the daily prayers. Have always with thee
a Pentateuch written correctly, and read therein the Lesson for
each Sabbath. . . . 'Cast thy burden upon the Lord,' for the
thing which thou believest far from thee is often very near unto thee.
Know, again, that thou art not master over thy words, nor hast
power over thy hand ; but everything is in the hand of the Lord,
who formeth thy heart. ... Be especially carefiil to keep aloof
from the women [of the court ?] . Know that our God hates im-
morality, and Balaam could in no other way injure Israel than by
inciting them to unchastity. [Here come many quotations from
Malachi and Ezra.] . . . My son, remember me always, and let
the image of my countenance be never absent from before thine
eyes. Love not that which I hate. . . . Let the words of the
Psalmist be always upon thy lips, * I am a stranger in the earth :
hide not thy commandments from me ' (Ps. cxix. 19) ; and God,
who is good and the dispenser of good, shall increase thy peace
and prolong thy life in peace and happiness, and promote thy honour
according to thy wish and the wish of thy father who begat thee,
Moses ben Nachman."


There is a saying in the Talmud *' Nothing exists of
which there is not some indication in the Torah.'* These
words are often quoted, and some modern authors have
pressed them so far as to find even the discoveries of
Columbus and the inventions of Watt and Stephenson
indicated in the Law. This is certainly misapplied in-
genuity. But it is hardly an exaggeration to maintain
that there is no noble manifestation of real religion, no
expression of real piety, reverence, and devotion, to which
Jewish literature would not offer a fair parallel.

Thus it will hardly be astonishing to hear that Jewish
literature has its Boswell to show, more than three cen-
turies before the Scottish gentleman came to London to
admire his Johnson, and more than four centuries before
the Sage of Chelsea delivered his lectures on Hero Wor-
ship. And this Jewish Boswell was guided only by the
motives suggested to him in the old Rabbinic literature.
In this literature the reverence for the great man, and
the absorption of one's whole self in him, went so far
that one Rabbi declared that the whole world was only
created to serve such a man as company.^

Again, the fact that, in the language of the Rabbis,
the term for studying the Law and discussing it is "to



attend " or rather ** to serve the disciples of the Wise "
may also have led people to the important truth that the
great man is not a lecturing machine, but a sort of living
Law himself. "When the man," said one Rabbi, "has
wholly devoted himself to the Torah, and thoroughly
identified himself with it, it becomes almost his own
Torah." Thus people have not only to listen to his
words but to observe his whole life, and to profit from
all his actions and movements.

This was what the Jewish Boswell sought to do. His
name was Rabbi Solomon, of St. Goar, a small town on
the Rhine, while the name of the master whom he served
was R. Jacob, the Levite, better known by his initials
Maharil, who filled the office of Chief Rabbi in Mayence
and Worms successively. The main activity of Maharil
falls in the first three decades of the fifteenth century.
Those were troublous times for a Rabbi. For the pre-
ceding century with its persecution and sufferings — one
has only to think of the Black Death and its terrible con-
sequences for the Jews — led to the destruction of the
great Schools, the decay of the study of the Law, and
to the dissolution of many congregations. Those which
remained lost all touch with each other, so that almost
every larger Jewish community had its own Minhag or
ritual custom.2

It was Maharil who brought some order into this chaos,
and in the course of time his influence asserted itself
so strongly that the rules observed by him in the per-
forming of religious ceremonies were accepted by the
great majority of the Jewish communities. Thus the per-
sonality of Maharil himself became a standing Minhag,
suppressing all the other Minhagim (customs).


But there must have been something very strong and very
great about the personaUty of the man who could succeed
in such an arduous task. For we must not forget that
the Minhag or custom in its decay degenerates into a kind
of religious fashion, the worst disease to which religion
is liable, and the most difficult to cure. It is therefore
an irreparable loss both for Jewish literature and for Jewish
history, that the greatest part of Maharil's posthumous
writings are no longer extant, so that our knowledge about
him is very small. But the little we know of him we owe
chiefly to the communicativeness of his servant, the Solo-
mon of St. Goar whom I mentioned above.

Solomon not only gave us the " Customs " of his master,
but also observed him closely in all his movements, and
conscientiously wrote down all that he saw and heard,
under the name of Collectanea. It seems that the bulk
of these Collectanea was also lost. But in the fragments
that we still possess we are informed, among other things,
how Maharil addressed his wife, how he treated his pupils,
how careful he was in the use of his books, and even how
clean his linen was. Is this not out-Boswelling Boswell }

The most striking point of agreement between the
Boswell of the fifteenth and him of the eighteenth cen-
tury, is that they both use the same passage from the
Talmud to excuse the interest in trifles which their labours
of love betrayed. Thus Solomon prefaces his Collectanea
with the following words : " It is written, His leaf shall
not wither. These words were explained by our Sages
to mean that even the idle talk of the disciples of the wise
deserves a study. Upon this interpretation I have relied.
In my love to R. Jacob the Levite, I collected everything
about him. I did not refuse even small things, though many


derided me. Everything I wrote down, for such was the
desire of my heart."

Thus far Solomon. Now, if we turn to the introduction
to Boswell's Life pf Johnson, we read the following sen-
tence: "For this almost superstitious reverence, I have
found very old and venerable authority quoted by our
great modern prelate. Seeker, in whose tenth sermon
there is the following passage : * Rabbi Kimchi, a noted
Jewish commentator who lived about five hundred years
ago, explains that passage in the first Psalm, "His leaf
also shall not wither " from Rabbins yet older than him-
self, that even the idle talk, so he expressed it, of a good
man ought to be regarded. *"

Croker's note to this passage sounds rather strange.
This editor says : " Kimchi was a Spanish Rabbi, who
died in 1240. One wonders that Seeker's good sense
should have condescended to quote this far-fetched and
futile interpretation of the simple and beautiful metaphor,
by which the Psalmist illustrates the prosperity of the
righteous man." Now Kimchi died at least five years
earlier than Croker states, but dates, we know from
Macaulay's essay on the subject, were not Croker's strong
point. But one can hardly forgive the editor of Boswell
this lack of sympathy. Had he known what strong
affinity there was between his most Christian author and
the humble Jew Solomon, he would have less resented
this condescension of Archbishop Seeker.

As for the Jewish Boswell himself, we know very little
about him. The only place in which he speaks about his
own person is that in which he derives his pedigree from
R. Eleazar ben Samuel Hallevi (died 1357), and says that
he was generally called " Der gute (the good) R. Salman."


He well deserved this appellation. In his Will we find
the following injunction to his children : " Be honest, and
conscientious in your dealing with men, with Jews as well
as Gentiles, be kind and obliging to them ; do not speak
what is superfluous." And wisdom is surely rare enough
to render inappropriate a charge of superfluousness
against the work of those who in bygone times spent
their energies in gathering the crumbs that fell from the
tables of the wise.



The object of this essay is to say about the dogmas of
Judaism a word which I think ought not to be left unsaid.

In speaking of dogmas it must be understood that
Judaism does not ascribe to them any saving power/ The
beUef in a dogma or a doctrine without abiding by its real
or supposed consequences {e.g, the belief in creatio ex
nihilo without keeping the Sabbath) is of no value. And
the question about certain doctrines is not whether they
possess or do not possess the desired charm against cer-
tain diseases of the soul, but whether they ought to be
considered as characteristics of Judaism or not.

It must again be premised that the subject, which occu-
pied the thoughts of the greatest and noblest Jewish
minds for so many centuries, has been neglected for a
comparatively long time. And this for various reasons.
First, there is Mendelssohn's assertion, or supposed asser-
tion, in his yerusaleniy that Judaism has no dogmas — an
assertion which has been accepted by the majority of
modern Jewish theologians as the only dogma Judaism
possesses. You can hear it pronounced in scores of
Jewish pulpits ; you can read it written in scores of Jewish
books. To admit the possibility that Mendelssohn was in
error was hardly permissiblCy especially for those with



whom he enjoys a certain infallibility. Nay, even the fact
that he himself was not consistent in his theory, and on
another occasion declared that Judaism has dogmas, only
that they are purer and more in harmony with reason than
those of other religions ; or even the more important fact
that he published a school-book for children, in which the
so-called Thirteen Articles were embodied, only that
instead of the formula " I believe," he substituted " I am
convinced," — even such patent facts did not produce
much effect upon many of our modern theologians.^
They were either overlooked or explained away so as to
make them harmonise with the great dogma of dogma-
lessness. For it is one of the attributes of infallibility
that the words of its happy possessor must always be
reconcilable even when they appear to the eye of the
unbeliever as gross contradictions.

Another cause of the neglect into which the subject has
fallen is that our century is an historical one. It is not
only books that have their fate, but also whole sciences
and literatures. In past times it was religious speculation
that formed the favourite study of scholars, in our time it
is history with its critical foundation on a sound philology.
Now as these two most important branches of Jewish
science were so long neglected — were perhaps never cul-
tivated in the true meaning of the word, and as Jewish lit-
erature is so vast and Jewish history so far-reaching and
eventful, we cannot wonder that these studies have ab-
sorbed the time and the labour of the greatest and best
Jewish writers in this century.

There is, besides, a certain tendency in historical studies
that is hostile to mere theological speculation. ^ The his-
torian deals with realities, the theologian with abstrac-


tions. The latter likes to shape the universe after his
system, and tells us how things ought to be^ the former
teaches us how they are or have been^ and the explanation
he gives for their being so and not otherwise includes in
most cases also a kind of justification for their existence.
There is also the odium theologicuniy which has been the
cause of so much misfortune that it is hated by the his-
torian, whilst the superficial, rationalistic way in which
the theologian manages to explain everything which
does not suit his system is most repulsive to the critical

But it cannot be denied that this neglect has caused
much confusion. Especially is this noticeable in England,
which is essentially a theological country, and where
people are but little prone to give up speculation about
things which concern their most sacred interest and
greatest happiness. Thus whilst we are exceedingly poor
in all other branches of Jewish learning, we are compara-
tively rich in productions of a theological character. We
have a superfluity of essays on such delicate subjects as
eternal punishment, immortality of the soul, the day of
judgment, etc., and many treatises on the definition of
Judaism. But knowing little or nothing of the progress
recently made in Jewish theology, of the many protests
against all kinds of infallibility, whether canonised in this
century or in olden times, we in England still maintain
that Judaism has no dogmas as if nothing to the contrary
had ever been said. We seek the foundation of Judaism
in political economy, in hygiene, in everything except relig-
ion. Following the fashion of the day to esteem religion
in proportion to its ability to adapt itself to every possible
and impossible metaphysical and social system, we are


anxious to squeeze out of Judaism the last drop of faith
and hope, and strive to make it so flexible that we can
turn it in every direction which it is our pleasure to fol-
low. But alas! the flexibility has progressed so far as
to classify Judaism among the invertebrate species, the
lowest order of living things. It strongly resembles a cer-
tain Christian school which addresses itself to the world in
general and claims to satisfy everybody alike. It claims
to be socialism for the adherents of Karl Marx and
Lassalle, worship of man for the followers of Comte and
St. Simon ; it carefully avoids the word " God " for the
comfort of agnostics and sceptics, whilst on the other hand
it pretends to hold sway over paradise, hell, and immortal-
ity for the edification of believers. In such illusions many
of our theologians delight. For illusions they are; you
cannot be everything if you want to be anything. More-
over, illusions in themselves are bad enough, but we are
menaced with what is still worse. Judaism, divested of
every higher religious motive, is in danger of falling into
gross materialism. For what else is the meaning of such
declarations as ** Believe what you like, but conform to
this or that mode of life " ; what else does it mean but
" We cannot expect you to believe that the things you are
bidden to do are commanded by a higher authority ; there
is not such a thing as belief, but you ought to do them
for conventionalism or for your own convenience."

But both these motives — the good opinion of our
neighbours, as well as our bodily health — have nothing to
do with our nobler and higher sentiments, and degrade
Judaism to a matter of expediency or diplomacy. Indeed,
things have advanced so far that well-meaning but ill-
advised writers even think to render a service to Judaism


by declaring it to be a kind of enlightened Hedonism, or
rather a moderate Epicureanism.

I have no intention of here answering the question,
What is Judaism? This question is not less perplexing
than the problem. What is God's world ? Judaism is also
a great Infinite, composed of as many endless Units, the
Jews. And these Unit-Jews have been, and are still,
scattered through all the world, and have passed under an
immensity of influences, good and bad. If so, how can
we give an exact definition of the Infinite, called Judaism ?
^But if there is anything sure, it is that the highest mo-
tives which worked through the history of Judaism are the
strong belief in God and the unshaken confidence that at
last this God, the God of Israel, will be the God of the
whole world ; or, in other words. Faith and Hope are the
two most prominent characteristics of Judaism./

In the following pages I shall try to give a short
account of the manner in which these two principles of
Judaism found expression, from the earliest times down to
the age of Mendelssohn ; that is, to present an outline of
the history of Jewish Dogmasy First, a few observations
on the position of the Bible and the Talmud in relation to
our theme. Insufficient and poor as they may be in pro-
portion to the importance of these two fundamental docu-
ments of Judaism, these remarks may nevertheless suggest
a connecting link between the teachings of Jewish antiq-
uity and those of Maimonides and his successors.

I begin with the Scriptures.

The Bible itself hardly contains a command bidding us
to believe. We are hardly ordered, e.g,., to believe in the
existence of God. I say hardly, but I do not altogether
deny the existence of such a command. It is true that we


do not find in the Scripture such words as : " You are
commanded to believe in the existence of God." Nor is
any punishment assigned as awaiting him who denies it.
Notwithstanding these facts, many Jewish authorities —
among them such important men as Maimonides, R.
Judah Hallevi, Nachmanides — perceive, in the first words
of the Ten Commandments, " I am the Lord thy God,"
the command to believe in His existence.^

Be this as it may, there cannot be the shadow of a
doubt that the Bible, in which every command is dictated
by God, and in which all its heroes are the servants, the
friends, or the ambassadors of God, presumes such a
belief in every one to whom those laws are dictated, and
these heroes address themselves. Nay, I think that the
word "belief" is not even adequate. In a world with so
many visible facts and invisible causes, as life and death,
growth and decay, light and darkness ; in a world where
the sun rises and sets ; where the stars appear regularly ;
where heavy rains pour down from the sky, often accom-
panied by such grand phenomena as thunder and light-
ning ; in a world full of such marvels, but into which no
notion has entered of all our modern true or false explana-
tions — who but God is behind all these things.? "Have
the gates," asks God, "have the gates of death been open
to thee } or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of
death.? . . . Where is the way where light dwelleth.?
and as for darkness, where is the place thereof? . . .
Hath the rain a father .? or who hath begotten the drops
of dew ? . . . Canst thou bind the sweet influences of
Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion .? . . . Canst thou
send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee.
Here we are } " Qob xxxviii.). Of all these wonders, God


was not merely the prima causa ; they were the result of
His direct action, without any intermediary causes. And
it is as absurd to say that the ancient world believed in
God, as for a future historian to assert of the nineteenth
century that it believed in the effects of electricity. We
see them, and so antiquity saw God. If there was any
danger, it lay not in the denial of the existence of a God,
but in having a wrong belief. Belief in as many gods
as there are manifestations in nature, the investing of
them with false attributes, the misunderstanding of God's
relation to men, lead to immorality. Thus the greater
part of the laws and teachings of the Bible are either
directed against polytheism, with all its low ideas of God,
or rather of gods ; or they are directed towards regulating
God's relation to men. Man is a servant of God, or His
prophet, or even His friend. But this relationship man
obtains only by his conduct. Nay, all man's actions are
carefully regulated by God, and connected with His holi-
ness. The 19th chapter of Leviticus, which is considered
by the Rabbis as the portion of the Law in which the
most important articles of the Torah are embodied, is
headed, ** Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your own God
am holy." 'And each law therein occurring, even those

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Online LibraryS. (Solomon) SchechterStudies in Judaism. First series → online text (page 12 of 28)