Review of Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews
The Occident and American Jewish Advocate
Vol. II, No. 12
Adar 5605 March 1845
|Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews, Delivered at the Tabernacle, N. Y., Oct. 28, and Dec. 2, 1844, by M. M. Noah. New York, 1845, 8vo. pp. 55.The address of Judge Noah on the Restoration of the Jews, has excited a good deal of attention among our Christian fellowcitizens, more so at least than among ourselves; and the subject has also been noticed by the conversion paper in England, as well as the Voice of Jacob. We are not aware as yet whether other European papers have spoken of it, which however, is, likely enough, as Judge Noah is generally considered abroad as having a great deal of influence among his American brethren. But, whilst the Judge had not himself given his lecture to the public through means of the press, and only newspaper reports, which he neither sanctioned nor denied, were accessible to us, we forbore making any comments, for fear of doing injustice to a man who to the kindest heart joins a readiness to serve every one whom he can benefit, without regard to his faith, kindred, or country. Now as the reports, read in the papers, we had only one idea, of condemning the whole as uncalled for, impolitic, and unjewish; and though the entire performance has not removed all our objections, it has at least greatly modified our judgment. We are at the same time fully aware that, Judge Noah can well dispense with our good opinion, and can with safety esteem our censure very lightly; nevertheless we trust that he will carefully scan the strictures which the Jewish periodical press, both here and abroad, may deem requisite to make on his lecture, assured that the motives of its conductors are solely to place our generally-received opinions rightly before our people, and to disclaim that the admissions or assumptions which any gentleman may make in our behalf are so in fact, if they are not founded upon the opinions commonly entertained among us.
If Mr. Noah had merely delivered a lecture upon the state of the Jews, with reference to any portion of their history and prospects, without asserting something or asking something for them, speaking of them as an individual who expresses his own private opinion, we should not have found fault with him, if his assertions had been ever so erroneous or singular; but now he assumes higher ground, he speaks for the restoration of our people to a Christian community, almost as though he had been requested by a committee of a large meeting, to bring their views and petitions before the great Christian public; he consequently must not be surprised nor offended, if others who are equally with him interested in the subject, think it their duty to animadvert upon some portion of his lecture, in which they cannot concur.
Mr. Noah’s object seems to be to excite the American Christians, and especially the ladies and gentlemen belonging to the various conversion societies to unite in a plan, to urge upon the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to allow the Jews to hold land in Syria, and then to aid all those who may be willing to emigrate thither with the requisite means to establish themselves there as an independent and republican people. We are not bold enough to hazard the assertion that such a plan is absolutely impracticable, or that it is altogether opposed to Scripture to encompass in the manner indicated, the primary restoration of the Jews. Besides it would appear from the letter from Jurburg, published in The Orient, which we gave in the last number of our magazine, that many of our people living under the iron sway of Russia, ardently desire the consummation of some project of the kind. But we apprehend, that the difficulty will not be found with the Turkish government, which has latterly, since the accession of Abdul Medjid to the throne, and since the persecution at Damascus, granted the Jews an equality of rights, (at least it was so stated in the papers of the day,) with other Rajahs or non-Mussulman inhabitants, which equality we presume, includes the right of holding real estate.
The Sultan therefore, whose feeble hands now wield the falling sceptre of the Turkish empire, would probably grant with readiness that privilege, if not yet enjoyed by the Jews, and any other requisite to carry out colonizing Israelites in large numbers in Syria and Palestine. The case however will be widely different with the Christian powers of Europe, England not excepted, since they, would hardly tolerate an independent state composed of such active and intelligent men, as the Jewish nation could now furnish, to exist at the very outlet of the commerce of the Mediterranean sea and the Arabian Gulf; thus commanding the caravan trade to the South and North on the one side, and on the other the maritime commerce of the East and West, which would no doubt become of the highest importance between the Indies, Persia, Europe, and perhaps America, so soon as a safe channel could be established for steam ships from Bombay to Suez, connecting by means of a railroad with Alexandria in Northern Egypt, and drawing to that depot the business of the ports of Sidon, Tyre, Joppa, Acre, and the other sea-towns of ancient Phoenicia and Palestine, which, though now in ruins and scarcely inhabited, would soon teem again with a flourishing and wealthy population.
Whoever is acquainted with the grasping policy of modern Christian nations, say France, Russia, England, Austria, and to add the United States, must acknowledge that our fears on this subject are but too well founded; and when one sees how slight a provocation superinduced the partition of Poland, the conquest of half Turkey, the violent plunder of Hindoostan, and the settlement of Algiers, not to mention other acts of open violence, it requires no spirit of prophecy to foretell that, should the Israelites flourish in Palestine, there would not be wanting a pretext, for visiting their harbours with the merciful visitation of a battle of Navarino, or a bombardment of Mogador and Tangier. We forget, a guarantee might be exacted as a pledge from the different powers under whose auspices we might settle, to leave our independence untouched; but what security could we have that such a pledge would not be violated? Punic faith is not confined to ancient Carthage, modern nations understand it just as well as the descendants of the ancient Phoenicians; and should it suit the state interest of any one or more or the European powers, “fuit Hierosolima” would soon be inscribed upon the site of our sacred city. Perhaps it might be advanced, that it would require but a brief space of time to collect two millions and more of free and enlightened Israelites in Palestine, who would not brook to be the vassals of any combination of powers, and who could from the favourableness of their position defy the arms of a united world. Now there is not a man living who has greater confidence in the virtue and bravery of Israelites than we have; but we fear in advance for our state, composed as it would naturally be, out of elements too heterogeneous to become a uniform mass before the lapse of centuries. We do not now speak of the miraculous power of God, who foretells in Ezekiel 37, commencing at verse 16, an entire union of the people. We only treat of human means, for of these only Judge Noah speaks. To the condition of a human state, therefore, founded by human aid only, and for worldly purposes, is our argument directed and herein we maintain, it would be impossible to carry out the views of the amiable philanthropist who speaks for the welfare of Israel as much, we are convinced, from motives of general love for all mankind, as from the fact that he is an Israelite himself. An independence so feeble as to be a prey to the designing powers of modern Europe, and a state so distracted by intestine quarrels as not to be able to oppose to these powers an effectual resistance, we do not desire nor wish our people to establish; they had better remain as they now are, scattered over all the earth, rather than expose themselves to an extermination by some modern Haman, which under the circumstances, such as they would necessarily be, we should have too much cause to apprehend.
One thing, Judge Noah, perhaps, overlooked whilst inviting the cooperation of the conversion-societies. They have been the cause of a good deal of heart-burning to us already, for they exist, not because they wish to benefit us as Jews, but for the sake of destroying our national, not sectarian, character. They deem it their paramount duty, founded upon a construction of their religious books, to make proselytes to Christianity, by all the arts of persuasion, bribery, and corruption; these are hard words, but we leave it to Judge Noah himself, to decide whether we have not ample warrant to speak so pointedly. Now suppose the persons thus leagued together could be persuaded to aid us in returning to the Holy Land; it requires again no gift of prophecy to foretell that they would soon send out missionaries in the “bulrush vessels which are urged on the water” to endeavour to sow dissension among the members of the new state, by exciting the people against their spiritual rulers, the so-called Rabbis, and we presume the judge does not wish to see a state founded without some share being assigned in the proper department to our spiritual chiefs. Now these are precisely “that are hated to the soul” of all true missionaries: they are the main obstacles that oppose the backsliding of our people; and until some plan can be devised to exclude the Christian missionaries from the land, we cannot hope that we shall have peace, especially if they are in the first instance to aid us in regaining our country. They have ever been dangerous enemies, witness the mercies we formerly obtained in Spain, and Portugal, and Italy, through the instrumentality of the Christian priesthood, and the mercies we now enjoy in Prussia, and the Russian and Austrian dominions, nay, to this hour, in Rome, under the very eye of the chief of the Christian church; and we yet more dread their hollow friendship; for we say it boldly, and defy contradiction, that the Christian priesthood has always shown an instinctive dislike to our race, and nearly all the Nazarine pulpits, from one end of the world to the other ring with denunciations against the obdurate Jews who crucified their saviour, and obstinately reject the light of the gospel. The very banding together to encompass the conversion of the Jews, proves that the persons so associating deem our presence an injury to the world; for what other motive can they have for endeavouring our destruction? We know well enough that the alleged cause is care for our salvation, which they presume is threatened by what they term our remaining in an unconverted state; but would not our conversion or rather turning to Christianity destroy our very existence? We have said before, on another occasion, and cannot help help repeating it now, that our religion alone makes us a distinct people, and that were our religion taken from us, we would become what all apostates hitherto have become, that is, intimately commingled with, and an undistinguishable portion of the various nations.
Conversion of the Jews, therefore, means the destruction of the Jews; and if any one believes, therefore, that the Jews must be converted, as a thing demanded by his religion, and he believes, moreover, that every thing save actual violence is permitted, to compass this result, he cannot be looked upon otherwise than as an enemy of the Jewish people, however friendly he may profess to be, nay, no matter, if he actually be friendly to the individuals composing the aggregate masses of Israel. With conversionists, as such, we cannot, as Jews, enter into any league; the Jews are abhorrent to them, and if they grant us any favours, they do it for the sake of a return. Let us explain what we mean: if they give a poor Jew money, it is that he may think well of the benevolence of Christians, and open his heart to the beauties of Christianity. If they give him a book it is that he may see the error of his own faith, and embrace Christianity. If they sell him Hebrew Bibles, it is that peculiar readings and particular passages may strike the eyes of our people, that they may think differently of their own religion, and embrace Christianity. If they take up any stray apostate they can find, and send him to a theological seminary, to educate him for the ministry—if they send him afterwards as a missionary to the Jews—if they give him the daughter of a rich man for wife—if they make him professor in a college—if they make him bishop of any where—if they make him tract agent—editor of a paper—collector of conversion-funds—or support him in entire idleness—if they exalt a man of mediocre talents, whom they would have justly despised when a Jew, as a useless weight on society—if they freight ships with tracts, attacking the very principles of Judaism, and giving a false colouring to our doctrine, to deceive the unwary—if they use subterfuges to convey their publications into our houses, when they would be rejected if offered openly for sale or as a gift:—if all these things are witnessed, what does Judge Noah think it is all for? He surely must know that their object is to destroy the Jews by picking up a few in detail at a time, to allure many, by degrees, into the fatal embrace of Christianity, for it is fatal to us in our national capacity, however the world might suppose our personal advantages augmented by our embracing Christianity.
If what we have said be true, and we think there is no one will gainsay it, the admission of missionaries of this class into Palestine, would be fraught with the greatest evil to our future infant state: not that we imagine, for a moment, that they would be more successful there than then have been here and in Europe, but that they would not scruple to sow dissension between the people and their religious chiefs, if even they did not interfere in the politics of the government, and to injure our religion and its teachers and upholders, as a religious duty, imposed upon them by their belief, by all the means in their power. We need not tell one so well acquainted with modern events, that the missionary quarrels have brought evils upon the Society Islands, and that Christianity has been anew, as of old, preached there at the mouth of the cannon, because one branch of it was to be excluded from these sunny lands, upon the instigation of others. Besides this evil to Tahiti, reports say that through missionary intrigues, a whole class of Christians have been nearly exterminated in Asia, we allude to the Nestorians.
Now we know nothing of these events except what we gather from Christian papers; they have heralded to the world these atrocious crimes in the name of a religion of peace wrought at this very day, in the enlightened nineteenth century; and where, we ask, is the security that a similar fate may not be impending for us whenever we would think it requisite for the safety of the state to prohibit the tampering with our children, the inveigling of our servants, or the exciting of the humbler classes of our population? For all we can foretell, a fleet of some Christian power, thinking itself insulted by an indignity offered to its native missionaries might appear off St. Jean d’Acre and demand at the cannon’s mouth satisfaction and restitution of the offenders to their self-assumed functions. We merely say what might happen, especially if we had been actively aided by the conversionists in the establishment of our commonwealth, for then they might, with some show of truth, say: “You must listen to us out of gratitude, for we have founded your state.” We, therefore, respectfully dissent from Judge Noah’s appeal to the gentlemen and ladies composing the various societies for meliorating the condition of the Jews; we want no helpers, at least such helpers as they would prove. Israel will be restored; we have no doubt of the fulfillment of the prophecies, it will be in spite of our enemies, we use the word in the sense of opponents to our religion, not through their sought for aid; and if they are to assist at all, it will be that they will he ashamed of their foolish efforts, and be urged by the impulse of the Lord to hasten, with others, forward in restoring the returning captives to their former inheritance. We refer Judge Noah to the last chapter of Isaiah, where the restoration is represented as a voluntary act on the part of the gentiles; and this is all we can accept.
We must now conclude, for the present, but may offer some remarks hereafter on particular parts of the address.
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