AND OTHER ESSAYS
PHILADELPHIA THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA 1895
Copyright 1895, by THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA
Press of The Friedenwald Co. Baltimore
The following essays were delivered during the last ten years, in the form of addresses, before the largest associations in the great cities of Germany. Each one is a dear and precious possession to me. As I once more pass them in review, reminiscences fill my mind of solemn occasions and impressive scenes, of excellent men and charming women. I feel as though I were sending the best beloved children of my fancy out into the world, and sadness seizes me when I realize that they no longer belong to me alone—that they have become the property of strangers. The living word falling upon the ear of the listener is one thing; quite another the word staring from the cold, printed page. Will my thoughts be accorded the same friendly welcome that greeted them when first they were uttered?
I venture to hope that they may be kindly received; for these addresses were born of devoted love to Judaism. The consciousness that Israel is charged with a great historical mission, not yet accomplished, ushered them into existence. Truth and sincerity stood sponsor to every word. Is it presumptuous, then, to hope that they may find favor in the New World? Brethren of my faith live there as here; our ancient watchword, "Sh'ma Yisrael," resounds in their synagogues as in ours; the old blood-stained flag, with its sublime inscription, "The Lord is my banner!" floats over them; and Jewish hearts in America are loyal like ours, and sustained by steadfast faith in the Messianic time when our hopes and ideals, our aims and dreams, will be realized. There is but one Judaism the world over, by the Jordan and the Tagus as by the Vistula and the Mississippi. God bless and protect it, and lead it to the goal of its glorious future!
To all Jewish hearts beyond the ocean, in free America, fraternal greetings!
BERLIN, Pesach 5652/1892.
A GLANCE AT JEWISH LITERATURE
THE JEW IN THE HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION
WOMEN IN JEWISH LITERATURE
JEWISH TROUBADOURS AND MINNESINGERS
HUMOR AND LOVE IN JEWISH POETRY
THE JEWISH STAGE
THE JEW'S QUEST IN AFRICA
A JEWISH KING IN POLAND
JEWISH SOCIETY IN THE TIME OF MENDELSSOHN
HEINRICH HEINE AND JUDAISM
THE MUSIC OF THE SYNAGOGUE
A GLANCE AT JEWISH LITERATURE
In a well-known passage of the Romanzero, rebuking Jewish women for their ignorance of the magnificent golden age of their nation's poetry, Heine used unmeasured terms of condemnation. He was too severe, for the sources from which he drew his own information were of a purely scientific character, necessarily unintelligible to the ordinary reader. The first truly popular presentation of the whole of Jewish literature was made only a few years ago, and could not have existed in Heine's time, as the most valuable treasures of that literature, a veritable Hebrew Pompeii, have been unearthed from the mould and rubbish of the libraries within this century. Investigations of the history of Jewish literature have been possible, then, only during the last fifty years.
But in the course of this half-century, conscientious research has so actively been prosecuted that we can now gain at least a bird's-eye view of the whole course of our literature. Some stretches still lie in shadow, and it is not astonishing that eminent scholars continue to maintain that "there is no such thing as an organic history, a logical development, of the gigantic neo-Hebraic literature"; while such as are acquainted with the results of late research at best concede that Hebrew literature has been permitted to garner a "tender aftermath." Both verdicts are untrue and unfair. Jewish literature has developed organically, and in the course of its evolution it has had its spring-tide as well as its season of decay, this again followed by vigorous rejuvenescence.
Such opinions are part and parcel of the vicissitudes of our literature, in themselves sufficient matter for an interesting book. Strange it certainly is that a people without a home, without a land, living under repression and persecution, could produce so great a literature; stranger still, that it should at first have been preserved and disseminated, then forgotten, or treated with the disdain of prejudice, and finally roused from torpid slumber into robust life by the breath of the modern era. In the neighborhood of twenty-two thousand works are known to us now. Fifty years ago bibliographers were ignorant of the existence of half of these, and in the libraries of Italy, England, and Germany an untold number awaits resurrection.
In fact, our literature has not yet been given a name that recommends itself to universal acceptance. Some have called it "Rabbinical Literature," because during the middle ages every Jew of learning bore the title Rabbi; others, "Neo-Hebraic"; and a third party considers it purely theological. These names are all inadequate. Perhaps the only one sufficiently comprehensive is "Jewish Literature." That embraces, as it should, the aggregate of writings produced by Jews from the earliest days of their history up to the present time, regardless of form, of language, and, in the middle ages at least, of subject-matter.
With this definition in mind, we are able to sketch the whole course of our literature, though in the frame of an essay only in outline. We shall learn, as Leopold Zunz, the Humboldt of Jewish science, well says, that it is "intimately bound up with the culture of the ancient world, with the origin and development of Christianity, and with the scientific endeavors of the middle ages. Inasmuch as it shares the intellectual aspirations of the past and the present, their conflicts and their reverses, it is supplementary to general literature. Its peculiar features, themselves falling under universal laws, are in turn helpful in the interpretation of general characteristics. If the aggregate results of mankind's intellectual activity can be likened unto a sea, Jewish literature is one of the tributaries that feed it. Like other literatures and like literature in general, it reveals to the student what noble ideals the soul of man has cherished, and striven to realize, and discloses the varied achievements of man's intellectual powers. If we of to-day are the witnesses and the offspring of an eternal, creative principle, then, in turn, the present is but the beginning of a future, that is, the translation of knowledge into life. Spiritual ideals consciously held by any portion of mankind lend freedom to thought, grace to feeling, and by sailing up this one stream we may reach the fountain-head whence have emanated all spiritual forces, and about which, as a fixed pole, all spiritual currents eddy."
The cornerstone of this Jewish literature is the Bible, or what we call Old Testament literature—the oldest and at the same time the most important of Jewish writings. It extends over the period ending with the second century before the common era; is written, for the most part, in Hebrew, and is the clearest and the most faithful reflection of the original characteristics of the Jewish people. This biblical literature has engaged the closest attention of all nations and every age. Until the seventeenth century, biblical science was purely dogmatic, and only since Herder pointed the way have its aesthetic elements been dwelt upon along with, often in defiance of, dogmatic considerations. Up to this time, Ernest Meier and Theodor Noeldeke have been the only ones to treat of the Old Testament with reference to its place in the history of literature.
Despite the dogmatic air clinging to the critical introductions to the study of the Old Testament, their authors have not shrunk from treating the book sacred to two religions with childish arbitrariness. Since the days of Spinoza's essay at rationalistic explanation, Bible criticism has been the wrestling-ground of the most extravagant exegesis, of bold hypotheses, and hazardous conjectures. No Latin or Greek classic has been so ruthlessly attacked and dissected; no mediaeval poetry so arbitrarily interpreted. As a natural consequence, the aesthetic elements were more and more pushed into the background. Only recently have we begun to ridicule this craze for hypotheses, and returned to more sober methods of inquiry. Bible criticism reached the climax of absurdity, and the scorn was just which greeted one of the most important works of the critical school, Hitzig's "Explanation of the Psalms." A reviewer said: "We may entertain the fond hope that, in a second edition of this clever writer's commentary, he will be in the enviable position to tell us the day and the hour when each psalm was composed."
The reaction began a few years ago with the recognition of the inadequacy of Astruc's document hypothesis, until then the creed of all Bible critics. Astruc, a celebrated French physician, in 1753 advanced the theory that the Pentateuch—the five books of Moses—consists of two parallel documents, called respectively Yahvistic and Elohistic, from the name applied to God in each. On this basis, German science after him raised a superstructure. No date was deemed too late to be assigned to the composition of the Pentateuch. If the historian Flavius Josephus had not existed, and if Jesus had not spoken of "the Law" and "the prophets," and of the things "which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms," critics would have been disposed to transfer the redaction of the Bible to some period of the Christian era. So wide is the divergence of opinions on the subject that two learned critics, Ewald and Hitzig, differ in the date assigned to a certain biblical passage by no less than a thousand years!
Bible archaeology, Bible exegesis, and discussions of grammatical niceties, were confounded with the history of biblical literature, and naturally it was the latter that suffered by the lack of differentiation. Orthodoxy assumed a purely divine origin for the Bible, while sceptics treated the holy book with greater levity than they would dare display in criticising a modern novel. The one party raised a hue and cry when Moses was spoken of as the first author; the other discovered "obscene, rude, even cannibalistic traits" in the sublime narratives of the Bible. It should be the task of coming generations, successors by one remove of credulous Bible lovers, and immediate heirs of thorough-going rationalists, to reconcile and fuse in a higher conception of the Bible the two divergent theories of its purely divine and its purely human origin. Unfortunately, it must be admitted that Ernest Meier is right, when he says, in his "History of the National Poetry of the Hebrews," that this task wholly belongs to the future; at present it is an unsolved problem.
The aesthetic is the only proper point of view for a full recognition of the value of biblical literature. It certainly does not rob the sacred Scriptures, the perennial source of spiritual comfort, of their exalted character and divine worth to assume that legend, myth, and history have combined to produce the perfect harmony which is their imperishable distinction. The peasant dwelling on inaccessible mountain-heights, next to the record of Abraham's shepherd life, inscribes the main events of his own career, the anniversary dates sacred to his family. The young count among their first impressions that of "the brown folio," and more vividly than all else remember
"The maidens fair and true, The sages and the heroes bold, Whose tale by seers inspired In our Book of books is told.
The simple life and faith Of patriarchs of ancient day Like angels hover near, And guard, and lead them on the way."
Above all, a whole nation has for centuries been living with, and only by virtue of, this book. Surely this is abundant testimony to the undying value of the great work, in which the simplest shepherd tales and the naivest legends, profound moral saws and magnificent images, the ideals of a Messianic future and the purest, the most humane conception of life, alternate with sublime descriptions of nature and the sweet strains of love-poems, with national songs breathing hope, or trembling with anguish, and with the dull tones of despairing pessimism and the divinely inspired hymns of an exalted theodicy—all blending to form what the reverential love of men has named the Book of books.
It was natural that a book of this kind should become the basis of a great literature. Whatever was produced in later times had to submit to be judged by its exalted standard. It became the rule of conduct, the prophetic mirror reflecting the future work of a nation whose fate was inextricably bound up with its own. It is not known how and when the biblical scriptures were welded into one book, a holy canon, but it is probably correct to assume that it was done by the Soferim, the Scribes, between 200 and 150 B.C.E. At all events, it is certain that the three divisions of the Bible—the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the miscellaneous writings—were contained in the Greek version, the Septuagint, so called from the seventy or seventy-two Alexandrians supposed to have done the work of translation under Ptolemy Philadelphus.
The Greek translation of the Bible marks the beginning of the second period of Jewish literature, the Judaeo-Hellenic. Hebrew ceased to be the language of the people; it was thenceforth used only by scholars and in divine worship. Jewish for the first time met Greek intellect. Shem and Japheth embraced fraternally. "But even while the teachings of Hellas were pushing their way into subjugated Palestine, seducing Jewish philosophy to apostasy, and seeking, by main force, to introduce paganism, the Greek philosophers themselves stood awed by the majesty and power of the Jewish prophets. Swords and words entered the lists as champions of Judaism. The vernacular Aramaean, having suffered the Greek to put its impress upon many of its substantives, refused to yield to the influence of the Greek verb, and, in the end, Hebrew truth, in the guise of the teachings of Jesus, undermined the proud structure of the heathen." This is a most excellent characterization of that literary period, which lasted about three centuries, ending between 100 and 150 C. E. Its influence upon Jewish literature can scarcely be said to have been enduring. To it belong all the apocryphal writings which, originally composed in the Greek language, were for that reason not incorporated into the Holy Canon. The centre of intellectual life was no longer in Palestine, but at Alexandria in Egypt, where three hundred thousand Jews were then living, and thus this literature came to be called Judaeo-Alexandrian. It includes among its writers the last of the Neoplatonists, particularly Philo, the originator of the allegorical interpretation of the Bible and of a Jewish philosophy of religion; Aristeas, and pseudo-Phokylides. There were also Jewish litterateurs: the dramatist Ezekielos; Jason; Philo the Elder; Aristobulus, the popularizer of the Aristotelian philosophy; Eupolemos, the historian; and probably the Jewish Sybil, who had to have recourse to the oracular manner of the pagans to proclaim the truths of Judaism, and to Greek figures of speech for her apocalyptic visions, which foretold, in biblical phrase and with prophetic ardor, the future of Israel and of the nations in contact with it.
Meanwhile the word of the Bible was steadily gaining importance in Palestine. To search into and expound the sacred text had become the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob, of those that had not lent ear to the siren notes of Hellenism. Midrash, as the investigations of the commentators were called, by and by divided into two streams—Halacha, which establishes and systematizes the statutes of the Law, and Haggada, which uses the sacred texts for homiletic, historical, ethical, and pedagogic discussions. The latter is the poetic, the former, the legislative, element in the Talmudic writings, whose composition, extending over a thousand years, constitutes the third, the most momentous, period of Jewish literature. Of course, none of these periods can be so sharply defined as a rapid survey might lead one to suppose. For instance, on the threshold of this third epoch stands the figure of Flavius Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, who, at once an enthusiastic Jew and a friend of the Romans, writes the story of his nation in the Greek language—a character as peculiar as his age, which, listening to the mocking laughter of a Lucian, saw Olympus overthrown and its gods dethroned, the Temple at Jerusalem pass away in flame and smoke, and the new doctrine of the son of the carpenter at Nazareth begin its victorious course.
By the side of this Janus-faced historian, the heroes of the Talmud stand enveloped in glory. We meet with men like Hillel and Shammai, Jochanan ben Zakkai, Gamaliel, Joshua ben Chananya, the famous Akiba, and later on Yehuda the Prince, friend of the imperial philosopher Marcus Aurelius, and compiler of the Mishna, the authoritative code of laws superseding all other collections. Then there are the fabulist Meir; Simon ben Yochai, falsely accused of the authorship of the mystical Kabbala; Chiya; Rab; Samuel, equally famous as a physician and a rabbi; Jochanan, the supposed compiler of the Jerusalem Talmud; and Ashi and Abina, the former probably the arranger of the Babylonian Talmud. This latter Talmud, the one invested with authority among Jews, by reason of its varying fortunes, is the most marvellous literary monument extant. Never has book been so hated and so persecuted, so misjudged and so despised, on the other hand, so prized and so honored, and, above all, so imperfectly understood, as this very Talmud.
For the Jews and their literature it has had untold significance. That the Talmud has been the conservator of Judaism is an irrefutable statement. It is true that the study of the Talmud unduly absorbed the great intellectual force of its adherents, and brought about a somewhat one-sided mental development in the Jews; but it also is true, as a writer says, that "whenever in troublous times scientific inquiry was laid low; whenever, for any reason, the Jew was excluded from participation in public life, the study of the Talmud maintained the elasticity and the vigor of the Jewish mind, and rescued the Jew from sterile mysticism and spiritual apathy. The Talmud, as a rule, has been inimical to mysticism, and the most brilliant Talmudists, in propitious days, have achieved distinguished success in secular science. The Jew survived ages of bitterness, all the while clinging loyally to his faith in the midst of hostility, and the first ray of light that penetrated the walls of the Ghetto found him ready to take part in the intellectual work of his time. This admirable elasticity of mind he owes, first and foremost, to the study of the Talmud."
From this much abused Talmud, as from its contemporary the Midrash in the restricted sense, sprouted forth the blossoms of the Haggada—that Haggada
"Where the beauteous, ancient sagas, Angel legends fraught with meaning, Martyrs' silent sacrifices, Festal songs and wisdom's sayings,
Trope and allegoric fancies— All, howe'er by faith's triumphant Glow pervaded—where they gleaming, Glist'ning, well in strength exhaustless.
And the boyish heart responsive Drinks the wild, fantastic sweetness, Greets the woful, wondrous anguish, Yields to grewsome charm of myst'ry,
Hid in blessed worlds of fable. Overawed it hearkens solemn To that sacred revelation Mortal man hath poetry called."
A story from the Midrash charmingly characterizes the relation between Halacha and Haggada. Two rabbis, Chiya bar Abba, a Halachist, and Abbahu, a Haggadist, happened to be lecturing in the same town. Abbahu, the Haggadist, was always listened to by great crowds, while Chiya, with his Halacha, stood practically deserted. The Haggadist comforted the disappointed teacher with a parable. "Let us suppose two merchants," he said, "to come to town, and offer wares for sale. The one has pearls and precious gems to display, the other, cheap finery, gilt chains, rings, and gaudy ribbons. About whose booth, think you, does the crowd press?—Formerly, when the struggle for existence was not fierce and inevitable, men had leisure and desire for the profound teachings of the Law; now they need the cheering words of consolation and hope."
For more than a thousand years this nameless spirit of national poesy was abroad, and produced manifold works, which, in the course of time, were gathered together into comprehensive collections, variously named Midrash Rabba, Pesikta, Tanchuma, etc. Their compilation was begun in about 700 C. E., that is, soon after the close of the Talmud, in the transition period from the third epoch of Jewish literature to the fourth, the golden age, which lasted from the ninth to the fifteenth century, and, according to the law of human products, shows a season of growth, blossom, and decay.
The scene of action during this period was western Asia, northern Africa, sometimes Italy and France, but chiefly Spain, where Arabic culture, destined to influence Jewish thought to an incalculable degree, was at that time at its zenith. "A second time the Jews were drawn into the vortex of a foreign civilization, and two hundred years after Mohammed, Jews in Kairwan and Bagdad were speaking the same language, Arabic. A language once again became the mediatrix between Jewish and general literature, and the best minds of the two races, by means of the language, reciprocally influenced each other. Jews, as they once had written Greek for their brethren, now wrote Arabic; and, as in Hellenistic times, the civilization of the dominant race, both in its original features and in its adaptations from foreign sources, was reflected in that of the Jews." It would be interesting to analyze this important process of assimilation, but we can concern ourselves only with the works of the Jewish intellect. Again we meet, at the threshold of the period, a characteristic figure, the thinker Sa'adia, ranking high as author and religious philosopher, known also as a grammarian and a poet. He is followed by Sherira, to whom we owe the beginnings of a history of Talmudic literature, and his son Hai Gaon, a strictly orthodox teacher of the Law. In their wake come troops of physicians, theologians, lexicographers, Talmudists, and grammarians. Great is the circle of our national literature: it embraces theology, philosophy, exegesis, grammar, poetry, and jurisprudence, yea, even astronomy and chronology, mathematics and medicine. But these widely varying subjects constitute only one class, inasmuch as they all are infused with the spirit of Judaism, and subordinate themselves to its demands. A mention of the prominent actors would turn this whole essay into a dry list of names. Therefore it is better for us merely to sketch the period in outline, dwelling only on its greatest poets and philosophers, the moulders of its character.
The opinion is current that the Semitic race lacks the philosophic faculty. Yet it cannot be denied that Jews were the first to carry Greek philosophy to Europe, teaching and developing it there before its dissemination by celebrated Arabs. In their zeal to harmonize philosophy with their religion, and in the lesser endeavor to defend traditional Judaism against the polemic attacks of a new sect, the Karaites, they invested the Aristotelian system with peculiar features, making it, as it were, their national philosophy. At all events, it must be universally accepted that the Jews share with the Arabs the merit "of having cherished the study of philosophy during centuries of barbarism, and of having for a long time exerted a civilizing influence upon Europe."
The meagre achievements of the Jews in the departments of history and history of literature do not justify the conclusion that they are wanting in historic perception. The lack of writings on these subjects is traceable to the sufferings and persecutions that have marked their pathway. Before their chroniclers had time to record past afflictions, new sorrows and troubles broke in upon them. In the middle ages, the history of Jewish literature is the entire history of the Jewish people, its course outlined by blood and watered by rivers of tears, at whose source the genius of Jewish poetry sits lamenting. "The Orient dwells an exile in the Occident," Franz Delitzsch, the first alien to give loving study to this literature, poetically says, "and its tears of longing for home are the fountain-head of Jewish poetry."
That poetry reached its perfection in the works of the celebrated trio, Solomon Gabirol, Yehuda Halevi, and Moses ben Ezra. Their dazzling triumphs had been heralded by the more modest achievements of Abitur, writing Hebrew, and Adia and the poetess Xemona (Kasmune) using Arabic, to sing the praise of God and lament the woes of Israel.
The predominant, but not exclusive, characteristic of Jewish poetry is its religious strain. Great thinkers, men equipped with philosophic training, and at the same time endowed with poetic gifts, have contributed to the huge volume of synagogue poetry, whose subjects are praise of the Lord and regret for Zion. The sorrow for our lost fatherland has never taken on more glowing colors, never been expressed in fuller tones than in this poetry. As ancient Hebrew poetry flowed in the two streams of prophecy and psalmody, so the Jewish poetry of the middle ages was divided into Piut and Selicha. Songs of hope and despair, cries of revenge, exhortations to peace among men, elegies on every single persecution, and laments for Zion, follow each other in kaleidoscopic succession. Unfortunately, there never was lack of historic matter for this poetry to elaborate. To furnish that was the well-accomplished task of rulers and priests in the middle ages, alike "in the realm of the Islamic king of kings and in that of the apostolic servant of servants." So fate made this poetry classical and eminently national. Those characteristics which, in general literature, earn for a work the description "Homeric," in Jewish literature make a liturgical poem "Kaliric," so called from the poet Eliezer Kalir, the subject of many mythical tales, and the first of a long line of poets, Spanish, French, and German, extending to the sixteenth or seventeenth century. The literary history of this epoch has been written by Leopold Zunz with warmth of feeling and stupendous learning. He closes his work with the hope that mankind, at some future day, will adopt Israel's religious poetry as its own, transforming the elegiac Selicha into a joyous psalm of universal peace and good-will.
Side by side with religious flourishes secular poetry, clothing itself in rhyme and metre, adopting every current form of poesy, and treating of every appropriate subject. Its first votary was Solomon Gabirol, that
"Human nightingale that warbled Forth her songs of tender love, In the darkness of the sombre, Gothic mediaeval night.
She, that nightingale, sang only, Sobbing forth her adoration, To her Lord, her God, in heaven, Whom her songs of praise extolled."
Solomon Gabirol may be said to have been the first poet thrilled by Weltschmerz. "He produced hymns and songs, penitential prayers, psalms, and threnodies, filled with hope and longing for a blessed future. They are marked throughout by austere earnestness, brushing away, in its rigor, the color and bloom of life; but side by side with it, surging forth from the deepest recesses of a human soul, is humble adoration of God."
Gabirol was a distinguished philosopher besides. In 1150, his chief work, "The Fount of Life," was translated into Latin by Archdeacon Dominicus Gundisalvi, with the help of Johannes Avendeath, an apostate Jew, the author's name being corrupted into Avencebrol, later becoming Avicebron. The work was made a text-book of scholastic philosophy, but neither Scotists nor Thomists, neither adherents nor detractors, suspected that a heretical Jew was slumbering under the name Avicebron. It remained for an inquirer of our own day, Solomon Munk, to reveal the face of Gabirol under the mask of a garbled name. Amazed, we behold that the pessimistic philosopher of to-day can as little as the schoolmen of the middle ages shake himself free from the despised Jew. Schopenhauer may object as he will, it is certain that Gabirol was his predecessor by more than eight hundred years!
Charisi, whom we shall presently meet, has expressed the verdict on his poetry which still holds good: "Solomon Gabirol pleases to call himself the small—yet before him all the great must dwindle and fall.—Who can like him with mighty speech appall?—Compared with him the poets of his time are without power—he, the small, alone is a tower.—The highest round of poetry's ladder has he won.—Wisdom fondled him, eloquence hath called him son—and clothing him with purple, said: 'Lo!—my first-born son, go forth, to conquest go!'—His predecessors' songs are naught with his compared—nor have his many followers better fared.—The later singers by him were taught—the heirs they are of his poetic thought.—But still he's king, to him all praise belongs—for Solomon's is the Song of Songs."
By Gabirol's side stands Yehuda Halevi, probably the only Jewish poet known to the reader of general literature, to whom his name, life, and fate have become familiar through Heinrich Heine's Romanzero. His magnificent descriptions of nature "reflect southern skies, verdant meadows, deep blue rivers, and the stormy sea," and his erotic lyrics are chaste and tender. He sounds the praise of wine, youth, and happiness, and extols the charms of his lady-love, but above and beyond all he devotes his song to Zion and his people. The pearl of his poems
"Is the famous lamentation Sung in all the tents of Jacob, Scattered wide upon the earth ...
Yea, it is the song of Zion, Which Yehuda ben Halevy, Dying on the holy ruins, Sang of loved Jerusalem."
"In the whole compass of religious poetry, Milton's and Klopstock's not excepted, nothing can be found to surpass the elegy of Zion," says a modern writer, a non-Jew. This soul-stirring "Lay of Zion," better than any number of critical dissertations, will give the reader a clear insight into the character and spirit of Jewish poetry in general:
O Zion! of thine exiles' peace take thought, The remnant of thy flock, who thine have sought! From west, from east, from north and south resounds, Afar and now anear, from all thy bounds, And no surcease, "With thee be peace!"
In longing's fetters chained I greet thee, too, My tears fast welling forth like Hermon's dew— O bliss could they but drop on holy hills! A croaking bird I turn, when through me thrills Thy desolate state; but when I dream anon, The Lord brings back thy ev'ry captive son— A harp straightway To sing thy lay.
In heart I dwell where once thy purest son At Bethel and Peniel, triumphs won; God's awesome presence there was close to thee, Whose doors thy Maker, by divine decree, Opposed as mates To heaven's gates.
Nor sun, nor moon, nor stars had need to be; God's countenance alone illumined thee On whose elect He poured his spirit out. In thee would I my soul pour forth devout! Thou wert the kingdom's seat, of God the throne, And now there dwells a slave race, not thine own, In royal state, Where reigned thy great.
O would that I could roam o'er ev'ry place Where God to missioned prophets showed His grace! And who will give me wings? An off'ring meet, I'd haste to lay upon thy shattered seat, Thy counterpart— My bruised heart.
Upon thy precious ground I'd fall prostrate, Thy stones caress, the dust within thy gate, And happiness it were in awe to stand At Hebron's graves, the treasures of thy land, And greet thy woods, thy vine-clad slopes, thy vales, Greet Abarim and Hor, whose light ne'er pales, A radiant crown, Thy priests' renown.
Thy air is balm for souls; like myrrh thy sand; With honey run the rivers of thy land. Though bare my feet, my heart's delight I'd count To thread my way all o'er thy desert mount, Where once rose tall Thy holy hall,
Where stood thy treasure-ark, in recess dim, Close-curtained, guarded o'er by cherubim. My Naz'rite's crown would I pluck off, and cast It gladly forth. With curses would I blast The impious time thy people, diadem-crowned, Thy Nazirites, did pass, by en'mies bound With hatred's bands, In unclean lands.
By dogs thy lusty lions are brutal torn And dragged; thy strong, young eaglets, heav'nward borne, By foul-mouthed ravens snatched, and all undone. Can food still tempt my taste? Can light of sun Seem fair to shine To eyes like mine?
Soft, soft! Leave off a while, O cup of pain! My loins are weighted down, my heart and brain, With bitterness from thee. Whene'er I think Of Oholah, proud northern queen, I drink Thy wrath, and when my Oholivah forlorn Comes back to mind—'tis then I quaff thy scorn, Then, draught of pain, Thy lees I drain.
O Zion! Crown of grace! Thy comeliness Hath ever favor won and fond caress. Thy faithful lovers' lives are bound in thine; They joy in thy security, but pine And weep in gloom O'er thy sad doom.
From out the prisoner's cell they sigh for thee, And each in prayer, wherever he may be, Towards thy demolished portals turns. Exiled, Dispersed from mount to hill, thy flock defiled Hath not forgot thy sheltering fold. They grasp Thy garment's hem, and trustful, eager, clasp, With outstretched arms, Thy branching palms.
Shinar, Pathros—can they in majesty With thee compare? Or their idolatry With thy Urim and thy Thummim august? Who can surpass thy priests, thy saintly just, Thy prophets bold, And bards of old?
The heathen kingdoms change and wholly cease— Thy might alone stands firm without decrease, Thy Nazirites from age to age abide, Thy God in thee desireth to reside. Then happy he who maketh choice of thee To dwell within thy courts, and waits to see, And toils to make, Thy light awake.
On him shall as the morning break thy light, The bliss of thy elect shall glad his sight, In thy felicities shall he rejoice, In triumph sweet exult, with jubilant voice, O'er thee, adored, To youth restored.
We have loitered long with Yehuda Halevi, and still not long enough, for we have not yet spoken of his claims to the title philosopher, won for him by his book Al-Chazari. But now we must hurry on to Moses ben Ezra, the last and most worldly of the three great poets. He devotes his genius to his patrons, to wine, his faithless mistress, and to "bacchanalian feasts under leafy canopies, with merry minstrelsy of birds." He laments over separation from friends and kin, weeps over the shortness of life and the rapid approach of hoary age—all in polished language, sometimes, however, lacking euphony. Even when he strikes his lyre in praise and honor of his people Israel, he fails to rise to the lofty heights attained by his mates in song.
With Yehuda Charisi, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the period of the epigones sets in for Spanish-Jewish literature. In Charisi's Tachkemoni, an imitation of the poetry of the Arab Hariri, jest and serious criticism, joy and grief, the sublime and the trivial, follow each other like tints in a parti-colored skein. His distinction is the ease with which he plays upon the Hebrew language, not the most pliable of instruments. In general, Jewish poets and philosophers have manipulated that language with surprising dexterity. Songs, hymns, elegies, penitential prayers, exhortations, and religious meditations, generation after generation, were couched in the idiom of the psalmist, yet the structure of the language underwent no change. "The development of the neo-Hebraic idiom from the ancient Hebrew," a distinguished modern ethnographer justly says, "confirms, by linguistic evidence, the plasticity, the logical acumen, the comprehensive and at the same time versatile intellectuality of the Jewish race. By the ingenious compounding of words, by investing old expressions with new meanings, and adapting the material offered by alien or related languages to its own purposes, it has increased and enriched a comparatively meagre treasury of words."
Side by side with this cosmopolitanism, illustrated in the Haggada, whose pages prove that nothing human is strange to the Jewish race, it reveals, in its literary development, as notably in the Halacha, a sharply defined subjectivity. Jellinek says: "Not losing itself in the contemplation of the phenomena of life, not devoting itself to any subject unless it be with an ulterior purpose, but seeing all things in their relation to itself, and subordinating them to its own boldly asserted ego, the Jewish race is not inclined to apply its powers to the solution of intricate philosophic problems, or to abstruse metaphysical speculations. It is, therefore, not a philosophic race, and its participation in the philosophic work of the world dates only from its contact with the Greeks." The same author, on the other hand, emphasizes the liberality, the broad sympathies, of the Jewish race, in his statement that the Jewish mind, at its first meeting with Arabic philosophy, absorbed it as a leaven into its intellectual life. The product of the assimilation was—as early as the twelfth century, mark you—a philosophic conception of life, whose broad liberality culminates in the sentiment expressed by two most eminent thinkers: Christianity and Islam are the precursors of a world-religion, the preliminary conditions for the great religious system satisfying all men. Yehuda Halevi and Moses Maimonides were the philosophers bold enough to utter this thought of far-reaching significance.
The second efflorescence of Jewish poetry brings forth exotic romances, satires, verbose hymns, and humorous narrative poems. Such productions certainly do not justify the application of the epithet "theological" to Jewish literature. Solomon ben Sakbel composes a satiric romance in the Makamat form, describing the varied adventures of Asher ben Yehuda, another Don Quixote; Berachya Hanakdan puts into Hebrew the fables of AEsop and Lokman, furnishing La Fontaine with some of his material; Abraham ibn Sahl receives from the Arabs, certainly not noted for liberality, ten goldpieces for each of his love-songs; Santob de Carrion is a beloved Spanish bard, bold enough to tell unpleasant truths unto a king; Joseph ibn Sabara writes a humorous romance; Yehuda Sabbatai, epic satires, "The War of Wealth and Wisdom," and "A Gift from a Misogynist," and unnamed authors, "Truth's Campaign," and "Praise of Women."
A satirist of more than ordinary gifts was the Italian Kalonymos, whose "Touchstone," like Ibn Chasdai's Makamat, "The Prince and the Dervish," has been translated into German. Contemporaneous with them was Suesskind von Trimberg, the Suabian minnesinger, and Samson Pnie, of Strasburg, who helped the German poets continue Parzival, while later on, in Italy, Moses Rieti composed "The Paradise" in Hebrew terza-rima.
In the decadence of Jewish literature, the most prominent figure is Immanuel ben Solomon, or Manoello, as the Italians call him. Critics think him the precursor of Boccaccio, and history knows him as the friend of Dante, whose Divina Commedia he travestied in Hebrew. The author of the first Hebrew sonnet and of the first Hebrew novel, he was a talented writer, but as frivolous as talented.
This is the development of Jewish poetry during its great period. In other departments of literature, in philosophy, in theology, in ethics, in Bible exegesis, the race is equally prolific in minds of the first order. Glancing back for a moment, our eye is arrested by Moses Maimonides, the great systematizer of the Jewish Law, and the connecting link between scholasticism and the Greek-Arabic development of the Aristotelian system. Before his time Bechai ibn Pakuda and Joseph ibn Zadik had entered upon theosophic speculations with the object of harmonizing Arabic and Greek philosophy, and in the age immediately preceding that of Maimonides, Abraham ibn Daud, a writer of surprisingly liberal views, had undertaken, in "The Highest Faith," the task of reconciling faith with philosophy. At the same time rationalistic Bible exegesis was begun by Abraham ibn Ezra, an acute but reckless controversialist. Orthodox interpretations of the Bible had, before him, been taught in France by Rashi (Solomon Yitschaki) and Samuel ben Meir, and continued by German rabbis, who, at the same time, were preachers of morality—a noteworthy phenomenon in a persecuted tribe. "How pure and strong its ethical principles were is shown by its religious poetry as well as by its practical Law. What pervades the poetry as a high ideal, in the application of the Law becomes demonstrable reality. The wrapt enthusiasm in the hymns of Samuel the Pious and other poets is embodied, lives, in the rulings of Yehuda Hakohen, Solomon Yitschaki, and Jacob ben Meir; in the legal opinions of Isaac ben Abraham, Eliezer ha-Levi, Isaac ben Moses, Meir ben Baruch, and their successors, and in the codices of Eliezer of Metz and Moses de Coucy. A German professor of a hundred years ago, after glancing through some few Jewish writings, exclaimed, in a tone of condescending approval: 'Christians of that time could scarcely have been expected to enjoin such high moral principles as this Jew wrote down and bequeathed to his brethren in faith!'"
Jewish literature in this and the next period consists largely of theological discussions and of commentaries on the Talmud produced by the hundred. It would be idle to name even the most prominent authors; their works belong to the history of theologic science, and rarely had a determining influence upon the development of genuine literature.
We must also pass over in silence the numerous Jewish physicians and medical writers; but it must be remembered that they, too, belong to Jewish literature. The most marvellous characteristic of this literature is that in it the Jewish race has registered each step of its development. "All things learned, gathered, obtained, on its journeyings hither and thither—Greek philosophy and Arabic, as well as Latin scholasticism—all deposited themselves in layers about the Bible, so stamping later Jewish literature with an individuality that gave it an unique place among the literatures of the world."
The travellers, however, must be mentioned by name. Their itineraries were wholly dedicated to the interests of their co-religionists. The first of the line is Eldad, the narrator of a sort of Hebrew Odyssey. Benjamin of Tudela and Petachya of Ratisbon are deserving of more confidence as veracious chroniclers, and their descriptions, together with Charisi's, complete the Jewish library of travels of those early days, unless, with Steinschneider, we consider, as we truly may, the majority of Jewish authors under this head. For Jewish writers a hard, necessitous lot has ever been a storm wind, tossing them hither and thither, and blowing the seeds of knowledge over all lands. Withal learning proved an enveloping, protecting cloak to these mendicant and pilgrim authors. The dispersion of the Jews, their international commerce, and the desire to maintain their academies, stimulated a love for travel, made frequent journeyings a necessity, indeed. In this way only can we account for the extraordinarily rapid spread of Jewish literature in the middle ages. The student of those times often chances across a rabbi, who this day teaches, lectures, writes in Candia, to-morrow in Rome, next year in Prague or Cracow, and so Jewish literature is the "wandering Jew" among the world's literatures.
The fourth period, the Augustan age of our literature, closes with a jarring discord—the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, their second home, in which they had seen ministers, princes, professors, and poets rise from their ranks. The scene of literary activity changes: France, Italy, but chiefly the Slavonic East, are pushed into the foreground. It is not a salutary change; it ushers in three centuries of decay and stagnation in literary endeavor. The sum of the efforts is indicated by the name of the period, the Rabbinical, for its chief work was the development and fixation of Rabbinism.
Decadence did not set in immediately. Certain beneficent forces, either continuing in action from the former period, or arising out of the new concatenation of circumstances, were in operation: Jewish exiles from Spain carried their culture to the asylums hospitably offered them in the Orient and a few of the European countries, notably Holland; the art of printing was spreading, the first presses in Italy bringing out Jewish works; and the sun of humanism and of the Reformation was rising and shedding solitary rays of its effulgence on the Jewish minds then at work.
Among the noteworthy authors standing between the two periods and belonging to both, the most prominent is Nachmanides, a pious and learned Bible scholar. With logical force and critical candor he entered into the great conflict between science and faith, then dividing the Jewish world into two camps, with Maimonides' works as their shibboleth. The Aristotelian philosophy was no longer satisfying. Minds and hearts were yearning for a new revelation, and in default thereof steeping themselves in mystical speculations. A voluminous theosophic literature sprang up. The Zohar, the Bible of mysticism, was circulated, its authorship being fastened upon a rabbi of olden days. It is altogether probable that the real author was living at the time; many think that it was Moses de Leon. The liberal party counted in its ranks the two distinguished families of Tibbon and Kimchi, the former famed as successful translators, the latter as grammarians. Their best known representatives were Judah ibn Tibbon and David Kimchi. Curiously enough, the will of the former contains, in unmistakable terms, the opinion that "Property is theft," anticipating Proudhon, who, had he known it, would have seen in its early enunciation additional testimony to its truth. The liberal faction was also supported by Jacob ben Abba-Mari, the friend of Frederick II. and Michael Scotus. Abba-Mari lived at the German emperor's court at Naples, and quoted him in his commentary upon the Bible as an exegete. Besides there were among the Maimunists, or rationalists, Levi ben Abraham, an extraordinarily liberal man; Shemtob Palquera, one of the most learned Jews of his century, and Yedaya Penini, a philosopher and pessimistic poet, whose "Contemplation of the World" was translated by Mendelssohn, and praised by Lessing and Goethe. Despite this array of talent, the opponents were stronger, the most representative partisan being the Talmudist Solomon ben Aderet.
At the same time disputations about the Talmud, ending with its public burning at Paris, were carried on with the Christian clergy. The other literary current of the age is designated by the word Kabbala, which held many of the finest and noblest minds captive to its witchery. The Kabbala is unquestionably a continuation of earlier theosophic inquiries. Its chief doctrines have been stated by a thorough student of our literature: All that exists originates in God, the source of light eternal. He Himself can be known only through His manifestations. He is without beginning, and veiled in mystery, or, He is nothing, because the whole of creation has developed from nothing. This nothing is one, indivisible, and limitless—En-Sof. God fills space, He is space itself. In order to manifest Himself, in order to create, that is, disclose Himself by means of emanations, He contracts, thus producing vacant space. The En-Sof first manifested itself in the prototype of the whole of creation, in the macrocosm called the "son of God," the first man, as he appears upon the chariot of Ezekiel. From this primitive man the whole created world emanates in four stages: Azila, Beria, Yezira, Asiya. The Azila emanation represents the active qualities of primitive man. They are forces or intelligences flowing from him, at once his essential qualities and the faculties by which he acts. There are ten of these forces, forming the ten sacred Sefiroth, a word which first meaning number came to stand for sphere. The first three Sefiroth are intelligences, the seven others, attributes. They are supposed to follow each other in this order: 1. Kether (crown); 2. Chochma (wisdom); 3. Beena (understanding); 4. Chesed (grace), or Ghedulla (greatness); 5. Ghevoora (dignity); 6. Tifereth (splendor); 7. Nezach (victory); 8. Hod (majesty); 9. Yesod (principle); 10. Malchuth (kingdom). From this first world of the Azila emanate the three other worlds, Asiya being the lowest stage. Man has part in these three worlds; a microcosm, he realizes in his actual being what is foreshadowed by the ideal, primitive man. He holds to the Asiya by his vital part (Nefesh), to the Yezira by his intellect (Ruach), to the Beria by his soul (Neshama). The last is his immortal part, a spark of divinity.
Speculations like these, followed to their logical issue, are bound to lead the investigator out of Judaism into Trinitarianism or Pantheism. Kabbalists, of course only in rare cases, realized the danger. The sad conditions prevailing in the era after the expulsion from Spain, a third exile, were in all respects calculated to promote the development of mysticism, and it did flourish luxuriantly.
Some few philosophers, the last of a long line, still await mention: Levi ben Gerson, Joseph Kaspi, Moses of Narbonne in southern France, long a seat of Jewish learning; then, Isaac ben Sheshet, Chasdai Crescas, whose "Light of God" exercised deep influence upon Spinoza and his philosophy; the Duran family, particularly Profiat Duran, successful defender of Judaism against the attacks of apostates and Christians; and Joseph Albo, who in his principal philosophic work, Ikkarim, shows Judaism to be based upon three fundamental doctrines: the belief in the existence of God, Revelation, and the belief in future reward and punishment. These writers are the last to reflect the glories of the golden age.
At the entrance to the next period we again meet a man of extraordinary ability, Isaac Abrabanel, one of the most eminent and esteemed of Bible commentators, in early life minister to a Catholic king, later on a pilgrim scholar wandering about exiled with his sons, one of whom, Yehuda, has fame as the author of the Dialoghi di Amore. In the train of exiles passing from Portugal to the Orient are Abraham Zacuto, an eminent historian of Jewish literature and sometime professor of astronomy at the university of Salamanca; Joseph ibn Verga, the historian of his nation; Amatus Lusitanus, who came close upon the discovery of the circulation of the blood; Israel Nagara, the most gifted poet of the century, whose hymns brought him popular favor; later, Joseph Karo, "the most influential personage of the sixteenth century," his claims upon recognition resting on the Shulchan Aruch, an exhaustive codex of Jewish customs and laws; and many others. In Salonica, the exiles soon formed a prosperous community, where flourished Jacob ibn Chabib, the first compiler of the Haggadistic tales of the Talmud, and afterwards David Conforte, a reputable historian. In Jerusalem, Obadiah Bertinoro was engaged on his celebrated Mishna commentary, in the midst of a large circle of Kabbalists, of whom Solomon Alkabez is the best known on account of his famous Sabbath song, Lecho Dodi. Once again Jerusalem was the objective point of many pilgrims, lured thither by the prevalent Kabbalistic and Messianic vagaries. True literature gained little from such extremists. The only work produced by them that can be admitted to have literary qualities is Isaiah Hurwitz's "The Two Tables of the Testimony," even at this day enjoying celebrity. It is a sort of cyclopaedia of Jewish learning, compiled and expounded from a mystic's point of view.
The condition of the Jews in Italy was favorable, and their literary products derive grace from their good fortune. The Renaissance had a benign effect upon them, and the revival of classical studies influenced their intellectual work. Greek thought met Jewish a third time. Learning was enjoying its resurrection, and whenever their wretched political and social condition was not a hindrance, the Jews joined in the general delight. Their misery, however, was an undiminishing burden, yea, even in the days in which, according to Erasmus, it was joy to live. In fact, it was growing heavier. All the more noteworthy is it that Hebrew studies engaged the research of scholars, albeit they showed care for the word of God, and not for His people. Pico della Mirandola studies the Kabbala; the Jewish grammarian Elias Levita is the teacher of Cardinal Egidio de Viterbo, and later of Paul Fagius and Sebastian Muenster, the latter translating his teacher's works into Latin; popes and sultans prefer Jews as their physicians in ordinary, who, as a rule, are men of literary distinction; the Jews translate philosophic writings from Hebrew and Arabic into Latin; Elias del Medigo is summoned as arbiter in the scholastic conflict at the University of Padua;—all boots nothing, ruin is not averted. Reuchlin may protest as he will, the Jew is exiled, the Talmud burnt.
In such dreary days the Portuguese Samuel Usque writes his work, Consolacam as Tribulacoes de Ysrael, and Joseph Cohen, his chronicle, "The Vale of Weeping," the most important history produced since the day of Flavius Josephus,—additional proofs that the race possesses native buoyancy, and undaunted heroism in enduring suffering. Women, too, in increasing number, participate in the spiritual work of their nation; among them, Deborah Ascarelli and Sara Copia Sullam, the most distinguished of a long array of names.
The keen critic and scholar, Azariah de Rossi, is one of the literary giants of his period. His researches in the history of Jewish literature are the basis upon which subsequent work in this department rests, and many of his conclusions still stand unassailable. About him are grouped Abraham de Portaleone, an excellent archaeologist, who established that Jews had been the first to observe the medicinal uses of gold; David de Pomis, the author of a famous defense of Jewish physicians; and Leo de Modena, the rabbi of Venice, "unstable as water," wavering between faith and unbelief, and, Kabbalist and rabbi though he was, writing works against the Kabbala on the one hand, and against rabbinical tradition on the other. Similar to him in character is Joseph del Medigo, an itinerant author, who sometimes reviles, sometimes extols, the Kabbala.
There are men of higher calibre, as, for instance, Isaac Aboab, whose Nomologia undertakes to defend Jewish tradition against every sort of assailant; Samuel Aboab, a great Bible scholar; Azariah Figo, a famous preacher; and, above all, Moses Chayyim Luzzatto, the first Jewish dramatist, the dramas preceding his having interest only as attempts. He, too, is caught in the meshes of the Kabbala, and falls a victim to its powers of darkness. His dramas testify to poetic gifts and to extraordinary mastery of the Hebrew language, the faithful companion of the Jewish nation in all its journeyings. To complete this sketch of the Italian Jews of that period, it should be added that while in intellect and attainments they stand above their brethren in faith of other countries, in character and purity of morals they are their inferiors.
Thereafter literary interest centres in Poland, where rabbinical literature found its most zealous and most learned exponents. Throughout the land schools were established, in which the Talmud was taught by the Pilpul, an ingenious, quibbling method of Talmudic reasoning and discussion, said to have originated with Jacob Pollak. Again we have a long succession of distinguished names. There are Solomon Luria, Moses Isserles, Joel Sirkes, David ben Levi, Sabbatai Kohen, and Elias Wilna. Sabbatai Kohen, from whom, were pride of ancestry permissible in the republic of letters, the present writer would boast descent, was not only a Talmudic writer; he also left historical and poetical works. Elias Wilna, the last in the list, had a subtle, delicately poised mind, and deserves special mention for his determined opposition to the Kabbala and its offspring Chassidism, hostile and ruinous to Judaism and Jewish learning.
A gleam of true pleasure can be obtained from the history of the Dutch Jews. In Holland the Jews united secular culture with religious devotion, and the professors of other faiths met them with tolerance and friendliness. Sunshine falls upon the Jewish schools, and right into the heart of a youth, who straightway abandons the Talmud folios, and goes out into the world to proclaim to wondering mankind the evangel of a new philosophy. The youth is Baruch Spinoza!
There are many left to expound Judaism: Manasseh ben Israel, writing both Hebrew and Latin books to plead the cause of the emancipation of his people and of its literary pre-eminence; David Neto, a student of philosophy; Benjamin Mussafia, Orobio de Castro, David Abenator Melo, the Spanish translator of the Psalms, and Daniel de Barrios, poet and critic—all using their rapidly acquired fluency in the Dutch language to champion the cause of their people.
In Germany, a mixture of German and Hebrew had come into use among the Jews as the medium of daily intercourse. In this peculiar patois, called Judendeutsch, a large literature had developed. Before Luther's time, it possessed two fine translations of the Bible, besides numerous writings of an ethical, poetical, and historical character, among which particular mention should be made of those on the German legend-cycles of the middle ages. At the same time, the Talmud receives its due of time, effort, and talent. New life comes only with the era of emancipation and enlightenment.
Only a few names shall be mentioned, the rest would be bound soon to escape the memory of the casual reader: there is an historian, David Gans; a bibliographer, Sabbatai Bassista, and the Talmudists Abigedor Kara, Jacob Joshua, Jacob Emden, Jonathan Eibeschuetz, and Ezekiel Landau. It is delight to be able once again to chronicle the interest taken in long neglected Jewish literature by such Christian scholars as the two Buxtorfs, Bartolocci, Wolff, Surrenhuys, and De Rossi. Unfortunately, the interest dies out with them, and it is significant that to this day most eminent theologians, decidedly to their own disadvantage, "content themselves with unreliable secondary sources," instead of drinking from the fountain itself.
We have arrived at the sixth and last period, our own, not yet completed, whose fruits will be judged by a future generation. It is the period of the rejuvenescence of Jewish literature. Changes in character, tenor, form, and language take place. Germany for the first time is in the van, and Mendelssohn, its most attractive figure, stands at the beginning of the period, surrounded by his disciples Wessely, Homberg, Euchel, Friedlaender, and others, in conjunction with whom he gives Jews a new, pure German Bible translation. Poetry and philology are zealously pursued, and soon Jewish science, through its votaries Leopold Zunz and S. J. Rappaport, celebrates a brilliant renascence, such as the poet describes: "In the distant East the dawn is breaking,—The olden times are growing young again."
Die Gottesdienstlichen Vortraege der Juden, by Zunz, published in 1832, was the pioneer work of the new Jewish science, whose present development, despite its wide range, has not yet exhausted the suggestions made, by the author. Other equally important works from the same pen followed, and then came the researches of Rappaport, Z. Frankel, I. M. Jost, M. Sachs, S. D. Luzzatto, S. Munk, A. Geiger, L. Herzfeld, H. Graetz, J. Fuerst, L. Dukes, M. Steinschneider, D. Cassel, S. Holdheim, and a host of minor investigators and teachers. Their loving devotion roused Jewish science and literature from their secular sleep to vigorous, intellectual life, reacting beneficently on the spiritual development of Judaism itself. The moulders of the new literature are such men as the celebrated preachers Adolf Jellinek, Salomon, Kley, Mannheimer; the able thinkers Steinheim, Hirsch, Krochmal; the illustrious scholars M. Lazarus, H. Steinthal; and the versatile journalists G. Riesser and L. Philipson.
Poetry has not been neglected in the general revival. The first Jewish poet to write in German was M. E. Kuh, whose tragic fate has been pathetically told by Berthold Auerbach in his Dichter und Kaufmann. The burden of this modern Jewish poetry is, of course, the glorification of the loyalty and fortitude that preserved the race during a calamitous past. Such poets as Steinheim, Wihl, L. A. Frankl, M. Beer, K. Beck, Th. Creizenach, M. Hartmann, S. H. Mosenthal, Henriette Ottenheimer, Moritz Rappaport, and L. Stein, sing the songs of Zion in the tongue of the German. And can Heine be forgotten, he who in his Romanzero has so melodiously, yet so touchingly given word to the hoary sorrow of the Jew?
In an essay of this scope no more can be done than give the barest outline of the modern movement. A detailed description of the work of German-Jewish lyrists belongs to the history of German literature, and, in fact, on its pages can be found a due appreciation of their worth by unprejudiced critics, who give particularly high praise to the new species of tales, the Jewish village, or Ghetto, tales, with which Jewish and German literatures have latterly been enriched. Their object is to depict the religious customs in vogue among Jews of past generations, their home-life, and the conflicts that arose when the old Judaism came into contact with modern views of life. The master in the art of telling these Ghetto tales is Leopold Kompert. Of his disciples—for all coming after him may be considered such—A. Bernstein described the Jews of Posen; K. E. Franzos and L. Herzberg-Fraenkel, those of Poland; E. Kulke, the Moravian Jews; M. Goldschmied, the Dutch; S. H. Mosenthal, the Hessian, and M. Lehmann, the South German. To Berthold Auerbach's pioneer work this whole class of literature owes its existence; and Heinrich Heine's fragment, Rabbi von Bacharach, a model of its kind, puts him into this category of writers, too.
And so Judaism and Jewish literature are stepping into a new arena, on which potent forces that may radically affect both are struggling with each other. Is Jewish poetry on the point of dying out, or is it destined to enjoy a resurrection? Who would be rash enough to prophesy aught of a race whose entire past is a riddle, whose literature is a question-mark? Of a race which for more than a thousand years has, like its progenitor, been wrestling victoriously with gods and men?
To recapitulate: We have followed out the course of a literary development, beginning in grey antiquity with biblical narratives, assimilating Persian doctrines, Greek wisdom, and Roman law; later, Arabic poetry and philosophy, and, finally, the whole of European science in all its ramifications. The literature we have described has contributed its share to every spiritual result achieved by humanity, and is a still unexplored treasury of poetry and philosophy, of experience and knowledge.
"All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is never full," saith the Preacher; so all spiritual currents flow together into the vast ocean of a world-literature, never full, never complete, rejoicing in every accession, reaching the climax of its might and majesty on that day when, according to the prophet, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
In the whole range of the world's literatures there are few books with so checkered a career, so curious a fate, as the Talmud has had. The name is simple enough, it glides glibly from the tongue, yet how difficult to explain its import to the uninitiated! From the Dominican Henricus Seynensis, who took "Talmud" to be the name of a rabbi—he introduces a quotation with Ut narrat rabbinus Talmud, "As Rabbi Talmud relates"—down to the church historians and university professors of our day, the oddest misconceptions on the nature of the Talmud have prevailed even among learned men. It is not astonishing, then, that the general reader has no notion of what it is.
Only within recent years the Talmud has been made the subject of scientific study, and now it is consulted by philologists, cited by jurists, drawn upon by historians, the general public is beginning to be interested in it, and of late the old Talmud has repeatedly been summoned to appear in courts of law to give evidence. Under these circumstances it is natural to ask, What is the Talmud? Futile to seek an answer by comparing this gigantic monument of the human intellect with any other book; it is sui generis. In the form in which it issued from the Jewish academies of Babylonia and Palestine, it is a great national work, a scientific document of first importance, the archives of ten centuries, in which are preserved the thoughts and opinions, the views and verdicts, the errors, transgressions, hopes, disappointments, customs, ideals, convictions, and sorrows of Israel—a work produced by the zeal and patience of thirty generations, laboring with a self-denial unparalleled in the history of literature. A work of this character assuredly deserves to be known. Unfortunately, the path to its understanding is blocked by peculiar linguistic and historical difficulties. Above all, explanations by comparison must be avoided. It has been likened to a legal code, to a journal, to the transactions of learned bodies; but these comparisons are both inadequate and misleading. To make it approximately clear a lengthy explanation must be entered upon, for, in truth, the Talmud, like the Bible, is a world in miniature, embracing every possible phase of life.
The origin of the Talmud was simultaneous with Israel's return from the Babylonian exile, during which a wonderful change had taken place in the captive people. An idolatrous, rebellious nation had turned into a pious congregation of the Lord, possessed with zeal for the study of the Law. By degrees there grew up out of this study a science of wide scope, whose beginnings are hidden in the last book of the Bible, in the word Midrash, translated by "story" in the Authorized Version. Its true meaning is indicated by that of its root, darash, to study, to expound. Four different methods of explaining the sacred Scriptures were current: the first aimed to reach the simple understanding of words as they stood; the second availed itself of suggestions offered by apparently superfluous letters and signs in the text to arrive at its meaning; the third was "a homiletic application of that which had been to that which was and would be, of prophetical and historical dicta to the actual condition of things"; and the fourth devoted itself to theosophic mysteries—but all led to a common goal.
In the course of the centuries the development of the Midrash, or study of the Law, lay along the two strongly marked lines of Halacha, the explanation and formulating of laws, and Haggada, their poetical illustration and ethical application. These are the two spheres within which the intellectual life of Judaism revolved, and these the two elements, the legal and the aesthetic, making up the Talmud.
The two Midrashic systems emphasize respectively the rule of law and the sway of liberty: Halacha is law incarnate; Haggada, liberty regulated by law and bearing the impress of morality. Halacha stands for the rigid authority of the Law, for the absolute importance of theory—the law and theory which the Haggada illustrates by public opinion and the dicta of common-sense morality. The Halacha embraces the statutes enjoined by oral tradition, which was the unwritten commentary of the ages on the written Law, along with the discussions of the academies of Palestine and Babylonia, resulting in the final formulating of the Halachic ordinances. The Haggada, while also starting from the word of the Bible, only plays with it, explaining it by sagas and legends, by tales and poems, allegories, ethical reflections, and historical reminiscences. For it, the Bible was not only the supreme law, from whose behests there was no appeal, but also "a golden nail upon which" the Haggada "hung its gorgeous tapestries," so that the Bible word was the introduction, refrain, text, and subject of the poetical glosses of the Talmud. It was the province of the Halacha to build, upon the foundation of biblical law, a legal superstructure capable of resisting the ravages of time, and, unmindful of contemporaneous distress and hardship, to trace out, for future generations, the extreme logical consequences of the Law in its application. To the Haggada belonged the high, ethical mission of consoling, edifying, exhorting, and teaching a nation suffering the pangs, and threatened with the spiritual stagnation, of exile; of proclaiming that the glories of the past prefigured a future of equal brilliancy, and that the very wretchedness of the present was part of the divine plan outlined in the Bible. If the simile is accurate that likens the Halacha to the ramparts about Israel's sanctuary, which every Jew was ready to defend with his last drop of blood, then the Haggada must seem "flowery mazes, of exotic colors and bewildering fragrance," within the shelter of the Temple walls.
The complete work of expounding, developing, and finally establishing the Law represents the labor of many generations, the method of procedure varying from time to time. In the long interval between the close of the Holy Canon and the completion of the Talmud can be distinguished three historical strata deposited by three different classes of teachers. The first set, the Scribes—Soferim—flourished in the period beginning with the return from Babylonian captivity and ending with the Syrian persecutions (220 B.C.E.), and their work was the preservation of the text of the Holy Writings and the simple expounding of biblical ordinances. They were followed by the "Learners"—Tanaim—whose activity extended until 220 C.E. Great historical events occurred in that period: the campaigns of the Maccabean heroes, the birth of Jesus, the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, the rebellion under Bar-Kochba, and the final complete dispersion of the Jews. Amid all these storms the Tanaim did not for a moment relinquish their diligent research in the Law. The Talmud tells the story of a celebrated rabbi, than which nothing can better characterize the age and its scholars: Night was falling. A funeral cortege was moving through the streets of old Jerusalem. It was said that disciples were bearing a well-beloved teacher to the grave. Reverentially the way was cleared, not even the Roman guard at the gate hindered the procession. Beyond the city walls it halted, the bier was set down, the lid of the coffin opened, and out of it arose the venerable form of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, who, to reach the Roman camp unmolested, had feigned death. He went before Vespasian, and, impressed by the noble figure of the hoary rabbi, the general promised him the fulfilment of any wish he might express. What was his petition? Not for his nation, not for the preservation of the Holy City, not even for the Temple. His request was simple: "Permit me to open a school at Jabneh." The proud Roman smilingly gave consent. He had no conception of the significance of this prayer and of the prophetic wisdom of the petitioner, who, standing on the ruins of his nation's independence, thought only of rescuing the Law. Rome, the empire of the "iron legs," was doomed to be crushed, nation after nation to be swallowed in the vortex of time, but Israel lives by the Law, the very law snatched from the smouldering ruins of Jerusalem, the beloved alike of crazy zealots and despairing peace advocates, and carried to the tiny seaport of Jabneh. There Jochanan ben Zakkai opened his academy, the gathering place of the dispersed of his disciples and his people, and thence, gifted with a prophet's keen vision, he proclaimed Israel's mission to be, not the offering of sacrifices, but the accomplishment of works of peace.
The Tanaim may be considered the most original expounders of the science of Judaism, which they fostered at their academies. In the course of centuries their intellectual labor amassed an abundant store of scientific material, together with so vast a number of injunctions, prohibitions, and laws that it became almost impossible to master the subject. The task of scholars now was to arrange the accumulation of material and reduce it to a system. Rabbi after rabbi undertook the task, but only the fourth attempt at codification, that made by Yehuda the Prince, was successful. His compilation, classifying the subject-matter under six heads, subdivided into sixty-three tractates, containing five hundred and twenty-four chapters, was called Mishna, and came to be the authority appealed to on points of law.
Having assumed fixity as a code, the Mishna in turn became what the Bible had been for centuries—a text, the basis of all legal development and scientific discussion. So it was used by the epigones, the Amoraim, or Speakers, the expounders of the third period. For generations commenting on the Mishna was the sum-total of literary endeavor. Traditions unheeded before sprang to light. New methods asserted themselves. To the older generation of Halachists succeeded a set of men headed by Akiba ben Joseph, who, ignoring practical issues, evolved laws from the Bible text or from traditions held to be divine. A spiritual, truly religious conception of Judaism was supplanted by legal quibbling and subtle methods of interpretation. Like the sophists of Rome and Alexandria at that time, the most celebrated teachers in the academies of Babylonia and Palestine for centuries gave themselves up to casuistry. This is the history of the development of the Talmud, or more correctly of the two Talmuds, the one, finished in 390 C. E., being the expression of what was taught at the Palestinian academies; the other, more important one, completed in 500 C. E., of what was taught in Babylonia.
The Babylonian, the one regarded as authoritative, is about four times as large as the Jerusalem Talmud. Its thirty-six treatises (Massichtoth), in our present edition, cover upwards of three thousand folio pages, bound in twelve huge volumes. To speak of a completed Talmud is as incorrect as to speak of a biblical canon. No religious body, no solemn resolution of a synod, ever declared either the Talmud or the Bible a completed whole. Canonizing of any kind is distinctly opposed to the spirit of Judaism. The fact is that the tide of traditional lore has never ceased to flow.
We now have before us a faint outline sketch of the growth of the Talmud. To portray the busy world fitting into this frame is another and more difficult matter. A catalogue of its contents may be made. It may be said that it is a book containing laws and discussions, philosophic, theologic, and juridic dicta, historical notes and national reminiscences, injunctions and prohibitions controlling all the positions and relations of life, curious, quaint tales, ideal maxims and proverbs, uplifting legends, charming lyrical outbursts, and attractive enigmas side by side with misanthropic utterances, bewildering medical prescriptions, superstitious practices, expressions of deep agony, peculiar astrological charms, and rambling digressions on law, zoology, and botany, and when all this has been said, not half its contents have been told. It is a luxuriant jungle, which must be explored by him who would gain an adequate idea of its features and products.
The Ghemara, that is, the whole body of discussions recorded in the two Talmuds, primarily forms a running commentary on the text of the Mishna. At the same time, it is the arena for the debating and investigating of subjects growing out of the Mishna, or suggested by a literature developed along with the Talmudic literature. These discussions, debates, and investigations are the opinions and arguments of the different schools, holding opposite views, developed with rare acumen and scholastic subtlety, and finally harmonized in the solution reached. The one firm and impregnable rock supporting the gigantic structure of the Talmud is the word of the Bible, held sacred and inviolable.
The best translations—single treatises have been put into modern languages—fail to convey an adequate idea of the discussions and method that evolved the Halacha. It is easier to give an approximately true presentation of the rabbinical system of practical morality as gleaned from the Haggada. It must, of course, be borne in mind that Halacha and Haggada are not separate works; they are two fibres of the same thread. "The whole of the Haggadistic literature—the hitherto unappreciated archives of language, history, archaeology, religion, poetry, and science—with but slight reservations may be called a national literature, containing as it does the aggregate of the views and opinions of thousands of thinkers belonging to widely separated generations. Largely, of course, these views and opinions are peculiar to the individuals holding them or to their time"; still, every Haggadistic expression, in a general way, illustrates some fundamental, national law, based upon the national religion and the national history. Through the Haggada we are vouchsafed a glance into a mysterious world, which mayhap has hitherto repelled us as strange and grewsome. Its poesy reveals vistas of gleaming beauty and light, luxuriant growth and exuberant life, while familiar melodies caress our ears.
The Haggada conveys its poetic message in the garb of allegory song, and chiefly epigrammatic saying. Form is disregarded; the spirit is all-important, and suffices to cover up every fault of form. The Talmud, of course, does not yield a complete system of ethics, but its practical philosophy consists of doctrines that underlie a moral life. The injustice of the abuse heaped upon it would become apparent to its harshest critics from a few of its maxims and rules of conduct, such as the following: Be of them that are persecuted, not of the persecutors.—Be the cursed, not he that curses.—They that are persecuted, and do not persecute, that are vilified and do not retort, that act in love, and are cheerful even in suffering, they are the lovers of God.—Bless God for the good as well as the evil. When thou hearest of a death, say, "Blessed be the righteous Judge."—Life is like unto a fleeting shadow. Is it the shadow of a tower or of a bird? It is the shadow of a bird in its flight. Away flies the bird, and neither bird nor shadow remains behind.—Repentance and good works are the aim of all earthly wisdom.—Even the just will not have so high a place in heaven as the truly repentant.—He whose learning surpasses his good works is like a tree with many branches and few roots, which a wind-storm uproots and casts to the ground. But he whose good works surpass his learning is like a tree with few branches and many roots; all the winds of heaven cannot move it from its place.—There are three crowns: the crown of the Law, the crown of the priesthood, the crown of kingship. But greater than all is the crown of a good name.—Four there are that cannot enter Paradise: the scoffer, the liar, the hypocrite, and the backbiter.—Beat the gods, and the priests will tremble.—Contrition is better than many flagellations.—When the pitcher falls upon the stone, woe unto the pitcher; when the stone falls upon the pitcher, woe unto the pitcher; whatever betides, woe unto the pitcher.—The place does not honor the man, the man honors the place.—He who humbles himself will be exalted; he who exalts himself will be humbled,—Whosoever pursues greatness, from him will greatness flee; whosoever flees from greatness, him will greatness pursue.—Charity is as important as all other virtues combined.—Be tender and yielding like a reed, not hard and proud like a cedar.—The hypocrite will not see God.—It is not sufficient to be innocent before God; we must show our innocence to the world.—The works encouraged by a good man are better than those he executes.—Woe unto him that practices usury, he shall not live; whithersoever he goes, he carries injustice and death.
The same Talmud that fills chapter after chapter with minute legal details and hairsplitting debates outlines with a few strokes the most ideal conception of life, worth more than theories and systems of religious philosophy. A Haggada passage says: Six hundred and thirteen injunctions were given by Moses to the people of Israel. David reduced them to eleven; the prophet Isaiah classified these under six heads; Micah enumerated only three: "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." Another prophet limited them to two: "Keep ye judgment, and do righteousness." Amos put all the commandments under one: "Seek ye me, and ye shall live"; and Habakkuk said: "The just shall live by his faith."—This is the ethics of the Talmud.
Another characteristic manifestation of the idealism of the Talmud is its delicate feeling for women and children. Almost extravagant affection is displayed for the little ones. All the verses of Scripture that speak of flowers and gardens are applied in the Talmud to children and schools. Their breath sustains the moral order of the universe: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings has God founded His might." They are called flowers, stars, the anointed of God. When God was about to give the Law, He demanded of the Israelites pledges to assure Him that they would keep His commandments holy. They offered the patriarchs, but each one of them had committed some sin. They named Moses as their surety; not even he was guiltless. Then they said: "Let our children be our hostages." The Lord accepted them.
Similarly, there are many expressions to show that woman was held in high esteem by the rabbis of the Talmud: Love thy wife as thyself; honor her more than thyself.—In choosing a wife, descend a step.—If thy wife is small, bend and whisper into her ear.—God's altar weeps for him that forsakes the love of his youth.—He who sees his wife die before him has, as it were, been present at the destruction of the sanctuary itself; around him the world grows dark.—It is woman alone through whom God's blessings are vouchsafed to a house.—The children of him that marries for money shall be a curse unto him,—a warning singularly applicable to the circumstances of our own times.
The peculiar charm of the Haggada is best revealed in its legends and tales, its fables and myths, its apologues and allegories, its riddles and songs. The starting-point of the Haggada usually is some memory of the great past. It entwines and enmeshes in a magic network the lives of the patriarchs, prophets, and martyrs, and clothes with fresh, luxuriant green the old ideals and figures, giving them new life for a remote generation. The teachers of the Haggada allow no opportunity, sad or merry, to pass without utilizing it in the guise of an apologue or parable. Alike for wedding-feasts and funerals, for banquets and days of fasting, the garden of the Haggada is rifled of its fragrant blossoms and luscious fruits. Simplicity, grace, and childlike merriment pervade its fables, yet they are profound, even sublime, in their truth. "Their chief and enduring charm is their fathomless depth, their unassuming loveliness." Poems constructed with great artistic skill do not occur. Here and there a modest bud of lyric poesy shyly raises its head, like the following couplet, describing a celebrated but ill-favored rabbi:
"Without charm of form and face. But a mind of rarest grace."
Over the grave of the same teacher the Talmud wails:
"The Holy Land did beautify what womb of Shinar gave; And now Tiberias' tear-filled eye weeps o'er her treasure's grave."
On seeing the dead body of the Patriarch Yehuda, a rabbi laments:
"Angels strove to win the testimony's ark. Men they overcame; lo! vanished is the ark!"
Another threnody over some prince in the realm of the intellect:
"The cedar hath by flames been seized; Can hyssop then be saved? Leviathan with hook was caught; Alas! ye little fish! The deep and mighty stream ran dry, Ah woe! ye shallow brooks!"
Nor is humor lacking. "Ah, hamper great, with books well-filled, thou'rt gone!" is a bookworm's eulogy.
Poets naturally have not been slow to avail themselves of the material stored in the Haggada. Many of its treasures, tricked out in modern verse, have been given to the world. The following are samples:
BIRTH AND DEATH
"His hands fast clenched, his fingers firmly clasped, So man this life begins. He claims earth's wealth, and constitutes himself The heir of all her gifts. He thinks his hand may snatch and hold Whatever life doth yield.
But when at last the end has come, His hands are open wide, No longer closed. He knoweth now full well, That vain were all his hopes. He humbly says, 'I go, and nothing take Of all my hands have wrought.'"
The next, "Interest and Usury," may serve to give the pertinacious opponent of the Talmud a better opinion of its position on financial subjects:
"Behold! created things of every kind Lend each to each. The day from night doth take, And night from day; nor do they quarrel make Like men, who doubting one another's mind, E'en while they utter friendly words, think ill. The moon delighted helps the starry host, And each returns her gift without a boast. 'Tis only when the Lord supreme doth will That earth in gloom shall be enwrapped, He tells the moon: 'Refrain, keep back thy light!' And quenches, too, the myriad lamps of night. From wisdom's fount hath knowledge ofttimes lapped, While wisdom humbly doth from knowledge learn. The skies drop blessings on the grateful earth, And she—of precious store there is no dearth— Exhales and sends aloft a fair return. Stern law with mercy tempers its decree, And mercy acts with strength by justice lent. Good deeds are based on creed from heaven sent, In which, in turn, the sap of deeds must be. Each creature borrows, lends, and gives with love, Nor e'er disputes, to honor God above.
When man, howe'er, his fellowman hath fed, Then 'spite the law forbidding interest, He thinketh naught but cursed gain to wrest. Who taketh usury methinks hath said: 'O Lord, in beauty has Thy earth been wrought! But why should men for naught enjoy its plains? Ask usance, since 'tis Thou that sendest rains. Have they the trees, their fruits, and blossoms bought? For all they here enjoy, Thy int'rest claim: For heaven's orbs that shine by day and night, Th' immortal soul enkindled by Thy light, And for the wondrous structure of their frame.' But God replies: 'Now come, and see! I give With open, bounteous hand, yet nothing take; The earth yields wealth, nor must return ye make. But know, O men, that only while ye live, You may enjoy these gifts of my award. The capital's mine, and surely I'll demand The spirit in you planted by my hand, And also earth will claim her due reward.' Man's dust to dust is gathered in the grave, His soul returns to God who gracious gave."
R. Yehuda ben Zakkai answers his pupils who ask:
"Why doth the Law with them more harshly deal That filch a lamb from fold away, Than with the highwaymen who shameless steal Thy purse by force in open day?"
"Because in like esteem the brigands hold The master and his serving man. Their wickedness is open, frank, and bold, They fear not God, nor human ban.
The thief feels more respect for earthly law Than for his heav'nly Master's eye, Man's presence flees in fear and awe, Forgets he's seen by God on high."
That is a glimpse of the world of the Haggada—a wonderful, fantastic world, a kaleidoscopic panorama of enchanting views. "Well can we understand the distress of mind in a mediaeval divine, or even in a modern savant, who, bent upon following the most subtle windings of some scientific debate in the Talmudical pages—geometrical, botanical, financial, or otherwise—as it revolves round the Sabbath journey, the raising of seeds, the computation of tithes and taxes—feels, as it were, the ground suddenly give way. The loud voices grow thin, the doors and walls of the school-room vanish before his eyes, and in their place uprises Rome the Great, the Urbs et Orbis and her million-voiced life. Or the blooming vineyards round that other City of Hills, Jerusalem the Golden herself, are seen, and white-clad virgins move dreamily among them. Snatches of their songs are heard, the rhythm of their choric dances rises and falls: it is the most dread Day of Atonement itself, which, in poetical contrast, was chosen by the 'Rose of Sharon' as a day of rejoicing to walk among those waving lily-fields and vine-clad slopes. Or the clarion of rebellion rings high and shrill through the complicated debate, and Belshazzar, the story of whose ghastly banquet is told with all the additions of maddening horror, is doing service for Nero the bloody; or Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian tyrant, and all his hosts, are cursed with a yelling curse—a propos of some utterly inappropriate legal point, while to the initiated he stands for Titus the—at last exploded—'Delight of Humanity.' ... Often—far too often for the interests of study and the glory of the human race—does the steady tramp of the Roman cohort, the password of the revolution, the shriek and clangor of the bloody field, interrupt these debates, and the arguing masters and disciples don their arms, and, with the cry, 'Jerusalem and Liberty,' rush to the fray." Such is the world of the Talmud.
THE JEW IN THE HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION
In the childhood of civilization, the digging of wells was regarded as beneficent work. Guide-posts, visible from afar, marked their position, and hymns were composed, and solemn feasts celebrated, in honor of the event. One of the choicest bits of early Hebrew poetry is a song of the well. The soul, in grateful joy, jubilantly calls to her mates: "Arise! sing a song unto the well! Well, which the princes have dug, which the nobles of the people have hollowed out." This house, too, is a guide-post to a newly-found well of humanity and culture, a monument to our faithfulness and zeal in the recognition and the diffusion of truth. A scene like this brings to my mind the psalmist's beautiful words: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, that went down to the skirts of his garment; as the dew of Hermon, running down upon the mountains of Zion; for there hath the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."
Wondrous thoughts veiled with wondrous imagery! The underlying meaning will lead us to our feast of the well, our celebration in honor of newly-discovered waters. Our order is based upon the conviction that all men should be banded together for purposes of humanity. But what is humanity? Not philanthropy, not benevolence, not charity: it is "human culture risen to the stage on which man is conscious of universal brotherhood, and strives for the realization of the general good." In early times, leaders of men were anointed with oil, symbol of wisdom and divine inspiration. Above all it was meet that it be used in the consecration of priests, the exponents of the divine spirit and the Law. The psalmist's idea is, that as the precious ointment in its abundance runs down Aaron's beard to the hem of his garment, even so shall wisdom and the divine spirit overflow the lips of priests, the guides, friends, and teachers of the people, the promoters of the law of peace and love.
"As the dew of Hermon, running down upon the mountains of Zion!" High above all mountains towers Hermon, its crest enveloped by clouds and covered with eternal snow. From that supernal peak grateful dew trickles down, fructifying the land once "flowing with milk and honey." From its clefts gushes forth Jordan, mightiest stream of the land, watering a broad plain in its course. In this guise the Lord has granted His blessing to the land, the blessing of civilization and material prosperity, from which spring as corollaries the duties of charity and universal humanity.
A picture of the olden time this, a lodge-address of the days of the psalm singers. Days flee, time abides; men pass away, mankind endures. Filled with time-honored thoughts, inspired by the hopes of by-gone generations, striving for the goal of noble men in all ages, like the psalm singers in the days of early culture, we celebrate a feast of the well by reviewing the past and looking forward down the avenues of time.
Less than fifty years ago a band of energetic, loyal Jews, on the other side of the Atlantic, founded our beloved Order. Now it has established itself in every part of the world, from the extreme western coast of America to the blessed meadows of the Jordan; yea, even the Holy Land, unfurling everywhere the banner of charity, brotherly love, and unity, and seeking to spread education and culture, the forerunners of humanity. Judaism, mark you, is the religion of humanity. By far too late for our good and that of mankind, we began to proclaim this truth with becoming energy and emphasis, and to demonstrate it with the joyousness of conviction. The question is, are we permeated with this conviction? Our knowledge of Judaism is slight; we have barely a suspicion of what in the course of centuries, nay, of thousands of years, it has done for the progress of civilization. In my estimation, our house-warming cannot more fittingly be celebrated than by taking a bird's-eye view of Jewish culture.
The Bible is the text-book of general literature. Out of the Bible, more particularly from the Ten Commandments, flashed from Sinai, mankind learned its first ethical lesson in a system which still satisfies its needs. To convey even a faint idea of what the Bible has done for civilization, morality, and the literature of every people—of the innumerable texts it has furnished to poets, and subjects to painters—would in itself require a literature.
The conflicts with surrounding nations to which they were exposed made the Jews concentrate their forces, and so enabled them to wage successful war with nations mightier than themselves. Their heroism under the Maccabees and under Bar-Kochba, in the middle ages and in modern days, permits them to take rank among the most valiant in history. A historian of literature, a non-Jew, enumerates three factors constituting Jews important agents in the preservation and revival of learning: First, their ability as traders. The Phoenicians are regarded as the oldest commercial nation, but the Jews contested the palm with them. Zebulon and Asher in very early times were seafaring tribes. Under Solomon, Israelitish vessels sailed as far as Ophir to bring Afric's gold to Jerusalem. Before the destruction of the Holy City, Jewish communities established themselves on the westernmost coast of Europe. "The whole of the known world was covered with their settlements, in constant communication with one another through itinerant merchants, who effected an exchange of learning as well as of wares; while the other nations grew more and more isolated, and shut themselves off from even the sparse opportunities of mental culture then available."