A Review of the Review of the Late Controversies between the Rev. Isaac Leeser and the Philadelphia Congregation Mikveh Israel

[Page 1]

A REVIEW

OF

“THE REVIEW”

OF

THE LATE CONTROVERSY

BETWEEN THE

REV. ISAAC LEESER

AND THE

Philadelphia Congregation, “Mickve Israel;”

BY

AN ISRAELITE.

NEW YORK:

PUBLISHED AT THE OFFICE OF THE ASMONEAN,

140 Nassau Street.

1850.

[Page 3]

A REVIEW OF “THE REVIEW”

OF THE LATE CONTROVERSY BETWEEN

THE REV. ISAAC LEESER

AND THE

CONGREGATION “MICKVE ISRAEL.”

When men throw their private quarrels before the public,
they cease to be private, and that public to whom the appeal is
manifestly made, has the right to approve or disapprove, as facts
may demand. It is this feeling which prompts me to examine
the controversy, and through the Press, to proclaim the opinion
of an humble, but disinterested Israelite.

There are but few occurrences in life which may not be pro-
ductive of good, and I can but trust that, though a good man may
be sacrificed to the malice of his enemies, yet that this controver
sy between Mr. Leeser, and the Philadelphia congregation
Mickve Israel, will be productive of the happiest results, by im-
pressing the minds of the Jews of America with the necessity
of elevating the Priesthood, of making them Teachers of Israel,
not the mere hirelings of a moment, the pliant tools of a Parnas
and Adjunta, who may, or may not be fit to rule. The paths of
duty of the two are entirely distinct. The Parnas and Adjunta
should manage the temporal concerns of the congregation, whilst
the Priest, or Hazan should teach, guide, control, and direct the
congregation. How can he be a Teacher unless he have power
in all things pertaining to his office? How can he rebuke sin in
high places, perhaps the very sins of his petty tyrants, when he
is powerless, the mere servant of these very men? The idea,
then of making a Hazan a bonded officer, and of forcing him
to obtain leave of the Parnas before he may deliver a moral dis-
course, or perform the marriage or burial service, is altogether
repugnant to a just conception of his proper position, and whilst
such an idea obtains, he is no Teacher, no head of the flock, but a

[Page 4]

4

A REVIEW.

mere tool and an underling. Any rule therefore which requires
a Teacher in Israel to give a bond for the performance of his du-
ties—a bond, forsooth, that he shall be “devout”!!!—is a dis-
grace to the congregation, and at war with the spirit of the age.
Our Priests should “be clothed with righteousness,” men of
character, and able to teach and control their flock. The Hazan
should be elected as Mr. Carvallo was elected in 1815— “noth-
ing being said about the term of office.

These remarks bring me directly to the pamphlet under con-
sideration.

As regards “the regular Hazanim who preceded Mr. Leeser,”
I have nothing to say—comparisons are odious—they may have
been intellectual “giants.” I take it for granted, that they were
undoubtedly men of worth—perhaps the superiors of Mr. Leeser.
I repeat I will institute no comparisons, but this much I will say,
that in our day and generation, Mr. Leeser stands in
the general good that he has done in America, and those very
“English discourses” so delightingly (sic) spoken of in the pamphlet
under review, have done more to exalt the Jewish name in
America, to awaken a spirit of piety among our people, to
breathe life, and spiritually into our religion, than the ritual could
do in a thousand years, however dignified, and impressively it
may have been said. And here, too, I may remark, it is strange
that if Mr. Leeser has for years, hurried through our beautiful
ritual in “an undignified, and unimpressive manner,” that he
should have been retained as Hazan for more than twenty years,
have been five times elected, and “that a majority of the mem-
bers would have been willing to have elected him for ten years
longer.” Alas! I fear the writer spoke from his prejudices,
rather than his judgment.

At Page 6 of the pamphlet, we are told that “the Committee
on the subject of certain complaints against the Shochet made a
report in which they recommended that the tenure of his office,
which before that time, was during the pleasure of the congre-
gation, should be turned into an annual term”—and again—“it
has always been the policy of the congregation to elect the Ha-
zan for a stipulated period, and the principle is the same as to the

[Page 5]

5

A REVIEW.

Shochet.” What! are the Shochet and the Hazan to be compar-
ed? Are there no distinctions in society? no grades in the va-
rious callings of life? Do the butcher and the Minister of God—
the baker, and the lawyer—the blacksmith, and the physician
stand on the same platform? Politically they are equal, but no
farther. My minister, my spiritual guide and teacher, must be
my equal socially and otherwise, or he can not have a proper and
controlling influence over me. My butcher, or Shochet, may be
an honest man—I may respect him as such, but he can not be a
companion for me, or my family. And I am sure I hazard
nothing in saying that the Hazan, and Shochet of the congrega-
tion, do, and will ever, occupy very different stations in the minds
of all right thinking people in Philadelphia, and every where else.
The comparison therefore, does not hold good—there is no analogy
in the duties of Hazan and Shochet, and the rules governing the
one, would be inapplicable to the other. The one is the highest
and holiest calling to which man can devote the energies of his
mind, the other a mere physical duty, which any one may per-
form; requiring neither mind nor morals, beyond that morality
which impels my barber, or tailor to do his work faithfully.—
When therefore, a candidate for the office of Hazan is a strang-
er to a congregation, it is perhaps well to take him for a limited
period on trial, and afterwards he should be elected, and have
nothing “said about the term of service.

The Judge's tenure, dum bene se gesserint, may, or may not
be proper—but again, there is no analogy between these offices.
The life tenure of the Judge was created as a protection to the
liberties of the people. If he held his office at the will of a ty-
rant, he would pander to the tyrants pleasures—but again I see
no analogy between these offices. If the writer really desired
an analogous case, he should have referred to the Christian
Preacher, or the Jewish Priests of former days. Are, or were,
these elected from year to year? Do, or did they give bonds,
with money penalties for their good behaviour, for their “devout
manner?”

This idea of annual, or decennial elections, and of making the
Hazan a bonded officer, finds no sanction in the habits of the

1*

[Page 6]

6

A REVIEW.

Jews in the palmy days of their nationality—none in the present
practice of the Christian world. For our sins we are dispersed
over the whole world. We have no temple—no regularly God-
appointed Priesthood, but if we desire our Hazanim, teachers in
Israel, men of worth, and piety, and really spiritual guides, we
must elevate the Ministry; we must draw a distinction between
things sacred and profane, we must raise our Hazan above our
Shochet.

But let us pass on to Page 8, where we are told that Mr. Lee-
ser
“was willing to hold himself out to the world as elected for
life, and yet take the office under a secret written engagement
with the congregation, converting its tenure into a tenantcy (sic) at
will, subject to be determined at any time by a bare majority
vote; which was the more degrading position, an open honorable
engagement for ten years, or a false representation to the world,
of an engagement for life, with the reality of a secret under-
standing that it was but a tenure at will? The congregation re-
fused to become a party to such a hypocritical proceeding.”—
Now I appeal to any candid man, and ask if such language is
proper, if the writer (as he states on his first page) really de-
sired to diffuse the light of truth,” and “to give a brief review
of the late controversies between Mr. Leeser and the congre-
gation?” Is this language supported by the facts of the case,
or rather, is it not, manifestly, the outpourings of bitterness, and
prejudice? Let the pamphlet itself, answer these questions. At
Page 6, we find “that Abraham Hart, Esq., Parnas, announced
from the Chair, that he was authorized by Mr. Leeser to state to
the congregation, that if they adopted any other tenure of office,
than during good behavior, he would not be a candidate for re-
election, but adding in substance, that if he were elected during
good behavior, he was willing to hand in a written resignation of
his office, to take effect whenever called for by the congregation.”
Was this any thing like “a secret written engagement?” Was
this a false representation to the world? Did not Mr. Hart
proclaim it aloud, before the assembly, over which he presided?
Was it not known to the writer of the pamphlet, who is mani-
festly no friend of Mr. Leeser; and can any one justly call this

[Page 7]

7

A REVIEW.

a “secret engagement,” “a false representation,” “a hypocriti-
cal proceeding?” The truth is, Mr. Leeser assumed the true
ground. The ground on which Mr. Carvalho's election was
placed. The ground taken by Mr. Lazarus in 1824, and the
ground which I trust, will hereafter be taken by every Hazan
in America. The tenure of the office of Hazan should be at
will. He should be bound to his congregation, and they to him,
by the bonds of love, and not of money penalties; and he should
serve no longer than was mutually agreeable, for no longer could
he be useful.

Let us test this idea of making the Hazan a bonded officer,
for limited periods, say five, or ten years, and to do this, let us
examine the terms and character of the articles of agreement,
which may be found at Page 10, of the pamphlet. The Hazan
agrees to serve and officiate for ten years, during which time, he
is to perform the duties of the station—these duties are subse-
quently defined, viz: on Sabbaths and Holy days, to read the
prayers in devout manner in the original Hebrew. To attend
funerals &c: to support and abide by, and obey the Charter
and Bye-Laws, and obey the legal orders of the Parnas. In
consideration of said services, the congregation agrees to pay
$1200 per ann. during the ten years in quarterly payments. And
for the due performance of the covenants, each party (Hazan
and congregation) binds himself in the penal sum of one thou-
sand dollars. Now as the covenant has expressed precisely, what
each party is to do, no more could be claimed in law, or morals,
than what is therein expressed. It is therefore manifest that a
Hazan under that covenant would be entitled to recover his
salary, if he read the prayers in Hebrew, on Sabbaths and Holy
days, attended funerals, &c. &c., even though he lived in open vi-
olation of the moral law, and should ascend the tebah dressed in
the most fantastic attire. I do not press this point of my argu-
ment too far. When men enter into written contracts, the con-
tract becomes to them, the law, and they can not go beyond it.
Expressio unius, est exclusio alterius. Could the congregation
sue the bond, and alledge (sic) as a breach the bad moral character of
the Hazan, or if the Hazan were compelled to sue, would his

[Page 8]

8

A REVIEW.

character be allowed in evidence? Certainly not. All this re-
minds me of an anecdote, of which I was personally cognizant.
A man presented himself as a candidate for Hazan—it was re-
marked that he was flippant in his manners, foppish in his
dress, and above all, of doubtful moral character. But said one
of his advocates, “have you heard him read—he has a magnifi-
cent voice,” and I suppose he might have added, “he would
read our beautiful Hebrew ritual in a dignified and impressive
manner.” Let me not be misunderstood—I am no reformer—I
love and venerate our beautiful Hebrew ritual. It is a noble lan-
guage—it is the mother of languages, and above all, it is sancti-
fied, by time, and the glorious recollection that it was the lan-
guage of our Prophets, and our Poet King, and that in it, God
spoke to his people amid the thunders of Sinai. Let it then be
read in a sonorous voice, and in a dignified, and impressive man-
ner; but let all this be secondary to the pure character, and moral
teachings of the Hazan.

But let us return to the pamphlet. At page 17 we find that a
vote of censure by the Adjunta was passed upon the Hazan,
(Mr. Leeser) for an article which he published in the Occident
of October last. Now, if anything were wanting to show the
bitter persecution, and relentless hostility of Mr. Leeser's ene-
mies, it will be found in this whole affair. It is marked by a ty-
ranny and oppression, that, thank God, finds no parallel in our
country, blessed as it is by free institutions, guaranteeing to every
one liberty of conscience, and protecting the Liberty of the Press.
But this Philadelphia Adjunta, riding above the spirit of the age,
would trammel the press, and entrenching themselves behind
the dignity of office, would punish by votes of censure any one
who would differ from them, or animadvert upon their conduct.
Mr. Leeser, as Hazan, had certain duties to perform, specifical-
ly set forth in the Bond, and I cannot find among these duties any
that requires him to consult the Adjunta, as to what articles he
might write, or that inhibits him from scanning their votes on
any subject. But the whole affair seems to me extra-judicial—
an assumption of power, and strongly savoring of all the ingre-
dients of a libel. The Bond does not make him amenable to the

[Page 9]

9

A REVIEW.

Adjunta, except as to marriage and funeral rites, and as he is
elected by the congregation, it alone should have the power of
censure. It is true that in political and national organizations,
there are tribunals created to try and punish officers and others
for misdemeanors, but surely a Hazan should be only responsi-
ble to the congregation—as the creating power. It will not avail
to reply that the congregation approved the action of the Board,
for no subsequent act can legalize an usurpation, the more espe-
cially when the rights of a third party are affected. And besides
this, it is manifest that though the Adjunta had attempted to
control and direct public opinion, still the congregation would
have allowed the resolutions to pass unnoticed, thereby tacitly ap-
proving the contemptuous silence of Mr. Leeser, who properly
disdained to offer “any explanation, palliation or apology,”—“but
for an onslaught on the Board made by one or two of the Ha-
zan's indiscreet friends.” It was the conduct of the “friends”
then, that the congregation animadverted upon, and not the con-
duct of Mr. Leeser. Such being the true version of the affair, the
congregation committed the injustice of punishing Mr. Leeser
for the indiscretion of his friends.

It is right and proper that we return again to this idea of mak-
ing the Priest who ministers at the altar of God a bonded officer
for a specified period of time. I am no advocate for a life tenure
for the same reasons that I object to any engagement for a limit-
ed time. Suppose you engage a man for life, or for five or ten
years, how are you to get rid of him until the expiration of the
time of the agreement? He may perform his duties and yet be
obnoxious to the congregation, or they to him. You are bound
hand and foot together by the harsh chains of a stern agreement,
and not united by the silken cords of love. (sic) and the interchange
of mutual benefits and blessings. Nor does your Bond with a
money penalty mend the matter—it circumscribes the power of
the Hazan and congregation, and limits their rights to the terms
of the bond. Let then our Hazanim (except perhaps when
strangers to the congregation) be elected without any thing being
“said about the term of service,” and then the majority of the
congregation may dismiss, or the Hazan retire at pleasure. It

[Page 10]

10

A REVIEW.

cannot be urged that this may leave a congregation without a
Hazan, for it cannot, in fairness, be supposed that the connection
would be dissolved without timely notice. But even supposing
the probability of this contingency, or that the Hazan may be
thrown penniless on the world, still it is far better for both par-
ties to have the congregation thus arranged, than to have Hazan
and congregation tied to each other, even after love, respect, and
power of usefulness were all departed. And again, this tenure
at will is a guarantee, worth all the bonds in the world, for mu-
tual forbearance, respect, and devotion to their respective duties.

One word in conclusion, and that in relation to the pamphlet it-
self. To the casual and careless observers (and these form a
large majority of readers), it would seem that this was an official
expose, a manifesto from the Adjunta. This impression is fairly
inferrible (sic) from the three first paragraphs of the pamphlet, and the
internal evidence that the books, papers, and minutes of the Ad-
junta must have been under the free control of the writer. And
yet I for oneam (sic) sure that it is not an official production, firstly, be-
cause it is not declared to be so; and secondly, because it is anon-
ymous, and even the very office from which it is issued is con-
cealed. The writer of the pamphlet is evidently a man of talent
and of education, and his sense of justice should have induced
him to have declared in express terms, that he wrote on his own
individual responsibility, and not to have left so important a fact
in doubt. But there are other objections to the pamphlet, of a
more serious character. It charges a man, who for the fifth part
of a century has been the Hazan of one of the most respectable
congregations in America, with false representations, hypocrisy,
violation of duty, and a childish vanity that induced him to sacri-
fice his holy official duties to “one engrossing fancy.” And does
the “light of truth” thus daguerreotype the character of Isaac
Leeser
? No, no, no, and such would be the echo and response
of ninety-nine hundredths of the Jews of England and America.
Mr. Leeser is “neither more nor less than a man,” he has the
faults and the frailties of humanity. His quick sensibility, his
ardent temperament, may, and perhaps do, rob him of that suavi-
ty of manner, which, like the tinsel glitter of false ornaments, too

[Page 11]

11

A REVIEW.

often deceives and deludes. But he is honest, capable, intelligent,
stands high in public estimation, and should be the pride, as he is
an ornament, of our nation.

For myself, I have no personal object to attain. My desire was
to protect and vindicate the private character and public useful-
ness of one who is “a great man in Israel,” and whose writings
will cause him to be remembered when his detractors shall be
forgotten.

AN ISRAELITE.