The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew/Chapter 12

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE


IV


RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE

T3 ELIGIOUSLY, the Jewish nation over the whole

Xx. globe may be divided into four classes. Without

attempting to describe, I may just enumerate them, as

this may help to form a sound judgment on the question

of Jewish evangelisation.

(a) First, there are the ordinary Talmudical or Con- servative Jews, embracing by far the largest part of the whole nation, and answering in many respects to the Pharisees in the days of Christ. Of most of these it may be said that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. They still cling to and are buoyed up in all times of persecution and suffering, by the hope of the speedy coming of the long looked-for Messiah, and a restoration to their own land. Their education is purely religious, or "Jewish." It begins with the Hebrew alphabet, goes on to the Prayer-Book, and from that to the Hebrew Scriptures, and culminates with that " encyclopaedia of human wisdom and human folly," as Dean Milman has well styled the Talmud, in which the mental ingenuity of the Jew finds sufficient scope for all the rest of his life.

Of this class of Jews, forming, as we have said, the

183


184 RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS

bulk of the nation, it may truly be said that they are " a people dwelling alone and not reckoned among the nations," of whose history, ways of thinking, and even language, they are ignorant. They move in a world of ideas of their own which are scarcely comprehensible to the ordinary Gentile.

Like the Pharisees of old, they are often indiscrimi- nately condemned as hypocrites or fanatics ; but the truth is that, as amongst the Pharisees in the days of Christ, so among the Talmudical Jews, there are many Nathanaels, of whom it may be said that they are " according to the law, blameless " men walking con- sistently according to the light they have, and whose lives are noble examples of religious zeal and unselfish- ness ; though, alas ! it is true also that the minds of most have been perverted and their sense of sin blunted by the traditions of men, so that they are vainly going about seeking to establish a righteousness of their own.

(&) Next we have the famous sect of the Chassidiin, which originated with that remarkable man Rabbi Israel Baalshem during the eighteenth century, and which has a following of perhaps three or four hundred thousand, with Galicia and Southern Russia as its strongholds. These have turned somewhat from the letter of Talmudism, and have gone in for the mysticism of the Kabbalah. They are ascetic in practice, and their particular tenets are " that purity and holiness, and not learning or knowledge of the Talmud, is the great requisite for obtaining a high spiritual life, and that the Holy Spirit operates still through certain chosen vehicles called Zadikim (righteous ones), who are endowed with miraculous gifts, and who are particularly qualified to be media- tors between God and their believing disciples." To the Chassid, the Zadik, or miracle-working Rabbi, is the same as the Pope to the bigoted Roman Catholic.


AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE 185

Many will sell all they have and undergo all sorts of privation in order to make a pilgrimage to the man whom they believe to stand in the nearest possible relationship to God. To get the Rabbi's blessing is worth more to them than the whole world.

There is nothing in a Chassid's estimation which the Zadik cannot attain by his prayers, and many are the books which contain the records of the miracles which he works. As to his cabalistic wisdom, it is simply wonderful.

A story is told of a number of Chassidim on their way to Zadagora, to visit the great Rabbi, who fell in with another party who were returning after having seen him. Those going interrogated the party re- turning, who expressed their admiration as follows :

" On Freitag zu nacht (commencement of Sabbath) the Rabbi preached ! Oh, so wonderfully ! Only the greatest saints present could understand what he said ! On Sabbath morning, the Rabbi spoke again, and this time it was marvellous ! He spoke so wonder- fully that not even the greatest saints present could understand him. Only he himself knew what he said ! Again on Sabbath evening the Rabbi spoke, and truly this time it surpassed all in wonder, for no saint could understand, neither could he understand himself what he said God only could understand ! "

Awed and delighted with this description, proving the extraordinary sanctity of the man they were going to see, the interrogators pressed on their way.

The Chassidic Jews hold the maxim that " Scripture is to be interpreted, not according to the letter, but according to the spirit," around which has grown the huge pile of Cabalistic literature, much of which stands in the same relation to Judaism as the writings of Svvedenborg to Christianity.


1 86 RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS

The following extract from my journal of a visit to the Bukowina in 1898, when my companion, a Swedish missionary, and myself paid a visit to Zadagora, the seat of perhaps the most noted of the Jewish popes, may be of interest: "There are quite a number of ' Zadikim ' in Galicia and Russia, and while there is no doubt that some are downright impostors, who trade on the ignorant credulity of their devotees, there are others whose days and nights are wholly given over to religious and ascetic practices, and who are mistakenly seeking holiness and purity by a life of mere outward obser- vances. Among all these Zadikim the one in Zadagora has been perhaps the most famous, though in recent years, owing to a dispute among the brothers as to the succession, and owing to the fact that one of the sons of the late Zadik was suspected of being ' apikoress,' or, as some say, a secret Christian, on which account he met an untimely end, the family has lost somewhat in prestige. But still the road from Czernowitz to Zadagora, especially on a Friday, or before a great festival, may be seen lined with vehicles carrying pilgrims to this Jewish pope, who lives like a king in a palace, while the town itself is one of the poorest and filthiest in Galicia.

" It was about eleven o'clock when we arrived, and accompanied by Mr. Reichman, colporteur of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Czernowitz, who came with us, made our way first of all to the palace, and the splendid private synagogue of the Rabbi, which stands opposite to it. The Rabbi, we found on inquiry, was still at his morning prayers, all by himself in a room adjoining the synagogue, but we might see the eldest son and future Zadik in the Beth-hammedrash. But already before we entered, some in talith (praying- shawl) and phylacteries came to the threshold gazing


AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE 187

at the three strangers without peyoth (side-locks), which to the Chassid is a sure sign of apostasy.

" Inside by a corner of the ' Oren Kodesh ' (' the ark of the law'), the Rabbi's eldest son, and heir- apparent, in a fine talith, and extra large phylacteries, stood, screened off from the others, finishing his prayers; while the gabbai (his attendant) was at hand waiting to carry his praying-bag and escort him to his house. On a long table to one side were lying about volumes of the Talmud and Cabalistic works, and while looking at some of them a number of ' saints ' gathered round to gaze at us. After a little the Schamess (beadle) came to tell us that the Rabbi would soon be going across from his praying-room to his palace, and that if we would stand by the entrance we could see him well. As to speaking with him, such a privilege is not granted to every one, and certainly not without an appointment, and a good deal of backsheesh to the Gabbaim, or body- guard, who are sometimes great rogues.

" I happened to stand close to the side entrance of his private synagogue, when suddenly the door opened and the Zadik himself, a finely-built, tall man in silk kaftan, and with long beard and peyoth, walked out; as he passed me he steadily gazed at me for a moment, and then stopped and held out his hand, saying, ' Schalom aleichem.' I had just time to answer, ' Schalom-al-yedai- sar-Ha-Schalom' ('Peace through the Prince of peace'), when he was surrounded by two or three of the zealous Gabbaim, and passed on. The surprise among the company of the Chassidim, who stood looking on, was very great. That the Zadik should give his hand and say 'Schalom' to a suspicious stranger, perhaps an 'apikoress' was something wonderful. On the piece of road between the synagogue and his palace the Rabbi was besieged by a number of women, who stood with pieces of paper


88 RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS

in their hands, on which were written requests for par- ticular objects, for which they wanted his intercession ; these they thrust on him imploringly. Some of these poor women had no doubt come long distances, and it was rather sad to see the stalwart, stout Gabbaim push them aside rather pitilessly, so that only two or three of the papers reached the Rabbi's hands. We were sad too, beyond measure, to see the credulity of these people, and their readiness to put confidence in their poor blind leaders, while all the time forgetting the true ' Zadik,' the alone ' righteous One,' who is at the right hand of the Father, and whose intercession alone can prevail."

(c) Thirdly, we have the ever-growing Reformed section, of which the Jewish philosopher, Moses Men- delssohn, who was born in Dessau, Prussia, in 1729, is generally regarded as the father. This division includes Jews of very diverse opinions, ranging from those who only reject the traditions of the Rabbis, to those who have thrown overboard all revealed religion, and are avowedly rationalistic if not infidel.

The strongholds of Reformed Judaism are Germany, Austria-Hungary, and America, though their "Temples" are multiplying even in Russia and Chassidic Galicia. As the Talmudic and Chassidic Jews may be said to be the representatives of the Pharisees of the time of Christ, so these Reformed Jews are in true succession of Sadducees, as may be gathered from the following Con- fession of Faith, or rather of unbelief, drawn up in 1888 by Dr. Krauskopf, head of the "Reformed" Jewish Community of Philadelphia : " We discard the belief in a God who is man magnified, who has his abode some- where in the interstellar spaces. We discard the belief that the Bible was written by God, and that its teachings are therefore infallible. . , . We discard the belief in the


AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE 189

coming of a human Messiah who will lead us back to Palestine. . . . We discard the belief in bodily resurrec- tion, hell torments, all Biblical and Rabbinical beliefs, rites, and ceremonies and institutions, which neither elevate nor sanctify our lives."

(d) The fourth religious division is numerically small, but is in some respects the most interesting section of the dispersed people. I refer to the Karaim, who may be styled the Protestants among the Jews, having never submitted to the yoke of the Talmud, and kept only to the written law and the prophets, and who have in con- sequence been much persecuted by the Rabbis and their followers, who have sometimes shown more bitterness against them than even against the Gentiles. Their stronghold is in the Crimea on the Black Sea, but there are small communities of them in other parts of Northern and Eastern Europe, and in the Orient They are in many respects different from Talmudic Jews, with whom they do not intermarry, and they have also been treated differently by the governments in the lands where they are settled. Thus, for instance, in Russia they enjoy full civil rights, while the four or five million of their Rabbinic brethren do not.

Without entering into the somewhat difficult question of their origin, and the history of the development of their doctrines, I append here an extract from my journal written in Cairo on March 13, 1898: "Nine years ago, when I first came in contact with the Karaites in Cairo, I had a most interesting experience with the Rabbi in the synagogue, where I met him by appoint- ment, accompanied by two English Christian gentlemen. Unlike what is customary on entering the synagogues of the Talmudic Jews, we had to take off our boots at the door, and walk inside in our socks. This practice, the Rabbi told us, they base on God's command to Moses in Exod. iii. 5."


igo RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS

The following is a note in my diary written at that time :

" The synagogue is a plain but substantial structure, looking almost new. It was built thirty-five years ago by special permission obtained from the Sultan of Turkey, by their chief Rabbi in Constantinople. Up to that time they used to meet in a catacomb, in the ground just below where their synagogue now stands. Until they received permission to build the synagogue they had no civil rights whatever, and the other Jews even intrigued against them with the authorities to have them expelled from the city, but now, thanks partly to the American and to some of the European Consuls, their existence is recognised, and their religion tolerated.

" This small Karaite community has the honour of possessing one of the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament in existence. It is a copy made in Tiberias, on the Lake of Galilee, by a learned Karaite Rabbi, who must have been a grand scribe, for it is beautifully written in the large square Hebrew characters.

"It is not a scroll, as is often the case with old Hebrew manuscripts, but written on separate large square leaves of parchment, in a case of thin wood covered with a thin coating of leather. Originally it was a complete copy of the Old Testament Scriptures, but now the whole book of Job, part of the Pentateuch, and other fragments are missing. The first page, how- ever, which has been photographed for the Bodleian Library, and on which is the Jewish date (which I am sorry I neglected to copy) is preserved all right. It begins with a preface by the copyist, which ends with a prayer, in which the passage occurs, ' This is the Word of God ; may nothing be taken from it, and nothing be added to it'


AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE 19!

" I well remember a touching incident of this first visit. We were examining the old manuscript and some of their printed books, when I suddenly asked the Rabbi to tell us what he thought was the greatest need of the Jewish people. Without a moment's hesitation he replied, ' The coming of the King Messiah, the Son of David.' ' We, and millions of others,' I said, ' believe that the Son of David has already appeared in the time of the second Temple.' He remained silent for a moment, and then said, ' I know that the Protestants believe this, but our eyes have not yet seen the salvation of God.' There was something pathetic in his tone, and I could not but lift up my heart to God that the time may soon come when he, and all Israel, will ' see the salvation of God ' in the Person of Jesus, who was so called because ' He shall save His people from their sin.' Before we parted on that occasion I offered him a New Testament. He thanked me, saying that he had one given him twenty years before in Constantinople, by a friend now dead, which he would read. You can imagine that I was eager to see this old man again. With that object in view we went to the Karaite synagogue on Friday evening, at the commencement of the Sabbath, and it was a touching sight which there met our view. Unlike the different sects of Rabbinical Jews, the Karaites kneel in prayer. There was no candle or any artificial light in the building, as they are very strict in reference to the command, ' Thou shalt kindle no fire in thy dwellings on the Sabbath day.' It was service time, and the plain but neat and pleasant building, in which there are no seats, was fairly filled with men, all bending low on their knees, while my old friend the Rabbi, whom we could discern in the dim light at the other end of the building before the ark of the law, also on his knees, was leading their prayers,


I 9 2 RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS

to which the whole congregation responded now and again. Some of their prayers are expressive of an intense longing for the appearing of the Deliverer, and for ' the raising up of the horn of David.' Poor Israel ! If they would but look up and around them, they would see the very One for whom they have so long been waiting and praying, looking down upon them with infinite compassion from the right hand of the Father, saying, 'Oh, that My people had hearkened to My voice, and that Israel had known the day of His visitation then had their peace been as a river, and their righteousness as the waves of the sea ' ; then would Israel, instead of being a proverb and a by-word, be a praise and glory in the midst of the earth. But yet for a little while longer these things are hid from their eyes, until the Spirit be poured upon them from on high, and Israel looks upon ' Him whom they have pierced.' We waited till service was over, and then spoke a few words to the Rabbi, who appointed to meet us at his house this morning.

" The people all waited till the Rabbi passed to his house, which is a little distance off, before they dispersed. His noble, patriarchal figure in flowing Sabbath robes and turban, walking with slow steps in all Oriental dignity, brought up to one's mind an ideal picture of our father Abraham, or of the high priest Aaron.

" At ten this morning we arrived at his house, and were kindly welcomed by him on the threshold. His wife soon brought us lemonade, and we felt quite at home. Mr. Gordon drew out his sympathy by telling him that we feel much drawn to the Karaite Jews, because we too reject the Talmud and Rabbinical tradition, and take our stand on the Word of God, the difference between us and them being that we have not only the Old, but also the New Testament, in which we


AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE 193

find the completion and hope given to our fathers. He told us that about thirty-five years ago, when he was a teacher in Constantinople, he had a friend, a Hebrew Christian, whom, said he, ' I loved as a brother,' who used to talk to him of these same things. It was this same friend, now many years dead, who gave him the New Testament. We were very happy to find that he was not now unacquainted with the contents of that blessed Book, and that he spoke of it with respect. In the course of our interview I had the privilege of reading to him several long passages out of the Gospels and portions of Rom. ix., x., and xi., from which we wanted to show him what Christians believe in reference to Israel's future, and how that future is wholly bound up with Christ. We remained about an hour and a half with him, and before parting we presented him with several Hebrew pamphlets, setting forth the claims of our Lord Jesus, which he very gladly accepted."

The following short entry in my journal, written on May 17, 1897, refers to a visit paid to another Karaite community in quite a different part of the world :

" At 2.5 we arrived in Halicz, which is about 2|- miles from the railway station.

"It is beautifully situated on the right bank of the Dniester within sight of the Carpathians, and is com- manded by a hill which is crowned by a picturesque ruin of an ancient castle. Halicz was once the residence of the great Ruthanian lords, and from its name is supposed to be derived ' Galicia,' the name of the province, which was written at one time ' Haliczia.' There are a considerable number of Jews in Halicz, but our interest centred chiefly on the Karaite com- munity.

" It seems difficult to ascertain how this small com- munity found its way to the borders of the Bukowina,


194 RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS

they themselves not being very enlightened in their history ; but this much is clear, that they were invited to settle there by a Polish king during the period of the Tartar invasion, to act as interpreters, Tartar being the language which the Karaim speak among themselves.

"Their quarter, which is inhabited exclusively by them, looks most picturesque, consisting of a very irregular long street of low, white houses. One is struck with the neatness and cleanliness of their dwellings both inside and out, as compared with the other Jews. The most prominent building is their temple, or synagogue, which has a very interesting in- scription outside, which is painted in the spaces of the design known as the ' Magin David ' (Shield of David, the traditional coat-of-arms of the Davidic house), a double crossed triangle.

" In the centre are the words, ' This is the house of Jehovah, the great God. 1 In the outside spaces of the double triangle there is the pathetic prayer of Psa. Ixxxiv. 9, ' Behold, O God, our shield, and look upon the face of Thine Anointed.' In the inside spaces there is the other similar passage from Psa. Ixxxix. 1 8, 'For with Jehovah is our Shield, and with the Holy One of Israel is our King,' and below, in a straight line, are the words, ' For Jehovah God is a Sun and Shield.'

" We could not help longing for the day when Israel, with eyes open to the glory of Christ, will turn the above into prayers of their hearts, and ask God to look, not on them and their sins, but on the face of His Anointed, who is both Israel's Sun and Shield !

"After awhile the Haham, or one who temporarily acts as such, brought the keys and took us inside the synagogue. Several of his congregation followed. They seemed suspicious of us at first, the reason being, as I


AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE 195

afterwards gathered, that some unscrupulous Jews who had visited the place had abused the confidence of the simple-minded Karaim, and stolen some of their valuable books and manuscripts. However, they soon convinced themselves that we were not of that class, and became quite frank and at ease in their manner. They showed us their remaining treasures in the way of books and manuscripts, and as they were explaining to us the history of an old copy of the Torah, we opened it at several places on the reader's desk, and pointed them to a few Messianic passages, which we explained as proving the claims of Israel's true King, who is now at the right hand of God, and who will soon be manifested in the clouds of heaven."

In this classification I have not included the black Fallashas in Abyssinia, whose origin and history are subjects of great uncertainty, and who religiously cannot be included in the category enumerated above, inasmuch as they observe a sacrificial cult based on the law of Moses, ignoring the fact that, apart from the valueless- ness of any sacrificial system now that the great Anti- type has appeared, it is enjoined in that very law to which they seem to cleave, that the divinely appointed sanctuary in Jerusalem is the only place where sacrifices can be offered ; and even there only by priests of the house of Aaron. I have also omitted the other small section of black Jews, namely, the Beni-Israel in India, whose origin is likewise a subject of doubt, many Western Jews even disputing their geniune Israelitish descent.

The whole Jewish nation, at any rate in Europe, is usually divided into two great bodies or families. The division which consists of the great bulk of the people who for many centuries resided chiefly in Poland and the north-westerly countries of Europe, and whose


196 RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS AND SECTS

language varies from the lowest jargon, the "Jiidisch" or " Yiddish," to the most polished German, are called Ashkenazim (or " German," as the word means) ; while the other, who number perhaps not more than about one million, consisting of those whose home, till their cruel banishment in 1492, was Spain and Portugal and other places where the languages of these countries are spoken, but who are now spread chiefly over North Africa, Egypt, and the countries under Turkish sway, and who speak Judea-Spanish, are called " Sephardim " (Spanish).