A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Jews

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JEWS, a name derived from the patriarch Judith, and from the predominance of that tribe in after ages, given to all the descendants of his father Jacob, who was also called Israel. Of the ancient Jews, the most auhentic accounts may be found in the scriptures. The belief of the modern Jews is expressed by their great Rabbi Maimonides, of the eleventh century, in the following thirteen articles:

I. That God is the creator of all things; that he guides and supports all creatures; that he has done every thing; and that he still acts, and shall act during the whole of eternity.

II. That God is one. There is no unity like his. He alone hath been, is, and shall be, eternally our God.

HI. That God is incorporeal, and cannot have any material properties; and no corporeal essence can be compared with him.

IV. That God is the beginning and end of all things; and shall eternally subsist.

V. That God alone ought to be worshipped; and none besides him adored.

VI. That whatever has been taught by the prophets is true.

VII. That Moses is the father and head of all contemporary doctors, and those, who lived before, or shall live after him.

VIII. That the law was given by Moses.

IX. That the law shall never be altered; and God will give no other.

X. That God knows all the thoughts and actions of men.

XI. That God will regard the works of all those, who have performed what he commands, and punish those, who have transgressed his laws.

XII. That the Messiah is to come, though he tarry a long time.

XIII. That there shall be a resurrection of the dead, when God shall think fit.

The modern Jews adhere still as closely to the Mosaic dispensation, as their dispersed and despised condition will permit them. Their service consists chiefly in reading the law and, the prophecies in their synagogues, together with a variety of prayers. They use no

sacrifices since the destruction of the temple. They repeat blessings and particular praises to God, not only in their prayers, but on all accidental occasions, and in almost all their actions. They go to prayers three times a day in their synagogues. Their sermons are not made in Hebrew, which few of them now perfectly understand, but in the language of the country where they reside. The passages of scripture and sentences from the doctors are, however, quoted from the Hebrew and explained.

The Jews are strictly prohibited from all vain swearing, and pronouncing any of the names of God without necessity. They abstain from meats prohibited by the levitical law; for which reason, whatever they eat must be dressed by those of their own nation, in a manner peculiar to themselves. In the observance of their religious festivals they perform similar ceremonies to those which were practised by their ancestors. All their rites, precepts, and ceremonies which are not contained in the pentateuch, are founded upon and derive their authority from the Talmud. There is, however, some variation in their customs and ceremonies, and in the liturgies which the nation have made use of at different times, and in various countries. But in the principal points of belief and practice they all agree.

This people acknowledge a twofold law of God,—a written and unwritten one; the former is contained in the five books of Moses; the latter they pretend has been handed down from him by oral tradition. (See Cabbalists.) They assert the perpetuity of their law, together with its perfection. They deny the accomplishment of the prophecies in the person of Jesus Christ; alleging that the Messiah is not yet come; and that he will make his appearance with the greatest pomp and grandeur, subduing all nations, and subjecting them to the house of Judah; and making Jerusalem the metropolis of his kingdom.

They say that "during the Messiah's reign, the world will be restored to its former glory, a new heaven and new earth will appear; the former will pass away, mankind will recover their primitive glory, and will be above the angels; satan and his band will be destroyed. The seventh day of the creation was the sabbath, and that day only received a blessing, and was set apart forever to be observed as a holy day; which was a type of the great sabbath; i. e. the world of the Messiah, which also will be called the blessed world."[1]

When it is urged that the prophets predicted the Messiah's low condition and sufferings, the Jews talk of two Messiahs; one, Ben Ephraim, who they grant to be of a mean and afflicted condition in this world; the other, Ben David, who shall be a victorious and powerful prince.

This people maintain,that the souls of the righteous enjoy the beatific vision of God in paradise, and that the souls of the wicked are tormented in hell with fire and other punishments. They suppose, that the sufferings of the most atrocious criminals are of eternal duration, while others remain only for a limited time in purgatory, which does not differ from hell with respect to the place, but to the duration. They pray for the souls of the dead, and imagine that many are delivered from purgatory on the great day of expiation.

The Rabbinists or modern Pharisees form the bulk of this nation. The two branches of Portuguese and German Jews are of this description, which includes all who admit traditions, &c. They entertain an implacable hatred to the Karaites, or Caraites, who adhere strictly to the text of Moses, and reject the Cabbala.

There are still, however, a few Sadducees in Africa; and in the East some remains of the ancient sect of the Samaritans—at Gaza, Damascus, and Grand Cairo.

With regard to the ten tribes, Mr. Basnage supposes they still subsist in the East; and Dr. Buchanan observes, that "It has been sufficiently ascertained by the investigation of the learned in India, that the Affghan and Pyran nations consist of the descendants of the ten tribes."

It is impossible to fix the number of people the Jewish nation is at present composed of. But in a pamphlet recently published, entitled, "Of the Jews in the nineteenth century," there is an approximative calculation, though of course in some measure hypothetical, of all the Jews spread over the face of the earth. Our author estimates them at 6,598,000; of which there were 1,000,000 in Poland, before the division of that country in 1772; 200,000 in Russia,comprising Wallachia and Moldavia; 500,000 in the states where the German language is spoken; 80,000 in Holland, and the low countries; 5,000 in Sweden and Denmark; 50,000 in France; 50,000 in England, of whom 12,000 are in London; 200,000 in the states where the Italian language is spoken ; 10,000 in Spain and Portugal; 3,000 in the United States of America; 4,000,000 in the Mahometan States of Europe, Asia, and Africa; 500,000 in Persia, and the rest of Asia, comprising China and India.[2]

The Jews however, since the destruction of Jerusalem, have never been able to regain a permanent settlement in Judea, or indeed in any country on earth; though there is scarcely any part of the globe where they are not to be found. In most countries, they have been terribly massacred. In christendom, they have been despised, calumniated, oppressed, banished, executed, and burned, and in general, have suffered more cruel treatment from christians, than even from Pagans and Mahometans. For a detail of their sufferings the reader is referred to Basnage's History of the Jews. Tovey's Anglia Judaica, &c.

The situation of this people has been greatly meliorated during the last and present century.

France has allowed them the rights of citizens, which induced many of the most wealthy among them to fix their residence in that country. In the city of Paris they have three synagogues and a consistory, composed of three grand rabbis. England, Holland, Poland and Prussia[3] tolerate and protect them. In the United States of America they have never been persecuted, but have been indulged in all the rights of citizens. ,

In England, energetic attempts are used to effect their conversion. In 1809, the London society was formed "for promoting christianity amongst the Jews." The means adopted by the society are the extensive distribution of bibles and religious tracts among the Jews; establishing weekly and quarterly lectures to be preached to them, the latter of which are styled demonstration sermons, or sermons demonstrative of our Lord Jesus Christ as the true Messiah;—the establishing a charity school for Jewish children, among whom boys of promising talents and piety are prepared for the ministry. And, above all, translating the new testament into pure biblical Hebrew, to be distributed among the dispersed of Israel in every part of the globe. The management of the society is at present in the hands of the Episcopalians. From intelligence received in 1816, it appears, "that much has been effected in the very few years of the society's operations. A correspondence has been opened with pious and learned christians in various parts of the world; a translation of the new testament into pure biblical Hebrew has been in part accomplished; a large number of Jewish children have been educated, with the full consent of their parents, in the christian faith; an episcopal chapel for the Jews has been erected in that quarter of the city where they most abound; courses of lectures for their benefit have been preached in London, and various other places in England; many works connected with Jewish literature have been published; and above all, some adult Jews, it is hoped, have been truly converted, and admitted by baptism into the christian church. The foreign correspondence of the society seems to indicate that a great change is silently operating throughout the continent; and the society are encouraged to hope and expect a final blessing on their endeavours to promote the salvation of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.[4]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. This paragraph is extracted from Rabbi Crool's "Restoration of Israel," published 1814. By this work it appears, that the mode of thinking and arguing among the Jews of the present day is similar to that, which was prevalent among their ancestors. The Jews in the time of our Saviour, like those of the present day, expected not a suffering but a triumphant Messiah; and that his appearance and the restoration of Israel are coeval, and closely connected with each other.
  2. See a Pamphlet, styled "The Correspondent," consisting of letters between eminent persons of France and England. London, 1817.
  3. In Berlin, the Jews have enjoyed singular honours, as men of genius and study. The late Moses Mendelsohn, by the force of his reasoning, has been surnamed the Jewish Socrates; and by the amenity of his diction, the Jewish Plato. Bloch, a Jewish physician, was the first naturalist of the age; Herz is a professor, with four hundred auditors; Mainon, a profound metaphysician. There are Jewish poets, and Jewish artists, of eminence; and, which perhaps exist no where but in Berlin, a Jewish academy of sciences, and a Jewish Literary Journal, composed in Hebrew. See Vaurier, or Sketches of the Times, vol. ii. p. 249.
  4. Basnage's History of the Jews, p. 110, 115, 227, 746, &c. Encyclopedia, vol. ix. p. 143 Jewish Repository, vol i. p. 210; vol. ii. p. 289, 320. Levi's Ciremonies of the Jews. Rabbi Crool's Restoration of Israel. Monthly Magazine, 1796. Asiatic Researches, vol. ii. p. 76. Works of Sir William Jones, vol. i. p. 336. Christian Observer, 1816.