Rome and Jerusalem/Eleventh Letter

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Eleventh Letter[edit]

Regenerated Judaism and the sacrificial cult-Two thousand year yearning of the nation for a new center in Zion-Patriotic songs and prayers-An old legend-Signs of the times-The time of return approaches-The Eastern Question and the Jews-A Frenchman's enthusiastic appeal.

You ask me to come back to earth from the starry regions of philosophy to the soil of Palestine. You certainly love the antithesis. As an offset to the noble and exalted historical religion of my regenerated Judaism, you oppose the "bloody sacrificial cult" of the ancient Israelites, and claim that orthodox Jews will never agree to a rebuilding of the Temple without, at the same time, reinstituting this ancient cult. You assume, therefore, that my love for my people will not go so far as to consent to an introduction of the sacrificial cult.

I cannot grant you, however, either the supposed conditio sine qua non [the condition without which nothing is possible], on the part of orthodox Jews, or your hypothetical conception of the degree of my patriotism. In regard to my deep, reawakened, though belated love for my people, it seems to me that you forget that real, strong love, the love which dominates body and spirit alike, is always blind. Its blindness consists in this, that it is not the perfection and excellent qualities of the beloved which are the object of love's desire, but the beloved being as it is, with all its good and bad traits. Love desires not the object of affection because it hopes to improve its bad traits, but because it loves the undivided, individual entity. The scar on the face of my beloved does not detract from my love for her, but is itself dear to me; dearer, perhaps, than her beautiful eyes, for other women may have beautiful eyes, but the scar is characteristic only of my beloved's individuality. Were, really, the sacrificial cult an inseparable part of Jewish nationality, I would unhesitatingly accept it. But as long as I have not learned anything better, I am convinced to the contrary. Our exalted historical religion, a religion which has progressed from one enlightened condition to another, which breathes only love for humanity and the knowledge of God cannot have the sacrificial cult as an essential part of its being. But in spite of my personal conviction, let me not venture to anticipate history. There are certain questions which a priori, namely, in a practical way, seem to be insolvable, but which, in the course of historical development, solve themselves. To such questions belongs also the question of cult in general, and the development of a definite form of divine worship out of the moral, religious spirit of that nation which, at every period of its development, .vas the creator of its own religion in particular.

Dr. Sachs, from whose classical work I have already cited excerpts, when speaking of the rigidity of the religious norms in exile and contrasting with this rigidity their former historical development on the soil of Palestine, says: "The ground of a living, historical reality is too wide to be encompassed by a ready-made system of norms and rules; nay, even the fixed norms themselves cannot withstand the strong influence of the free-moving expression of life and remain unchanged. The rushing current of a living movement undermines the obstructing dikes and penetrates by its windings and meanderings into the hard rocks of the shore." It is only after the extinction of the national life of the people, which molded the religious norms in live fashion, that these norms have assumed a form of rigidity. But this rigidity will disappear from the religious life, as soon as the extinct national life comes into existence again, when the current of a national historical development forces itself anew into the hard and rigid religious forms.

The holy spirit, the creative genius of the people, out of which Jewish life and teaching arose, deserted Israel when its children began to feel ashamed of their nationality. But this spirit will again animate our people when it awakens to a new life, and creates new things of which we have at present not even a conception. No one can foretell what form and shape the newborn life and spirit of the regenerated nations will assume. As regards the religious cult, and especially the Jewish cult, it will certainly be different from the present as well as from the ancient form.

Regarded by itself, the sacrificial cult, as described in the Bible, does not contain anything repellent to the spirit of humanitarianism. On the contrary, as compared with the horrible custom of human sacrifices practiced by all the nations of antiquity, the Jewish practice of animal sacrifices was a splendid victory for the spirit of humanitarianism. Be that as it may, whether animal sacrifices are regarded as a concession on the part of the Torah to Paganism, in order to prevent a relapse on the part of the people into idolatry, or whether it be maintained that it contains a hidden symbolism, the meaning of which is at present unknown, one thing is well established, that the Jews, in spite of their having brought "bloody sacrifices," possess greater abhorrence for bloodshed and the eating of blood than modern nations which consume the blood together, with the meat, without sacrifice or ceremony. But the sacrificial cult has not been practiced for the last eighteen hundred years, and therefore our new-fashioned Jews are ashamed of it. And yet it seems that even to the present day, sacrifice is the natural expression of the pious spirit of the child. Goethe tells us, that in his childhood, the only way he could satisfy his religious craving was by means of sacrifice to the Eternal, which he performed by lighting a bonfire and throwing therein his favorite toys.

On the other hand, the prophets of old, and even the rabbis of the Middle Ages, never considered the sacrificial cult essential to the Jewish religion as do modern rigidly orthodox Jews, who look upon it as inseparable from our national restoration. Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai declared, basing his utterance on the prophetic saying in Hosea vi 6, that sacrifices can be substituted by benevolence, and a number of modern rabbinical authorities, who do not recognize the right of the modern descendants of Aaron to the priesthood, have yet declared themselves zealously for the restoration of a Jewish State. The cult that we are going to introduce in the New Jerusalem can and must, for the present, remain an open question. Rome was not built in a day, and the New Jerusalem must needs take time for its construction.

What we have to do at present for the regeneration of the Jewish nation is, first, to keep alive the hope of the political rebirth of our people, and next, to reawaken that hope where it slumbers. When political conditions in the Orient shape themselves so as to permit the organization of a beginning of the restoration of a Jewish State, this beginning will express itself in the founding of Jewish colonies in the land of their ancestors, to which enterprise France will undoubtedly lend a hand. You know how substantial was the share of the Jews in the subscriptions to the fund raised for the benefit of the Syrian war victims. It was Cremieux who took the initiative in the matter, the same Cremieux who twenty years ago traveled with Sir Moses Montefiore to Syria in order to seek protection for the Jews against the persecutions of the Christians. In the Journal des Debats, which very seldom accepts poems for publication, there appeared, at the time of the Syrian expedition, a poem by Leon Halevi, who at the time, perhaps, thought as little of the rebirth of Israel as Cremieux, yet his beautiful stanzas could not have been produced otherwise than in a spirit of foreseeing this regeneration. When the poet of the Schwalben mournfully complains:

Where tarries the hero? Where tarries the wise?
Who will, O my people, revive you anew;
Who will save you, and give you again
A place in the sun?
The French poet answers his query with enthusiastic confidence:
Ye shall be reborn, ye fearsome cities!
A breath of security will always hover
O'er your banks where our colors have fluttered!
Come again a call supreme!
Au revoir is not adieu-
France is all to those she loves,
The future belongs to God.
Alexander Weill sang about the same time:
There is a people stiff of neck,
Dispersed from the Euphrates to the Rhine,
Its whole life centered in a Book
Oft times bent, yet ever straightened;
Braving hatred and contempt,
It only dies to live again
In nobler form.

France, beloved friend, is the savior who will restore our people to its place in universal history.

Allow me to recall to your mind an old legend which you have probably heard in your younger days. It runs as follows: "A knight who went to the Holy Land to assist in the liberation of Jerusalem, left behind him a very dear friend. While the knight fought valiantly on the field of battle, his friend spent his time, as heretofore, in the study of the Talmud, for his friend was none other than a pious rabbi.

"Months afterward, when the knight returned home, he appeared suddenly at midnight, in the study room of the rabbi, whom he found, as usual, absorbed in his Talmud. 'God's greetings to you, dear old friend,' he said. 'I have returned from the Holy Land and bring you from there a pledge of our friendship. What I gained by my sword, you are striving to obtain with your spirit our ways lead to the same goal.' While thus speaking, the knight handed the rabbi a rose of Jericho.

"The rabbi took the rose and moistened it with his tears, and immediately the withered rose began to bloom again in its full glory and splendor. And the rabbi said to the knight: 'Do not wonder, my friend that the withered rose bloomed again in my hands. The rose possesses the same characteristics as our people: it comes to life again at the touch of the warm breath of love, in spite of its having been torn from its own soil and left to wither in foreign lands. So will Israel bloom again in youthful splendor; and the spark, at present smoldering under the ashes, will burst once more into a bright flame.'"

The routes of the rabbi and the knight dear friend, are meeting to-day. As the rabbi in the story symbolizes our people, so does the knight of the legend signify the French people which in our days, as in the Middle Ages, sent its brave soldiers to Syria and "prepared in the desert the way of the Lord."

Have you never read the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that the appointed time has come, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received at the Lord's hand double for all her sins. The voice of one that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be mad low, and the crooked shall be made a straight place, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."

Do you not believe that in these words, with which second Isaiah opened his prophecies, as well as in words with which the Prophet Obadiah closed his prophecy, the conditions of our own time are graphically pictured? Was not help given to Zion in order to defend and establish the wild mountaineers there? Are not things being prepared there and roads leveled, and is not the road of civilization being built in the desert in the form of the Suez Canal works and the railroad which will connect Asia and Europe? They are not thinking at present of the restoration of our people. But you know the proverb, "Man proposes and God disposes." Just as in the West they once searched for a road to India, and incidentally discovered a new world, so will our lost fatherland be rediscovered on the road to India and China that is now being built in the Orient. Do you still doubt that France will help the Jews to found colonies which may extend from Suez to Jerusalem, and from the banks of the Jordan to the Coast of the Mediterranean? Then pray read the work which appeared shortly after the massacres in Syria, by the famous publisher, Dentu, under the title The New Oriental Problem. The author hardly wrote it at the request of the French government, but acted in accordance with the spirit of the French nation when he urged our brethren, not on religious grounds, but from purely political and humanitarian motives, to restore their- ancient state.

I may, therefore, recommend this work, written, not by a Jew, but by a French patriot, to the attention of our modern Jews, who plume themselves on borrowed French humanitarianism. I will quote here, in translation, a few pages of this work, The New Eastern Question, by Ernest Laharanne.

"In the discussion of these new Eastern complications, we reserved a special place for Palestine, in order to bring to the attention of the world the important question, whether ancient Judaea can once more acquire its former place under the sun.

"This question is not raised here for the first time. The redemption of Palestine, either by the efforts of international Jewish banker, or the nobler method, of a general subscription in which all the Jews should participate, has been discussed many times. Why is it that this patriotic project has not as yet been realized? It is certainly not the fault of pious Jews that the plan was frustrated, for their hearts beat fast and their eyes fill with tears at the thought of a return to Jerusalem. "If the project is still unrealized, the cause is easily cognizable. The Jews dare not think of the possibility of possessing again the land of their fathers. Have we not opposed to their wish our Christian veto? Would we not continually molest the legal proprietor when he will have taken possession of his ancestral land, and in the name of piety make him feel that his ancestors forfeited the title to their land on the day of the Crucifixion?

"Our stupid Ultra-montanism has destroyed the possibility of a regeneration of Judaea, by making the present of the Jewish people barren and unproductive. Had the city of Jerusalem been rebuilt by means of Jewish capital, we would have heard preachers prophesying, even in our progressive nineteenth century, that the end of the world is at hand and predictions of the coming of the Anti-Christ. Yes, we have lived to see such a state of affairs, now that Ultra-montanism has made its last stand in oratorical eloquence. In the sacred beehive of religion, we still hear a continuous buzzing of those insects who would rather see a mighty sword in the hands of the barbarians, than greet the resurrection of nations and hail the revival of a free and great thought inscribed on their banner. This is undoubtedly the reason why Israel did not make any attempt to become master of his own flocks, why the Jews, after wandering for two thousand years, are not in a position to shake the dust from their weary feet. The continuous, inexorable demands that would be made upon a Jewish settlement, the vexatious insults that would be heaped upon them and which would finally degenerate into persecutions, in which fanatic Christians and pious Mohammedans would unite in brotherly accord-these are the reasons, more potent than the rule of the Turks, that have deterred the Jews from attempting to rebuild the Temple of Solomon, their ancient home, and their State.

"But if this cause explains the lack of courage on the part of patriotic Jews, we cannot refrain from accusing the so-called progressive Jews of indifference to the fate of the Jewish people; for whenever a project for the restoration of the Jewish State is being considered, they display toward it a naivete that neither does credit to their reasoning power nor to their heart. The explanations offered by them on such occasions are inadmissible both from a moral and from a political point of view. A declaration, composed by the representatives of the progressive Je1vs at their meeting in Frankfort, contains the following Article:

"We acknowledge as our fatherland only the land where we are born and to which we are inseparably united by the bonds of citizenship."

"No member of the Jewish race can renounce the incontestable and fundamental right of his people, without at the same time denying the history of the Jews and his own ancestors. Such an act is especially unseemly, at a time when political conditions in Europe will not only not obstruct the restoration of a Jewish State, but will rather facilitate its realization. What European power to-day would oppose the plan that the Jews, united through a Congress, should buy back their ancient fatherland? Who would object if the Jews flung to decrepit old Turkey a few handfuls of gold, and said to her: 'Give me' back my home and use this money to consolidate the other parts of your tottering empire?'

"No objections would be raised to the realization of such a plan, and Judaea would be permitted to extend its boundaries from Suez to the harbor of Smyrna, including the entire area of the western Lebanon range. For We will not be eternally engaged in war; the time must come when this wholesale massacre, usually accompanied by the booming of cannon, will be condemned by humanity, so that the nation which desires conquest in addition to commerce, will not dare to carry out its designs. We must therefore prepare and break new ground for the peaceful struggles of industry. European industry has daily to search for new markets as an outlet for its products. We have no time to lose. The time has arrived when it is imperative to call the ancient nations back to life, so as to open new highways and byways for European civilization."

In another passage, the author speaks with so much enthusiasm, love and reverence for the Jews, that what he says overshadows all that has ever been said by a Jew in praise of his own people.

"There is a mysterious power which rules the destiny of humanity. Once the hand of the Infinite Power has signed the decree of a nation to be banished forever from the fact of the earth, the fate of that nation is irrevocable. But when we see a nation, torn from its cradle in its early childhood, and after having tasted all the bitterness of exile is brought back to its land, only to be tossed again into the wide world; and that nation, during the eighteen centuries of its wandering has displayed such remarkable powers of endurance, suffering age-long martyrdom :without extinguishing in its heart the fire of patriotism, then we just admit that we are standing before an infinite mystery, unparalleled in the history of humanity."

In these few words there is concentrated the whole history of Israel.

What an example! What a race! You, Roman conquerors, led your legions in battle against the already ruined Zion and drove the children of Israel out of their ancestral land. Your European, Asiatic and African barbarians lent your ear to superstition and pronounced your curse upon them. You, feudal kings, branded the Jews with the mark of shame-the Jews, who, in spite of all your persecutions, supplied you with the necessary gold wherewith to arm your vassals and serfs and who provided your markets with goods. You, grand Inquisitors, searched among the children of the dispersed people of Israel for your richest victims, with whom to fill your prisons and coffers, and in order to feed your auto-da-fe's -and you revoked the edict of Nantes 11 and drove out of the land the remnant that had escaped the destruction of Apostolic fanaticism. And finally, you modern nations have denied these indefatigable workers and industrious merchants civil rights. What persecutions! What tears! What blood you children of Israel have shed in the last eighteen hundred years! But you sons of Judaea, in spite of all suffering are still here. You have overcome the innumerable obstacles which the hatred, contempt, fanaticism and barbarism of the centuries have placed in your way. The hand of the Eternal has surely guided you.

France finally freed you. On the eve of the great world epoch, France, while shattering its own chains, called all nations and also you, into freedom. You became citizens and now you are brothers. The year 1789 was the first step in the process of rehabilitation. Pursuing its mission, liberation, the eye of France searched after all persecuted races, and it found you in your ghetto and shattered its doors forever . France invited you to its Chambers. You participated in its triumphs; you shared its happiness and its reverses. You have raised your voice on the day of council, shouted for joy at our victories and wept at our defeats. You are good citizens and devoted brothers. France will perhaps be to you a lighthouse of salvation, a rock against your enemies, who are also the enemies of our modern institutions. It will defend you against the libelers of your nationality, your character and your religion.

You are an elemental force and we bow our heads before you. You were powerful in the early period of your history, strong even after the destruction of Jerusalem, and mighty during the Middle Ages, when there were only two dominant powers-the Inquisition and its Cross, and Piracy with its Crescent. You have escaped destruction in your long dispersion, in spite of the terrible tax you have paid during eighteen centuries of persecution. But what is left of your nation is mighty enough to rebuild the gates of Jerusalem. This is your mission. Providence would not have prolonged your existence until to-day, had it not reserved for you the holiest of all missions. The hour has struck for the resettlement of the banks of the Jordan. The historical books of the royal prophets can, perhaps, be written again only by you.

A great calling is reserved for you: to be a living channel of communication between three continents. You should be the bearers of civilization to the primitive people of Asia, and the teachers of the European sciences to which your race has contributed so much. You should be the mediators between Europe and far Asia, open the roads that lead to India and China-those unknown regions which must ultimately be thrown open to civilization. You will come to the land of your fathers crowned with the crown of age-long martyrdom, and there, finally, you will be completely healed from all your ills! Your capital will again bring the wide stretches of barren land under cultivation; your labor and industry will once more turn the ancient soil into fruitful valleys, reclaim the flat lands from the encroaching sands of the desert, and the world will again pay its homage to the oldest of peoples.

The time has arrived for you to reclaim, either by way of compensation or by other means, your ancient fatherland from Turkey, which has devastated it for ages. You have contributed enough to the cause of civilization and have helped Europe on the path of progress, to make revolutions and carry them out successfully. You must henceforth think of yourselves, of the valleys of Lebanon and the plains of Gennesareth.

March forward! At the sight of your rejuvenation, our hearts will beat fast, and our armies will stand by you, ready to help.

March forward, Jews of all lands! The ancient fatherland of yours is calling you, and we will be proud to open its gates for you.

March forward, ye sons of the martyrs! The harvest of experience which you have accumulated in your long exile, will help to bring again to Israel the splendor of the Davidic days and rewrite that part of history of which the monoliths of Semiramis are the only witness.

March forward, ye noble hearts! The day on which the Jewish tribes return to their fatherland will be epoch making in the history of humanity. Oh, how will the East tremble at your coming! How quickly, under the influence of labor and industry, will the enervation of the people vanish, in the land where voluptuousness, idleness and robbery have held sway for thousands of years.

You will become the moral stay of the East. You have written the Book of books. Become, then, the educators of the wild Arabian hordes and the African peoples. Let the ancient wisdom of the East, the revelations of the Zend, the Vedas, as well as the more modern Koran and the Gospels, group themselves around your Bible. They will all become purified from every superstition and all will proclaim alike the principles of freedom, humanity, peace and unity. You are the triumphal arch of the future historical epoch, under which the great covenant of humanity will be written and sealed in your presence as the witnesses of the past and future. The Biblical traditions which you will revive, will also sanctify anew our Occidental society and destroy the weed of materialism together with its roots.

And when you shall have made this wonderful progress, remember, ye sons of Israel, remember Modern France which, from the moment of its rebirth, has loved you continually and has never wearied of defending you.