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sect. Unlike those of their faith in England, France, Holland, Prussia, or Belgium, who, surrounded by Christian influences -social, moral, and spiritual—are making themselves more familiar with the doctrines of the Christian church, and in many instances, so to speak, Christianising their Judaism, the Polish Jews, persecuted by Russia with a mediæval oppression, cling closely together, sustained alone by the consolations afforded them by their religion, and thus possess a sympathy in their seclusion which renders them all the more secluded. Elsewhere few of the Hebrews at the present day know anything of the principles which constitute the very essence of Judaism, or at least understand them. The greater portion regard Judaism as an array of rites and ceremonies which must be rigidly but ignorantly followed; or else they make the religion of Moses a sublime and impossible abstraction, and, under the pretence that it is eminently rational, see only its dogmas, and reduce it to Monotheism—thus confounding the foundation with the building, and making the Pentateuch the synonym of the Koran. Not so the Polish Jew. He is the faithful follower of that conservative, orthodox Judaism which his ancestors have ever professed, and whose ordinances and rites are his daily delight and study. To him the Jewish faith is a doctrine that must be practised, but can only be practised when believed, and only believed when understood. Hence the Polish Jews are regarded as the most highly gifted of the Hebrew race, and many from their numbers fill the synagogues of Europe as Rabbis and teachers.
“It would be difficult to find," writes Mr. Anderson,* throughout the whole of Europe any country in which the peculiar destinies of the Jewish race appear more distinctly than in Russian Poland. Although brought into daily and hourly contact with members of the Russian and Latin churches, they lose not in any quarter, or in any degree, the slightest portion of their own distinctive creed. They follow with scrupulous exactness the order of their religious feasts, according to the times and seasons observed elsewhere by their brethren, notwithstanding that the reckoning followed in the despotic country of which they are inhabitants, is for ever drawing them back to its own style of date. Although the profession of their name exposes them (to the shame of Christendom be it said) everywhere to reproach, yet they nowhere seek, by disguising the name, to escape the reproach. They know and rejoice to confess that they are the people “to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises."* They read their Holy Scriptures in the language in which their inspired lawgiver and prophets wrote it,—those very Scriptures of which they could not, if they would, have altered 'one jot or tittle’ in favour of Christianity by reason of their manifold dispersions; and of which they would not, if they could, have altered 'one jot or tittle” in favour of Christianity, by reason of their aversion to the Christian name;—those very Scriptures, in fact, which are the foundation of the Christian's hope, and emphatically confirm the truth of our Lord's words, that Salvation is of the Jews.”
* Seven Months' Residence in Russian Poland.
And yet, even amongst this strictly conservative body, the spirit of reform is beginning to raise its voice, and to make
* Romans ix. 4.
itself heard. The following facts, related by a convert from Judaism, who lived many years in Russian Poland, are interesting. He divides the Polish Jews into four classes : the Strictly Orthodox, the Reformers, the Radical Reformers, and the Chasidim. Of the first, it is unnecessary to say more than that they are the closest adherents of the faith and ritual of Rabbinism to be found in Europe. Of the Reformers, he says :
“This division is very numerous, and extends through the whole kingdom of Poland, but still more in the Russian empire. They openly, and without any restraint renounce and deny the Divine origin of Rabbinism; but, still biassed by its antiquity, they desire their ordinances to be only modified, not abrogated. 'Nothing but what is unreasonable and burdensome, or contrary to the Word of God, must be repealed; otherwise,' say they, 'we lose our national character and all marks which stamp us as a distinct people. These were the words of all of them I met with. These reformers differ greatly from those in Russia and Germany, inasmuch as they endeavour to build upon the foundation of Scripture, which they still affirm to be a revelation from God, though they do not rightly understand it—the natural man not receiving the things of the Spirit of God. But, for many reasons, the reformers in Poland will not be able, for a long time, to effect their wishes; and only in a few places in Russia have they found means to separate themselves from the established synagogue, and to organise special communities, and regulate Divine service according to their principles.
“From what I could collect in my conversations with those attached to this division, they all seemed to concur in the belief in a Messiah to come; nor do they expect in Him a
mighty prince, who shall subdue the whole world under the Jewish nation, but regard His functions as of a moral nature; and moreover not restricted to the Jewish nation only, but that this nation shall be influenced by them in a higher degree, and thus somehow distinguished from other nations. They name, as the moral achievements of Messiah, civilisation, restoration of true religion, and peace among all nations. One may easily see that the whole is a fragmentary and confused compilation from Scripture, which must give great hope for the future, especially when they shall, God willing, have more frequent intercourse with Christian missionaries.”
The Radical Reformers, as their name implies, attack the very root of Judaism. “ They reject Rabbinism as fallacious, and are resolved to exclude themselves altogether from the established synagogue, and participate in nothing which is based on the oral law.” The secret of this hostility to the
” creed of Judaic orthodoxy my authority attributes entirely to the senseless doctrines inculcated by the Talmud.
Of the Chasidim, he says: “This fanatic, mysterious, and superstitious people form the only one organised division which stands out as a compact body, and may be properly called 'the Sect of Sects.' In the northern parts of Poland they are very thinly scattered, and therefore of little influence; but far larger are their numbers in the southern provinces and in the Empire, where their zeal and vehemence of temper (acting, moreover, as they do always in concert with one another), put a great check to any progress of the nonChasidim, resisting any innovation which betrays the least deviation from old habits and ordinances. This is the more grievous as they themselves are far from being strict fulfillers of the oral law. In those places where they live in large
bodies, and form the majority of the Jewish population, they are even dangerous to those who differ; and are dreaded even by the mayor and police of the place. This set of Jews have hardly changed in anything since I left Poland. The lower and poorer class are still idle and 'lazy, living upon the bounty of the rich ; while all neglect alike the study of the Scriptures as well as of ancient Rabbinism. They read only the works of their own Rabbis, which are pregnant with mysteries and superstitions. The whole of their religious system is the one article of their creed, which bears a striking similarity with the Mohammedan, viz., the belief in God and the Rabbi—the latter they regard as a prophet, the mediator between them and God, endued with Divine powers, able (as it is taught in their chief and sacred book Tania) to transform creation at will. To the Rabbi they resort on every occasion, believing his prayers and blessings to be of unbounded efficacy, procuring even remission of sin, which belief often produces a relaxation of morals. But looseness of morals is also rapidly spreading among the other divisions namned above; and no wonder, since their creed, at present, consists only of the negation of certain errors and falsehoods, but has nothing of positive and Divine truth, and is a mere product of frail reason.'
Side by side with the extreme religious culture that prevails among the orthodox Polish Jews is that predominance in commerce which is invariably identified with those of the Hebrew faith. As the Moroqueen Israelites absorb amongst themselves almost the whole of the mercantile industry that flourishes in Barbary, so the Jews of Russian, Prussian, and Austrian Poland, constitute the chief, almost the only medium of traffic among the Christian population of those countries.