« PreviousContinue »
REVIEW OF NEW PUBLICATIONS.
ART. I. - The Main Principles of the Creed and Ethics of the Jews,
exhibited in Selections from the Yad Hachazakah, of Maimonides, with a Literal English Translation, copious Nlustrations from the Talmud, fc., explanatory Notes, an alphabetical Glossary of such particles and technical terms as occur in the Selections, and a collection of the Abbreviations commonly used in Rabbinical Writings. By HERMANN HEDWIG BERNARD, Teacher of Languages at Cambridge. 8vo. Pp. xxxiii. 358. Cambridge: Deighton. London: Rivingtons. 1832.
In reviewing the history of literature in this country, during a period of nearly two centuries, we cannot fail to remark how little attention has been paid to Jewish learning. While the Greek and Latin languages have been diligently and successfully cultivated, and the classical works, which have come down to us, have been read with avidity by men of all ranks and professions, Hebrew has been suffered to fall into almost total neglect. Even among our Clergy the study of the original text of the Old Testament has not been generally regarded as indispensable ; and the uninspired writings of the Hebrews have, by universal consent, been condemned to sleep on the shelves of our libraries, unheeded and unknown. These times, however, appear to be quickly drawing to a close. The recent establishment of Hebrew scholarships in both our universities, has led many of their rising members to devote themselves to the study of this language. And the conviction which is daily growing in the minds of men, both within and without the walls of these seats of learning, that a more systematic plan of professional education must ere long be adopted, will not suffer this impulse to die away. The effects which this revival of Hebrew learning may produce, not only among ourselves, but ultimately on the Jews also, it is not easy to foresee. For our
VOL. XIV. NO. IX.
part we confess that we are disposed to entertain sanguine hopes on this point. We think it not improbable that the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, or, as it may be called, the reformation of the modern Jewish Church, will, in many respects, bear a close resemblance to our own glorious reformation. For to us it appears plain that a Jew cannot be converted from his present religious system, except by being convinced that that system is wrong. But in order to this conviction, the principles of his creed must be familiarly known to the Christian world. The opinions which he holds, the authority on which he grounds them, the arguments by which he supports them, must be fairly brought to the test of common sense ; and his views must be shewn to be untenable by any man of sound and enlightened understanding. In short, another Erasmus must lay the egg, which another Luther will hatch. But how can this be done by us, who are ourselves in total ignorance of the whole subject ? We therefore feel that the thanks of the Christian world are due to those, who, by contributing in any degree to the enlargement of our scanty stock of rabbinical literature, assist (though perhaps unwittingly) in dispelling the darkness of rabbinical superstition, and in spreading among God's chosen people the light of the Gospel of their Messiah.
Taking this view of the subject, we cannot but congratulate our readers and the Christian Church, on the appearance of the present volume. Its author was, we believe, by birth an Israelite; but, having himself been enabled to see " the way, the truth, and the life,” he is now desirous of bringing forward, and turning to practical account, those stores of rabbinical knowledge which he acquired in early life, and which, if we may judge from the work before us, place him far above the ordinary level even of the educated portion of his brethren. The objects of Mr. Bernard in this, the first-fruits of his labours, will be best stated in his own words.
The following selections will, it is humbly hoped, go far to supply the biblical student with the means, at present scarcely within his reach, of acquiring an accurate knowledge of rabbinical Hebrew. They are chiefly intended, however, to make the English reader acquainted, at a comparatively trifling expense of time and labour, with the sentiments of Maimonides respecting some of the most interesting and important questions in theology, (such, for example, as regard the Deity, the Angels, Prophecy, Sin, Repentance, Free-will, Predestination, 8c.), which are discussed by him in his justly celebrated work the Yad Hachazakah ; a work, recognized by the Jews, even at the present day, as an admirable exposition of their law and of the main principles of their creed.—Preface,
pp. i. ii.
Another, and that a very important, part of the writer's plan has been,
To furnish the reader with extracts and translations from the Talmud and the Medrashim, illustrative of the sentiments, traditions, and sayings of the ancient Rabbins, quoted by Maimonides, which, though well known to the learned men among the Jews, might have been mistaken, by those who are unacquainted
with the sources from which they are drawn, for visionary fancies proceeding from that author himself.—Preface, pp. iv. v.
Our readers will naturally imagine that the class of persons to whom the present publication will be particularly valuable, must consist of those who, already possessing a competent knowledge of biblical Hebrew, are desirous of reading the works of the rabbins in their original language. And to students, the selections, the notes, the glossary, and list of abbreviations will afford assistance, without which it is almost impossible to overcome the difficulties of first introduction to rabbinical Hebrew; but which no English work, with which we are acquainted, has hitherto even attempted to supply. In fact, we think that the author himself does not overrate the value of his labours when he affirms, that
As soon as he shall be able to construe the Hebrew text of these selections, with accuracy and fluency, the language of the Mishnah will present to him but few difficulties; and when he shall have made such progress as to read with ease the passages from the Talmud, contained in the notes, the step which he will have made towards acquiring a knowledge of the Talmudical language, will be a very important one indeed. In fact he may then venture upon almost any rabbinical work.---Preface, p. vi..
But though the Hebrew student will derive the greatest advantage from the present work, yet, as the text and every note are translated literally into English, those who are altogether ignorant of Hebrew need not be deterred from its perusal. And if they have any curiosity on the subject of Jewish opinions, or feel any interest in the great questions at issue between the Jewish and Christian Churches, the volume will amply repay them for the time and attention which they may bestow upon it.
There is, however, one great defect in the book, to which we kindly invite Mr. Bernard's attention, and which we trust our readers will thank us for endeavouring to supply. The volume wants an introduction. Mr. Bernard opens a rabbinical author, and reads on without difficulty. If allusion is made to our wise men," he knows the class of persons, whose authority is thus adduced, and the position which that class occupies among the literati of his nation. If a rabbi is quoted by name, he knows (or can easily discover) the time at which he lived, the subjects on which he wrote, the opinions which he held, the talents and learning which he possessed, and the value of his testimony on the point for which it is brought forward. If the authority of the “Court of Judgment" be appealed to, he is as familiar with the phrase, as an Englishman would be with the words “ Act of Parliament,” or “ Decree of the High Court of Chancery." And the same may be said in a thousand other cases, in which a Jew, writing on the subject of Jewish Laws and Customs, makes allusions and references to times, and places, and things, which, to a Jewish reader,
present no difficulty whatever. But let a foreigner sit down to read the same book, and his progress will be perpetually impeded by his ignorance of the nationalities of the author, by his want of that previous acquaintance with a host of miscellaneous trifles, which the writer tacitly regards as an acknowledged postulate. Many of these difficulties are, it is true, explained as they arise, in Mr. Bernard's notes: but still the reader is like a traveller passing through a land to which he is a total stranger, in company with a well-informed native, who draws his attention to every remarkable object as it passes; while Mr. Bernard possesses all the advantages of one, who has studied and mastered a map of the country and an itinerary of the road, previous to commencing his journey. We regret therefore that he has not, at the outset, put his readers in possession of a few hints, which would not only have prepared the way for their perusal of Maimonides, but have rendered incalculable service to those, who may be disposed to use the present volume as an introduction to other rabbinical writings, but who have not the advantage of a master to accompany them in their future progress. The preface, which Maimonides himself has prefixed to the Yad Hachazakah, illustrated by such notes as might be necessary, would have gone far towards removing the difficulties of which we complain: and though several works exist, some even in our own language, from which our readers may easily obtain this information ;* yet, as there is something original in the way in which the rabbins tell their own tale, we hope we shall stand excused, if, before offering any remarks on the contents of the volume now in our hands, we devote the remainder of the present article to the author's own introduction to it. The Preface of the RABBI Moses, The Son of Maimon.
The memory of the just is blessed. Prov. x. 7. All the commandments which were given to Moses on Sinai, were given with their interpretation : for it is said, “ And I will give thee tables of stone, and a ĻAW, anıl the comM ANDMENTS.” Exod. xxiv. 12. The Law is the written law, and the commandments mean the interpretation of it. And He bath commanded us to perform the law agreeably to the commandment; and the commandment forms what is called the oral law.t The whole law our Rabbi Moses, before he
See Pocock's Porta Mosis, Tract I. Basnage's History of the Jews, Book III. Prideaux's Connection, Part 1. Book V. Wolton's Discourses, Vol. I. Disc. I. Stehelin's Rabbinical Literature, Preface. Allen's Modern Judaism, Chap. III.
† The whole passage from which this fundamental article of the rabbinical creed is derived, is as follows : “And I will give thee tables of stone, and a law and commandments, which I have written; that thou mayest teach them." And it appears to us to require no little ingenuity to construe this into the law which Moses wrote, and the commandment, --which he did not write. Such comments would excite only a smile of contempt, were it not for the sacred character of the book which is thus perverted. But it is painful to consider into what an awful state of degradation the human soul must be sunk, when it can deliberately torture the plain words of Almighty God, in order to support a system of religion, which, to speak openly, is from beginning to end a tissue of falsehood.
died, wrote in his own hand-writing,* and gave a copy to each tribe, and put one copy into the ark for a testimony: for it is said, “ Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.” Deut. xxxi. 26. But the commandment, which is the interpretation of the law, he did not write; but he gave charge concerning it to the elders, and to Joshua, and to all the rest of Israel. For it is said, " What thing soever I command you, observe to do it.” Deut. xii. 32. And on this account it is called The Oral Law. Though the oral law was not written, our Rabbi Moses taught the whole of it in his court of judgmentt to the seventy elders; and Eleazar, Phinehas, and Joshua, these three received it from Moses; and to Joshua, the disciple of our Rabbi Moses, he delivered the oral law, and gave him charge concerning it. And so Joshua all the days of his life taught it by word of mouth. And many elders received it from Joshua; and Eli received it from the elders and from Phinehas; and Samuel received it from Eli and his court of judgment; and David received it from Samuel and his court of judgment &c.
Thus the oral law was handed down from one generation to another, till the time of Jeremiah: after whom Maimonides proceeds thus
And Baruch, the son of Neriah, received it from Jeremiah and his court of judgment; and Ezra, and his court of judgment, received it from Baruch, the son of Neriah, and his court of judgment. The court of judgment of Ezra, are those who are called “The Men of the Great Synagogue;" and they were Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, Daniel, and Hannaniah, and Misael, and Azariah, and Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah, and Mordecai, and Zerubbabel, and many other wise men with them, so as to make up one hundred and twenty elders : the last of them was Simeon the Just, who was included in the one hundred and twenty. He received the oral law from all of them, and he was high-priest after Ezra. I
With Simeon the Just, commences a new class of men, enumerated by Maimonides, by whom the oral law was successively handed down to Rabbi Judah, the son of Rabbi Simeon, commonly called “our Holy Rabbi,” who was the author of the Mishnah. $
For from the days of our Rabbi Moses to our holy Rabbi, they did not compose any book, which should be taught publicly, respecting the oral law, But in every age the head of the court of judgment, or the prophet, who lived
Since the rabbins maintain that Moses wrote the whole of the Pentateuch, our readers will perhaps be curious to know when and how he wrote the last eight verses, which record the death of Moses, and circumstances which happened afterwards; and which were evidently added by a later hard. This might stagger ordinary folks : but the rabbins do not make mountains out of such molehills. They tell us that Moses wrote this by anticipation immediately before his death ; and that, whereas he had previously dipped his pen in ink, he was so much affected at his own approaching death, that he wrote these verses with tears. Talmud, Bava Bathra, Sect. I.
+ This court, which, by its very name SANHEDRIN (from ovvedplov), is proved to be of modern origin, the rabbins affirm to be the court instituted by Moses (Numb. xi.) : and they maintain that, like the oral law, it was continued in the uninterrupted exercise of its authority through every generation till the destruction of Jerusalem.
1 The rabbinical chronology is “confusion worse confounded.” Simeon the Just was made High Priest in the 25th year after the death of Alexander the Great : and from the last mention which we have of Daniel in the Holy Scriptures to this Simeon, who, according to the rabbins, both lived together under the presidency of Ezra, there was an interval of no less than 250 years. Prideaux.
$ The Mishna was composed in the latter part of the second century, probably about A. D. 180.