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THE AGED RABBI.
A JEWISH TALE.
FROM THE DANISH OF B. S. INGEMANN.
BY MRS. BUSHBY.
"Is thy day of persecution to return, lost, unhappy Israel?" exclaimed the old rabbi, Philip Moses, sadly shaking his venerable grey head, as one evening in the autumn of 1819 stones were thrown in through the windows of the house in which he resided, whilst the rabble of Hamburg shouted in the street in derision the first words of the Jew's lament for Jerusalem.
"Yes! ye are right," he continued, mournfully, "Jerusalem is demolished and laid waste. Ye could not stone us against Jehovah's will! But His wrath is sore kindled against us. His patience was great, but His people have forgotten Him in the midst of their banishment; they have forsaken the Law and the Prophets amidst the dwellings of strangers; they have mingled their blood with the blood of the unbeliever and lo! therefore God's people are thrust forth from the earth, and blotted out from among the living."
"Oh, grandfather, grandfather!" cried his weeping grandchildren, clinging to him in their terror, "protect us from the fearful Christians!" "If ye be still the children of Israel," answered the old man, calmly, "fold your hands, and bow your knees, turn your faces towards the east towards the ruins of God's holy city-and pray to Jehovah, the God of your fathers! While thus engaged in prayer, what if these stones crush your heads, and dash out your brains? Praise Jacob's God with me, and die in the name of the Lord God of Sabaoth! Then shall his cherubim bear ye in peace to our Father Abraham's bosom !"
"Is that the only comfort you can bestow, simple old man?" said his son Samuel, the father of the children. He was the richest jeweller in Hamburg, and now saw his valuable shop exposed to be ransacked and plundered by the furious mob. "Can you give us no better advice than to pray? I know something better. We will all let ourselves be baptised to-morrow."
"Would you renounce the faith of your fathers on account of your anxiety about your jewellery, my son ?" said the old man, casting a contemptuous glance upon the wealthy, trembling Israelite, who, overcome with fear, was rushing from keeping-place to keeping-place, gathering together and packing up his most valuable articles.
Truly it is indifferent to me whether they call me Jew or Christian," replied Samuel, "so I can save my goods and my life. life. When the question is, whether I shall be a rich man to-morrow or a beggar-whether I shall walk the streets, and go to the Exchange in peace, or if I am to be pelted in open day by the very children, and risk my health, my limbs, my life itself-when my jewels, my furniture, my wife, my children, and my windows are in question-I should be a great ass if I hesitated to let a handful of cold water be thrown upon me. It is only a stupid ceremony; but I dare say it is just as good as our own crotchets.
Now-a-days, that is the best creed which gives security and advantages in trade and commerce."
"Miserable being !" cried old Philip Moses, drawing himself up to his full length, "accursed be the spirit that speaks by your mouth! It is that pestilential spirit which has wrought evil among God's people, and caused them to become a byword to the nations of the earth, and an abomination to the Lord of Heaven! Accursed be those goods and that life for which you would barter the faith of your forefathers, and mock even the altar of the strangers, to which you would fly in your abject cowardice! Accursed be the security and the advantages for which you would betray Jehovah! Accursed be the trade and the commerce that have enticed God's people to become the slaves of Mammon, and frantic worshippers of the Golden Calf!"
"You talk wildly, old man!" replied Samuel. "You do not know how to accommodate yourself to the times. You are aged, and cling to old notions; but the days of your prophets are gone by.'
"Their words shall stand to the last of days," said the old man, raising his head proudly; "and be it my care to proclaim them among ye, even if the earth should burn around me, and sink beneath my feet! Is it not enough that we are a stricken and dispersed race, cast forth into the wide world, and condemned to live despised in the land of the stranger? Shall we add humiliation to humiliation, and despicably constrain ourselves to laud and call those just who scorn us, and trample us in the dust?"
The jeweller's handsome saloon was full of fugitive Israelites, who sought refuge and protection at the abode of the wealthy Samuel; whilst the police and the watchmen pretended to be endeavouring to quiet and disperse the mob outside.
The assembled Jews loudly deplored their misfortunes, and some of them gazed with astonishment on the aged Philip Moses, who stood there, firmly and fearlessly, like a prophet among them, and poured forth words of wisdom and instruction to his trembling fellow-believers.
Two or three of the old rabbis, with long beards and black silk talars, or robes, alone listened attentively, and with calm seriousness to him, the most ancient of their community. But the young beardless Israelites uttered cries of lamentation, bewailing the conduct of the people of Hamburg, bewailing their broken windows, and all the damage that would accrue to their trades or business in consequence of this new persecution.
"Ah! if my mother had not been so over-faithful to my father," said a conceited young Jew, "I might have gone with comfort to the theatre, and seen that pretty Ma'amselle Wrede, without being recognised as a Jew, and abused accordingly; and running the risk of getting my head broken to boot."
"Oh! that we had never been circumcised!" cried another; "our lives are actually not safe in the streets."
"Would that we were all baptised!" groaned a third. Ay, with some philter that would turn our dark hair to red, and remove the too apparent marks with which Jehovah has signalised us, and cast us out among our foes."
"Oh!-woe-woe!" shrieked the women and children "whither
shall we fly in our great distress and misery? Ah! were it but morning, and this dreadful night were passed!"
"Leave off your lamentations, ye foolish and untoward ones!" cried Philip Moses. "The Lord has struck ye with imbecility, and with blindness, and with corruption of heart. He has scattered ye abroad among all the tribes of the earth, because of your perversity; he has given thee a timorous heart, oh Israel! so that the sole of thy foot cannot find rest, and thou feelest that thy life is in jeopardy, and goest about groaning night and day; and in the morning thou sayest, Would that it were evening! and in the evening, Would that it were morning! because of the torror of thy heart, and the visions that are before thine eyes. But hearken what the Lord declares unto you by the mouth of His servants from the tabernacle in your foreign synagogue. If your affliction and your humiliation be greater than your transgressions, shake the dust from
your feet, and go forth from the place where ye are treated with ignominy and oppression! Leave the iniquitous Mammon in the hands of the evildoers, and take only with you that to which there cleaves no curse in the sight of Jehovah! Come! I will lead ye from city to city, and from land to land, until we find some spot on earth where Jehovah may veil our disgrace, and grant us freedom among the children of mankind, or else, like our fathers of old, among the wild beasts of the wilderness!"
"What are you dreaming of, old man?" exclaimed his rich kinsmen, in dissatisfied chorus. "Should we leave our hard-won gains, and go forth like beggars into the world, with old sacks on our shoulders? Where shall we find a more commercial town than this? And in what
part of the world would we not be exposed to annoyances and persecutions? No path leads back to the promised land, and were we to be guided by your dreams, we should neither be able to feed our wives and our little ones, nor to gather golden pieces and silver ducats."
"If ye believed in Jehovah," replied Philip Moses, "ye would also believe that there is a way to the promised land; but that thought is too grand for your contracted souls. The flesh-pots of Egypt are dearer to you than the manna from heaven in the wilderness; and if the Lord God were to call up Moses among you, ye would stone him as your fathers stoned the prophets."
"What avails all this long discourse, poor, foolish old man?" said his son, the rich jeweller, interrupting him. "Sit down there in your comfortable arm-chair, and amuse yourself with the children, Moses, while the rest of us consult together what is best to be done. He is going into his dotage," added he, turning to the other Jews, " and sometimes he is not quite in his right senses. He has quarrelled with all his family, and I keep him here, out of charity, in my house, as you see; but for all that I have to put up with many hard words, and much abuse from him.”
Then there commenced a mumbling in the room, and a buzzing sound as in a beehive, every one giving his opinion as to the best way of quieting the people of Hamburg, and making up matters with them. Some proposed that a deputation should be sent to the Senate to demand the protection of the military for their houses.
"It would be of no use," said others. "These mean, abominable members of the Hanseatic League are our worst enemies; these stupid,
paltry, petty dealers, who envy our cleverness in business, and covet our profits-it is just they themselves who set the populace against us."
"Then let us remove to Altona," cried some. "Those Danish blockheads will at least have sense enough to be willing to receive us with all our riches; and they will be glad to have an opportunity of causing a loss to the impudent Hamburgers, in return for their "Schukelmeier' cry."
"But when the worst part of the storm is over, we will repent having gone," argued others; "for there is not so much business done, or so much money to be made there, as here. It is better for us to put up with rudeness and with temporary annoyances, than to run the risk of seriously injuring our business, and lessening our gains."
"If the worst happens, we can but let ourselves be baptised," said Samuel," and then we can no more be called Jews than the Hamburgers themselves."
"What good would that do?" exclaimed a shabby-looking Jew, with a long beard. "It is not on account of our religion that they persecute us; it is only our wealth, and the luxuries we can afford, that excite their envious dislike. Our handsome houses are our misfortune, and our splendid equipages; our beautiful villas on the Elbe and the Alster, and all the braggadocio of our young fops. Go about like me, with a matted beard and tattered garments! Live well in the privacy of your own houses, but let not your abundance be seen by any one! You will then find that no one will envy you, or persecute you. Let the children in the street point at us, and abuse us! Is it not for being what it should be our pride to be called? If they even treated us as if we were lepers, they could not prevent us from being God's chosen people. We are blessed in our affairs, and in our wedlock; we multiply, and fill all lands, and devour the marrow thereof; we are really the lords of the people, though we do not blush to seem their slaves."
This advice was rejected by the richer and more modern Israelites, who had no inclination to array themselves in sackcloth and ashes, and to relinquish the ostentatious display of that wealth which, in the midst of so many humiliations, and with so many equivocal acts, and little tricks in trade, they had amassed.
"No, no! I know a much better plan," said one of the richest men present, who had originally been a sort of pedlar, and sold tapes and ribbons. "We will take it by turns to give turtle-feasts; we will invite all the young men, the sons of the merchants, to our tables; our wives and our daughters must show all manner of kindness and complaisance to them, and not keep them at such a cold distance as they do now; let them lay aside their reserve, and try to please them. It is better, far better, even to marry among the Christians, than to have them as enemies, now-a-days."
On hearing these words, old Philip Moses arose; he could no longer endure to listen to his people humbling themselves, as he thought, so basely. He tore his clothes, and anathematised the tongue that spoke
* "Schukelmeier," a play upon the name Mr. Meier, was a nickname signifying Smuggler, which the lower classes in Hamburg bestowed on the Danes, whom they accused of having smuggled the French into Hamburg.
last. He then tried, with all the eloquence of which he was master, to touch the hearts and rouse the spirits of those who were the best among the assembly, by setting forth to them the misery and degradation which their own selfishness and cupidity had brought upon them. He characterised their present persecution as a just punishment from Jehovah for their degeneracy, and their being so absorbed in the pursuit of money. He condemned their indifference to the faith and the customs of their forefathers; their neglect of the Sabbath, and of its holy rites; their shaving off their beards, and their being ashamed to be known to be what they were. He inveighed against their connexion with Christians, and more especially their marriages with them, by which two of his own sons had disgraced him. And he denounced their excessive keenness in the pursuit of gold, as likely to be ruinous to them, and as being certain to have an injurious effect on their settling happily in any and every country in the world.
But this was too much for his fellow-Jews to hearken to in silence. They all attacked him vehemently, calling him a crazy old traitor, who only wished their destruction. Loudly, however, as swelled their chorus of abuse, still more loudly arose the voice of the old man, as he, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, reproved them. "O Israel! thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee. I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God. Your sons have withholden good things from you. For among my people are found wicked men ; they lay wait as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit, therefore they are become great and waxen rich. They are waxen fat-they shine; yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked. They judge not the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? Go ye upon her walls and destroy; but make not a full end: take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's!"
Scarcely had he uttered these last words than a shower of stones, hurled against the closed window-shutters, demolished them, and dashed in, while this new attack was followed by shouts of triumph and derisive laughter from the streets.
"Away with him-away with the old prophet!" cried several of the Jews. "His imprecations are bringing fresh evil and persecution
"This is not a time to be preaching all that old twaddle to us about our sins," said his son, the rich Samuel. "I will not listen to another word; and if you expect to remain longer in my house, you must keep your tongue to yourself, I can tell you. It would be more to the purpose if you went to your room, and shaved off that beard of yours, that you might look like other men. We must howl with the wolves we are among, and if the mob were to catch a glimpse of your long beard, which is just like that of an old he-goat, and your masquerade garb, they would pull the house down about our ears."
"Oh, grandfather, grandfather!" exclaimed the youngest of his grand