Response to “A Bible View of Slavery”

David Einhorn


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In response to a political sermon delivered by American rabbi Morris Jacob Raphall in 1861, Einhorn disputed the latter’s pro-slavery stance, leading to Einhorn’s violent dismissal and his move to Congregation Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia and later to Congregation Adas Jeshurun in New York City. See Morris Jacob Raphall’s A Bible View of Slavery (1809) in The Posen Library.

The question simply is: Is Slavery a moral evil or not? And it took Dr. Raphall, a Jewish preacher, to concoct the deplorable farce in the name of divine authority, to proclaim the justification, the moral blamelessness of servitude, and to lay down the law to Christian preachers of opposite convictions. The Jew, a descendant of the race that offers daily praises to God for deliverance out of the house of bondage in Egypt, and even today suffers under the yoke of slavery in most places of the old world, crying out to God, undertook to designate slavery as a perfectly sinless institution, sanctioned by God [ . . . ]

If a Jewish theologian distorts truth in such a way, and drags slavery into our innermost sanctuary and seals this with the eternal word—enlightening “ten flaming Commandments of Sinai,” then the pen threatens to drop from our hands, as we exclaim: “Woe to the ears that have to hear this!” [orig. of this phrase printed in Hebrew] [ . . . ]

And now, a word to you, dear co-religionists, and particularly to you, members of my Congregation! At the moment that I am writing this down, January 9th, the thunder-cloud still hangs heavily over our head, and hides the future of our beloved land in dense mist. Perhaps some of you in our midst may consider it unjustifiable that at such a time I have thus unequivocally expressed my conviction in the foregoing regarding the law of Moses about slavery. The Jew has special cause to be conservative, and he is doubly and triply so in a country which grants him all the spiritual and material privileges he can wish for, he wants peace at every price and trembles for the preservation of the Union like a true son for the life of a dangerously sick mother. From the depth of my soul, I share your patriotic sentiments, and cherish no more fervent wish than that God may soon grant us the deeply yearned-for peace. Still—no matter which political party we may belong to—the sanctity of our Law must never be drawn into political controversy, nor disgraced in the interest of this or that political opinion, as it is in this instance, and with such publicity besides, and in the holy place! The spotless morality of the Mosaic principles is our pride and our fame, and our weapon since thousands of years. This weapon we cannot forfeit without pressing a mighty sword into the hands of our foes. This pride and renown, the only one which we possess, we will not and dare not allow ourselves to be robbed of. This would be unscrupulous, prove the greatest triumph of our adversaries and our own destruction, and would be paying too dearly for the fleeting, wavering favor of the moment. Would it not then be justly said, as in fact it has already been done, in consequence of the incident referred to: Such are the Jews! Where they are oppressed, they boast of the humanity of their religion; but where they are free, their rabbis declare slavery to have been sanctioned by God, even mentioning the holy act of the Revelation on Sinai in defense of it. Whereas Christian clergymen even in the Southern States, and in presence of the nation’s Representatives in part, though admonishing to toleration—openly disapprove of it and in part apologize for it, owing to existing conditions!

Translated by
Johanna (Einhorn)

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 6.

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