LETTERS TO THE EDITOR..
SOME SUPERSTITIONS OF THE SYNAGOGUE. [To ma Rom, or tan "sncr.trOa."J Sue,—Tho article under the above beading in your impression of October 1st, affords another proof of the mieconceptions from which Jews and Judaism seem destined to suffer, "not only in the ignorant East, but in the cultured West." Your sense of justice, however, will, I am sure, permit me to enter into a brief" [sioJexamination of the astounding statements made by your con- tributor. I am far from asserting that Jews never lay themselves open to the charge of superstition. Superstition is not a monopoly of any sect; but it appears to me as unjust to make the Synagogue answerable for the follies of all its children, as it would be to string together all the absurd beliefs in which Christians have ever indulged, and label them, " Some Superstitions of the Church."'
1. The sounding of the ram's horn on our New Year's Day is,. by the writer of your article, connected with a device for cheating the devil i—the ceremony is not performed on the eve of the New Year, so as to put kim off the scent ! Your readers are
to believe that this preposterous notion, so little compli- mentary to the intelligence alike of the arch-fiend and of those who are supposed to tremble before him, has the full sanction of the Synagogue. Now, the merest tyro in J'ewi'sh ritual law knows the true explanation of the matter ; the reasons are given in every handbook dealing with this subject. The Pentateuchali law commands the sounding of the " Shophar " on the first day of the seventh month. With a view to inducing their brethren-in-faith to make fitting preparation for this, the most solemn season of the Jewish year, the Rabbis ordained that the " Shophar " should be sounded every day during the preceding month. The sounding of the " Shophar " is thus of two kinds, obligatory and permissive. And it is in order to- make a break between the permissive and the obligatory portion of the ceremony, and to emphasize the distinction between the Biblical and the Rabbinical institution, that a day is allowed to intervene on which the ram's horn is not sounded. Another reason assigned is the following :—The distinctive observances connected with each holy day are always preceded by a form of prayer expressive of our gratitude for having been vouchsafed an extension of the gift of life, and enabled to arrive at a season. which brings with it its special religions duties. If the cere- mony of " Shophar "-sounding were continued daily without interruption, this prayer would lose much of its meaning. The same principle applies to the custom of abstaining from un- leavened bread on the day before Passover. Such bread may, of course, be eaten during the rest of the year ; but to partake of it is an essential part of the observance of the festival of Passover. Hence the rule of a day's intermission. These explana- tions may be read in all authoritative works on Jewish ritual. The devil does not enter into the reckoning at all. In truth, a personal devil, an embodied and independent principle of evil, has no room in Judaism. Satan, "the hinderer" (from virtue), is, according to Jewish dogma, but another expression for "the- evil inclination" or sin, which is conceived as noting the parts,. first of tempter, then of accuser, and finally of avenger. How- ever, no dogma of the Synagogue demands from its followers the admission of the remotest belief in a Satan or in a race of demons. Can others say as much P 2. "So strong a hold of the Jew has the belief in the signifi- cance of dreams, that the ritual dare not ignore it." That is the opinion of the writer of your article. Would he be sur- prised to hear that the ritual does ignore it, and of set purpose P An ancient cabalistic formula on the subject of evil dreams, which in former times exercised men's minds more than they do now, has been omitted from the services of the United Syna- gogues, and of others under the supervision of the Chief Rabbi. Indeed, the least diversion of the mind during the utterance of the priestly benediction, even the silent repetition by the con- gregants of Scriptural verses during the performance of this function, is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Talmudic dictum,—" Shall a servant have his Master's blessing pronounced upon him, and not give ear ?" There is no averting of the head, which would be equally a violation of the principle just cited,—but a slight inclination of the head, a reverent attitude strictly appropriate to the occasion, while the " Cohanim," with outstretched hands, pronounce the well.known benediction from Numbers vi., 24-26.
3. The " Lilith " myth is a very curious piece of folk-lore ; but neither the myth nor the amulet-manufactory, if such there be, is a branch of the Synagogue, and, in the name of all rational Jews, I renounce them and all their works. If they exist, it is not in consequence but in spite of the teachings of the Synagogue, teachings which may be summed up in the single sentence,—" Thou shalt be whole with the Lord thy God." As to "the great body of believing Jews" being under the dominion of the vile superstition about Lilith, and having faith in the efficacy of talismans against the assaults of the filthy creature, I solemnly declare this to be a libel on the bulk of my co-religionists.
4. Your contributor has hardly placed the "Kaddish" in a jest light. There is no tenet of the Synagogue to the effect that "every soul has to pass a given time in purgatory." On the contrary, the Synagogue teaches that repentance, suffering, and death are atonements for man's sins. The punishment hereafter is believed to be in proportion to the evil done here, the merciful Spirit of Judaism abhorring the doctrine of everlasting damna- tion. This is expressed by saying that "the judgment of the wicked in Gehinnom lasts twelve months." Without pressing for a too literal interpretation of the words, I am content to abide by the idea they embody, in preference to the other alternative usually presented by theologians. To the Jewish mind, it seems that the whole nature of a just and loving God is misunderstood by those who regard him as a Being who avenges to all eternity and with unappeasable fury the sins committed against him during the mere point of time covered by the longest human life.
5. "A lighted lamp is kept burning in the room where a death has occurred, for seven days after the burial, in order that the soul still hovering about may not feel lonesome." Every Jewish schoolboy could have given the writer a more rational account of the practice. It is based upon Proverbs xx., 27, "The spirit of man is a lamp of the Lord." The light is kindled during the week of mourning as a symbol of the soul, and as typifying the belief that the spirit survives in a purer and a brighter world.
6. "The synagogue is firmly believed to be a meeting-hones for the dead as well as for the living. Hence a Jew never enters an empty synagogue without knocking three times at the door, to warn the ghostly congregants within of the approach of a living person; nor would any worshipper look back over his shoulder as he leaves the house of prayer." Has some practical joker been playing upon the credulity of the writer ? Since the appearance of your article, I have consulted competent authorities in our community, and they are in the same state of ignorance as myself. The works treating of Jewish rites and customs, accessible to me, have entered into a conspiracy of silence regarding this extraordinary practice which no Jew would ever think of omitting. If there be any parts of Jewry where such things happen, I can only express my own and my co-religionists' regret at the fact; although even then I
should be disposed to refer the origin of the practice not to a belief that the synagogue is occupied by ghosts, but to a peculiar application of the passage which speaks of the entrance of the High Priest into the sanctuary,—" And his sound shall
be heard when he goeth into the holy place before the Lord." Chrionsly enough, in quitting the synagogue, it is usual for *strict Jews to do the very opposite of what your contributor
states of them ; they leave the house of prayer with their faces turned towards the ark, the idea being that the reverence paid to the sanctuary ought not to be less than that rendered to a human sovereign upon withdrawal from his presence.—I am,
[The explanations offered by the Rabbi—derived at second- hand from German apologetic pamphlets—are really those that have commended themselves at various times to leaders of the Synagogue, more or less enlightened, who, while ashamed of the crude and silly observances referred to, have lacked the moral courage and backbone to deal with them as they ought to have been dealt with, and have sought to find rational grounds for utterly irrational practices. As a matter of fact, the explanation given incur article of the reason for intermitting the sounding of the cornet on the day before the New Year of the Jews, is actually derived from one of those "guides to the ritual" to which the Rabbi Singer refers,—the words used," l'arbib hasatan," literally to "confuse Satan," are the very words of the rabbinical expositor. But if there were any doubt about the matter, the prayer to be said before sounding the trumpet by the person who performs the function would remove it. It contains an invoca- tion to the angels presiding over the day to "vex Satan" with the sound of the trumpet ; "Inhabit ha-satan blekiathan," jest as the reader's prayer has a special clause, "Vethiggar besatan l'hal yastineni " (we quote the words exactly as they stand),—literally, "And restrain Satan that he may not hinder me." The assertion, again, that the formula against dreams is no longer part of the " priestly blessing," is only an assertion. Before us is the edition of the Prayer-Book, dated 1882, prepared specially for English Jews. The directions are in English, and on p. 213 the prayer stares us in the face, with directions to the worshippers to say it while the priests are reciting the word "Ve'yishmerecha." The same is the case in Vallentine's Prayer-Book, published under the sanction of the English Chief Rabbi, which has the advantage of an English translation by De Solla. However came the formula in the Prayer-Book, save by authority of the Synagogue, and how does it remain there save with authority ? Even if omitted within the past few months in the United Synagogues under the English Chief Rabbi, it is at the present moment said by nine out of every ten orthodox communities in Western Europe. And more, if the Rabbi Singer will turn to the authori- tative canon of the Jewish Church, the " Shulchan Atha," or "Compendium of Laws," he will find in its proper place full ritual instructions how to proceed when vexed with evil dreams. It is a "libel" to assert that the great body of orthodox Jews believe in " Lilith ;" and yet the Liturgy between Passover and New Year—which the Rabbi will hardly pretend to affirm is not in use—takes care to impress upon the members of the Synagogue that the "evil spirits," of whom Lilith is only one, were among the ten things created on the eve of the Sabbath between the Lights (" Pirke Aboth," V.) The Rabbi has not heard of the custom of knocking at the door of the synagogue before entering it. There are few synagogues abroad where the practice is unknown. He might consult Paschelle's " Sippurim," and if he will procure a copy of All the Year Bound for March, 1883, he will find, under the heading, "Legends of the Synagogue," a twelve-column article dealing fully with this characteristic superstition of Jewry, together with a large collection of uncanny stories gathered from Jews about the penalty that has attended the violation of the custom.—En. Spectator.]