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THE MORAL TRAINING OF THE YOUNG AMONG
THE JEWS.* A noted Philadelphia sculptress, Miss Katherine Cohen, has created a masterful figure emblematic of the Jew in his onward progress through the ages. He is presented as the sage of stately form and noble mien, his radiant countenance bearing the impress of divine inspiration. Whole volumes are conveyed by the attitude of eager and appreciative zeal with which he clasps to his heart the huge tome of the Hebrew Scriptures. This fond idealisation of her people, on the part of the artist, is not without ample justification in history. True, to the man on the street, the typical Jew is that tattered, sordid, and woebegone creature, tottering under his pack, scorned and despised
But you, who are students of history, well know that this guise of humiliation which has been forced by his persecutors on the hapless exile, conceals the soul of one who has suffered the most tragic of fates only that he might endure to render in loyalty that service to humanity unto which he felt himself commissioned from of yore. Thus, out of the long, dark past he has come and, in the consciousness of his manhood, he has now entered into the broad daylight of this twentieth century,still bearing in his arms his priceless treasure, the Bible, safeguarded with his very life's blood, through the dark ages. That gift he gladly places on the centre table of the family of man, rejoicing to know that it is universally esteemed as the world's best help in the moral training of the race.
How the Hebrew Scriptures developed was reviewed in your hearing in the able paper presented by Professor Jastrow. Its moral ideas were traced from the primitive tribal concepts as they expanded into the national ideals of the Mosaic theocracy and finally developed into the broadest possible universalism as conceived and proclaimed by those rarest and most unique geniuses the Hebrew Prophets. The final outcome of this development was that lofty Ethical-monotheism under the commanding influence of which the Bible was canonised in the fifth century before the Christian Era. From that time forward until the present hour, the moral training of the sons and daughters of Israel has been based upon the supreme ideal, therein proclaimed and frequently emphasised in the sententious injunction : "Holy shall ye be for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. xix, 2).
* A lecture in the Saturday Afternoon Course on "The Moral Training of the Young in Ancient and Modern Times,” under the auspices of the Philadelphia Society for Ethical Culture.
'A lecture in the Saturday Afternoon Course by Professor Morris Jastrow, Jr.
This call—“Holy, holy, holy is the God of Hosts!" running through all the Biblical ages, grows ever more intense and sublime in its power of appeal. Holiness is the synonym of all moral perfection. Man is constrained by this uplifting idealism to aim at moral perfection in conduct. “But how can mortal man be like God?" is the old inquiry of the Jewish Schools. The suggestive answer given provides the simple key to the practical Jewish method of character-building: “As God is merciful, long-suffering, acting with kindness, justice, and truth, so are you to be and so are you to act” (Talmud, Babli, Sotah End., Yalkut, 873).
These relations of the human and the divine apply to all mankind. Israel's election is simply an historic commission, a sublime but severe responsibility to be the custodian, teacher, and exemplar of the principles of morality in the service of the human race. These sterling precepts are grounded on the philosophic optimism which rests in the steadfast faith in the perfectibility of man through his endowment of a moral free will, acting under the urgency of the divine voice of conscience.
Resting on these doctrines there grew up a definite system for the moral training of the young, which has had a sustained history and development from earliest days to the present. The primary element of that system which has prevailed throughout the generations, is summarised in that simple injunction, which the devout Jew repeats thrice daily: "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt speak of them when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up"
(Deut. vi, 7). The parent was, and is by nature, the first teacher, imparting by precept and by example, walking and sitting, night and day, those lessons which mould character. The home was and yet remains the primary school for the moral training of the young. That first school and those first instructors have never been superseded. Indeed, I wish to emphasise my firm conviction that they never can be adequately replaced. I would enter my most earnest protest against the present day effort to remove from the home the sense of its responsibility in this matter, by laying an over-emphasis upon the scope and the demands of the school.
That organised institution we call a school, came not to supplant, but to supplement the home in reinforcing the moral education of youth. It grew out of the necessities of the disturbed and changed conditions which arose during the Second Hebrew Commonwealth. The stress of life robbed parents of the time needed for imparting instruction. Many proved incompetent for the task as this became more comprehensive. Wars and disasters increased the number of orphaned children. Thus ultimately the school became a necessity. At the beginning of the century preceding the Christian Era, the movement for organised instruction had advanced to such a stage that it had already become compulsory. The ordinance of Simon ben Shetach, the head of the Sanhedrin at that time, is of record in the Talmud (Yerushalmi Kethuboth, viii, end). "The world could not last but for the breath of the school children" is one of the fine Rabbinical utterances which reveals the intense seriousness with which this obligation was felt (Talmud, Babli Sabbath, 119 b).
Out of this elementary education developed a great system of advanced learning, as it became necessary to fit the youth for the important requirements of the Synagogue. The Synagogue or House of Assembly was not originally and distinctively the house of prayer. It was rather the Assembly of those who sought to learn the Law and the decisions of the Rabbis, as to its expanded application under new and changed conditions. It was really an Academy in whose exercises religious functions were a natural part. And, indeed, education has ever remained the central purpose of the Synagogue. “Study exceeds all things else," is the leading maxim of the sages. Study has been exalted by Judaism to the plane of worship—the offering of the intellect in the service of the divine.
After the destruction of their nationality, the life of the Jewish people in fact centered in the schools. There is a beautiful story told of Johanan ben Sakkai, the leading teacher of the time. Jerusalem was beleaguered by the Roman soldiers. In the love of his faith, he had recourse to a strange strategy. Feigning death, he had himself carried beyond the city walls in a coffin, borne by his disciples. He succeeded in making his way into the presence of Titus and revealing his identity, pleaded for a simple boon. "Let me open a school in the little seaport town of Jabne,” he asked. So innocent a request could not well be denied.
Judea fell, but Judaism abode henceforth in safety in the schools. Thence she saw the downfall even of the mighty Roman Empire as she has witnessed the successive overthrow of every institution founded by men on immorality, cruelty, injustice, and wrong.
“Residence is forbidden in any town in which there is no school for the young !" (Talmud, Babli Sabbath, 119 b). This Rabbinical dictum has guided the Jewish people to the present day. Though in exile, poverty, and misery, they have yet never been without some intellectual life. In the Dark Ages of Europe, they were the active custodians of the world's knowledge. None of the great intellectual currents that have moved the thought life of mankind, but the Jews were profoundly stirred by them. As the Mosaic system had been a revolt against the materialistic sensualism of the heathen doctrines, and as the prophets combated the pessimistic dualism which in their day largely controlled the minds of men, so the latter Rabbins met and resisted the fascinations of the Grecian system, in which the æsthetic ideal was exalted above the moral. In Alexandria, Philo sought to co-ordinate the neo-Platonic theory of emanations from the Godhead with Judaism, and thus created the philosophic basis upon which Christology
reared its imposing structure. Among the Mohammedans the Jews took a leading place in the discussions of the doctrines of the Mutazalites or Unitarians, who contended for a spiritual conception of God and for the doctrine of the freedom of the will. In the great Jewish Academies of Spain, the philosophy of Aristotle was earnestly considered and Moses Maimonides in his immortal work, “The Guide for the Perplexed,” sought to harmonise that system with the Jewish faith.
All this intellectual wealth was brought into the Jewish schools where it passed through the fiery furnace of free and open discussion in the earnest effort to extract the pure gold of truth from the dross of error. This effort required and evoked two opposing schools of thought among the Jews. As of old, the Prophets set themselves against the strict ritualism of the Priests, so later, the much maligned and misunderstood Pharisees contended against the fixity of the vested rights and rigid doctrines of the Sadducees. The genial liberalism of the School of Hillel offset the severer decisions of the School of Shammai. Here I may be permitted to add that Jesus sided with the more liberal interpretation of the law that characterised the School of Hillel. The beautiful teachings which fell from his lips were Jewish. He made no departure from the Jewish doctrines. His disciples were all Jews. It is most astounding that the world continues wilfully to ignore these simple facts. All that literature and history contained in Apocrypha, Mishna, Hagada, and Halacha, by which alone the Gospels can be truly understood, is studiously disregarded and defamed. In the Middle Ages, Rabbanites and Karaites contended in the Jewish schools—the former for tradition, the latter for the unaided authority of the Biblical text. Later the Rationalists were set against the mystic Kabbalists or Hassidim. Thus all along the centuries the schools have been open and active.
From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the Jews endured the worst period of their repression. Locked into Ghettos, denied ordinary human rights, regarded politically as outcasts, they were likewise shut out from the free participation in the intellectual movements of the nations. For the vast ma