Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Rabbi Isaac M. Wise on Moses, Judaism and Democracy
At Kline books we have a large inventory of nineteenth century American Reform Jewish apologetics. (See "From the Hirschian Community in Frankfurt a. M. to American Reform.) What I find interesting about these, having grown up with Orthodox apologetics from Artscroll, is a vision of self-assured Reform movement that stood for something and was willing to go on the offensive with those beliefs, confident that the future of Judaism lay with them. This is not a Reform movement trapped by doubts over intermarriage and assimilation, a sitting target for Orthodox polemics. Of course like the present day Orthodox apologetics of Artscroll, nineteenth century Reform apologetics were perfectly capable of going overboard into farce.
I hope to present more examples in the future, but for starters here is Rabbi Isaac M. Wise's preface to his History of the Israelitish Nation (1854) where he beats the drum of the compatibility of Judaism and American Democracy with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm:
Traversing the pathless desert, Moses, the grandest character of antiquity, not only taught the purest doctrines of religion and morals in the midst of an age of idolatry, superstition, and general corruption of morals; but he also promulgated the unsophisticated principles of democratic liberty and of stern justice in an age of general despotism and arbitrary rule; thus becoming the progenitor of entirely new theories which revolutionized the ancient world, and lay at the foundation of modern civilization. Moses formed one pole and the American revolution the other, of an axis around which revolved the political history of thirty-three centuries. Trained in these principles, the Israelites took possession of their land, where they were obliged to contend with as many enemies as there nations around them. Still, after four centuries, we see them triumph over all their enemies, and David and Solomon the lords of the land from the Euphrates to the Red Sea and to the Mediterranean. Industry, commerce, art and science, flourish, and the nation was opulent, enlightened and free. (pg. iv-v.)