Rabbi Bernard Illoway

Rabbi Iloway tshuva on muscovy duck – part 1

Rabbi Iloway tshuva on muscovy duck – part 2

Rabbi Iloway tshuva on muscovy duck – part 3

rabbi bernard illowy kever

Rabbi Bernard Illowy, Ph.D., was born in Kolin, Bohemia, in the year 1814. He came of a family distinguished for its Talmudic learning and its piety. The great-grandfather, the first of the name of whom we have any record, was Rabbi Phineas Illowy, who resided in Ungarisch-Brod, province of Moravia, Austrian Empire. In the collection of Responsa of the great Rabbi Meir of Eisenstadt, the פנים מאירות, there is found a שאלה from him in the matter of an Agunah and a reply thereto addressed to him. At that time, as appears from his signature, he was Haus-Rebbe or private chaplain to the banker Emmanuel Oppenheim, the son of Samuel Oppenheim, Court Jew, and in his day the foremost and most influential Israelite in the whole Austrian empire.

His son, Rabbi Jacob Illowy, was called from Moravia to the Rabbinate of the City of Kolin and the district of Maurszim, the second largest congregation in the kingdom of Bohemia. As was the custom then, the occupant of the rabbinical chair also became, by virtue of his office, the presiding officer of the Beth-Din, the Resh-Mesivta. Rabbi Jacob was a great scholar, profoundly versed in the learning of the Rabbis; he conducted a Yeshivah and wrote voluminously elucidations, explanations and novellae to the Talmud, all of which are as yet in manuscript.

The father of Rabbi Bernard (Rabbi Jacob Judah) was, as had been his fathers before him, a man well grounded in the Torah, a thorough Talmudic scholar, and, moreover, was possessed of much secular learning. Though only a private individual–he had been in trade in his younger years–he was one of the most distinguished members of the Jewish community, and such was the regard entertained for his character and his learning by his coreligionists, that, when he walked through the streets of the Jewish quarter, the people would rise and remain standing until he had passed. Although not professionally a teacher, he always had a number of pupils,–Bachurim–young men whom he instructed not alone in Mishnah and Talmud (though this was the sole purpose of his having pupils) but also in some branches of secular learning, more especially mathematics and German.

Bernard Illowy received his early education in Mishnah and Talmud from his father who had destined him to be a teacher in Israel, almost from his birth. He completed his theological studies in the famous rabbinical school of Rabbi Moses Sopher (the Chasam Sofer) in Pressburg, Hungary, from whom he received the Hattarat Horaah, and received his Degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Budapest, Hungary. He studied Hebrew and exegesis in the rabbinical school of Padua, Italy. For some years after his graduation he was engaged in teaching; he was at one time tutor (Hofmeister) to the son of a high official in the City of Znaim (in which at the time, and for many years later, no Jew was allowed to have permanent residence*), also Professor of French and German in the college (Gymnasium) for high-born young ladies in the same city. About the year 1845 he married Katherine, the daughter of Wolf Schiff, a prominent merchant of Raudnitz, Bohemia.

*Jewish traders and merchants visiting the city were allowed to remain for three days, on the payment of a certain per capita tax for each day. For the accommodation of these merchants, a Jewish restaurateur was licensed to keep a restaurant and hotel on the outskirts of the city.

On account of political complications arising out of the revolt of the Bohemians, in 1848 (an address to the revolutionary army as it passed through Kolin on its way to Prague, the capital–which the force of circumstances compelled him to deliver), and the finding in his baggage, some time later, on his return from a journey to France, of a seal with the revolutionary inscription Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité! he was precluded from filling a rabbinical position in his native land. He was called to Cassel (Germany) to candidate for the position of Chief Rabbi (Landesrabbiner) of the Principality of Hessen. The congregations of the whole electorate unanimously favored his selection, but the then Minister of the Interior, Hassenpflug (nicknamed Hessenfluch [Hessian curse], a man of most reactionary tendencies, whose whole aim was the reestablishment of a medieval Germany, refused to sanction his election, because of his involvement in the Revolution aforementioned.) He then came to this country. the United States, and filled the position of Rabbi in New York City in Congregation Shaare Zedek, in Philadelphia in Congregation Rodeph Shalom, in St. Louis in the United Hebrew Congregation, in Syracuse in the Congregation Kneset Shalom, in Baltimore in the Stadt Shule (Lloyd St.), in New Orleans in Congregation Shangarai Hased, and in Cincinnati in Congregation Sheerit Israel.

Dr. Illowy was known as an eminent Talmudist and thorough scholar. He was a strict adherent, in principles and practice, of Orthodox Judaism and from this he never swerved. He preached it in the pulpit, taught it to the children in the congregational schools which he always established wherever he officiated, and championed it in a fierce polemical warfare, extending over many years, with the leaders of the Reform movement in this country, principally Doctors Wise and Lilienthal. He had the distinction of being in his day in this country, the only rabbi with a thorough Talmudic education and a university training to stand for the cause of Orthodoxy.

He was one of the signers to the call for the Cleveland Conference, but becoming convinced that he would be in the minority, in the great minority, he did not attend it.

His polemical letters were published in various Jewish periodicals of this country (The Asmonean, the Israelite, the Jewish Messenger, the Occident) and of Europe.

He was a powerful and fascinating speaker and convincing preacher, and his ministrations were so successful that his synagogue on Sabbath and holidays was always crowded with worshipers, and many who had strayed away from the fold were brought back again. Many valuable gifts received by him attested the esteem in which he was held by his congregants. Many of his English sermons and addresses were published in both the denominational and the daily press. He was an accomplished linguist, and besides a thorough knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, spoke fluently German, English, French, and Italian. His command of Hebrew was remarkable, and some of his polemical letters written in that language were cited as models of elegance of Hebrew composition.

He had at one time planned a large work on the ceremonies of the Jewish religion and had mapped out the ground work therefor, but the onerous duties of an orthodox rabbinate, the teaching in the school and its supervision, the controversies with Reform, left him no time for anything else, and he was compelled to abandon the idea.

He was of most generous disposition, and his purse and personal service were always at the command of the needy of any faith or no faith. During his rabbinate in New Orleans (1861-1865) he was honored with the friendship of Major General N. P. Banks (at one Commander-in-Chief of the forces there and of the Department of Louisiana) and of many other high officials, both of the military and the civil administration, and was enabled thereby to do much good to many of his brethren.

In person he was of a rather commanding figure, with piercing gray eyes that quickly subdued the unruly, and altogether made an impressive appearance.

Although strictly observant of all the injunctions incumbent upon an Orthodox Israelite, he was nevertheless a man of the world who delighted in pleasant company and loved to see the young people enjoy themselves, and his witty and entertaining conversation and his charm of manner made him much sought after by both the old and the young, and even more so by the latter, of his congregation.

Despite the sharp polemics, he was personally on terms of friendship with Doctors Wise, Lilienthal, Einhorn, Szold, and the first two pronounced the most eloquent eulogies at his bier.

He died on the twenty-first day of June, 1871, in consequence of an accident, on his farm at Foster’s Crossing, Warren County, Ohio, to which he had retired on account of a chronic dyspepsia which had troubled him much, off and on, for many years, and was buried in the graveyard of the Congregation Adath Israel at Lick Run, Cincinnati, Ohio.

He was survived by his widow, three sons, and one daughter.

In the course of his long ministerial career my father זצ”ל always held it as a matter of first importance that the children of his congregants should be taught Hebrew, the Bible, and the tenets of their faith, and where no schools for this existed, he established them, as in Syracuse, in Baltimore, in New Orleans, in Cincinnati. In these institutions all the branches of instruction of the public schools were taught by a full corps of competent teachers, besides having Hebrew, the Bible, and the principles of the faith (Isaac Leeser’s Catechism was the text-book chiefly used for this) in the curriculum.

For the same reason, and because in this way children could be reached, who for one reason or another did not attend the congregational school, he introduced the confirmation on Shavuot. He held confirmations in Syracuse, in Baltimore, and in New Orleans.*

*In the case of boys, the confirmation in no way interfered with the usual Bar Mitzvah celebration. In fact, only boys who had already celebrated their Bar Mitzvah or who were past the age were admitted to the classes.

Six months before Shavuot the class began its work, instruction in Bible history, in the tenets of the faith and its ceremonials, in the ceremonial laws and in the prayers. Boys who had not learned to lay Tefilin were taught to do so and were impressed with the necessity of doing so every morning. The Tefilin were explained to them and what the laying of them meant to teach us, and therefore their importance to every true Israelite, was made clear to their understanding.

And in almost every instance the confirmation had the desired effect (at least during the incumbency of my father and for some time thereafter, in fact it was never altogether obliterated) in making the young ladies and gentlemen of the classes good and faithful Jews and Jewesses.

Then came other matters of religious and communal import. The Shechitah (kosher slaughter) always had his attention, and wherever he was located, he compelled the Shochatim to come to him for examination as to their proficiency in the laws of Shechitah and Bedikah, and to demonstrate to him their expertise in keeping their knives in proper condition.* He even went so far at one time as to compel the Shochatim who were more directly in his sphere of influence to give him a tekias kaf that they would not kill late on Friday afternoon, for meat that was to be sold on the Sabbath morning.

*He would first examine the knife as the Shochet brought it; then the Shochet being sent out of the room, he would put one or more פמימיות, fine and coarse into the Halaf, call the Shochet and require him to find the nicks (to test his sense of touch) and then to take them out.

The Mikvah was of no less importance. This was inspected immediately after his assumption of office and at intervals thereafter. He saw to it that it was kept in a perfectly sanitary condition, and that absolute cleanliness which the character of the institution implied was maintained, so that none of the numerous charges that were and still are so frequently made against the Mikvah could be set forth against the institution pertaining to his congregation and under his supervision.

All these things were not always easy of accomplishment; in fact, many difficulties were cast in his way, and it must be said, though I say it with great regret, not by those who were rather lax in their observance, but by those very persons from whom, from the great show of piety they made, a most warm, a zealous support could have been expected.

The Shochet who openly violated important ceremonial laws, the Shochet, who from age had lost all הרגשה and therefore could not tell whether his knife was fit or not, would not quickly surrender a livelihood because an honest compliance with the law demanded such, but cried out loudly and clamorously, and found advocates among the many self-made rabbis who posed as authorities in religious matters and brought disgrace and shame upon Judaism.

He would have order and decorum in the Synagogue in which he officiated. Soon after entering upon the Rabbinate of a congregation, he took occasion to preach upon the text “Know before Whom you stand” דע לפני מי אתה עומד, and told his members in no uncertain phrase, that every man who attends divine worship must remember that he is in the house of G-d, in the presence of the King of Kings, and that the least he can do is to demean himself in as respectful a manner as if he were in the presence of an earthly judge, or of some other high official. He would have no screeching, or screaming, or shouting, each one endeavoring to make his voice heard above the others, but all should pray together in unison. He prohibited the rattling off of the שיר היחוד and of the אנעים זמירות and forbade, through the officers of the Congregation, the pulling off of the Talith, immediately after the שיר הכבוד and the indecorous scramble and rush to get to the Kiddush table between concluding prayers, so common to orthodox houses of worship. The שיר היחוד and the אנעים זמירות had to be chanted in as proper a manner, even as the most important of the prayers, and no one was permitted to take off his Talith or to leave his seat before the last echoes of the אדון עולם had died away. Besides these there were many other and minor regulations concerning the service, all tending to the same purpose — a decorous, a beautiful service, one that could more than vie with that of any temple in the land, and would thus keep young Israel from straying after strange gods.

There was to be no tramping in and out of the Synagogue. Every one must come into the House of G-d or walk out of it in as decorous a fashion as he would walk into the house of the Chief Magistrate of the city. In the school attached to the Synagogue, the children were taught the importance of this, as a demonstration of their fear of G-d, the one thing which the Lord, according to our Torah, demands of His People.

All this was accomplished only after a severe struggle. It aroused the violent opposition of the ignorant fanatics, of the fanatical pseudo-scholars, and of that disorderly element in all congregations, that is always opposed to any and all rabbis and teachers of true Torah. My father, however, persevered, and in due time it was fait accompli.

As already stated, his sermons were all religious and moral lessons. He taught these lessons as they came in rote in the Bible and did not pass over, did not skip this or that one because it might give offense to this or that prominent member of the congregation. It was this fearlessness of speech that here and there gave to some of the demonstratively pious grave offense–not to be forgiven, because it removed the balm that a supposedly pious soul had laid to itself and again exposed to its own view the wrongdoing. He preached the Sabbath and Kashruth and Tefilin and the moral lessons they inculcated, and did not hesitate to preach to the daughters of Israel of the Mishnah על שלשה דברים ‘נשים מתות בשעת לידתך וכו when the Sedra of the week brought it around.

He preached persistently the necessity of religious observance, especially of the Sabbath. One day, whilst attending a funeral, a prominent member of his congregation who sat with him in his carriage said to him: “Doctor, we do really like you better and more than any other Rabbi we have ever had, and we will do all that lies in our power for you, but for Heaven’s sake do not keep pounding at us the observance of the Sabbath. We know that we ought to keep Shabbos, but we cannot. Preach it to us once in three or four months, and you will have done your duty and we will feel more at ease. (This happened in New Orleans)

On the ordinary Sabbaths he usually preached for three quarters of an hour, and not infrequently an hour and even more. On the days when the prayers were longer than usual, twenty minutes, or at most, half an hour. At no time was complaint made that he preached at too great length; on the contrary, he was not infrequently told that he had cut it too short. If, as occasionally happened, he preached a rather short sermon, his members would gather about him after the service and ask him if he were not feeling well.

He was a convincing preacher, and his fervor and his consistency carried conviction to others, and brought back to Judaism many who had strayed far away. To illustrate: In one congregation in which he entered upon his duties on the first day of the New Year there were but four or five members who kept a kosher house, and upon the festival of Sukkot there was not a Sukkah in the whole membership. A year later there were over forty Sukkot in the congregation, and almost every house strictly kosher, although in some of the wealthier families this was attended with considerable difficulty, because of the slaves (Negroes), who, it was said, must have pork in one form or another.*

*They had separate kitchens built where the cooking was done for the house servants (the slaves).

He was also a very pleasing speaker, and with the art of the practiced orator, knew when and how to weave in the startling Midrash, or Aggadah, or sprightly anecdote, so that his hearers never became wearied. There occurred an incident in his ministerial career, which is, I believe, unique in the history of preaching.

It was Yom Kippur, the synagogue was packed with worshippers. The Mussaf Hazzan had finished, Minchah and Neilah had already been read, all too hurriedly, and the broad day was still there. The congregation was becoming restless, and some seemed about to leave. My father mounted the pulpit and began by saying that although he had already spoken that day, he would take advantage of the hurry of the Hazzanim to say a few words more to them. Relating an amusing and also somewhat strange Midrash, he immediately had the attention of the congregation and continued on in the pleasant vein befitting the hour till, noticing that the stars twinkled in the heavens, he concluded with the best wishes for all, and the hope that they would break their fast well, and that all would be here the year following, none missing. He had hardly concluded when, as if oblivious of the time and place, the audience broke out in a thunder of applause and shouts of “go on!” It took another word from the Rabbi to recall them to the realization that they were in the synagogue and that they had fasted for the last twenty-four hours, and so on, then the shofar sounded. [This occurred in Syracuse, New York.]

Although a strictly observant Orthodox Jew, he made no display of his piety, in fact, had a dislike or rather a distrust of those who did, his maxim being הצנע לכת עם ה אלהיך. And yet, with all, he was of a most agreeable disposition, and always ready to participate in the festivities of his parishoners. He visited his members socially–he made a point to do so–and was everywhere a most welcome guest, for he was a brilliant conversationalist and his interest in all the questions of the day, his extensive and varied reading, and his great fund of anecdote and Mashal made these visits pleasurable events. No doubt this greatly added to his influence in promoting religious life and religious observance–especially Kashruth–as many a word thus spoken in the home fell upon fruitful ground and bore good fruit.

The following incident is illustrative of the strictness of his observance, and of interest otherwise. It was in the summer of 1867, my father had not been well for some time and his physician had ordered him away. He decided to make a trip East (Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York) to visit old friends, taking me with him. We left Cincinnati at midnight over the Marietta and Cincinnati R.R., arrived at Belpre very early in the morning and crossed over on a steamer to Parkersburg, W. Va. The only train out we could take was the one which carried the B. and O. R.R. laborers, mostly all Irishmen, and distributed them to their various stations along the road. We got into an ordinary box car with an aisle in the middle and wooden seats (two benches always facing each other) on either side of it, and found two vacant seats one on one side of the aisle, and the other just opposite, on the other side of the aisle. My father took one seat with a laborer at his side and two facing him, and I took the other. As soon as the train was under way, he took out his Tefillin (he had not had the time to do so before, as he had slept soundly–for the first time in many weeks–up to within a few minutes of our getting off the train, when the porter awakened him) and rolling up his sleeve, bared his arm and began to lay them. As if divining that he was about to pray, his neighbors, those in the seat with him, immediately stopped smoking, laying their pipes on the window sill, and ceased all conversation. And not alone these, but also those immediately behind, and in front, and on the opposite side in the seat with me, lapsed into silence. When he was through and began to remove his Tefillin and to fold them up, the pipes were relit and the conversation resumed.

What a lesson of reverence for religion do these laborers teach the sons and daughters of Israel!

He was always at the beck and call of every one for favors, never expecting thanks or wanting any, and frequently being repaid with the blackest ingratitude. At one time, and this was in the city of New Orleans, I was kept busy day by day writing applications and recommendations for poor peddlers for relief from the various forms of taxes, state, city and national that were exacted at the time. So numerous were these applications that a collector of one of these taxes wrote to my father to be good enough and not send him any more applications or supplications, but to just indorse his name on the notice and the party would not be troubled any more.

When during the days of the Civil War the military lines of the combatants in certain parts of Louisiana were in close proximity to each other, and when officials both civil and military changed repidly, and men who had been in business in some of these country towns for the past thirty or forty years were forced to close their places of business, they always burned to my father and he invariable obtained for the permission to reopen.

He was never refused by the authorities, civil or military, but never asked for anybody as a favor what could be legitimately obtained in other ways, and even then only when in concerned vital interests, as the livelihood or liberty of a person. This is well shown by the following incidents:

A certain person to whom my father had previously done a great kindness, not succeeding in business, obtained a sutlership (selling goods to the army). One day he came to my father and saying to him that the military authorities would not permit him to take his goods out to the camp, (somewhere in the lower part of Louisiana) wanted him to go at once to the General (N.P. Banks) and obtain for him the necessary permit. My father asked him how it came that he, a quasi-military man, a part of the regiment, was not permitted to take his wares out. He did not know. After long talking and much cross-questioning, my father elicited that the prohibition was not at all upon this man, but upon the Captain of the schooner into which he had loaded his goods, against whom charges for grave infractions of military regulations had been filed, and who was not allowed to leave the city. When asked why he did not just take his wares off from this schooner and load them upon one of the many others that were ready to go out and were only waiting for freight, he answered that he did not want to do that as that would entail upon him the extra expense of unloading and reloading (some fifty dollars), and diminish his profits to that extent. My father then told him that though he regretted it, he could do nothing for him in the matter; he had made it a rule never to trouble the high military authorities by asking as a favor that which could be legitimately obtained otherwise.

For this the man became one of his bitterest enemies.

Shortly after General Butler had taken possession of the residence of Dr. Campbell (on upper Carondelet St.) and established therein his headquarters, an Israelite by the name of Lefkowitch, a watchmaker and jeweler who kept a small shop opposite, was arrested on the charge of having purchased from one of the soldiers of the guard about the house, who had stolen it, a massive silver soup-tureen, a part of the treasures the Doctor had left in the house. It had been missed from the accustomed place; the soldier was suspected, confessed and avowed that he had sold it to Mr. Lefkowitch. The jeweler was tried (by a military court, we understood) and sentenced to six years at Fort Jackson with ball and chain. This man Lefkowitch had always borne a good name in the community, was a hard worker, and supported with his earnings a wife and six children, and an old father and mother–all of whom were still in Russia. It was a great calamity to them. His friends turned all his possessions into money, and employed the most prominent lawyers and the most influential persons in the city to obtain his release, but without avail.

When the funds, some two thousand dollars, were exhausted, they came to my father and begged him to intercede for the prisoner. The Department had by that time changed Commanders, and General N.P. Banks, who held my father in great esteem, had taken the place of General Butler. The following morning (bright and early — it was in the summer months) my father wended his way to Headquarters, but could not see the General. For almost six weeks he made this trip day after day (except Saturdays and Sundays), but never could he see the General; he was busy, or he asleep, or he was out. Finally, one morning, after another rebuff, seeing the General’s carriage at the door, he determined to wait till he came out. He had not waited long when the General appeared, and seeing my father standing there near his carriage, under the shade of a tree, greeted him pleasantly, shook his hand, and asked him what had brought him there. My father told him that he had come almost every day for six weeks to his door on a matter of great moment, but that he had not been able to get to him. At this the General turned to his orderly, and directed him to instruct the men at once, that no matter at what time the Rabbi came, he was to be admitted immediately and without ceremony, and turning to my father, asked him to be good enough and to call the following morning, about 8:30 a.m. He did so, and told his mission. The General replied that he was just then head over heels in the preparations for the Red River Expedition, and could not give his attention to anything else, but that when he returned therefrom, the Doctor should call upon him and bring the matter before him and he would then see what could be done.

After a campaign of four months the General returned to New Orleans, and amongst his earliest callers was my father. He congratulated the General upon the successful issue of the campaign, recalled to his mind that victors were merciful, and in behalf of the wife and six children and the old father and mother who were starving in Russia, he prayed that the man be released. The General promised that he would look carefully into the case, and that my father should hear of it in a short time.

A few days later (I believe it was on New Year’s Day) the General was down at the Fort, had the man Lefkowitch brought before him, and questioned him, and shortly after this his release followed.

All this without price or reward.

The following incident shows in what high esteem my father was held in the community and how great was his influence. A messenger from a banking house in New Orleans was taking three thousand dollars in gold (considering the premium at which gold stood in 1862-1863, particularly in the Confederacy, it was quite a large sum) somewhere up the Mississippi on a steamer. About halfway up it was seized by United States officers on the ground that it was being taken into the Confederacy, and gold was contraband of war.

The owners thereof, being naturally anxious to recover it, called in the services of a gentleman who had come down with the army as a Judge Advocate thereof, but had resigned soon after, and settled down to the practice of the law. He studied over the case for a few days and then told them that nothing could be done in the usual way. He suggested, however, that a personal appeal to the General commanding the Department (Banks) by some influential person might have a better chance; told them to call on my father, and if he consented to do so he would call with him upon the General in their behalf.

The parties called on my father and put the matter before him, and held out promises of remuneration. Though they were members of his congregation, he refused at once, saying, as he had said once before, that he never went to the General except on vital matters.

Long before the present so-called scientific methods of dealing with poverty were thought of, he had held that the only true way of helping the needy was to put them in the way of earning a livelihoos, whenever that was possible. To recall only one instance: It was in the City of Cincinnati. One day before the Festival of Booths (סכות), a young man, Hayyim A., a wandering Polish immigrant, came in and begged for assistance. To the question as to what he would do then, he answered, “go further.” My father thereupon told him that that was not the way for a young and strong man, as he appeared to be, to do. He must earn a living and not beg it. He would see to it after the holidays. Meanwhile, he secured lodgings for him in a Jewish lodging house for peddlers and had him eat at his table. (He had been brought up in the practice of our forefathers, who declared it specially meritorious to feed the poor at your own table.) The holidays over, he looked about, and learning that a certain person was about to give up his business of glaziering to pursue another vocation, he negotiated with him for his box, diamond and what glass he had on hand, with two weeks’ instruction (by going around with him and showing him how the glass was put in) for the beginner. With the aid of a few charitable friends, the sum of twenty-five dollars was made up, and the young man started on his career. He was a hard worker, very economical and saved his money, except what he sent to his wife and his parents. His expenses were small, he lived very frugally; clothes were supplied to him by some members of the congregation, and on Friday night and Saturday noon (the only days when he had a full meal), he ate with us.

Some eight or ten years later he left Cincinnati, and with a capital of over five thousand dollars, which he had amassed, he established himself in business in one of the large cities of Alabama.

In Cincinnati there lived a man, the father of a family, who kept a very small store of mostly second-hand goods, and cheap notions. One day he came to my father and complained bitterly that he had a hard time making a living for his family. His capital was too small; if he had fifty dollars more he could do much better. My father, though a man of but very small means himself, at once loaned him the fifty dollars without interest, of course. It was repaid on the thirtieth of the month and loaned to him again on the first of the following month–and this for thirteen months. The return was enmity and calumny.

My father made no distinction in his charity between coreligionists and those of other faiths, following therein the dictates of our sages.

It happened whilst he was Rabbi in Syracuse, N.Y., that a German, a Catholic, living in what was then called the Swamp, came to him for help. He said he was a cobbler and had made a living at his trade, but that some weeks before his wife had sickened and died, and he had been compelled to sell his bedding and his tools to raise the amount required for the necessary funeral expenses. He and his children were now in dire distress. All he wanted was tools to work with, and he would soon be earning a good living again.

My father took the man to the large hardware store of Mr. Leopold Schwartz, and guaranteeing half of the bill, Mr. Schwartz taking the risk of the other half, he was supplied with all the tools that he required, and allowed to pay for them in small payments at his convenience. Besides this, my father gave him a small sum for his immediate necessities, and it was but a short time until the cobbler was once more a happy and prosperous man.

Although engaged the greater part of his time in an active feud, as one might say, with the leaders of Reform, his personal relations with them were of the pleasantest and friendliest character. This was largely due to the fact that in his controversies he never resorted to personalities, though the other side was not always as considerate on this point.

With Isaac M. Wise he was on intimate terms, almost from the time of his arrival in this country,* and later on, when we resided in Cincinnati, they met frequently in the friendliest intercourse. With Dr. Lilienthal he was likewise on friendly terms, though not of familiarity, as with Dr. Wise.

*Dr. Wise, who was a countryman of his, came down from Albany, and called on my father at his boarding house a few days after his arrival in New York. They had a long discussion lasting far into the night, on the subject of Reform and his (Wise’s) program therefor. They retired about 2 a.m., but the murderers of sleep (the red creeping things) gave them no rest, and they soon arose and continued the discussion till morning.

Shortly after our arrival in Baltimore, the Rev. Dr. Einhorn, the Rabbi of the Har Sinai Congregation (radical Reform), called upon my father and from that time on was a daily visitor at our house (Saturdays and Sundays excepted). He came about 1 p.m., drank his cup of black coffee and smoked a cigar in the study, remaining usually till about 3 p.m. This continued for nearly six months (or longer) until the incident to be related caused a parting of the ways, and it was Dr. Einhorn who broke friendship, and not my father.

Some months after our arrival in Baltimore my father was invited to deliver the address at the annual dinner of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, to be given December 21st, 1859, and had accepted. About three weeks before the dinner, happening to meet the president of the society, he casually and in an off-hand way, as if the matter were self-understood in very conservative Baltimore, asked him whether there were arrangements made for the washing of the hands before (נטילת ידים), and the saying of grace (ברכת המזון) after the meal. To his great astonishment he was told that both were prohibited by resolution of the Board of Trustees. He at first thought that the president was joking, but when he became convinced that it was all meant in downright earnest, he at once informed him that under those conditions he would not deliver the address, would not dine with the society, and in so far as his influence went, none of his members should.

He was told that this resolution prohibiting נטילת ידים and ברכת המזון had been passed by the trustees at the instance of Dr. Einhorn, but this did not deter him from doing what he thought was proper in the matter. He never allowed his personal interests, or friendships, or preferences, to stand in the way when the cause of religion demanded action.

The following Sabbath at the close of the sermon, my father denounced the action of the trustees of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, as of the most intolerant and sinful character, and declared that attendance at this dinner would be as was attendance at the feast of Ahaverosh! No man who had any regard for religion or had any respect for his own person, would attend a dinner at which, by resolution of the Board of Trustees, he was forbidden to give thanks to G-d for the good things enjoyed and for the ability to enjoy them.

He enjoined upon each and every one to send their contribution to the treasurer of the Society, so that the poor should not suffer from the senseless and sinful action of the Trustees.

The Lloyd Street Congregation, the Stadt Shool, was at the time the largest and wealthiest congregation in Baltimore, and the trustees of the Benevolent Society soon learned that the interdict had been effective, and that the dinner would prove a disastrous failure unless something was done, and that quickly. It was not alone in his congregation that its effects were noted, but the interdict reverberated, and all the religiously inclined, (and there were many in the Hannover Street Congregation, in the Fell’s Point Congregation, and in the diverse small congregations), heeded its words, and tickets were being returned en masse.

A meeting of the Trustees was hurriedly called and the obnoxious resolution was rescinded. My father was at once notified by the secretary to that effect and assurance given that satisfactory arrangements for the washing of hands and the saying of grace after the dinner would be made, and he was requested not alone to withdraw his interdiction, but to urge strenuously in his sermon on the following Sabbath the attendance of his members.

My father did so. The following Sabbath in his sermon he recalled the matter to the congregation, told them that the Board would be as it should be at a dinner to which Israelites sat down and urged upon one and all the duty of attending, especially at that particular dinner.

It was the most successful dinner, both in the number of attendants and in the sum total donated, in the history of the Society up to that day. My father delivered the address, and his theme was, “Die Tugendhaftigkeit der Frauen Israels”.

During our residence in Baltimore, Mr. Judah Rosewalk (the father of Mrs. Joseph Friedenwald) came to our house every evening (Friday night and the eve of the festivals excepted) and a Shi’ur was studied, and before our departure from that city my father bestowed upon him the “Morenu”.

He had been at one time a member of the Order of Bene Berith, of Missouri Lodge No. 21, in St. Louis, had received all six degrees and took a traveling card therefrom, dated November 24, 1855 (5616).

He was also member of the Masonic Order; was a member of Kilwinning Chapter, Royal Arch Masons, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and delivered before said Chapter a series of lectures, which, to judge from the expressions of the initiated, were of the greatest interest and most instructive.

Religious questions decided:

In the matter of the burial in a Jewish burying ground of the presumed גיורת (female convert) from Nashville, TN.

That dissection or rather the post-mortem examination of the body of a deceased Israelite, where necessary for the furtherance of the healing art, is permissible.

That Muscovy ducks are prohibited.

That gas cannot be used for the lighting of Hanukkah lights.

That a מוהל (circumcision surgeon) who will not obey the instructions of the Rabbi (when reasonable founded) may be declared פסול (disqualified).

In the matter of ממזרים (offspring of an adulterous relationship).

That a monument with the statue of a man may not be erected in a Jewish cemetery nor is it permitted to place the figure of an animal thereon. (In New Orleans. I believe it was the intention to erect a monument, a bronze statue to Judah Touro.)

Would not permit the bringing of the dead into the synagogue to hold the funeral services there. (I remember very well what a stir it created in the Jewish community of Cincinnati, how astonished all were, when, on the death of his first wife the Reverend Isaac M. Wise had her body brought into the temple and held the funeral services there. It aroused much unfavorable comment even amongst the reform element of the city.)

Temporary decisions (הוראות שעה)

In the year 1861, the first year of his ministry in New Orleans, it was impossible, owing to all communications with northern cities being cut off, to obtain אתרוגים (Ethrogim). Lulavim, Hadassim, Arbe Nahal were to be had in abundance, being native to the soil, but not Ethrogim. The Ethrog that grew indigenously was found to be invalid. In the emergency my father decided that they should be used, but without the usual Brachah, Al Netilas Lulav.

A lady, very prominent and wealthy, who, from being a hater of everything Jewish or that bore that stamp, had through his sermons and his efforts become a very pious mother in Israel, who kept a strictly kosher house, observed the Sabbath in most Orthodox fashion, lights, etc. asked my father at the beginning of the hot season (which sets in early in the South) whether, as she lived at a great distance from the synagogue and could not walk it in the summer months, she should remain away for that period or whether she might ride thereto on the street car.

He advised her that she should attend the synagogue, that she could ride thereto in the street car, but must not make any visits after service–just ride to the synagogue and return again to her home as soon as the services were over.

Though ridiculed for this by many of her friends, she observed the condition most faithfully.

The grounds for the permission are not set down in writing, but besides the grounds which will suggest themselves to the Talmid Chacham, there was the other and the principal reason, which my father mentioned to me, that she was so recent a Baalat Tshuvah that he did not want her to remain away from his sermons, from his admonitions for so long a period.

It is also to be borne in mind that it was not necessary at that time to pay the fare in money, it could be paid in tickets which could be purchased at any time. Up to the time of the installation of electricity as a motive power for street railways, all street lines sold tickets, usually in packages of twenty-five for one dollar.

He would not permit the children of a man who was lost at sea, on the steamer “Morning Star”, that was wrecked between New York and New Orleans, and who was last seen throwing a sofa (or cabin door) into the sea and about to jump in after it, to say Kaddish. This for the reason that it would have evidenced that the wife was positively a widow and could remarry at her pleasure, whilst he held that according to Jewish law, she was not such.

For various reasons the relatives and connections of the family of the unfortunate H. were rather opposed to the decision of my father זצ”ל in the matter, and being prominent and influential in the congregation exerted much pressure upon the officers thereof to disregard the same and permit the sons to say Kaddish. Superadded to this came the declaration quietly made of some would-be Rabbis (quasi למדנים) that the children could and should say Kaddish. To relieve the officers of the congregation from this predicament and to quiet all caviling my father referred the case to Rabbiner S.R. Hirsch of Frankfurt-am-Main and received from him a reply. There was no further opposition.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.