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.THE COVENANT OF CIRCUMCISION ברית מילה

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The Sabbath naturally directs our is founded is solemn, impressive, and attention to the covenant of circum- accompanied with a denunciation, cision. This commandment, too, is the first of its kind we meet with in

a sign or token,” and Holy Writ: As it is said, na nis, “sign or token of the when Abraham was ninety-nine years Covenant: As it is said, “ Ye shall old, the Lord appeared to Abram circumcise the foreskin of your flesh: and said to him, I am almightyGod; and it shall be a token of the cove- walk before me and be perfect : and nant between me and you.” (Genesis. I will establish my covenant between xvii. 11.) It is of the very first im

me and thee, and I will multiply thee portance ; accordingly we find in the exceedingly.' And Abram fell on Talmud, (Treatise Nedarim, folio 34, his face, and God spoke further to “R. Meir saith, ‘Most important is him and said: 'I am! behold my co. circumcision : though Abraham was

venant is with thee, and thou shalt virtuous and pious, served God and become a father of many nations. observed his commandments, he was Thy name shall no longer be called not called Perfect until circumcision Abram but ABRAHAM, for I have apwas bestowed on him: As it is pointed thee a father of many nasaid, Walk before me and be perfect: tions. I will make thee exceedingly and I will erect my covenant between fruitful, I will turn thee into name and thee.' (Genesis xvii. 1, 2.) R. tions, and kings shall descend from Simeon saith, ‘Most important is

thee. And I will erect my covenant circumcision, as it is equivalent to

between me and thee and thy seed all the commandments of the law :

after thee, to their generations, as For it is said, This is the blood of the an everlasting covenant, that I am covenant which the Lord has made with God unto thee and to thy seed after you, concerning all these things.' (Exod. thee. And I will give unto thee, xxiv. 8.)”

and to thy seed after thee, the land It would be a vain effort on our of thy sojourn, the whole land of parts, fully and minutely to detail the Canaan, for an everlasting possesreasoning and illustrations by which sion; and I will be their God.' And the Rabbies prove the importance God said further unto Abraham, and sublime purpose of circumcision : * And thou shalt therefore observe and the manner in which they prove my covenant, thou, and thy seed that by it alone Abraham acquired after thee to their generations. This perfection; as these elucidations are is my covenant, which ye shall obtoo profound and abstruse, and can. serve, between me and you, and benot therefore be submitted to the tween thy seed after thee: Every general reader, who might consider male child among you shall be cirthem as not in unison with the spirit cumcised. Ye shall circumcise the of the present age. We must there. flesh of your foreskin; and it shall fore content ourselves with a few be in ken the Covenant besuperficial remarks; which will, tween me and you. When he is however, we trust, give our readers eight days old, every male among some additional information on this you shall be circumcised to all your subject.

generations; those who are born in The Divine command on which it your house, or those who may be

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purchased with money from any then devolves on the man himself. strangers who are not of thy seed. If the merit of this observance conHe must surely be circumcised who sisted in obedience only, it would, is born in thy house or is purchased like all other enactments of Holy with thy money : and my covenant Writ, be left to the free will of the shall be in your flesh, as an ever- man on whom it operates, to perform lasting covenant. And the uncir- or to decline it, according to the dic: cumcised male, who shall not cir- tates of his volition. But as circumcumcise the flesh of his foreskin, cision, and that on the eighth day, that soul shall be cut off from his has a further merit, namely, that to people. He has broken my Cove. the seed of Abraham (the Ísraelites) nant.'” (Genesis xvii. 1-14.) The there can be no perfection without observance of the command, thus it, and as thus its importance comemphatically given to Abraham, was mences at a time, when the helpless but twice interrupted; the first time, state of him that is operated on preduring the bondage of the Israelites cludes free-will and the merit of obein Egypt; the second, during their dience; it is a duty incumbent on the wanderings in the desert : As we parent to secure that means of perfind in Bereshith Rabbah, (Chapter fection to his offspring. This seems 46,)“R. Phineas said, in the name of to be the sense of the discourse in R. Levy, Abraham fell twice on Bereshith Rabbah, (chap. xiv.) behis face, denoting his foreknowledge tween R. Hushaiah and a heathen that the covenant of circumcision philosopher, who asked of the forwould twice be interrupted : 1. In mer: “If circumcision is thus preEgypt : 2. In the Desert. In Egypt cious and important, why was it not they were uncircumcised, but Moses bestowed on Adam ?” R. Hoshaiah afterwards caused the rite to be per- retorted, “Why do we cut the hair formed on them; as did Joshua on off our heads and not our beards ?" their children, who, during the wan- The philosopher answered: “Bederings in the Desert, had remained cause those are grown in the folly of uncircumcised.”

our childhood ; whilst the beard is The importance of circumcision the production of our riper years.' arises from two principal causes. R. Hoshaiah replied: “Were this The First is, that, as the Talmud reason the true one, our hands, feet, says, in accordance with the text of or other members ought likewise to Holy Writ, “ Abraham was not con- be cut off. For they too are grown sidered as PERFECT, until the cove- in the folly of our childhood.” The nant of circumcision was afforded to philosopher retorted : “ This has no him." In like manner it is indis- connection with my question, from pensably necessary to his descend- which we are altogether digressing.” fants, in order to attain that great R. Hoshaiah answered : “ To dismiss end and aim of our being,-perfec- thee without any instruction would tion, that every individual among them be unbecoming. I therefore only say, should be circumcised. The Second acids must be mitigated; wheat must. is, that, as circumcision is the token be ground; and man, too, must un. of the Covenant, appointed by the dergo preparation." It appears the Deity, obedience is due to a com. Rabbi, in the first instance, refused mandment, the infringement of him any explanation ; as he did not which breaks that covenant, and calls consider the philosopher capable of forth a dire denunciation.

conceiving the profound reasons We would not at all have alluded which can be given: and he there. to the first of these causes,-as the fore points out to him the folly of second is amply sufficient, and divine questioning Divine commands, when commandments are subjects of obe- he cannot truly account for a fashion dience, not of ratiocination,- but for which is but of human origin. But the twofold direction of the com- as this did not induce the philosomand itself, which renders it impe- pher to desist from his pertinacious rative on the parent to cause the rite questioning, the Rabbi, whilst he to be performed; or, should the pa- admits that it would be improper rent have neglected it, this duty to dismiss him without any in

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struction whatever, limits the in- told thee thou wert naked ?” (Gen. formation he affords to the mere iii. 7, 10, 11.) “What is become remark, that man needs preparation. of that innocence which ennobled We, too, will follow the example thee, and was too pure to admit of which R. Hoshaiah has left us, and shame?” As thus sin banished pure not obtrude on the philosophic ques- innocence from Adam and his detioner of the present day the pro- scendants, the Divine command of found motives which dictated the circumcision comes in aid of our command to Abraham, but will con- fallen nature, and to enable man to tent ourselves with a few observations regain perfection. Thus the sons in elucidation of the Rabbi's words : of Jacob said to Shechem, “We “ Man must undergo preparation." cannot do this thing to give our sis

We concede that this appears to ter to one that is uncircumcised For if man is required to undergo a shameful disgrace unto us." (Gen. preparation, why was that prepara. xxxiv. 14.) Their meaning could tion not afforded to Adam ? But the not be, that it would be a disgrace meaning of the philosopher's ques- to them in the eyes of the world,

“How can man improve were they, the only circumcised the creation of his God, who, had he family then in existence, to give their considered circumcision so precious sister to one, who, in this respect, and important to human perfection, resembled the great mass of manwould have created Adam according- kind : But as they wished to impress ly?” The reply of the Rabbi had the him with the importance and advanfollowing meaning:“Adam came per- tage of this observance, as contrifect from the hands of his Maker:Had buting to human perfection; they he preserved that state of perfection, prove the sinfulness of the pasthere would, indeed, have been no sions by citing the shame which occasion for man's undergoing any attends their indulgence. preparation. But as he did not As we said before, it is a duty indo so, man needs preparation incumbent on the parent to cause the order to mitigate his acerbities.” rite of circumcision to be performed By PERFECTION is meant moral per- on his offspring. In addition to its fection. We do not intend to define being the covenant established by the fall of Adam; but one fact is the Deity, it is likewise symbolic of universally agreed in-namely, that what is due to all the commandbefore bis transgression he was purements of religion ; namely unconand innocent, so that those appetites ditional obedience, although human which at present degenerate into reason may not fathom their cause. sinful desires, were then ennobled Self-conceit would (as in the present by innocence and free from passion. day it actually does) cavil at the Subsequently he became corrupted performance of this duty; and start by the sway of the passions; and the the question, “What right have paproof of their sinfulness is shaine. rents to force their helpless babes Therefore, Holy Writ teaches, that, into a Covenant, and impose on before their transgression, they them a religious system, independent were both naked, the man and his of their inclination, will, and conwife, and they were not ashamed.” sciousness ?We could, in reply, (Genesis ii. 25.) But when disobe- retort by asking, “What right had dience of the divine command strip- Abraham, the father of circumcision, ped them of the innocence and to bind his son on the altar, and to purity in which they were clothed, take up a knife with the fixed insin engendered its consequence- tention to slay him?" The answer shame ; as we are told, And the

to both questions is the same : The eyes of both were opened, and they right is conferred by the command discovered that they were naked.” of the Deity, the great Lord of life Therefore when summoned into the and being, whose justice is equalled Divine presence, Adam says, “I by his mercy, who commands n&ught was afraid, because I am naked :" but what is really conducive to our which calls forth the rebuke, “Who true good, however little the blindfold researches of human reason can command all other considerations conceive his motives. In obedience yield ; alike mute is the arrogance to that command the right is exer- of philosophy and the repugnance of cised. And we who know, that pity. 77887 no bop nnon "he spoke and it was, he commanded

73517o9777 “For like the sin and it stood firm ;” that when he of sorcery is rebellion,—like iniquity said, “Let there be,” creation, in all and idols is perverseness.” (1 Sam. its glorious variety, was perfect,

xv. 23.) are we to question his command

We stated at the commencement ments, and reason on the extent of of this article that circumcision is obedience due to him, or of the rights which that obedience confers ?

called hin, “a sign or token.” It Far from us be such presumption. the Sabbath, and most probably for

has this appellation in common with That perfect obedience of which the father of the faithful bequeathed us

the same reason; namely, though

the observance is peculiar to Israel. his glorious example, is at least par- ites, yet it is not for their sole benefit tially to be perpetuated in his descendants, the sons of Jacob. How- only, nor yet for the mere purpose of ever parental tenderness may repine ;

distinguishing their community from however the helpless innocent,

others; but it is intended as a sign

or token to all the pations of the scarcely ushered into the world, may earth, that the law of Moses is truly implore pity by its unconscious cries; Abraham is to be imitated. Despight

the revelation of the Most High; and

that Israelites are witnesses to the the yearnings of the father's heart, the keen edge of the knife initiates

facts of that revelation; and, in order

to be accredited as such, they are the new-born Israelite into the established covenant; for the Lord of stamped with the indelible seal of

the covenant. the universe commands it; to that

(To be continued.)

II. CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF RABBINICAL WRITERS.

THE TALMUD.NO. III.

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In our last article on this subject we availed ourselves of the assistance and authority of Rabenu Moses bar Maimon (Maimonides) to acquaint our readers with the circumstantial details of the order in which the traditions of the oral law were transmitted, and for that pur

submitted to them the preface to his Jad Hachazaka. We now continue to use the assistance which the numerous and comprehensive works of that great author, and his acknowledged critical acumen, have placed at our disposal ; and, in order to elucida whatever may have remained obscure and incomplete in our former article, and also to examine the various divisions of the Talmud, we introduce to our readers the follow. ing treatise, which was originally written by Maimonides in Arabic, but was subsequently, at the request of the Jews of Marseilles, translated into Hebrew by R. Jehuda ben Solomon Alchophni, called El Charisi, a native of Spain, who lived in the beginning of the 13th century; and though in it our author digresses into an investigation of prophecy, we trust his remarks on that important subject will be considered of some interest. PREFACE TO THE TALMUDIC TREATISE, “ ZERAIM.”

BY MAIMONIDES. Know that every commandment He!) gave to Moses our teacher, which the Holy One (blessed be (peace be with him !) was accom

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panied by its exposition : First the Moses, once from Aaron, and once commandment was imparted to him, from his sons, then began to inand then its full and particular elu

struct those who were present in cidation. This was the case with the commandment and its exposievery thing that is comprised in the tion; so that the body of the peobook of the Law. The manner in ple also heard it four times, namely, which it was communicated to the from Moses, from Aaron, from his Israelites was, as the Talmud relates, sons, and from the seventy elders.” (Treatise Erubin, chap. V., fol. 55,) When the congregation dispersed, “After the Divine commandment had the people instructed each other in been given to Moses he withdrew to what they had heard from the his tent, and was followed by Aaron, mouth of Moses, and wrote the to whom Moses communicated the commandments on megiloth, commandment that had been given rolls. The chiefs of the nation to him, and the exposition which ac- went about to teach the whole peocompanied the same ; both of which ple of Israel, and to expound to he taught him. When this was them the commandment, until the done, Aaron took his place at the people acquired a perfect knowright hand of Moses. His two ledge thereof. The commandment sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, next itself was, as we said before, preentered, and to them Moses repeated served in writing; the exposition the whole of what he had already was committed to memory, with all told Aaron, whose sons seated them- its details and particular explanaselves, one at the left hand of Moses, 'tions. In accordance with this is the second at the right hand of the comment of our Rabbies in the Aaron. The seventy elders were Torath Cohanim, (Leviticus xxv. 1.,) next ushered in, and to them Moses And the Lord spake unto Moses recapitulated all that he had said to on Mount Sinai.“Why does Holy Aaron and to his sons. The tent Writ, in this particular passage, use then thrown open

to the the words “on Mount Sinai” body of the people, and to every

the whole of the law was delivered one who came to seek the Lord. on that Mount? It is done to deTo them all Moses once more stated note that, as the law of shmita (the the whole of what he had already agrarian rest of the seventh year) imparted to Aaron, to his sons, and was given at Mount Sinai, with all to the seventy elders; so that every and every the explanations, details, one could hear the commandment and particular enactments thereunto and its exposition as it fell from the appertaining; thus, and in like lips of Moses. Thus Aaron heard manner, all and every commandthe instruction, repeated by Moses, ment was given at Sinai, accomfour different times, his sons heard panied by the explanations, details, it thrice, the elders twice, and the and particular enactments thereunto body of the people once. When respectively appertaining.”. As an this was done, Moses retired, and instance, we cite : The Holy One Aaron repeated the commandment (blessed be He !) said to Moses, “In he had four times heard from booths ye shall dwell seven days." Moses, together with its exposition, (Leviticus xxiii. 42.)

This comto all who were present; and when mandment was written down ; but in his sons had thus likewise heard the addition thereto, Moses received commandment four times, namely, from the Deity the full and circumthrice from Moses, and once from stantial explanation which this comtheir father; Aaron also retired, mandment required. Such as : That and was succeeded by his sons; who this command is compulsory only likewise repeated to all who were on males, not on females ; that sick present the whole of the command- or wayfaring men are exempt from ment, together with its exposition; its observance; that the booth upon which they withdrew. The must be thatched with vegetable maseventy elders, who in like manner terials, but only such as heard the instruction recapitulated longer in a state of actual vegetafour times, namely, twice from tion, nor yet with any manufactured

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