Michael Heilprin's Anti-Slavery Editorial

…the Rabbi arrives at the conclusion that Slavery is not sinful in the eyes of the God of Israel, the God of Moses and the Prophets. It is true, he is "no friend to Slavery in the abstract, and still less friendly to the practical working of Slavery." He is "sorry to find that" he is "delivering a pro-Slavery discourse." He distinguishes between Slavery as practised by the Hebrews, which was "confined within certain limits," and according to which a "slave was a person in whom the dignity of human nature was to be respected," and "who had rights," and the heathen system of Slavery, "which," he is "sorry to say, is adopted in the South," "which reduces the slave to a thing,"

…So depraved is the moral sense of our Pro-Slavery demagogues, so debauched the mind of their mammon-worshiping followers, so dense the Egyptian darkness which covers their horizon, that, all other false lights being exhausted, a spark of Hebrew Pro-Slavery rhetoric is hailed as a new lightning from Sinai, as a new light from Zion, sent to guide the people of the United States safely through the dark tempests that threaten to destroy their ship of State. Down with conscience, humanity, reason, experience! just listen to the angelic Hebrew sounds of the God-sent Rabbi!

[Joke] It remains only to be proved that the tree of knowledge was the first full grown palmetto.

Our learned Rabbi knows this well enough, but he prefers to canonize Noah because of his curse on Ham, and he also prefers, the word "slave" as translation of the Hebrew ‘ebed, which Noah used on that occasion, to the "servant" of the English version. Our people's appreciation of Noah's personal merits, of course, can have but little historical or practical value, but the word ‘ebed is a point upon which the information of a Hebrew is of decisive importance.

I must tell you, statesmen of these United States, that if you undertake to reconstruct the shattered Constitution of your Great Republic on the basis of the learned Rabbi's translation of that word, you will find yourselves woefully mistaken. I doubt if there be one Jewish authority in favor of the Rabbi's preference, but certainly for everyone there are ten against him:
Moses Mendelssohn in his celebrated German translation of the Pentateuch has Knecht (servant), and not Slave;
Dr. Zunz's German Bible, the most favorably received Jewish version of our age, has Knecht!
Rabbi Raphall prefers the "meanest of slaves" for 'ebed 'abadim to "the servant of servants" of the English version;
Mendelssohn renders it: ein Knecht wie alle Knechte, and Zunz's Bible: ein Knecht der Knechte!

Abraham is called the 'ebed of God; so are Moses, job, Isaiah, Cyrus, and Jacob or Israel, as a nation! 'Abadai kannebiim is frequently used of the prophets collectively. Now for Noah's blessings and curse.

The first of these is the doom of Ham's descendants, the African race, pronounced upward of four thousand years ago." A few words, but full of falsehood, nonsense, and blasphemy!

The doom of the descendants of Ham, of the Hamites, in the predictions? Where? Ham's fourth son, Canaan, alone is mentioned. Compare, Ham, the African race, and our negro! What a strange mixture! Where is the identity? South Carolina and Dahomey, Alabama and Timbuctoo, have more features of resemblance than the biblical Hamites and your negroes.

Ham, the "meanest of slaves" in biblical history? No, preacher in Israel; on the contrary, the conquering race par excellence! Whom do you find among the descendants of Ham in Genesis (x.)? There is Cush, or the Ethiopians, with their Meroe, which by many distinguished scholars is still believed to have been the cradle of all civilization this side of India. There is Misraim, or the Egyptians (the Ham proper of the Scriptures), of whose wisdom and power the Scriptures are full, the teachers of Chaldea and Greece, the builders of the most stupendous works of antiquity, the enslavers of our Semitic ancestors, the conquerors at many times of Western Asia, the circumnavigators of Africa.

There is Nimrod, the founder of Babylon, the learned and profligate mistress of the Asian world, whose iron rod, so long endured by our Semitic ancestors, appears broken only on the last pages of our Scriptural history.

There is Ashur, or the Assyrians of Nineveh, the powerful rival of the city on the Euphrates, whose conquering sword scattered over the world and nationally destroyed ten of the twelve tribes of Semitic Israel.

There is Sheba, or the Sabaeans, the masters of the gold and spice region of Arabia Felix, whose queen came to Jerusalem to vie in wisdom with our King Solomon.

There is Caphtor, supposed by the best critics to mean the Cretans, whose Minos was as renowned for power as for wisdom and justice, the constructors of the Cnossian labyrinth, the masters of the Grecian seas, to whom the city of Minerva was tributary. There are the Philistines, who so long disputed with our Semitic ancestors the possession of the land which the Greeks finally named after them.

There is Sidon, and other Phoenician tribes, whose glorious cities and unrivaled commerce, over sea and land, with all the nations of the ancient globe, are described in such glowing words by our prophet Ezekiel. There are Dedan and Raama, Seba, and Havilah, tribes, like Sheba, settled on the shores of the Arabian seas, and rich by their traffic in gold, spices, and other precious things with the equally Hamitic Tyre (Ezekiel xxvii.).

There are the Ludim and other Libyans, masters of the northern margins of Africa, but of Caucasian race. There are some few others, of whom we must say with Josephus (Ant. Book 1, Chap. 6): "We know nothing of them beside their names," and among whom I allow you, learned Rabbi, to look for your negro. But where is the Hamites' doom to be the "meanest of slaves" confirmed in biblical history? King Solomon married Hamite women (Egyptian, Sidonian, &c.). Other kings of Israel did the same. But they were wicked, you say. Our lawgiver, Moses himself, married a Hamite (Cushite) woman (Num. xii.), and his brother and sister, who gainsayed it, were reprimanded for so doing. The cursed son of Ham, Canaan, had nothing to do with the African race. The ethnological chapter of Genesis (x.) fixes the boundaries of the abode of his descendants, which did not extend beyond the limits of Syria, and even hardly beyond those of Palestine.

… Teacher in Israel, speaking thus before the descendants of those men, in a temple dedicated to that God, on a day of prayer and humiliation destined to avert the horrors of a civil war from this once glorious Republic, but now threatened to become reputed like the United States of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, under the dictates of a slave-breeding, slave-trading, slave-hunting faction—"does it not strike you that you are guilty of something very little short of blasphemy?" And of what absurdity I Peaceable, unwarlike, nomadic patriarchs, "migrating from people to people, and from land to land," with their wives, children, and Rocks, and a few attendants, mostly through halfsettled regions, and beyond the borders of other societies, in order to escape the contagion of heathen iniquities, continually surrounded by dangers and enemies, unable to defend the honor here of a wife, there of a child, robbed here of a well, and there concluding a treaty under oath about another-are represented to have been slaveholders!

Or does the learned Rabbi mean to say that they were bought from pirates or slave-traders, as were Joseph, Plato, Cervantes, and Arago, and that he who denounces the slave-trade is also "guilty of something little short of blasphemy?" And does he mean to say that the female followers of the patriarchs were bound to serve in their harems (the concubines of Abraham are mentioned in Gen. xxv. 6) whether they agreed or not, and that a denunciation of similar relations in Louisiana or Mississippi would be blasphemy?

For, if the Rabbi proves anything, he proves strange things. He proves bigamy, polygamy, concubinage, Semitic (not African) Slavery, the traffic in Semitic flesh—all these and many similar things to be protected forever by the sanction of a divine law.

If Moses allowed the buying of slaves, he distinctly excluded the negroes, believing, perhaps, with our Rabbi, that "the unfortunate negro is the meanest of slaves"; or knowing something of what "has been said respecting the inferiority of his intellectual powers." Accordingly, the people of Hayti could not be gainsayed for the importation of Hebrew slaves, from Morocco, for instance, who might contribute to the amelioration of the moral condition of their country, while the people of the Cotton States could be denounced without incurring the guilt of blasphemy for Africanizing their region by their unsanctioned practices, and for dooming their posterity to the fate of the whites of St. Domingo.

Again, according to the Rabbi, should the people of Utah, before or after their admission into the Union as a sovereign State (on which occasion they would, no doubt, avail themselves of the precedent of the Cotton States, immediately to secede from the Union), establish certain peculiar domestic institutions of an incestuous character, "the eloquent preacher of Brooklyn" could not speak against it without incurring the guilt of blasphemy, Jacob having married two sisters, and our Rabbi being unable to discover "the precise time when" an act that was permitted to a patriarch and prohibited by Moses only to the Hebrews, "ceased to be permitted and became sinful" to all others.

For those Rabbis wisely understood that there are numerous things to be explained, or explained away in our Scriptures, which, though pervaded by a divine spirit of truth, justice, and mercy, they found to contain much that may be called contradictory, unjust, and even barbarous. And they also knew that much was yielded by the law of Moses to the stubborn passions of man, of his people of freed slaves, and of his time. You know the Talmudical: Lo dibberah torah keneged yetzer hara'—"the law does not ignore the evil instinct….
But I almost forgot our above-mentioned friend job, the noblest conception of Hebrew poetry (at least according to the Talmudical: Iyob lo hayah velo nibra, "Job never existed"), whom you also stigmatize as a slaveholder, him, who utters those noble words—speaking of his God (31:15), "Did not He that made me in the womb make him? and did not One fashion us in the womb?" If your assertion needs a refutation you can find it in the concluding passages of the Book of job, in which you will find how the martyr was rewarded for his constancy, all his former possessions being restored double, his sheep, his camels, his oxen, and his she asses—but is there a word of slaves? So much for your proofs from passages of the Scriptures.

Another ample and general refutation of our Rabbi's view can be found in the history of the Hebrews as a nation, a history of fifteen centuries, full of wars, revolutions', civil strifes, and catastrophes, but without a mention of a single slave rising, or a single similar event. And how often do the Helots figure in Spartan history! how often slaves in the history of Rome! The history of this country, alas I has scarcely a page on which is not written the black word "Slavery." Shall its history be so continued? Answer, statesmen and people of America!

And you, Rev. Rabbi Raphall, make your Bible, by some process of reasoning, to be pure, just, and humane, if you want to have it regarded as divine; or reject it as full of human frailty, if you dare! Shalom!

New York, Jan. 11, 1861.


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