Slavery in 1861: The Rabbi and the Reaction

A friend forwarded me this link on Monday – The Rabbi and the Rebellion, by Adam Goodheart.

Excerpt: The great national debate over slavery brought fame very suddenly to a certain owlish, bespectacled clergyman. Not long before, he had been almost unknown beyond the walls of his own synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun on Green Street in lower Manhattan. Now his name was in newspapers, and his sermon in bookshops from Boston to New Orleans. Like so many men of God – both then and now – he stepped out of obscurity when he stepped into politics, quoting ancient texts to answer modern questions.

Rabbi MJ Raphall

The Bible View of Slavery”: this was the title of the pamphlet that had brought Rabbi Morris J. Raphall such notoriety. He had first delivered the address on Jan. 4, 1861, on the occasion of the national “day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer throughout the Union” proclaimed by President James Buchanan in response to the secession crisis. The learned sage delved deep into the Hebrew Bible – citing the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Job and even Exodus – before concluding that “slaveholding is not only recognized and sanctioned as an integral part of the social structure … [but] the property in slaves is placed under the same protection as any other species of lawful property.”

via The Rabbi and the Rebellion –

Response Poem - Click to Enlarge

The article includes a mention that William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist weekly, The Liberator (available with full text search at The New York Times article includes the first four lines but I was able to use that text and the powerful full text search feature in the archive to locate the entire poem.

The poem, published in the April 4th, 1861 edition of The Liberator, is uncredited but opens with this introduction: The following lines were elicited by the discourse of the Jewish Rabbi, Raphall, of New York, on the President’s Fast Day, which the learned Doctor improved as a proper occasion for advocating the system of American slavery.

“When Israel, rebelling, spurned His sway,
And from His holy temple turned away—
Passing through fire, and groveling in the dust,
To gods obscene, offspring of human lust;
When they who by his cloud and fire were led,
And by his manna in the desert fed,
Revelled at feasts profane, with perverse will—
With smoking altars upon every hill,
And lurid fires reddening the midnight sky,
Made the land reek with their idolatry,—
Offended Heaven withdraw its shielding arm,
And, 10.7 their plains with foes like locusts swarm;
Swift as the furious winds, destructions come
On field and vineyard, tower and wall and dome:
He bids the conqueror forge his heavy chain,
And hurls them back to slavery again.

Then when their groans had rung through sorrowing years,
And Babel’s streams were bitter with their tears,
Again he heard their penitential cry,
And ended all their long captivity.
Child of a thrice-delivered race, hast thou
No tears for those who still in bondage bou?
Bondage foretold! Tyrant’s convenient plan!
Was there no misery foretold for thee?
Scorned and despised, to every land dispersed;
From all distinguished, and by all accursed;
Spurned like a dog, and spit on in the mart;
Branded a wretch without a soul or heart;
Knave, usurer, to gold’s insatiate lust
an abject slave, a thing whom all distrust;
From many lands expelled, in meet denied
The rights that make a freeman’s boast and pride!—
Is not thy shame the theme of prophesy?
Yet doth Jehovah bid me hiss at thee!

No—for so sure as Palestine is trod
By Salem’s foes, the enemies of God,
Shall retribution dire descend on all
Who spurn her dust, and triumph in her fall;
For, like as scourging locusts in their flight,—
By instinct led,—on fruitful lands alight;
So the proud conqueror, urged by lust of power,
Swoops on the nations only to devour;
Nor thinks, in working his imperial will,
The mandates of th’ Eternal to fulfill.

And in that day when days shall cease to roll—
Earth’s spangled curtain rent from pole to pole!—
The sun grown dim, the moon like dusky fire—
All nations quaking at their portents dire!—
The day of judgment!—will thy conscience then
Excuse this tampering with the rights of man?
May not the Judge demand—”What edict gave
To thes the right to make or hold a slave?”

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