ADDRESS BY BISHOP GREER
CARNEGIE HALL, NEW-YORK
CELEBRATION OF THE 250TH ANNIVERSARY
When I accepted the invitation of your Chairman to be present and say a few words on this occasion, I did so very willingly, because of the deep interest which I have always felt in the Hebrew race and people, and I was glad of an opportunity to give public expression to it. And this, perhaps, is about all that I can do, as I cannot hope to add anything to what has been already said by those who have preceded me, and it would be a rash venture to try to anticipate what will be said by those who are to follow me, and who are far more competent than I am to speak to this occasion and to rehearse your story to you.
I may, however, be permitted to state why that story is to me so interesting and appealing. First, because it is so exceptional and unique, as the story of a race which, while it has dwelt among so many other races, has yet so persistently and consistently maintained its own racial integrity. Scattered all over the face of the earth, under all governments and in all countries, the Hebrew race has had, without a government and without a country, for nearly two thousand years, a cohesive nationality, which no disaster has destroyed, no misfortune weakened, no lapse of time impaired. Other nationalities in the history of the world, and some of them very great and apparently the strongest, as though they were destined forever to endure, have risen and run their course and fallen down, or fallen in, and perished and ceased to be. But here is a nationality which, through [2/3] all the changing experiences and vicissitudes of the centuries, has not only preserved but extended its dominion, has not only survived but flourished and advanced; which, without losing or compromising itself, has nevertheless inspirited itself into nearly all the other nations of the world, and whose quickening and vital energy, as George Eliot observes, is beating today in the pulses, unnoted and uncredited, of many millions of people.
And what a long muster-roll of eminent names it has! From Moses, the great lawgiver and Hebrew teacher of righteousness, to Moses Mendelssohn, the great philosophic thinker and apostle of Hebrew culture; from Isaiah, the man of vision, to Spinoza, the God-intoxicated man; and many more of other days, and yet in some respects at least of scarcely lesser note, of those who have contributed in letters and in art, in philosophy and jurisprudence, philanthropy and religion, in science and in song, to the welfare of the world. For what department is there, as a Christian writer testifies, of social or civil economy, that has not been and is not now illustrated and adorned by the unconquerable genius, the unimpaired vigor, the unslackened energy, the immortal youth, of this so ancient nation! Surely it is a story among the stories of the nations, exceptional and unique, and I wonder not at your pride in it; and although I am not of you, I can share it with you, reserving my astonishment with some impatience in it for those who have and feel such rancorous and churlish prejudice against you. Or is it jealousy of you? That there have been, and that there are, unworthy, ignoble, [3/4] and degraded Jews, no one will deny, and least of all you. But that is not a fact peculiar to your race. It is true of every race, Christian as well as Jewish. But there is this further fact of which you may be proud, that no matter how degraded the Jew may become, a man who loves his home, as Lord Beaconsfield has said, is never wholly lost; and the Jew, therefore, he adds, is never wholly demoralized; for, with the patriarchal feeling, even in his lowest and deepest degradation, still lingering about his hearth, the Jew loves his home.
But the character of a people, like the character of a person, should not be measured by its worst, but rather by its best; not by the depths into which it has at times sunken and declined, but rather by the heights to which it has attained; and reckoned by that rule and by that standard judged, Israel's rank is high. And the story of Israel's people is the story of a race which from that little border-land upon the midland sea has been moving on and on with an inexhaustible vigor, through all the ages since, crossing all the seas, touching all the lands, and all the many and various forms of their unfolding life, until it reached this land; not only here more freely its own destiny to fulfill, but to become thereafter a factor in the destiny of this land.
No, I wonder not at your pride in it, nor that you are moved, not merely as loyal Jews but as patriotic citizens, to celebrate and keep this anniversary day of the first Jewish arrival, two hundred and fifty years ago, on these New Amsterdam shores. And yet it was not the first on these American shores. For [4/5] the claim has been made, and it seems to be authentic, that a small Jewish contingent had something to do with the discovery of America, and that with the Spanish caravels that brought Columbus here, there also came members of the Hebrew race and faith.
And this leads me to speak of another reason why the Jewish story is to me so interesting and appealing: Because it is the story of a persecution. And it was in that eventful year, when America was discovered, as Judge Daly has stated in his scholarly address on the Jews in North America, that the terrible persecution of the Jews in Europe began, which led to their expulsion from France, Spain, and Portugal, and which in its immediate effects was more disastrous than even the destruction of Jerusalem. And what a long and painful and cruel story it is! Yes, and what a strange one! Because it is the story of a persecution wrought, or at all events inspired, by a religious faith which claimed to have and hold as one of its cardinal tenets the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and which declared it to be the highest duty of man to love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself. It might therefore be supposed, naturally and logically, that those who held that faith, or who professed to hold it, would at least be tolerant of those who held it not, because, although they held it not, they were still their neighbors, and, so that faith declared, closer yet--their brothers. But neighborhood and brotherhood, however much they may have been recognized for others, furnished no protection or refuge for the Jew. From all such asylum or sanctuary privilege he was [5/6] excluded, not because he was a sinner above all other sinners, but because he was a Jew. That was the great and heinous crime which he would not forego, and others would not forget, for which he was made a pariah and an outcast, unshielded by the state, unsheltered by the church, and with a cruel oppression victimized by both. Some have attempted to show that this was chiefly the work of the state and not so much of the church, and thus have tried to excuse at least, if not to acquit, the church. I wish it were true, but I cannot so read my history. I read, on the contrary, that the state was at times in advance of the church, or in advance of what was called the prevailing Christian opinion, in its disposition to grant certain rights and privileges to the Jew. I read, for instance, that in the year 1753 a bill was introduced into Parliament for the naturalization of all the Jews who had been three years in the kingdom, and that, although it passed both Houses and received the royal assent, there was such a virulent clamor and opposition to it, not only by the populace but also by the clergy, that the obnoxious measure had to be repealed.
But this is only one of many similar cases which have in the record of Christendom appeared, to stain it and to shame it. And while, of course, there is and can be no apology for them, yet to the student of human nature there is, perhaps, some explanation of them. For religious toleration is an art, a fine and a high art, difficult to learn, and few there be who learn it; and even those who learn it soon proceed to unlearn it, or else to apply it chiefly to the [6/7] elect, by which, of course, they mean chiefly to themselves. Fleeing from the tyranny, civil and religious, of the mother country, the Puritan fathers came to find here a home, or establish here a state, where they might enjoy without let or hindrance that great human privilege of a perfectly free conscience, which had been denied them in their other state and home. And they did find it, and they did enjoy it; and then proceeded to enact that no one for the time to come should be admitted to the freedom of the body politic except such as were members of some of the Puritan churches within the limits of the same. Nowhere among the early American colonies was the principle of religious toleration more clearly and fully asserted, and for a time at least more consistently held and practiced, than in Rhode Island and Maryland. Upon that principle of religious toleration both of them were founded, especially Rhode Island, where, fleeing from the bigotry of Massachusetts Bay, Roger Williams had proclaimed and instilled into the people of those Providence Plantations his great soul-liberty doctrine. And yet, as Judge Daly states, while both those colonies started with the broadest recognition of the rights of conscience as the prerogative and privilege of all who should settle in them, in little more than a century, one construed those rights as applying only to Christians, and the other as only to Christians of a particular denomination.
Thus do we find that even here in America, in the free and broad expanse of this American soil, free enough and broad enough for all sincere convictions, freedom of conscience has been a plant of slow and [7/8] struggling growth. And yet that slow and struggling growth has had the good effect to give it deeper and stronger root and to make it more secure, that so at last it might become, as at last it has become, the recognized prerogative and privilege of all in this American land to give to all of every faith its glad and grateful shelter. Religious differences exist, and they will exist. And yet, however high the separating wall, it does not and it cannot wholly separate, because that freedom-of-conscience plant has in this land become, like the tribal blessing of Joseph, a good and fruitful bough whose branches run over the wall. The wall may exist, the walls do exist; but they are covered and adorned in this land with that beneficent principle of religious toleration which makes them not like battle walls, to garrison hostile camps, but rather more like garden walls, inclosing friendly faiths, where each may have the chance to freely grow and flourish, and by the fruitage which it bears, in character and life, in manhood and womanhood, and in civic excellence, to prove and show its relative worth and make its value seen.
That is the test to which the creeds should come, must come, and are coming--yours and mine and all; and to which sooner or later the nations, too, must come; not to the gage of battle, but rather to that friendly rivalry in righteousness whose peaceable fruits shall determine which is the stronger nation and which the more excellent creed. Then will all oppression and all persecution cease, as with us they have ceased.
Hence it is that we who are of a different faith [8/9] can unite to-day with you in friendly and fraternal tie, and with no other kind of rivalry than a rivalry in righteousness, in giving thanks to God for all the blessings which have come to this American land. And yet, in the exercise of that religious freedom which is enjoyed by us, we must not fail to remember those, our brethren far away, to whom it is denied, and who, through a religious and racial animosity, are made the hapless victims of a cruel persecution, which in its wanton ferocity and rancor has scarcely ever been surpassed even in that story, full of horrors as it is, from Titus to Torquemada, of the persecution of the Jews, as though again to-day, in this enlightened age, all the wild and untamed savagery that is latent in human nature had leaped upon them from its lair to rend them and to tear them. So that there is mingled with the jubilate strains of this Thanksgiving occasion, and this anniversary festival, the sad and plaintive minor tone of a Miserere cry coming across the waters, sounding in our ears, of men, women and children, yes, even little children, mothers, and their babes, who, although they have no grievous crime committed, are suffering nevertheless a great and grievous wrong simply because they have the blood of their ancestors flowing in their veins. Let the Russian Government beware! let the Russian people beware, lest, in trying to break this ancient people of the Lord God of Israel, they should themselves be broken! For while nations rise and fall, the Jewish race persists, and no weapon that is formed against it shall prosper.
And so, with a story exceptional and unique among [9/10] the stories of the nations, the Jewish race has been steadily moving on, through trials and persecutions, cast down but not destroyed, toward that great and high yet still unfulfilled and undetermined destiny which, in the councils of Israel's God, awaits it in the future. May I give to this address a concluding personal note? Twelve years ago there was another great and notable assemblage in this hall. The intelligence had been flashed over the country, and over the world, that Phillips Brooks was dead, and the people of this city gathered in great numbers here to express their affection and admiration for him. And, standing in the place where I am standing now, and speaking to an audience as large as the audience to which I now am speaking, and which crowded this hall to the doors and roof, the noblest tribute paid to that Christian man was by a Jewish rabbi, your honored Dr. Gottheil. It was the recognition by one great man of God of another great man of God, each of whom in his way served Him here in this world, and both of whom, I doubt not, have now, in some other world, a clearer and a closer and a larger vision of Him.