Jewish and Christian Ethics/Part I/Chapter X

Jewish and Christian Ethics/Part I by Elijah Benamozegh, translator not mentioned

Chapter X

Trust in God


Trust Preached by Jesus.—Its Extravagance.—Two Pharisaical Schools.—The Jewish Prototypes of the Gospel Trust.—The Dogmatic Fiction, Making Man free from Toil.—Toil in Judaism and in Christianity.—Pharisaical Examples.—The Object of Life; The Glory of God.—Our Method of Comparing the Two Systems of Morality.—Judgment of Mr. Salvador.—Its Inaccuracy.—His Mode of Characterizing the Systems.—Man and Woman.—The House and the Cloister.

After charity and love towards our enemies we come naturally to speak of trust in God. Here, as elsewhere, has Christianity taken the most ascetic doctrines of the Jews, those which governed a special sect, a society of meditatists, to make them general rules for human life; here, as elsewhere, has Christianity transferred the doctrines and ethics of the Essenes to the midst of society, of its concerns and needs; here, in short, as elsewhere, it has pushed ideas to an extreme. As long as it was contented with the maxim: "Enough for each day is the evil thereof," it but echoed the teachings of the old Ben Sirach: "Be not troubled about the ills of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what may happen to-day;"[1] and of the Pharisees who had said: "To each period its evil;" but it is quite another thing to say: "Take no regard for your life, for what you shall eat or drink" (Mat. vi. 25 and seq.; Luke xii. 22 and seq). Consider the birds of the air, they neither sow, nor reap, nor store away, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them; are you not much more worth than they? And who among you, by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? And why are ye concerned for raiment? See the lilies how they grow; they toil not, they spin not, and yet I say unto you Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If, then, God so clothe the grass which is to-day in the field and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, ye of little faith? Seek not what ye shall eat or wherewith ye shall be clothed?"

When Jesus uttered these words, he left not Judaism, he spoke no unknown doctrine; on the contrary, he took decided part with one of the two schools that then divided Pharisaism. A marked distinction separated the school of Rabbi Ismael from that of Rabbi Simeon Ben Jochai. While the former, attached to the general spirit of Judaism, would associate the toil of the Law and of contemplation with that of civilization and art, the latter—taking as its chief R. Simeon, the prince of ascetics, the avowed author of that Cabala which has given Christianity everything—spoke a very different language. It said, after its master: If man tills the ground, harvests, and occupies himself with all material works as they present themselves in their seasons, how shall he find time to study the Law? No; when Israelites do the will of their heavenly Father, their work is done for them by the hands of others; but when they are recreant to that will, they must perform not only their own but the work of others as well."[2] R. Simeon spoke as an ascetic, from the special code perhaps of his sect, which was truly that of the Essenes or Cabalists. However that may be, the genius of Judaism has always inclined decidedly to the side of R. Ismael

Abbaye, one of the greatest Talmudists, gives admirably the definitive judgment of Judaism on this dispute between the two equally venerable masters. "Many," says he, "have done as Rabbi Ismael directs, and attained their object; many others have followed the doctrine of R. Simeon and have not attained theirs."[3] But this doctrine, so exaggerated by Jesus, has a date anterior to that of the contest between the Rabbis. It may be found in those fine counsels given by R. Meir, remarkably qualified though, by a recommendation to an occupation: "Let a man always teach his son an honorable and easy trade; above all, pray to Him to whom all wealth belongs; for in every trade are found, now poverty, now abundance; neither depends on industry itself, but on a man's deserts." And here the parable used by Jesus appears without danger, tempered as it is by the preceding advice. "Were the beasts or birds," adds the Talmud, "ever seen plying trades? Yet they get their food without difficulty, though created but for my use. How much more reasonable that I too should find my food without difficulty, created as I have been to serve the Eternal! If I find it not, it is because I have done evil, because I myself have sullied the foundation of blessings."[4] Do we wish something bearing a closer likeness to the doctrine of Jesus? Hear the ancient Doctor Nehorai, of whom the Mischna makes mention in the ethics of the Fathers, and who, from all we know, belonged, very probably, to the sect of the Essenes: "I shall give up," he says, "all arts and trades to teach my son the Law, for we are nourished on its products, (by its merits) in this world, and the principal is kept for us in the next." Jesus adds, "Do not ask, what shall we eat or drink?" calling those who do so, people of little faith. Who cannot recognize here the old Pharisaical maxim, "Whoever having bread in his basket, says, What shall I eat or drink to-morrow? is a man of little faith."[5] But who does not see the difference, also; the man of little faith, according to Judaism, is he who, having bread in his basket, yet doubts as to his subsistence for the morrow; the Christian example is simply he who foresees, or the true sage.[6] Above all, beside the extravagant trust in God pushed to improvidence, beside the instance given us of the beasts in the fields, not a word in the Gospels to temper declarations so absolute, to encourage us to labor or to condemn idleness. It is not too much to say that we shall search in vain the Gospels, for any resemblance to the great principles incessantly preached by Judaism. Can we wonder that a doctrine, founded on the supposition of a physical state totally different from ours, on the expectation of a general transformation close at hand, that should restore the world to its pre-Adamite condition, wherein "toil in the sweat of the brow" (the consequence of sin) would be unnecessary—should speak as though we were already in the full enjoyment of Paradise, or indeed of the resurrection-era seen, in the far distance by the Pharisees also, and finely pictured in their legends, when bread and the tissues of Mylet should come ready-made from the bosom of the earth,[7] and the Flora and Fauna of our planet be totally changed?

The consecration of labor would be as strange for Christianity as would be its absence in Judaism; which, far from teaching the incarnation of the Word in an individual, sees its embodiment in doctrine; which, far from making our salvation depend upon the imputation to us of the merits of another, makes each one his own true redeemer; and which, instead of limiting redemption to a point of history, to the hours of Jesus' crucifixion, realizes and develops it always and everywhere through a succession of ages. Consequently, how great the homage paid to labor! What an air of ease, activity, and wealth in the bosom of Judaism! In it, we seem to be in the house of a patriarch; here are agriculture, arts, commerce, gold, silver, cattle; through all is religion, blessing and exalting all things by showing their final end in eternity. Christianity is eternity itself, a forced exotic in the climate of Time, with its immobility, repose, and ceaseless Sabbath. In it, we breathe the air of a cloister; here is religion, faith, supplanting all things; the end confounded with the means; labor preceded by repose. Need we say that it is the very antithesis of Judaism? We do not speak of the Bible. Labor, arts, wealth, the goods of life, are so valued there, to the exclusion of all else that Biblical Judaism has been charged with pure materialism by those who mistook the Pentateuch for the religions instead of the civil code of the Jews. The past, the present, the future of Judaism, all its history, its fears and hopes, breathe of labor, abundance, and the good things of life. Upon this we need not expatiate, for other pens have well elucidated it. But what merits well the attention of the philosophical reader is that in spite of the powerful action of causes tending to make the Pharisees forget the Biblical teachings, in spite of the ever-increasing sway of pure speculation, in spite of the enthronement of a spiritual theology in the centre of Judaism, in spite of a belief in immortality, in a future life, in a resurrection, in all the doctrines upon which Christianity has made shipwreck, in spite of political misfortunes and the continual overthrow of its temporal hopes,—Judaism has resisted all the enervating influences, all the temptations to an excessive mysticism, all the delusions that each day was bringing forth. In vain did the world rage against the old weak Israel; Israel, that in its infancy struggled with the angel, found always new force to oppose to the world. In vain did this world display before it all that was horrible and revolting—destitution, torture, slavery—nothing could shake its faith in the world, never by it made the synonym of evil and sin. The more Judaic life was compressed, the more vigorously it rebounded from its falls, reacting with new energy against the causes that should seemingly have exasperated it against the world. The world! Christianity showers upon this its curses, as soon as its lips touch the cup of misery—which Judaism drains to the dregs, its faith in the world unshaken. The blessing to the first man ever rings in the ears of the latter: "Till the earth, subdue it, rule over the fishes, the birds, and all the animals on the earth." And Israel replies by obedience, that is by labor!" "We need not say what the Bible contains as to the necessity, the duty, the utility of labor. The book is within the reach of all. "What is wonderful is that the unanimous sentiment of the Pharisees has not deviated a point from the Bible doctrine. From the time of Schemaia, the master of the two chiefs of Pharisaism, the Synagogue has no better counsel to give than to love work and to flee grandeur.[8] If Moses exhorts us to choose life, the Pharisees see in this industry.[9] If Solomon invites us "to live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest," the Pharisees see in this wife the Law, and in this living industry, which two should not be separated.[10] Does not the teaching of his children some art or trade constitute, with circumcision and the study of the Law, one of a father's first duties towards them? Is it not, according to the Pharisees, to make one's child a robber, not to teach him a trade?[11] Is not labor a species of culture far preferable to indolent meditation?[12] Is it not necessary for our health, and does it not honor those who perform it.[13] And is not the very name sanctified by God who executed the work of creation.[14]

But what finishes the picture, is the very example of the Pharisees, who humbled themselves to the lowest trades, and who thought neither their virtue nor holiness injured by making stockings for Roman courtezans who, debased though they were, but touched perhaps by that Jewish magic proscribed by the Senate, knew no oath more solemn than, I swear by the life of the holy doctors of Israel's country.[15] The fact as to industry needs no long citations; if the history of the Pharisees prove anything, it is that trade or manual labor always accompanied their study of the Law. "Was not Jesus a carpenter and Paul a tent-maker?

As in practical life we adopt some general maxims for starting points, so in all our actions we ought to have some final object in view. Of the first, we have spoken at the commencement of this work, where we gave those summaries of the law which were made the rules of conduct, but which, in the hands of Christianity, became completely void. Now, has Christianity any object to give us with which Pharisaism was not previously acquainted? Paul has given us the watch-word of which the Church has often made bad use, namely, the glory of God. With him all acts, however poor and mean, should have regard to the greater glory of God. "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, let it be to the glory of God." We think we hear the Pharisees teaching the disciples: "In what little sentence of the Bible is the whole body of the Law enclosed?" In that from Proverbs which says, "In all thy ways remember God" (iii. 6);[16] that is, let all thy ways lead thee to and in God. Is not unselfish worship one of the oldest Pharisaical doctrines? "Be not as servants who serve their master for pay, but rather as slaves who serve him without hope of reward."[17] Is not this the worship that the Pharisees show us in Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, and in Job, the patriarch of the Gentiles? Of the first it is written: "He loved God" (Is. xli. 8); the other cried: "Though He should kill me, I will put my trust in Him" (Job xiii. 15). Is it not in reference to such men that the Pharisees say: They make peace for the family both above and below;[18] that is, in heaven and earth? But it is not merely in religious or moral acts that we should keep this exclusive object in view. "Let all thine actions (ways) tend to the glory of God," says Rabbi Jose in the second chapter of Sentences from the fathers. And what an example Hillel presents! If he took leave of his disciples at meal-time, it was "to feed a poor man," and when his astonished disciples asked, "Has Hillel poor men to feed every day?" said: "It is this guest of a day, the soul, that I must keep united to the body." Whatever he did to the body he used to say, "I go to fulfill a precept." Entering the public baths, he said to his disciples: "Do you see those statues of the Emperor, with what care they are kept oiled and washed and preserved from injury? Well, do you not think we should do as much for this body, the image (Ikon) of the eternal King?"[19] And is it in our actions alone that we should have this object in view? Jesus, true to the Pharisaical teachings, is more exacting: "I tell you that at the day of judgment men shall render an account of every idle word" (Mat. xii. 36). " The most trivial words even, exchanged between husband and wife, must be accounted for at the last judgment," say the Pharisees.[20] "Thou shalt converse about my commandments," says Moses; and not about vain things, deduce the Pharisees.[21] David said: "Can ye (Judges), indeed, (if) mute, speak (expound) righteousness?" (Ps. lviii. 1). And the Pharisees in comment: "What plan should man adopt in this world? Let him be rather as a mute. For the Law too? No; for as to that it is written, Thou shalt speak."[22]

Our theme is finished. Throughout this work we have, it will be noticed, quoted especially from the writings of the Pharisees and their maxims, showing the great part these played in the formation of Christian ethics. If the Bible, the Apocrypha, Philo, have been but rarely appealed to, is it because their replies would have been less favorable, less decisive? We think, on the contrary, that we could have had fine vantage-ground therefrom against our adversaries, and have much more easily and surely shown the superiority and anteriority of Jewish ethics to the Christian, from these sources. There are, doubtless, in the writings of the latter two—not to mention the Bible, wherein they abound—passages capable in themselves of curbing the whole of the evangelical ethics; and Mr. Salvador has cited some very eloquent ones, though there were hundreds still. But many reasons led us to the choice we have made. The work we might have performed as to the Bible, the Apocrypha, and Philo, both Jews and Christians have done before us, and better than we could hope to do. These sources, especially the Bible, are much more accessible to all than are the almost unknown writings of the Rabbis. The ethics of the former Christianity will much more readily accept, as long as the Pharisees are regarded as the corrupters of Israel's ethics, and Jesus is believed to be its glorious restorer. In short, if the deplorable prejudices that have at all times hindered the due appreciation of Biblical ethics, are yielding daily to the advance of light and truth, they hold, alas! yet their old tyrannical sway over men as to the Pharisees. Consequently justice, truth, and the religious interests of the future forced us to examine what truth there is in opinions accredited at the outset and constantly fostered by that oldest enemy of the Pharisees, Christianity. Alas! we are forced to say that even among the valiant champions of Judaism, among the bold defenders of its morality we find no one who is not disposed, through some unaccountable condescension, to make enormous concessions, to sacrifice almost totally, the ethics, the rights, the reputation of Pharisaism, to the reigning system of morality, on condition that the rights of the Bible are preserved. With this mournful fact before us, it was reasonable to ask ourselves if actual Judaism, that which recognizes tradition as its guide, as the source of both its ethics and religion—if, in a word, Pharisaical Judaism ought to bow its hoary head to this creation of one of its own disciples, of the smallest of its children—the Benjamin of the school—and to own that if Jesus had not lived it would have been all over with the purity and spirit of Hebrew ethics. To answer this doubt, to end a perplexity that rendered modern criticism dumb, was this work undertaken; to see, in short, if religious Judaism has reason to envy that other historical and philosophical Judaism, which they have dressed up. We humbly confess that what we have given of the ethics of the Pharisees, of their ideas and maxims, forms but a very small fraction of the great riches, of the sublime thoughts that the Talmud, the Midraschim, the Zohar contain. Mixed throughout these books, in the most irregular manner with lore of all sorts, thoughts of wonderful beauty and elevation arrest the reader at every page. What we have cited will show, we hope, that the condemnation of the Pharisees cannot be a final one, that a new trial, a new judgment are indispensable, and that there has been too much precipitation, when, to fill up the gulf which separated the two religions, the Pharisees were cast in; the Pharisees, I say, who are truly rather the road, the bridge that criticism should preserve for both. After all we have said, we were grieved and surprised beyond measure to read the words with which Mr. Salvador seemingly desires to lead the way for the pretensions of Christian ethics.

According to him, the Pharisee doctors, "instead of dealing spiritually with the moral precepts of the Law, turned them into pure questions of civil right, hampered them with restrictions, multiplied subtleties; so that before their own exhortations could influence the mind, the heart had time to freeze and become insensible." Mr. Salvador sees but one of the two parts played by the Pharisees. They were at once the jurists and the moralists of Judaism. To judge of their ethics when they speak law would be as just as to estimate their legislative skill by their ethical teachings. The double character of Judaism deceived Mr. Salvador. No soul in the ethics of the Pharisees! But what source more pregnant with emotions than this? What touching language; what accents, now pathetic, now terrible or sublime! We are moved with these venerable doctors we weep for their tears, we rejoice for their joy; the very play of their imagination, their legends and myths, have something simple, gracious, and child-like, that smiles upon us. No soul in the ethics of the Pharisees! Why if it have any defect, it is that it has too much; their emotion runs to tears, their plaints are like those of the dove, their pain like the roarings of the lion. This we cannot help seeing. The same illusion, the same inability to see in the Pharisees, the moralists, as well as the jurists, causes Mr. Salvador to add: "Being confined to the minutiae of national and human interests, they took cognizance of external actions only." This, indeed, is monstrous. We must truly say that Mr. Salvador's first blunder in not recognizing the Mosaic system as solely a policy and not at all a religion, has brought about his strange contradictions to the best proven facts. One need not be as well versed as he in Hebrew knowledge to know that the Pharisees, so far from taking cognizance only of external actions, penetrated, on the contrary, into the most private recesses of the human heart, disclosing its weaknesses, its caprices, its most subtle artifices, and demanding purity of thought and sentiment, the curbing of our passions, just as well as obedience to the practical laws, civil or religious. If, performing functions so diverse as those of legislators and of moralists, they kept the law and ethics, each in its distinct and unchanging place, neither encroaching on the other—are they to be reproached by us (children of the 19th century) with this as a crime? Will Mr. Salvador cast the first stone at them for an act that constitutes their very glory? The same forgetfulness of the moral role of the Pharisees—of the charity that is one of the chief elements of Pharisaical Judaism, has dictated to Mr. Salvador the following words: "To the spirit of justice that shone in the doctrines and genius of Israel, Jesus added the no less precious qualities of sympathy and mercy." These old Pharisees would be astonished to learn that mercy and sympathy are the heritage of their young disciple, they who said, The mercy and sympathy we enjoy with God are the reflection of the mercy and sympathy we enjoy with men; they who have seasoned all their moral teaching with so much poetry, grace, and sentiment! No; in place of saying that Jesus adds to the Hebrew ethics mercy and sympathy, an impartial and courageous criticism would have said that he pays not sufficient regard to the spirit of justice.

Mr. Salvador has characterized the two ethical codes by a similitude that is not lacking in originality or truth. He says that the legislative and natural ethics of Moses is man in the full strength and expansion of his faculties; that the ethics of Jesus is woman—woman with her sensibility, grace, and tender yearnings. One trait is wanting to these pictures to make them likenesses; to both is wanting a stroke of the pencil that the whole face of each may be given. We shall not raise a petty dispute with Mr. Salvador about a legislative ethics, nor about a natural ethics; we shall not say that to our view the first is as unintelligible as the second—if not more so. Nor shall we say that a natural ethics would possess essentially those very characteristics that Mr. Salvador says the Jewish ethics lacks, namely, passion, sentiment, and expansion. We shall only say that Jewish ethics indeed resembles man, but man in his double nature; that is, the primitive man of Moses, the androgyne of Plato, the bisexual man, or rather, man and woman reunited by marriage; in a word, the family home. Yes, Christian ethics resembles woman, but woman isolated from man, without the counterpoise of his judgment, firmness, and experience; woman, surrendered to all the impulses of sensibility, tenderness, passion, anger, in short, the cloister. Jewish ethics is justice and charity united, each tempering the other and both working in unison for the government of the grand family, mankind; the one, having as its special organ, the written law; the other represented rather by the oral law; the one having to deal with society whose interests it governs, the other having its seat rather in the conscience of the individual. Thus Judaism includes the whole man, body and spirit, life actual and life to come; the first coming from the Mosaic code, the second from tradition, which is the code of conscience. When Mr. Salvador ascribes to Judaism an exclusive worldly-mindedness, thereby contrasting it with Christianity that neglects the interests of this life for those of the next, he leaves out a whole side of Judaism; this he makes err on the one side, and Christianity on the other; he decides in favor of those who accuse Judaism of materialism, and accredits the prejudice that the Jew worships material interests—all for not bearing sufficiently in mind tradition, for not regarding Pharisaism as one phase of the Mosaic system rather than that system in its entirety. Had he been more orthodox he would have been less assailable. For us, Judaism is at once justice and charity, the moral law and the political law, the Mosaic code and tradition. The one is religion for the use of the nation, a collective being that exists in this world only (and hence its apparent materialism); the other is the code of conscience, the source of dogmas, principles and hopes that have reference to the human soul (hence its apparent asceticism). Both together constitute Judaism.

Is it not the same in dogma? Does not the family below (as say the Cabalists) reflect for us the family above. Have we not in dogma also a justice, which is the Word, and a charity, which is the Kingdom? And what completes the analogy is, that the first is called the written Law, the second the oral Law. Who can doubt that the Cabalists perceived the distinction and the different roles that we have indicated? Christian ethics is but charity, the celibate woman, the devotee, the nun, with all her virtues and vices, her delusions and passions; but as cabalistic Charity, separated from its spouse (the Word, Justice), is ruined by its very excess being less than just through its being only charitable—so Christian charity, having rejected its natural comrade, justice, is condemned to assume the duty of the latter, no longer according to the fixed laws of justice, but after the impulses, the caprices of love and passion, that sometimes impose on their object what they ignorantly take to be salvation, glory, and happiness.

The way we understand the Jewish and the Christian ethics is this; instead of saying with Mr. Salvador that the first is man, the second, woman, we say,—the first is the conjugal state, the family, man in his entirety; the other is a recluse, a devotee, woman without the counterpoise of husband. And this too is how ethics, in its final consequences, connects itself with the speculative side of both religions—how Ethics is but Dogma itself presiding over the government of the conscience and the destinies of nations.


  1. Talmud Sanhed. fol. 106.
  2. Talmud Berachoth, fol. 35.
  3. Talmud, Berachot
  4. Ibid, Kiddoushin, fol. 82.
  5. Talmud, Sota, 48.
  6. Ibid, Tamid, 32.
  7. Ibid, Sbabbath, 30, &c.
  8. Aboth, Chap, I.
  9. Talmud Jerushalmi, Kiddoush, Chap. I.
  10. Midrash, Koheleth.
  11. Kiddoushim, Chap. I.
  12. Talmud, Berachot, I.
  13. Ibid, Gitten, VII.
  14. Gen. II, 2; Aboth of R. Nathan.
  15. Ibid, Pesachim, 113.
  16. Ibid, Berachot, 63.
  17. Aboth, I.
  18. Sanhedrim, 99.
  19. Vayikra Rabba, XXXIV.
  20. Talmud, Chagiga, fol. 5.
  21. Ibid, Yoma, fol. 9.
  22. Talmud, Choullin, fol 99.