Three Views on Slavery and Secession
Like American Jews themselves, America's rabbis
were divided on the issues of slavery and secession. Rabbi George
Jacobs of Richmond rented slaves for household work. His fellow
townsman, the Reverend J. M. Michelbacher, believed slavery was
ordained by God, sentiments shared by colleagues Simon Tuska of
Memphis and James K. Gutheim of New Orleans. The rabbinic
"hero" of the pro-slavery forces was Morris J. Raphall of
New York who declared that though he himself did not favor slavery,
the Bible did not prohibit it; indeed, biblical law guaranteed the
right to own slaves. Rabbis Sabato Morais of Philadelphia, Bernhard
Felsenthal of Chicago, and especially David Einhorn of Baltimore
inveighed against slavery. Einhorn called it "a deed of Amalek,
a rebellion against God"; Felsenthal hailed abolition,
remarking, "should not the nation rejoice ... The white people
have become emancipated just as well as the black."
Three published sermons in the Library's holdings
present some of the gamut of views.
Rabbi of B'nai
Jeshurun, New York's first Ashkenazi congregation, Morris J.
Raphall had distinguished careers in England and America as
rabbi, author, editor, and gifted orator. But he is most
remembered for one sermon he preached on the eve of the Civil
War, Bible View of Slavery, which was published and
republished and widely distributed by the pro-slavery forces.
Though he himself opposed slavery he argued that the Bible
permitted it-and became stamped as the pro-slavery rabbi. His
portrait was published by P. Haas, long before, in 1850.
M. J. Raphall, Engraved Portrait, New York, 1850. Prints and
Bible View of Slavery by the Reverend M. J.
Raphall, New York, 1861:
The result to which the Bible view of slavery
leads us is-1st, that slavery has existed since earliest times,
Bud, that slaveholding is no sin, and that slave property is
expressly placed under the protection of the Ten Commandments; 3d,
that the slave is a person, and has rights not conflicting with the
lawful exercise of the rights of his owner.
The Reverend Doctor M. J. Raphall's Bible View
of Slavery, Reviewed by the Reverend D. Einhorn, New York, 1861:
A Jew, the offspring of a race which daily
praises God for deliverance from the bondage of Egypt ...
undertakes to parade slavery as a perfectly sinless institution,
sanctioned by God ... ! A more extraordinary phenomenon could
hardly be imagined....
A religion which exhorts to spare the mother
from the bird's nest, cannot consent to the hear-trending spectacle
of robbing a human mother of her child ... Thus crumbles into a
thousand fragments the rickety structure of Dr. Raphall ... To
proclaim in the name of Judaism, that God has consecrated the
institution of slavery! Such a shame and reproach the Jewish
religious press is in duty bound to disown and to disavow, if both
are not to be stigmatized forever. If a Christian clergyman in
Europe had delivered a sermon like that of Dr. Raphall, all the
Jewish orthodox and reform pens would have immediately been set to
work ... to repel such a foul charge, and to inveigh against this
desecration of God's holy name. Why should we, in America, keep
silence when a Jewish preacher plays such pranks?
David Einhorn (1809-1879).
Dr. M.J Raphall's
Bible View of Slavery.
New York: Thalmessinger, Cahn and Benedicks, printers,
Morris J. Raphall (1798-1868).
View of Slavery: A Discourse, Delivered
at the Jewish Synagogue, B'nai Jeshurun, New
York, on the Day of the National Fast,
January 4, 1861.
New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1861.
Dr. Einhorn preached this sermon and published it
in his German-language periodical Sinai in pro-Confederate
A Sermon Delivered On the Day of Prayer,
Recommended by the President of the C. [confederate] S. [tates] of A.
[merica], the 27th of March 1863, at the Hebrew Synagogue "Bayth
Ahabah, " by the Reverend M. J. Michelbacher, Richmond 1863:
Again we approach Thee, O God of Israel not
as a single meeting of a part, but as the whole congregation of all
the people of the land....
The man-servants and the maid-servants Thou has
given unto us ... the enemy are attempting to seduce, that they too
may turn against us, whom Thou hast appointed over them as
instructors in Thy wise dispensation!
We believe, O God, that piety cannot subsist
apart from patriotism-we love our country, because Thou has given
it unto us as a blessing and a heritage for our children ... bring
salvation to the Confederate States of America.
the Day of Prayer, recommended by the
president of the C.S.A. March 27, 1863,
the Rev. M. J. Michelbacher, of the
German synagogue Bayth Ahabah, preached
this sermon, "to which he added
a prayer for the Confederate States
of America "to crown our independence
with lasting honor and prosperity," and
for its president, Jefferson Davis, "grant
speedy success to his endeavors to
free our country from the presence
of its foes."
Presentation copy to Dr. J(ames) Beale.
M. J. Michelbacher, A Sermon Delivered ... at
... "Bayth Ahabah" (House of Love),
Richmond, 1863. Rare Book and Special Collections
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress,
(DC: Library of Congress,