Monday, July 9, 2007

The Orphans of Lissau

Around the same time that Amelia Bristow published Emma de Lissau, she also wrote another "Lissau" tale, entitled The Orphans of Lissau, and other interesting narratives, immediately connected with Jewish customs, domestic and religious, with explanatory notes. As the perceptive reader will guess, this too appears to be quasi-autobiographical.

Bristow begins her latest novel with a warning to the reader: "The bigotry of the Polish Jews, -- their enmity to Christianity, their strict adherence to traditions and legends, -- and their blind devotion, and servile submission to, their presiding Rabbins and eminent men, -- form a melancholy and affecting portrait of this "peeled nation," who, cleaving with inconceivable tenacity to their cherished fables, customs, and religious observances, drawn ... from that blind guide the Talmud imbibe ... an abhorrence of Christianity.... [that it can only be hoped that ] the Eternal Spirit can soften and subjugate their rocky hearts and adamantine prejudices." (pp. 1-2).

Just as she does in her previous books, the author draws a contrast between Polish Jews and English Jews who are said to be "degenerate" and "apathetic." (p. 2). And again, Bristow seems to be quite knowledgeable about Jewish customs and laws. She describes many traditional customs with great accuracy and detail. She clearly remembers her childhood well (if indeed she is being truthful about her religious upbringing) but she is also very obviously a bitter and resentful woman.

Bristow sets her novel in "the populous town of Lissau, (or, as some write it, Lissa), situated in the then palatinate of Posnania." (p. 5). That's in Poland in case you didn't have your gazetteer handy.

The Jews "will not receive the miracles of Jesus, himself a miracle of love, grace, and mercy. They are therefore for a time "given up to strong delusions, that they may believe a lie." But though at present led captive by Satan at his will, Jehovah will send them a "Saviour, and a great one," who will break the bands from the neck of Sion, and she shall worship her Lord "in the beauty of holiness" for ever and ever!" (p. 7)

There is "neither spirit, life, nor power, in what they [the Jews] call prayer. They do ... recite a form of prayer, but yet they pray not.... [Their prayers are] in the ears of Jehovah, are as the howling of dogs, and shall profit them nothing. May the Lord ... open their eyes to behold the vanity and fruitless toil of their wearisome will-worship...." (p. 16)

A woman who dies is said to have added "another to the sad number of those deluded souls who pass into eternity clothed in their own miserable rags of self-righteousness, and looking for salvation to their own corrupt works." (pp. 19-20).

Two widows with small children die, leaving their orphaned children to be raised together and to be betrothed and later married when of age. Raphael and Gertrude both go to live with Rabbi Samuel and his wife Ella until they reach three years of age, and then Raphael is sent away to study.

Every few pages the author prays that the "veil of Moses" would be lifted from the hearts of the Israelites, such as the following: "Oh Thou who art "the Truth, the Way, and the Life," the ancient people perish for lack of knowledge! Arise, Shepherd of Israel, Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth; take unto thee they great power, and reign in the hearts of the preserved of Israel for ever and ever! (p. 31).

Raphael is studying to be a rabbi, but he is not enthusiastic about it. He also works for a furrier, and in the course of his duties he meets a German Christian family, who plant the seed of the gospel in his heart, and also give him a Bible (including New Testament) in German to read.
"The time, however, draws nigh, when the veil shall be withdrawn for ever, and all shall know the Lord, from the greatest to the least. How consolatory is this hope to the Christian lovers of the ancient people!" (p. 42).

A new rabbi (Rabbi Jonathan of Warsaw) comes to the town, and he is bigoted and gloomy. He has a hatred of Christianity, so much so that once a month he devotes an entire day to pray for the "destruction and extermination from the face of the earth [of] the defiled Nazarenes." (p. 46).

An entire day? Really? I wonder which tractate that practice comes from. I suppose from the "Amelia Bristow Tractate of Overcharged Imagination." I hope modern day rabbis don't devote one day a month to this sort of thing!

Raphael, after being insulted by the new rabbi of Lissau (who criticizes him for his lax religious observances and who takes away Raphael's license as a ritual slaughterer), decides to read the Bible that was given him earlier. His eyes are opened by the Holy Spirit and he begins to be more open to the gospel, especially after reading the New Testament.

A sad event takes place. After they are married a fire destroys the home of Gertrude and Raphael (while he is gone on business) and their infant child is killed.

After much study and prayer, Raphael "had received into his soul, by the divine agency of the Eternal Spirit, the important truth that Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one, was and is the very Christ of God, -- the Messiah." (p. 86). He meets a sympathetic Catholic priest who tells him he is in danger and "that even the arm of the church would be unavailing to shield him from the vengeful fury of Rabbinical power, in the even of detection." (p. 90). And so Raphael secretly prepares to leave Lissau.

Gertrude is dismayed to discover that Raphael is not using his phylacteries, or wearing his fringed undershirt, or keeping Shabbat, or washing his hands before meals. She confronts Raphael and he promises to tell her soon why he is behaving strangely. Raphael goes to a local convent and is baptized, whereupon he trades in his phylacteries and fringed undershirt for a small ivory crucifix and a reliquary. "Alas! the young convert suspected not the errors and idolatry of the Church of Rome." (p. 98) He is also given a register of his baptism and introductory letters to Rome (where he is encouraged to flee).

The author compares the Catholic Church to rabbinic Judaism and finds them very similar. "Equally intolerant and bigoted, excommunicating and anathematising all who differed from them, --equally exclusive in their creed, -- equally rigorous in their dealings with apostates, -- equally devoted to an endless round of carnal creemonies, the invention of man, preferring their observance above the written word, though often absolutely at variance with it, --equally attached to the doctrine of meritorious and supererogatory works, and relying on them in part for salvation... and, to complete the resemblance, each have their legends, penances, amulets, prayers for the dead, and purgatory" (p. 103).

The couple go walking near the Jewish cemetery, and Raphael sees the section reserved for apostates and suicides. He notices one recent grave, and the nature of the man's life is described. This poor fellow was determined to be a hidden apostate by the rabbi, because after he died his body was found to have tatoos on it of crosses and a "female idol holding an infant in her arms. A gold cross was suspended from his neck," and he also had a small Latin book which was determined to be a New Testament (p. 112). After Gertrude tells Raphael the story, she says, "as is customary, when alluding to the death of a Gentile, "The name of the wicked perish, and his memorial be blotted out!" (p. 113).

Raphael and Gertrude perform the Havdalah ceremony, and secretly Raphael prays that it will be the last time he has to do this. Later that night he tells her his secret, that he is a Christian, and she of course is very upset, though she does say that she will keep his secret from the rabbinic authorities so that he will not be subjected to their vengeance. But she urges him to leave, because "Your presence here is as a dagger plunged into my heart; I cannot hold communion with an avowed apostates." (p. 120-121).

The author explains in a footnote that "A sentence of excommunication is more difficult to overcome [than being placed "under the bar"]; and that sentence is no longer when, in cases of apostasy to Christianity, the water of baptism has passed over the head of the offender." (p. 124).

Having been called before the elders of the synagogue, Raphael gives them his written renunciation of Judaism and verbally informs them of his belief in Jesus. They tear their garments and demand that he recant. He refuses and then he is excommunicated and sentenced to death. In a footnote, the author describes word for word the "form of excommunication used by the Jews:"

"According to the mind of the Lord of Lords, let such an one, the son of such an one, be in Chirem, or anathematised, in both house of judgment, of those above and those below. And with the anathema of the saints on high. With the anathema of the Seraphim and Ophanim. And with the anathema of the whole congregation, great and small. Let great and real stripes be upon him. And many and violent diseases. And his home be an habitation of dragons. And let his star be dark in the clouds. And let him be for indignation, wrath, and anger. And let his carcass be for beasts and serpents, and let those that rise up against him, and his enemies, rejoice over him. And let his silver and gold be given to others. And let all his children be exposed at the gate of his enemies. And at his day may others be amazed. And let him be cursed form the mouth of Adiron and Aritanail, (names of angels), and from the mouth of Sondalphon, and Hadramil, and from the mouth of Arsisiel and Pathehiel, and from the mouth of Searaphiel, Aaganzael. And from the .... etc." from the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin). (p. 135).

Furious at Raphael's apostasy, some of the elders, in a moment of passion, kill Raphael in the synagogue (apparently by strangulation). (pp. 136-37). Some of the other elders (one old and kindly man and two younger brothers) were opposed to this act of violence (they had recommended banishment instead of execution), but they can do nothing to stop it, for Rabbi Jonathan accedes to it. Thus Raphael becomes a martyr, alluded to at the beginning of the book by the author. He was buried in the manner of apostates, at night in an unmarked grave, carried in a sack to the spot of burial and then dumped unceremoniously into the hole in the ground, which was then covered with stones. As he was buried curses were leveled at his dead body by the participants. This was witnessed secretly by the gentle Catholic priest, Father Adrian, who had originally been Raphael's confidante.

Gertrude in her grief is sent to Berlin to live with a kindly Jewish family (Rabbi Josiah and his wife Adela). She remains in a state of mourning until the day of her own death, wearing black and never smiling. She also never enters a synagogue again. Rabbi Josiah dies, and his widow and Gertrude leave for England, where they meet up with the two brothers who had earlier opposed the execution of Raphael. Eventually Gertrude dies when she is forced to give testimony in a synagogue in regard to a disupte between a young woman and her suitor. (Apparently coming into the synagogue so upsets her that she falls down dead). And thus ends the tale of the orphans of Lissau.

Also included in this volume is the story of "The Widow and Her Son, or, Brief Annals of the Jewish Poor." This story is about Aaron Hart, a Polish Jew who emigrates to London and then marries an English Jew named Jemima Cohen. They have a young son named Reuben. Aaron is an honest if struggling merchant, but he is falsely accused of theft and spends two months in prison. When he is released, he is so upset that he never recovers, and soon thereafter dies. The Jewish community is kind to Jemima and Reuben, and offer help, but she refuses on the grounds that she (and her son) can earn their own living.

"Consider how pitiable is the case of the Jew by nature. Original sin, which he shares in common with all the human race, in him takes a deeper dye, for the fearful rejection of the Lord Jesus by his Ancestors, mingles with it. Oh rouse not, by oppression and contempt, the worst passions of his evil nature; but rather compassionate his sad case, and seek, by mildness, persuasion, charity, and above all, by example to restore and reclaim him!"

The boy is disheartened because after his first day at work (as a seller of fruit), he is called a cheat and a Jew by some of his Gentile customers because he only wanted to get a fair price for his wares. His mother comforts him by teling him that "the Goyim ... had often been defrauded by the depraved among their people, and were, therefore, too apt to confound the innocent with the guilty, and treat them alike." After his confirmation he is apprenticed to his cousin, a traveling peddlar named Wolfe Levy, who is kindhearted but somewhat dishonest.

The author describes how "the Jews never neglect their poor," except for one exception. "Converts to Christianity, at once forfeit every claim on their Jewish brethren. There is neither pity nor mercy for a Meshumed. He may henceforward starve. He is cast out from the synagogue, and disclaimed by his people."

Mrs. Beaconsfield is a "spiritual Christian" who has great concern for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Wolfe and Reuben visit her and she tells them the gospel. Wolfe politely listens, but Reuben replies "I am a Jew, Madam, and the Jews do not believe these things; neither may they, because it would be a great sin."

She gives Reuben a New Testament to read. When he returns home and tells his mother, she warns him against the likes of Mrs. Beaconsfield. "Their design is to pervert your mind, and lead you from the true faith. Parley not with any such. They are subtle, and you are too young and ignorant to argue with them... It would at once break my heart, and send me sorrowing to my grave, were those Goyim to corrupt, with their idolatry, the only treasure of a poor and lonely widow." Later they burn the New Testament....

Tragically, Jemima and Reuben's house burns down, and they move in with Solomon de Lissau [who appears in a previous book]. We also briefly meet Emma de Lissau. Later in the book Mrs. Beaconsfield befriends the sisters Emma and Sophia, and they "form a bond of Christian friendship"

Matilda, Wolfe's sister, marries a young Englishman, and soon after they have a child. But when the child dies, he leaves her. Distraught, she moves in with Mrs. Beaconsfield, who witnesses to her of faith in Christ and gives her a New Testament to read. Slowly but surely she comes to believe in Jesus, "that the crucified Nazarene was the only way of salvation, and the Christian faith a divine reality." Jemima sees what is happening and tries to convince Matilda to leave. "In the name of the God of Israel I conjure you, if you must die, let it be as a daughter of Abraham! Oh stay not with these false Goyim! Let me, let me remove you, where your last breath may exclaim; 'Hear o Israel,' lest your soul perish even as theirs."

And the drama continues.... "One question more!" exclaimed Jemima passionately. "Have you renounced the true faith? Are you a Christian?" "From that period a change took place in the interesting Jewess [Matilda]. Her mind was hourly less and less clouded. Her harrassing cough almost entirely subsided. The incessant pain in her side was much alleviated, and her breath more free." Before she dies, Matilda tells Mrs. Beaconsfield "Oh Madam! rejoice with me, --praise the Lord for His goodness to one so unworthy! He has, at last, touched my rocky heart, --He has melted it by His love, -- He has forgiven my sins, -- Oh precious, precious, Jesus!" (p. 166)

When Jemima hears what happened and that Matilda has died, she is extremely upset. She tells her son, Reuben, that "Your miserable cousin will have to lament, throughout eternity, that she ever entered" this house (p. 172).

The final story in this volume is entitled "Margaret Warburton, or, The Double Apostasy."
Margaret Warburton, a young Christian woman, is described as being "despotic, ambitious, vindictive, and repelling." (p. 193). She was outwardly extremely religious, "and yet her heart remained untouched, and her life uninfluenced, by the devotion she thus daily toiled to observe." (p. 195)

Margaret is invited to a Jewish wedding, where she meets a handsome young Jew named Joseph Alexander. They fall in love, and Margaret decides to convert to Judaism. At various times in the narrrative, the author notes that Margaret was never truly a Christian. "She had never tasted the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, and peace, in believing." (p. 255). The narrator also notes that the Jewish prayer service is a "heartless formula."

The conversion ceremony is described in some detail. After an informal inquiry before a board of elders, and then a formal inquiry, she is taken to the mikveh where she is immersed. While in the mikveh she is also asked "whether she, from her heart, renounced Jesus of Nazareth, and rejected the forged account of him in use among Christians." (p. 263). She agrees, the conversion is thus official, and she is soon married to Joseph. Her Christian friends and relatives denounce her, although her mother holds out hope, "though she wept long and bitterly" that Margaret will return to the fold. (p. 270).

Later both Joseph and Margaret give up any pretense of being observant Jews and become Deists. Soon after, they have a child, who dies in infancy. Six weeks after this tragedy, Joseph himself dies, leaving Margaret a bitter and friendless young woman.

A cautionary tale, I gather, to warn unsuspecting Christians not to fall in love with Jews, convert to Judaism, and (thus) live a short miserable existance followed by an eternity in the lake of fire.

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