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Message to the Jews

Message to the Jews
The Palo Altan
October 12, 1912
San Francisco, CA

Address by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Congregation Emmanu-el, San Francisco, Cal., (Martin A. Meyer, Rabbi) Saturday, October 12, 1912

Translated orally by Dr. Ameen Fareed. Stenographically reported by Miss Bijou Straun.

Introduction by Rabbi Meyer.

Brethren of the Congregation Emmanu-el:

It is our privilege, and a very high privilege indeed, to welcome in our midst this morning ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a great teacher of our age and generation.

The heart of the Orient seems to be essentially religious, whatever else it might be, or might not be, and now and again, out of the heart of the Orient, the fundamental religious message of the world is stated and restated. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is the representative of one of the religious systems of life, and it appeals to us Jews, because we Jews feel that we have fathered that ideal throughout the centuries of men.

This morning he will speak in his native tongue, through his interpreter, Dr. Fareed, on “The Fundamental Unity of Religious Thought,” and I know that what he will say will be of significance to us, and the message in advance we thank him for by reason of his consenting to address us at this service this morning.

Address by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

The first bestowal of God in the world of humanity is religion, because religion consists in Divine teachings to men, and most assuredly Divine teachings are preferable to all other sources of instruction.

Religion confers upon man the life everlasting. Religion is a service to the world of morality. Religion guides humanity to the Eternal happiness. Religion is the cause of the everlasting honor in the world of man.

Religion has ever helped humanity towards progress. As a proof thereof, let us first investigate religion from an unbiased standpoint, and let us find out whether religion is the cause of progress and development, or whether it is not; whether or not religion is, after all, the cause of illumination; whether or not religion is the impetus which allows man to advance extraordinarily.

Let us investigate independently, not that we should be bound by blind limitations or dogmas, for were we to be bound by blind limitations, then some will believe that religion is a cause of happiness, and others will disagree, saying that religion has been a cause of degradation. Hence, we must first investigate as to this: whether or not religion is the cause of human advancement, and let us give it impartial and thorough research, so that no doubt shall linger in our minds.

How can we find this out? That is, how can we discover whether or not religion has been the cause of human progress or retrogression?

We will first investigate the founders of religions - the prophets. We will review the episodes of their lives, the events prior to their rise, and those subsequent thereto. But we will not present to you certain traditions which are subject to both credence and refutation. Nay, rather we will cite certain historical facts provable to all, certain facts and evidences well known throughout the world, and which are irrefutable. They are these:

Amongst the great prophets was His Holiness Abraham, who, being an iconoclast, and a herald of the oneness of God, was banished by the people from his nativity.

Let us observe right here how religion is an impetus towards progress.

His Holiness Abraham founded a family, and this family God did bless, and it was through the religious basis that the Abrahamic house progressed and advanced. Through the Divine benediction, noteworthy and famous prophets have issued from the Abrahamic lineage. There appeared an Isaac. There appeared an Ishmael. There appeared a Jacob. There appeared a Joseph. There appeared a Moses. There appeared an Aaron. David issued therefrom. There appeared Solomon. The Holy Land was conquered by them and was theirs by right, and the great Solomonic wisdom was established, and this was due to the RELIGION which they founded.

Hence, we learn that religion is the cause of honor, is the cause of advancement, is the cause of civilization, is the cause of the happiness of mankind, even as the Abrahamic episode well illustrates this fact, and even as his family clearly points thereto. Even unto the present time his household throughout the world is visible and manifest.

Let us discover, or consider, the greater phase of it.

The children of Israel were in bondage and captivity in the land of Egypt. They were subjected to the tyranny and oppression of the Copts (the Egyptians). They were in the utmost state of degradation. One Copt conquered, or subdued, one hundred Septs (Israelites). They could make use of them as working men or laborers.

The children of Israel were then in abject poverty, in the lowest abasement, in the lowest degree of ignorance, in the lowest degree of barbarism, when, suddenly, His Holiness Moses appeared amongst them.

When His Holiness Moses appeared amongst them, outwardly he was no other than a shepherd, but through the power of religion he exhibited such majesty and grandeur and efficacy they continue to be seen. His prophethood was well spread throughout the land. His law was the foundation of the law.

His Holiness Moses was single and alone, and this single, unique personage, through the power of RELIGION, rescued all the children of Israel from bondage. He conducted them to the Holy Land, and there he founded the great civilization which has become permanent, a civilization and an education which are most noteworthy. Thereby they attained to the highest pitch of honor and glory. He saved them from their bondage and captivity. He imbued them with qualities which caused them to be progressive. They proved to be a civilizing people, an educated and a scholarly people. Their philosophy became noteworthy. Their industries were well known. In one word, along all the lines of advancement which characterize a progressive people they did achieve progress. They reached such a pitch that at last they were the ones who established this Solomonic sovereignty, and their sciences and arts reached such an extensive state that even the Greek philosophers used to take journeys to Jerusalem, in order to study with the Jews philosophy and the basis of law. According to Eastern history, this is an established fact.

Even Socrates, the Greek philosopher, came to the Holy Land and consorted with the Jewish doctors, studying with them wisdom or philosophy. He studied with them the basis of their belief, and when he returned to Greece there he formulated his basis for DIVINE unity, and there he advanced his belief regarding the immortality of the spirit after the dissolution of the body. These verities Socrates learned, no doubt, from the Jewish doctors with whom he came in contact.

Likewise, Hippocrates and many other philosophers used to go to the Holy Land, to Palestine, and there they acquired lessons from the Jewish prophets, studying with them the basis of ethics and morality, returning to their countries with contributions which have made Greece famous.

A cause, or a movement, which renders a WEAK nation, such as the Jews were before, STRONG, and changes them into a mighty and powerful nation, which rescues them from captivity and causes them to reach sovereignty, which transforms their ignorance into knowledge and science, and which endows them with an impetus to advance along all degrees of attainments - (this is not merely a theory or a story which I am telling; it is an historical fact which is provable; it is history well established in the world) - makes it evident that religion is the cause of honor to man, that religion is the cause of the sublimity of man.

When we speak of religion we mean the FOUNDATIONS of religion, not the blind limitations, or dogmas, which have crept in afterwards, and which are ever destructive, which are ever the cause of the effacement of a nation, which are ever the cause of the hindrance to progress of nations. Even as it is recorded in the Torah, and confirmed in all histories, when the Jews were fettered with imitations, then the wrath of God became manifest.

When they had let go of the foundations of the law of God then God sent Nebuchadnezzar, who came and conquered the Holy Land. He killed all the men; he took in captivity the children and women; he made waste the countries and the populous centers; he set afire all the hamlets and all the villages. Seventy thousand Jews did Nebuchadnezzar captivate, and he took them with him to Iraki Ajam (Persia). He demolished Jerusalem. He destroyed the Holy of Holies, the great temple here. He burned, in short, the Torah. The Holy Bible - was he the cause of its burning.

Thus we learn that the FOUNDATION of the Divine religions is ever the cause of progress, and thus the holy foundation becomes, as it were, destroyed and beclouded or surrounded by certain blind limitations, when it leaves the central axis. Then the reverse takes place; it is a cause of debasement, the cause of degradation.

Even so was the case with the Greek nation when they were the conquerers, and then the Jews became captives in their turn, and they were followed by the Romans. They proved to be the conquering nation, and they almost did away with the Israelites.

Under Titus, the Roman emperor, when he was a general of the Roman army, the Holy Land was laid waste and made a wilderness and the Israelites were scattered broadcast in the world, because he also killed their noteworthy men, their possessions were pillaged, and Jerusalem was made a heap of dust. And that was the scattering and dispersion of the Jews, which has continued ever since.

Hence, we learn that the foundation of the religion of God, which was laid by His Holiness Moses, was the cause of eternal honor, was the cause of the advancement of the nation, was the cause of the life of the Hebrew people, was the cause of homage to be paid forever to this noteworthy people. The dogmas, or blind imitations, which later crept in, proved to be the destructive causes of the Israelites. They caused the Israelites to be scattered throughout the earth, and to be expelled from their land by right - the Holy Land.

In short, what is the MISSION of prophets?

The mission of the prophets is no other than the advancement or the education of the world of humanity. The prophets are the genuine teachers or educators. The prophets are the universal instructors.

Should we desire to find out whether or not any of these great souls or prophets has been a prophet, we will investigate the facts of the case, and the line of our investigation will be one of education. If he has been an educator, if he has really educated a people, if he has trained a nation, causing it to attain to the highest point of knowledge after it had been in the lowest abyss of ignorance, then we are SURE that he is a prophet, and this is a plain and clear mode of procedure and irrefutable. We do not have to go to other proofs. We do not have to cite miracles, saying that out of rock water gushed forth, because such a miracle may be denied by others - they may refute it. We do not need such miracles.

The very deeds of Moses are proofs conclusive concerning his prophethood. We are in need of no further evidences - evidences which are usually refutable.

If a man be unbiased, be fair, and investigate reality, he will, without doubt, bear testimony to the fact that the personage of Moses was verily the man of God, was a great personage.

Let us not digress. Let us go to the subject. But here I wish to ask you to be very fair in your judgment, setting aside, for the moment, all religious prejudice.

All of us should thoroughly investigate or search for verities, because the purpose of the religions of God has been proved to be no other than the education of humanity and the cause of amity and fellowship among men. Therefore, I wish to cite this episode, and it is this: that the FOUNDATIONS of the religions of God I declare are one. They are not multiple, for they are realities.

Reality does not accept multiplicity, because every one of the Divine religions is divisible into two departments. One is concerned with the world of morality, and that is essential. It is concerned with the ethical sublimity of the human nature. It is concerned with the advancement of the world of humanity in general. It has to do with the knowledge of God. It has to do with the discovery of the verities of life. This is idealism; this is an essential division. This division is not subject to change or transformation at all. This is one; it is the foundation of all the religions of God. As regards that, all the religions are one and the same.

The second department, or division, has to do with the transactions amongst society, or certain conducts of men, which is NOT essential. That is subject to change and transformation according to the exigencies or the requirements of time and place.

To-wit: in the time of Noah, certain requirements demanded that all the sea foods be allowable, or lawful. During the period of Abrahamic prophethood it was considered allowable, because of a certain expedient, that man should marry his aunt, even as Sarah was the sister of Abraham’s mother. During the time of Adam it was on vogue, or current, that man should marry his own sister, even as the children of Adam - Abel, Cain and Seth - married their own sisters, because so they thought it was the expedient of the time, but in the law of the Torah that became abrogated - that was forbidden. There were certain laws, that were lawful formerly, which, during the time of Moses, were forbidden. For example, camel’s flesh, during the time of Abraham, was a food for man, but during the time of Jacob it was made unlawful.

Such changes and transformations in religious teaching have to do with the trifling things of life. They are not important.

His Holiness Moses lived in the wilderness of Terah, where retribution had to be done in direct action. There were no penitentiaries. There were no forms of punishment. Hence, according to the exigency of the time and place, it was a law of God that an eye was to be for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. If a man’s tooth were broken by another, his tooth would be broken. If a man, for instance, caused the deafness of another person, the other person would make him deaf. But you cannot do that now. You would not blind a man because he accidentally blinded you. Is it possible to carry such things out?

In the Torah there are ten commandments concerning the murderer. Is it possible to carry these out? Can these ten ordinances, concerning the treatment of murderers, be carried out?

Modern times are such that even the question of capital punishment - the one form which some nations have decided to carry out in relation to a murderer - is a mooted question. Wise men are discoursing as to its feasibility or otherwise.

So, everything that is valid is only valid for the present. The exigency of that time demanded that if a man committed theft to the extent of a dollar they would chop off his hand, but now you cannot cut off a man’s hand for a thousand dollars. You cannot do it; it is impossible. This is true, for it was useful for that time, but things are useful in accordance with the exigencies of the time. Time changes, and when time changes the laws have to change. But, remember, THESE are not of importance; they are the accidentals of religion. The essentials which are spiritual in character, which have to do with morality, which have to do with the ethical development of man, which have to do with the faith of man, - THEY are ideal; they are necessary and permanent; they are one foundation, and they are not subject to change or transformation.

Hence, for the fundamental basis of the religion of God there is no change or transformation. That is the basis, the fundamental foundation of religion. That never, never changes.

The basis of the law of Moses His Holiness Christ promulgated. That selfsame foundation of religion was promulgated by Mohammed. All the great prophets have served that foundation. They have served the reality. Hence, the purposes and the purports of all the prophets have been one and the same. They were the advancement of the body-politic. They were the cause of the honor of mankind. They were the Divine civilizations of man, the foundation whereof is one, and, as we declared before, the proofs concerning the validity of a personage, the proofs of inspiration, are, after all, the very deeds of valor and greatness emanating from that prophet. If that prophet has proved to be instrumental in the elevation of mankind, undoubtedly he has been a valid prophet.

Again, I wish you to be very fair in the judgment of these following remarks.

At a time when the Israelites had again been put in captivity, at a period when the Roman Empire had dispersed and effaced the Hebrew nation, because the law of God had, as it were, passed from amongst them, and the foundations of the religion of God had been destroyed, - at such a time as this Jesus Christ appeared among them.

When His Holiness Christ appeared from the Jews, the first thing he did was to proclaim the validity of the Mosaic mission. He declared that the Torah, the Old Testament, was the Book of God. He declared that all the prophets of Israel were valid and true. He eulogized Moses, and through his recommendations Moses’ name was spread throughout the world. The fame of Moses, through the Christian movement, was circulated broadcast.

Before the rise of Christ it is a fact that in Persia the name of Moses had not been heard. Throughout India they had no knowledge of Judaism, and were it not for the Christianizing of Europe it would not have had this knowledge of the Old Testament which it has. Throughout Europe there was not a copy of the Old Testament. But listen to this and judge it aright: It was through the instrumentality of Christ, it was through the translation of the New Testament - the little volume of the Gospel - that the Old Testament, the Torah, was translated into six hundred languages and spread throughout the world at large.

The names of the Israelitish prophets became household names everywhere. All the nations of the world believed on this, that the children of Israel were verily the chosen people of God, and that THAT nation was a HOLY nation, that the blessing of God attended that nation, and that all the prophets of God which had issued therefrom were the dawning points of Divine inspiration, were the daysprings of revelation, and each one of them glistened as to a star.

Hence, His Holiness Christ really promulgated Judaism, for He was a Jew, and He was not against Jews. He did not deny the prophetic validity of Moses. Nay, he rather promoted it. He did not efface the Torah. Nay, rather He promulgated it. At most, it comes to this: that the portion of that dispensation which had to do with transactions, THAT underwent change, and that is not important, but the essential teaching of Moses - THAT He did promulgate virtually. He did not leave anything undone.

Likewise, with the superlative power and the efficacious Word of God, He gathered together most of the nations of the East and West. This was achieved at a time when these nations were in the utmost of contention and strife. He ushered all of them beneath the overshadowing tent of the oneness of humanity. He educated them in such wise as to be united and agreed, even as the Roman, the Greek, the Chaldean, the Assyrian and the Egyptian nations were perfectly blended together, and the heavenly civilization was the result. Now, this efficacy of the Word, and heavenly power, which are extraordinary, undoubtedly prove conclusively the validity of His Holiness Christ. Consider how His heavenly sovereignty is yet permanent and lasting. Verily, this is conclusive proof and manifest evidence.

Then we see, appearing from another horizon, the prophet of Arabia - Mohammed.

Perchance you do not know that the first address of Mohammed to his tribe was this statement: “Moses, verily, was a prophet of God, and the Torah is a book of God. Verily, O ye people, ye must believe in the Torah, and in Moses and the prophets. Ye must accept all the Israelitish prophets as valid.”

In the Koran, the Mohammedan Bible, there are seven statements - in fact, seven repetitions - of the Mosaic episode, and in all his historic sketches he praises Moses.

He states that His Holiness Moses was the greatest prophet of God; that God guided him in the Sahara, or the wilderness of Terah; that through the light of guidance Moses harkened to the summons of God; that he proved to be the interlocutor of God; that he was the bearer of the tablet of the ten commandments; that all the contemporaneous nations of the world arose against him; that eventually Moses conquered all of them, because falsehood is ever defeated by veracity.

There are many instances of this kind by Mohammed. I am citing just a few.

Consider that His Holiness Mohammed was born among the savage and barbarian nations of Arabia, lived amongst them, and, outwardly, was illiterate and uninformed of the holy books of God.

The Arabian nations were in the utmost state of ignorance and barbarism, to the extent that they buried their daughters alive. They considered this to be the utmost valor and sublimity of nature. They lived under the Persian and Roman governments in the utmost captivity and bondage. They were scattered throughout the Arabian desert, subject to continuous strife and bloodshed.

When the light of Mohammed dawned, the darkness of ignorance was dispelled from the Arabian desert. Those barbarous nations, in a short space of time, reached a superlative degree of civilization, even as their civilization extended to Spain, and was established in Bagdad, whence it was transplanted to Europe.

What proof is there, concerning his prophethood, greater than this, unless a man should close his eyes to justice and appear obstinately unfair?

And now the Christians are believers in Moses. They believe that he was a prophet of God, and they commend him most highly. The Mohammedans are believers of Moses, praising him most highly, proving the validity of Moses, and likewise they believe in His Holiness Christ and praise Him highly.

Is it harm which has come to these nations, namely Christians and Mohammedans, because they have admitted the validity of Moses and have accepted him? No, on the contrary, it proves that they have been fair-minded to that extent.

Then what harm is there that the Jewish nation should, in turn, now also praise His Holiness Christ, also praise His Holiness Mohammed, and by this humanitarian acceptance and praiseworthy view of the subject do away forever with this enmity and hatred which have faced mankind so many centuries, so that bloodshed shall cease, that this fanaticism shall pass away forever, so that all mankind shall be unified, and then this corruption shall cease as soon as this acceptance is established.

They admit that Moses was the interlocutor of God. Why do you not say that Christ was the Word of God? Why do you not say just the few words that will do away with all this sort of thing, and there will be no hatred left, no fanaticism left, no warfare in the Land of Promise, no bloodshed whatever. Then there will be peace forever.

Verily, I declare now to you that Moses was no other than that interlocutor of God; that Moses was the most noteworthy prophet of God; that Moses brought the fundamental law of God; that Moses was the founder of the ethical basis which has proved happiness to humanity.

What harm is there in this? Do I lose by saying this to you, and believing it as a Bahá’í?* Not at all. On the contrary, as a Bahá’í, it benefits, and the founder of the Bahá’í movement, Bahá’u’lláh, is well pleased with me, confirms me therein. He says: “Well done; you have been fair in your judgment; you have impartially investigated the truth; you have arrived at the conclusion full well; you have believed in a prophet of God, in Moses; you have accepted the Book of God, the Torah.”

Now, inasmuch as it is possible to do away with this prejudice, with such a bit of liberalism in the world, why not do it?

Why not do away with this continuous strife? Why not establish a bond which can easily connect the hearts of men? What harm is there in this religion that everyone should praise the teacher or the founder of another? Even as the other nations praise His Holiness Moses, and admit that Moses was the founder of Judaism, why not have the Hebrews also praise the other great men?

What harm comes from it? None at all. It is no loss to you at all. Nay, rather you are contributing to the welfare of mankind. Nay, rather you would be instrumental in establishing the happiness of the world of humanity. Nay, rather the eternal honor of man depends upon this modern liberalism.

Inasmuch as our God is one, and He has created all of us - He provides for all of us, He protects all of us - and we acknowledge such a kind and clement Lord, why should we - His children, His followers, fight each other? Why should we so easily break the hearts of one another?

God is so merciful and kind, and his aim in religion has ever been the bond of unity and affinity.

Praise be to God, the mediaeval ages of darkness have passed away, and this century of radiance has dawned - this century wherein the reality of things is becoming evident, this century wherein science has discovered the very masteries of nature, this century which is in toto a service to the world of humanity, this century wherein we have established the foundation of the world of humanity. Is it behooving that we should still linger in our fanaticism and tarry in our prejudice? Is it behooving that we should still be bound with the old fables and superstitions, and be handicapped with the superannuated beliefs of past and dark ages, again waging wars religious, again fighting one another, still shedding the blood of each other, shunning one another, anathematizing one another? Is it becoming?

Is it not better for us to be most loving to one another? Is it not preferable for us to enjoy fellowship together, and unite and sing anthems of unity towards God, and praise all the prophets in a good and praiseworthy spirit?

Then you will observe how the world will prove to be a paradise and the promised day shall come. That will be the day when the wolves and the sheep will quaff from the same stream, when, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, the quail and the eagle will enjoy the same nest together, and the gazelle, or the deer, will with the lion enjoy the same pasture.

What does this mean?

It means that contending nations are symbolic of this fact, that religions, which have been formerly as wolves and sheep, divergent creeds, will associate with each other. Notwithstanding their former status, they will then, through this liberalism, associate with each other in perfect fellowship, in the utmost love.

This is the meaning of the statement of His Holiness Isaiah. Otherwise, you will never come to see a day when his prophecy will come to pass literally, for the wolf will never enjoy the companionship of the sheep, and the lion and the deer will never be seen together, because the lion and the deer will see each other, but the deer will be within the lion, and the sheep will ever be the prey of the wolf. As you know, the teeth of the lion are carnivorous. It has no molars to enjoy grass. Hence, it must eat flesh.

Therefore, this prophecy is symbolic of this state of affairs: When certain nations and races, symbolized or typified by lions and wolves and sheep, amongst whom there is no bond or fellowship or association, in that day of promise will be unified, and they will treat each other most kindly and liberally.

In a word, the age is ours when fellowship is to be established.

The century has come when all the religions are to be unified.

The century has come when all the nations shall enjoy international peace.

The century has come when all the races and the tribes of the world will do away with racial prejudice and associate perfectly.

The century has arrived when all the nativities of the world will prove to be one home of the human family.

Thus may human kind, in its entirety, rest comfortably and in peace under the great and broad tabernacle of the one Lord.

  • (A glorious and liberal man.)

[picture caption: “THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.” Great Venetian Mosaic Front of Stanford Memorial Church.]