Page images

slain by the priest, who afterwards sprinkled her with the blood. At the feast of Pentecost an infant child was solemnly presented by its parents before Jehovah, in the temple. There was a Jewish sect called Essenes, who were similar to the Pythagoreans, and in many points resembled the Shakers of modern times. Their name was derived from a Persian word signifying resemblance to a hive of bees. There was an entire community of goods among them, and very strict subordination to their elders. The tendency of their doctrines was to keep the body in complete subjection to the soul, which they believed to be immortal. They lived in seclusion, never mixed with the world, drank only water, ate only bread and hyssop, and had great contempt for women. They always wore white garments, and spat behind them, in token of abhorrence to the world they had left. Marriage was entirely forbidden among the higher class of this sect, and among the inferior classes it was allowed only with very strict limitations and severe restraints. This society was kept up by people who, from various motives, left the world to join them, or saw fit to intrust them with the education of their children. None of the priests of Israel were allowed to marry a widow, or a divorced woman, or one whose character was not irreproachable. The Jews are now scattered all over the earth; but they everywhere adhere to their ancient faith and usages; even in the United States, where every thing is in the most direct opposition to the old Hebrew spirit of regulating, defining, bounding, and limiting. This singular people are very numerous in Poland, where they have erected stately synagogues and academies. The city of Hamburgh has been called the “lesser Jerusalem,” on account of the number of Jews who reside there. They are numerous in Turkey, and have colonies in India. A German traveller gives the following enthusiastic description of the Jewesses in Poland:“I may here say a few words about the fair daughters of Israel, whom I saw at Kalish, decked in ornaments and rich apparel, in honor of the Sabbath. The pearl bands, worn as head ornaments by the Polish Jewesses, are so peculiar, that it is almost impossible to convey a correct idea of them by mere de

scription. These bands are seen only in Poland, and

their form obviously denotes their ancient and oriental origin. They consist of strings of pearls intermingled with gold, forming altogether an elaborate piece of architecture, whose construction it is not easy to describe. “A Jewess of the higher class, adorned with her pearl hair-band and gold neck-chain, from which is frequently suspended an ancient gold coin, is an object of no common interest, especially if she be as beautiful as I have often seen Jewesses in Poland. The events of thousands of years seem to be recorded in their soul-beaming countenances. They deserve to be stored in the memory, as a portion of the pure, beautiful, and sublime of this world. Dignity, feeling, tender melancholy, and, not unfrequently, deep-seated sorrow, is expressed in the features of the fair daughters of Israel, whose notions of virtue and decorum are as rigid as the laws of their forefathers. This rule, like every other, has of course its exceptions. Few will deny that beauty consists more in expression than in the form of the features. Many women who are pronounced beautiful produce but little, or perhaps even an unfavorable impression, merely from the want of intellectual spirit. But the utmost beauty of form combined with expression leaves nothing to be wished for ; and this will be acknowledged by all who have seen the Jewesses of Poland.” “A faithful adherence to their national costume serves to heighten their natural attractions.” The modern Jewish women light a lamp every Friday evening, half an hour before sunset, which is the beginning of their Sabbath. The custom is said to be in remembrance of their original mother, who first extinguished the lamp of righteousness, and to remind them of their obligation to rekindle it. In-o. stead of the scape-goat, they now use white fowls. At the appointed season every mother of a family takes a white hen, and striking it on the head, says, “Let this die for my sins; she shall die, but I shall live.” Women did not succeed to the Jewish crown; two instances, however, occur in their history, where the supreme power was in female hands. Athaliah,

the daughter of king Omri, and mother of Ahaziah,

nearly destroyed the royal family, and usurped the throne for six years. At a later period, Alexander Jannaeus left the crown to his wife Alexandra during her life, and then to either of his sons whom she might think proper to appoint. - -*

The ancient Jews were of the same dark complexion as the Arabs and Chinese; but their history furnishes a remarkable exemplification of the influence of climate. They are dispersed all over the globe, and wheresoever they sojourn, those who marry among Gentile nations are cast out of the synagogue; therefore whatever changes have taken place in their color must have been induced by climate and modes of life. There are now Jews of all complexions, from the light blonde of the Saxon to the deep brown of the Spaniard, and the mahogany hue of the Moors. The black Jews of Hindostan were originally slaves purchased by the Jews who sought shelter in that country, and who, with more consistency than Christians have manifested, emancipated their bondmen when they became converts * to their religion.

Little is known of ancient Assyria, and of Babylonia, which was at first a part of Assyria. Being a wealthy and luxurious nation, their women were of course treated with a degree of consideration unknown among savage tribes. The manner in which Babylonish women are spoken of in the Bible implies great magnificence of apparel; and as there is always a correspondence between the moral and intellectual condition of the sexes, it is not probable that women were universally and totally ignorant in a country where the sciences made such advancement, and written laws were used. The Babylonians manufactured rich embroidery, tapestry, fine linen, and magnificent carpets. They were distinguished for elegance and refinement of manners; were very fond of music, and had a great variety of instruments. Singing and dancing girls were selected from the most beautiful to entertain the wealthy at their meals; but we have no means of knowing whether ladies of high rank considered it a degradation to dance and sing before strangers. It is generally supposed that the Babylonian women were admitted to social and convivial meetings with men; and it is on record that they sometimes drank too freely of the wine. Weaving and embroidery were no doubt generally practised by women, either for amusement or profit. With regard to marriages, they had a yearly custom of a peculiar kind. In every district three men, respectable for their virtue, were chosen to conduct all the marriageable girls to the public assembly. Here they were put up at auction. by the public crier, while the magistrates presided over the sales. The most beautiful were sold first, and the rich contended eagerly for a choice. The unost ugly or deformed girl was sold next in succession to the handsomest, and assigned to any person who would take her with the least sum of money. The price given for the beautiful was divided into dowries for the homely. Poor people, who cared

« PreviousContinue »