Morris Jacob Raphall

Morris Jacob Raphall (October 3, 1798 – June 23, 1868) was a rabbi and author born at Stockholm, Sweden. From 1849 until his death he resided in the United States. He is most remembered for having declared, on the eve of the Civil War, that the Bible and God endorse slavery.


At the age of nine Raphall was taken by his father, who was banker to the King of Sweden, to Copenhagen, where he was educated at the Hebrew grammar school. "He was educated for the Jewish ministry in the college of his faith in Copenhagen, in England, where he went in 1812, and afterward in the University of Giessen, where he studied in 1821-24."[1] He devoted himself to the study of languages, for the better acquisition of which he subsequently traveled in France, Germany, and Belgium. He received the Ph.D. degree from the University of Erlangen (Germany). After lecturing on Hebrew poetry in 1834 he began to publish the Hebrew Review, and Magazine of Rabbinical Literature, the first Jewish periodical in England;[1] he was forced to discontinue it in 1836 owing to ill health.[2]

For some time he acted as honorary secretary to Solomon Herschell, chief rabbi of Great Britain. He made translations from Maimonides, Albo, and Herz Wessely; conjointly with the Rev. D. A. de Sola he published a translation of eighteen treatises of the Mishnah; he also began a translation of the Pentateuch, of which only the first volume appeared. In 1840, when the blood accusation was made at Damascus, he traveled to Syria to aid in the investigation,[1] and published a refutation of it in four languages (Hebrew, English, French, and German). He also wrote a defense of Judaism against an anonymous writer in the London Times. Raphall was also the author of a text-book of the post-Biblical history of the Jews (to the year 70 C.E.).[2]

In 1841 he was appointed minister of the Birmingham Synagogue and master of the school. He continued in these capacities for eight years, and then sailed for New York City in 1849.[2] That year, he gave a series of lectures on biblical poetry at the Brooklyn Institute,[3] and was appointed rabbi and preacher of Manhattan's B'nai Jeshurun congregation, at the time called the Greene Street Synagogue. He continued there until 1866, his duties then being relaxed owing to his poor health.[2] He died in New York on June 23, 1868.

Views on slavery[edit]

In the years preceding the American Civil War, prominent Jewish religious leaders in the United States engaged in public debates, usually in writing, about slavery.[4][5] Generally, rabbis from the Southern states supported slavery, and those from the North opposed slavery.[6] The most notable debate[5]:17–19[7] was between Rabbi Raphall, who endorsed slavery, and Rabbis David Einhorn[8] and Michael Heilprin, who opposed it.[9] In 1861, "New York's Jews were overwhelmingly pro-southern, pro-slavery, and anti-Lincoln".[10] "Nobody can argue that the balance of the Jewish record on the question of American slavery and the Civil War is anything but regrettable."[11]

As "the dissolution of the Union [became] more and more imminent [President] Buchanan issued a proclamation...appointing January 4th, 1861, as a national fast day, on which prayers for the preservation of the Union were to be offered throughout the country."[12]:149 Speeches or sermons were given in many places that day. Raphall took the opportunity to deliver his views on slavery at his B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue. Raphall took as his point of departure Jonah 2:3–4, in which the city of Ninevah is saved from destruction (by God) since the residents heeded the warning of Jonah. Raphall's position was that if both sides would heed the Bible, the upcoming calamity could be avoided.

"[H]e took the square stand that Judaism sanctioned slavery and that the institution was morally right."[12]:149 The Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17) prohibits coveting your neighbor's male or female slave;[13]:238 Noah condemned his son Ham to slavery (Genesis 9:25);[13]:232–232 all the Patriarchs owned slaves;[13]:238 most fugitive slaves must be returned to their owners;[13]:241–243 the Bible contains many regulations about how slaves should be treated.[13]: "My friends, I find, and I am sorry to find, that I am delivering a pro-slavery discourse. I am no friend to slavery in the abstract, and still less friendly to the practical workings of slavery. But I stand here as a teacher in Israel; not to place before you my own feelings and opinions, but to propound to you the word of God, the Bible view of slavery.... The slave is a person...he [sic] has rights. Whereas, the heathen view of slavery which...I am sorry to say, is adopted in the South, reduces the slave to a thing, and a thing has no rights."[13]:239

His "discourse" was published the next day on the first page of the New York Herald[14] and the New York Evening Express; it was reported on at length in the New York Times.[15] At "the invitation of a number of leading gentleman of this city", he repeated his talk a week later as a public lecture (tickets required),[16] and by February 1 it was advertised as for sale as a 20-page pamphlet, The Bible View of Slavery.[17]

Rabbi Einhorn and rabbi Michael Heilprin, concerned that Raphall's position would be seen as the official policy of American Judaism, vigorously disputed his arguments, and argued that slavery - as practiced in the South - was immoral and not endorsed by Judaism.[7]

Einhorn replied in his German-language publication Sinai, Vol. VI, 1861, p. 2-22; it was immediately published in English translation as a pamphlet, The Rev. Dr. M. J. Raphall's Bible View of Slavery, reviewed by the Rev. E. Einhorn, D.D., New York, 1861. Michael Heilprin replied in the New York Tribune, January 11, 1861.[18]


  1. ^ a b c Appletons; Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John (1900). "Raphall, Norris Jacob". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. Appleton.
  2. ^ a b c d Jacobs, Joseph; Cohen, Israel (1906). "Raphall, Morris Jacob". Jewish Encyclopedia.
  3. ^ "Popular Lectures On Biblical Poetry". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Brooklyn, NY. 30 November 1849. p. 2.
  4. ^ Kenvin, Helene Schwartz (1986). This Land of Liberty: A History of America's Jews. Behrman House, Inc. pp. 90–92. ISBN 0-87441-421-0.
  5. ^ a b Benjamin, Judah P. (1993). "Slavery and the Civil War: Part II". In Marcus, Jacob Rader (ed.). United States Jewry, 1776-1985: The Germanic Period. Wayne State University Press. pp. 13–34. OCLC 0814344712.
  6. ^ Hertzberg, Arthur (1998). The Jews in America: four centuries of an uneasy encounter : a history. Columbia University Press. pp. 111–113. ISBN 0-231-10841-9.
  7. ^ a b Adams, Maurianne (1999). Strangers & neighbors: relations between Blacks & Jews in the United States. University of Massachusetts Press. pp. 190–194. ISBN 1-55849-236-4.
  8. ^ "David Einhorn's Response to 'A Biblical View of Slavery' [translated from German]". Sinai. 6. 1861. pp. 2–22. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  9. ^ Friedman, Murray (2007). What went wrong?: the creation and collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance. Simon and Schuster. pp. 25–26.
  10. ^ Yellis, Ken (July 1, 2013). "Jews Mostly Supported Slavery — Or Kept Silent — During Civil War". The Forward.
  11. ^ Kreitner, Richard (January 30, 2015). "The Powerful Example Of The Jewish Abolitionists We Forgot". The Forward.
  12. ^ a b Kohler, Max J. (1897). "The Jews and the American Anti-Slavery Movement". Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (5). pp. 137–155. JSTOR 43058622.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Raphall, M. J. (1861). "Bible View of Slavery. A Discourse Delivered at the Jewish Synagogue, New York, on the Day of the National Fast, Jan. 4, 1861". Fast day sermons; or, The pulpit on the state of the country. New York: Rudd & Carleton. pp. 227–246.
  14. ^ "The Rev. Dr. Raphael [sic], Rabbi". New York Daily Herald. January 5, 1861. pp. 1, 2.
  15. ^ "Rev. Dr. Raphall's Discourse. His opinion of slavery and of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher". New York Times. January 5, 1861. p. 3.
  16. ^ "The Lecture Season". New York Daily Herald. January 14, 1861. p. 8.
  17. ^ "Fast Day Sermons". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. February 1, 1861. p. 2.
  18. ^ "Michael Heilprin's Anti-Slavery Editorial". Retrieved 18 May 2019.

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Raphall, Morris Jacob" . The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.