THE following is from the Boston Herald, of September 30:—
Salem street [the Jewish street of Boston], as a commercial mart, was absolutely dead yesterday. All the stores, except those permitted by law to be opened, such as common victuallers’ places and drug stores, were closed, and the usual Sunday activity was veiled by drawn curtains and locked doors.
This change was brought about by the order of Captain Cain, promulgated by his officers in that district, that none of the places of business which were opened for any part of Saturday should be opened on the Lord’s day.
It was expected that there would be objection to the order, and there is, but it was not manifested in any aggressive form. The stores were closed for the time being, but it is the intention of the storekeepers to call the matter to the attention of the courts, and a series of caucuses, of which this subject was the principal theme, were held yesterday on Salem street, between Cross and Prince streets, by a throng of people, which almost completely blocked the ancient thoroughfare.
No definite plan of action has as yet been formulated, but this much can be stated: The shopkeepers, as a rule, are opposed to the order, and will fight it. Whether they will rebel as a body or select some individual to make a test case remains to be decided, but the chances are in favor of this latter plan of action. In the meantime, they will probably ask that the order be not enforced until the final decision of the court is received, so that their business may not be injured during the year or so necessary to a finding.
The Jewish shopkeepers claim they have the right, under the statutes, to continue their business as in the past. The law on the case is found in the last sentence of Section 2, chapter 434, of the Acts of 1895, and is as follows:—
“Whoever conscientiously believes that the seventh day of the week ought to be observed as the Sabbath, and actually refrains from secular business and labor on that day, shall not be liable to the penalties of this section for performing secular business and labor on the Lord’s day, if he disturbs no other person.”
For several weeks past there have been complaints and convictions under this statute, the courts holding that the seventh day of the week, in the intention of the law, was from midnight to midnight on Saturday.
The defense of those of the Jewish faith who are interfered with on account of this law is that their Sabbath is celebrated from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, and they claim that if they do open their places of business at six o’clock on Saturday evening they are still entitled to the privilege, both under the Constitution and the statute, to open on Sunday. They claim that the law was intended to apply to them particularly, and to give them certain privileges. They further claim that the law ought to be liberally interpreted, to cover the period of their Sabbath, instead of being applied strictly to the seventh day of the week.
For all these reasons they hold that the merchant or laborer who ceases his labor at six o’clock Friday evening, and abstains from it until that same hour on Saturday evening, is entitled to the privilege of opening his store or resuming his labor on Sunday. This rule is followed by the strict orthodox Jews, but some are not so scrupulous, and, instead of closing at six on Friday evening, do not close until Saturday morning, and then claim the privilege of opening again on Saturday evening, without waiving the right to keep open on Sunday.
The police make no distinction, however. If a man opens his shop for any part of Saturday, regardless of whether or not he had closed Friday evening, he is held to be violating the law, and will be prosecuted.
It is on this point that the light will be based, and the legal contest promises to be an interesting one, and rich in quotations from both Testaments and other authorities as to the nature of the Sabbath and of the Lord’s day.
Behold in this another illustration of the inconsistency of Sunday laws. They exempt from their penalties those who observe the seventh day, because they observe that day “conscientiously.” Because they conscientiously believe that the seventh day is the true Sabbath, and observe it as such, they are allowed to work on Sunday. But now it is determined by the authorities of one of America’s leading cities, that the conscience of the seventh day observer must conform to the secular definition of a day, viz., that it is a period of twenty-four hours, beginning and ending at midnight. Why allow him any freedom of conscience at all, if it is proper to coerce his conscience in this respect?
Why exempt him from enforced Sunday rest because of his conscience, and again compel him to rest in spite of it? Why respect his conscience on one point of Sabbath observance and override it on another point? Could anything be more inconsistent? Are his rights of conscience any more sacred and worthy of respect at one time than at another?
Observers of the seventh day conscientiously begin and end the day at sunset. We say conscientiously, because that which directs their consciences in the matter of Sabbath observance, is the Word of God, and the same authority instructs them concerning the beginning of the day. The Scripture says, “the evening and the morning were the first day,” etc. (Genesis 1:5), and again, we have the explicit statement, “From even unto even shall ye celebrate your Sabbaths.” Leviticus 23:32.
It will be interesting to note whether this action of the Boston authorities will be made to furnish a precedent for the civil authorities elsewhere in applying the “exemption” clause of Sunday statutes.