After his banishment from New Orleans by Northern forces, Rev. James K. Gutheim became rabbi of the Kahl Montgomery Congregation in Alabama, plus circuit-riding every six Sabbath to the B’nai Israel Congregation in Columbus, Georgia. He returned to his congregation in New Orleans after the war; Mrs. Gutheim was a founder of the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association of New Orleans.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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Rabbi Gutheim Prays for Confederate Success
“One of the leading rabbi’s of the South, Rev. James K. Gutheim, who had inaugurated his rabbinical career at the Nefutzoth Jeduhah Congregation in New Orleans, [believed that religion], for him, was not intended to be mixed with specific political considerations.
[In May 1863], The Union’s military policy in New Orleans required that each citizen take an oath of allegiance to the United States, or be transported into the Confederacy. Innumerable men took the course of least resistance and pronounced the words of the oath, rather than give up their homes, livelihoods, and personal belongings; they did not really think they were committing a sin; it was the enemy of their people whom they were deceiving.
But Gutheim was a rabbi; he could not take a false oath to God, nor could he betray “the cause of right and justice” which was, to him, the cause of the South. So he prepared to go into exile. The day before his departure for Mobile, [Alabama], he wrote to his friend in Philadelphia, [Rabbi] Isaac Lesser . . .
“My Dear Friend – Day after tomorrow I shall leave . . . by order of the military authorities. All those who have refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Dictator of Washington are ordered beyond the lines – that is, into Dixie. I am of that number. Nearly the whole of my congregation are similarly situated. We can now realize what a [deportation] means. Nothing for my wearing apparel and provisions for ten days are permitted. My heart feels sick. Amidst the general distress I forget my own. I am so far lucky, that I have an asylum for my wife and child – at LaGrange, Geo. Where the family of Mr. Jones [Mrs. Gutheim’s father] now resides. What shall I do in the future, I cannot say. I trust to God, to guide my steps. If possible I shall write you from the Confederacy. Yours truly, James K. Gutheim.
Neither Lesser nor Gutheim need have had any fears about his future. Jews all over the South knew and respected him as one of most eloquent and learned of the Southern rabbis. His reputation, indeed, was enhanced by his heroic decision to remain true to the Confederacy.
His passionate loyalty to the Southern cause is revealed by a prayer which he delivered in Montgomery:
“Regard, O Father, in Thine abundant favor and benevolence, our beloved country, the Confederate States of America. May our young Republic increase in strength, prosperity and renown; may the helm of state be piloted with judgment; may wisdom resound in the halls of legislation, and harmony, obedience to the law, fortitude in trials and a self-sacrificing devotion prevail among the people.
Behold, O God, and judge between us and our enemies, who have forced upon us this unholy and unnatural war – who hurl against us their poisoned arrows steeped in ambition and revenge. May they soon discover the error of their ways, relinquish their cruel designs of subjugation, their lust of gain and dominion, and yield a ready and willing ear to the dictates of humanity, of justice and of right.
Bless, O Father, our efforts in a cause which we conceive to be just; the defense of our liberties and rights and independence, under just and equitable laws. And we pray, Thee, O God, to bless and protect the armed hosts, that now stand forth in the defense of our sacred cause. Vain are the exertions of man without Thy aid.
Behold, O Father, and cover with the shield of Thy heavenly Guardianship our sons, our brothers and our friends – the flower and the hope of the land. Endow their hearts with courage – nerve their arms with strength in the hour of combat. May the breaches lately made in our lines soon be repaired, a series of glorious victories blot out our recent reverses, and the unrighteous invaders be repulsed on every side, abashed, confounded and discomfited.
Thou, O Lord, who makest peace in the highest heavens, mayest Thou bless us with a speedy and honorable peace, so that safety, confidence and happiness again smile upon the land, and our independence be recognized by all families of the earth . . . “