A people honors itself in honoring the great men who have interpreted its thought, who are the guardians of its genius. It thus renders merited homage and pays just tribute to those who have increased the treasures of its civilization and added a new feature to its moral physiognomy; it establishes the union of ideas that assures the conservation of the national genius, and maintains and perpetuates the consciousness of the nation. Finally, it manifests consciousness of its future in taking cognizance of its past, and in turning over the leaves of its archives, it defines its part and mission in history. The study of men and facts in the past permits of a sounder appreciation of recent efforts, of present tendencies; for "humanity is always composed of more dead than living," and usually "the past is what is most vital in the present."
No people has greater need than the Jews to steep itself again in the sources of its existence, and no period more than the present imposes upon it the duty of bring. ing its past back to life. Scattered over the face of the globe, no longer constituting a body politic, the Jewish people by cultivating its intellectual patrimony creates for itself an ideal fatherland; and mingled, as it is, with its neighbors, threatened by absorption into surrounding nations, it recovers a sort of individuality by the reverence it pays to men that have given best expression to its peculiar genius.