Page 117 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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SCULT / MORDECAI KAPLAN AT
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many o f us along with him .”1 Soon after Kaplan began his long
career at the Seminary he was asked by Schechter to teach hom i­
letics in the Rabbinical School. Kaplan logically assumed tha t
before the students could learn how to give sermons they must
have something to say. Because o f the sensitivity su rround ing the
issue o f biblical criticism the Seminary decided tha t the Pen­
tateuch would not be taught in the Rabbinical School. Kaplan,
however, used his homiletics classes to deal with issues in the
Torah . This homiletics course later tu rned into his course on the
Philosophies o f Judaism . Kaplan’s central offering also included
courses on Midrash.
CHALLENGING TEACHER
Kaplan was a strong personality and for many years he was the
only faculty member who dealt with many o f the central religious
issues which bo thered the students. Whether or not his students
agreed with him, they were forced to think hard about funda ­
mental religious problems. As Sidney Morgenbesser recently
wrote concerning his own experience o f Kaplan in the late th ir ­
ties, “Dr. Kaplan was a challenge and a tho rn for many reasons,
some relatively obvious. He set standards for clarity and explicit­
ness about ideological and theological issues that were not always
met — so we though t — by many o f ou r teachers.”2 Many years
later Finkelstein recalled that “. . . his classes were extraordinarily
illuminating, not mere discussion o f the text but o f the back­
ground and implications. Needless to say, he was a great teacher.
No one missed a class unless they were really sick.”3
It was not always easy to be a studen t or a disciple o f Kaplan’s.
In the 1920’s Louis Finkelstein, only recently gradua ted from the
Seminary, found it difficult to maintain his autonomy and at the
same time to be intimately associated with Kaplan. Finkelstein
had his first pulpit and each week he and Kaplan would meet
together to discuss the weekly portion. Both of them would then
incorporate the ir thoughts into the sermon each would give on
1 Alexander Dushkin,
Living Bridges: Memoirs of an Educator
(Jerusalem: Keter
Publishing House, 1975), p. 14.
2 Sidney Morgenbesser, “Mordecai Kaplan, Thirty Years Ago,” in
Sh’ma - A
Journal ofJewish Responsibility
, vol. 4, no. 79, October 18, 1974, p. 148.
3 Interview with Dr. Louis Finkelstein, April, 1973.