Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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JEWISH HOMILETICS
By
I
s ra e l
H.
W^
e i s f e l d
T
HE increasingly important role which the sermon has begun
to play in organized religious Jewish life in the United States
during the past quarter of a century is sufficient cause for a
cursory review of the history of Jewish Homiletics, an evaluation
of its current influence and serious speculation concerning its
future position in Judaism. I t is obviously impossible within the
limitations of this article to give even a condensation of Leopold
Zunz’s monumental, erudite and standard work on this subject,
Die Gottesdienstliche Vortraege der Juden.1
Instead, a brief resume
of the development of preaching from the earliest period in Jew-
ish life to the present day will be presented, with particular
emphasis on the influence of homiletics on the American Jewish
community.
THE FIRST PREACHER
The first preacher in Jewish history undoubtedly was the
prophet. In fact the Hebrew term for prophet,
Nabi
means,
literally, speaker.2 The prophet was the preacher
par excellence
,
and his deathless prophecy, the courageous, sincere, inspired and
inspiring sermon every rabbi aspires to preach. Despite the fact
that with few exceptions3 these homilies were not delivered at
set places and periods, but rather wherever and whenever the
prophet was moved by the spirit of God, in form and content
they represented the earliest Jewish sermon.
In time prophecy gave way to scholarship. Not Isaiah the
fiery preacher but rather Ezra the pedagogue and Scribe domi-
nated the stage of Jewish spiritual activity. Yet, the latter, too,
1For a scholarly though briefer English equivalent see “An Historical Survey
of Jewish Homiletics and Its Effects on Jewish Life” by Meyer Waxman, written
as Introduction to
The Message of Israel,
compiled and edited by Israel H. Weisfeld,
N. Y., Bloch, 1936.
Also,
Modern Jewish Preaching
, by Solomon B. Freehof, N. Y., Bloch, 1941,
and
Studies in Jewish Preaching
, by Israel Bettan.
2Exodus 7.1.
3Isaiah 1.10-17.
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