Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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days rather than to exhort his listeners to a higher ethical standard
of life.
In these countries preaching
per se
was practically unknown.
Nor was this due to sheer coincidence. Jewish religious life, in
these countries, was intense and vibrant, with great stress placed
upon Talmudic learning. Mastery of
(Talmudic law)
was the rabbi’s forte and claim to renown, not eloquence or an
imaginative, homiletic mind.
were the lowly
domain of the itinerant preacher, the
, not that of the
serious, erudite spiritual leader. And in truth, with the exception
of the meek artisan, the majority of the community would more
readily be impressed by the rabbi’s scholarly pyrotechnics and
legalistic wizardry so dazzingly displayed in his semi-annual ser-
mon than by a stirring appeal to the emotions.
In time, however, a marked change took place. In Poland,
preaching was in its ascendancy due to the frightful persecutions
and excesses of 1648, which decimated many communities and
left the survivors thirsting for spiritual comfort and encourage-
ment. This was abundantly and skilfully provided by the new
school of
who regularly on Sabbath after-
noons swayed eager and growing congregations with homilies on
the weekly scriptural portion. These sermons lacked the rabbi’s
scholarly profundity, but to the unending delight of their audiences
were replete with pathos, humor, hope and nationalistic aspiration.
Also, the delivery was not, as heretofore, cold and didactic but,
on the contrary, engagingly warm, human and ofttimes emotion-
ally stirring. Their unvarying closing exhortation was “And the
Redeemer will come unto Zion,” and ever evoked an enthusiastic
response on the part of the revivified and hope-inspired audience.
Moreover, new powerful forces were at work. The
(Enlightenment) movement, toward the end of the eighteenth
century, broadened the Jew’s horizons and weakened the hitherto
uncontested influence of the
Shulhan Arukh
and rabbinic learning
in the Jewish world. Almost a century later, Zionism with all
its inherent and implied yearnings and promise stirred the Jew
to his innermost depths and produced a unique religious-cultural
figure: the
Matif Le'umi,
the national preacher. Skilfully playing
upon the Jew’s inarticulate but deeply-felt emotions of frustration,
humiliation, resentment and desperate hope, he not merely quick-
ened his audience’s faith in its national regeneration and the attain-
ment of a new dignity, but also gave great impetusjind accept-
ability to the art of preaching.