Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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53
W E I S F E L D ---- JEWISH HOMILETICS
Another significant by-product of both movements, Haskalah
and Zionism, was the part they played in reacquainting the Jew
with his Bible, the study of which among scholarly Jews had been
sadly neglected because of its secondary role to the Talmud.
Accordingly, the rich imagery and colorful style of the Book of
Books, thanks to the preacher and writer, once more captivated
the hearts of Jews everywhere.
Preaching in the vernacular had been the accepted norm in
most of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogues. In Germany,
after Moses Mendelssohn, sermons were delivered in German and
soon became the central feature of the Sabbath service. Here
the masses were completely devoid of traditional Jewish learning
and avidly seized upon the sermon as the pleasantest and easiest
means of acquiring some religious content and inspiration. In
Eastern European countries sermons both by the rabbi, the
Maggid
and the
Matij Le umi
were uniformly delivered in Yiddish.
METAMORPHOSIS OF THE SERMON
In this country, the sermon as introduced by the Reform
Jews who came here from Germany has undergone very little
change. Its stress is still religious, social and ethical. I t is deliv-
ered in fine, literary English. On the other hand, among the
Orthodox the sermon has experienced a complete metamorphosis.
In fact, the complete Old World cycle was repeated here. In
time, here as in Europe, the scholarly homily gave way to the
simpler, more appealing
midrashic
message. The exposition of
the weekly Scriptural portion delivered on Sabbath morning be-
fore
Musaph
or in the afternoon between
Minhah
and
Maarib
usually was a mixture of Midrashic interpretation, ethical exhor-
tation, nostalgic reminiscences of life in the European town whence
preacher and congregation alike had come to America, and invar-
iably ended with a stirring reminder of God’s promise of His
people’s return to Zion.
Eventually, many of the sons of these East European preachers
and laymen were trained and ordained by American Orthodox
and Conservative theological seminaries. They, like their Reform
colleagues, were equipped to deliver carefully-prepared and logi-
cally-organized sermons in faultless English. In addition, however,
their sermons fortified with Talmudic references, Midrashic quota-
tions and gems culled from modern Hebrew literature breathed
the spirit of loyalty to traditional Judaism and pride in its un-
yielding strength.
The deplorable decline of intensive Jewish learning and living