Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
54
in this country has endowed the sermon with an unhealthy im-
portance, equalled only by that obtaining in Protestant churches.
No longer is it an uncommon occurrence for laymen to call the
Synagogue office or the rabbi’s home to inquire the exact time
when the sermon will be delivered on Yom Tov, or for the former
to time, dramatically and unerringly, their entrance to the Syna-
gogue on Friday night when the prayer service is concluded, and
the sermon is about to begin. This superficially flattering tribute
to the rabbi is basically un-Jewish and ominous; genuinely deplored
by every sincere rabbi.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE SERMON
How is the American rabbi meeting the challenge of the increas-
ing importance attached to the sermon? I t is the conviction of
this writer that despite the gravity of the challenge, further
aggravated by many and complex exigencies which often compel
the rabbi to employ the sermon as a means rather than an end,
he remains, nevertheless, true to the primary aim of the sermon,
namely, that of exhorting his congregation to return to God and
to an exalted, ethical way of life.
There are those who roundly criticize the rabbi’s forsaking the
spiritual confines of the sermon for the broader, less rabbinic
domains of appeal-making, propagandizing and book-reviewing.
However, shall the ills of a disorganized, communal structure —
which necessitate Synagogue appeals in order that Talmud Torahs,
Yeshivos, Synagogues, hospitals, Palestine, etc., be built and main-
tained — be blamed upon the rabbi who, motivated solely by
the urgency of the cause, consents to descend anti-climactically
from the lofty heights of spiritual exhortation to the mundane
plane of exchanging words for dollars?
And, assuming that the book review is skilfully utilized to point
up spiritual values and Jewish attitudes, what is essentially
wrong in employing a book dealing with a current problem as a
text? (No mention is here made of those areas of Jewish commu-
nal life where the rabbi is the cultural
Shaliah Zibbur
, the commu-
nity’s vicarious reader and student, whose book reviews constitute
the sole cultural contact between a large portion of his congregants
and a book . . . )
If any basic weakness is to be singled out, it is, to this writer’s
mind, that of too frequent preaching. In their Synagogues rabbis
have unconsciously succumbed to the layman’s thinking in this
matter: the rabbi doesn’t earn his salary unless he is constantly
preaching; outside of the Synagogue, due, undoubtedly, to an