In the Talmudic Period
nature and purpose of the sermon
The sermon, delivered in the synagogue or in the house of study, mainly on Sabbaths and festivals, is a very ancient institution. Nothing is known of its beginnings. It may have originated in the *Targum, i.e., the translation of the lections from Scripture into the Aramaic vernacular for the benefit of those who could not follow the Hebrew reading. The Targum in days of old was paraphrastic and the biblical texts were embellished with much aggadic material. Eventually, the Targum was curtailed and additions to the text were no longer allowed (Tosef., Meg. 4:41). Its former function of instruction and edification was then taken over by the sermon. By the end of the Second Temple period, sermons were a well-established custom both in Palestine and in the Diaspora.
The importance of the sermon can hardly be overestimated. Not only did it serve as the chief means of instructing all the people – peasants, women, and children – and imparting to all and sundry at least an elementary knowledge of the Torah and its teachings, but it also provided the sages with a means of guiding the people, strengthening their faith, and refuting heretical views.
By using at times daring methods of interpretation, the preachers succeeded in making the Bible an unceasing source of ever-new meaning and inspiration in which answers to the problems of every generation could be found. Thus when the unquestionable biblical faith in the rewards of the righteous in this life could no longer satisfy the people in times of disasters and persecutions, the rabbis would unhesitatingly substitute for it the belief of reward in the world to come: "He has given food unto them that fear Him, He will ever be mindful of His covenant" (Ps. 111:5) became – by means of a play on the words teref, "food," and teruf, "confusion" – "He has given confusion to those who fear Him in this world; but in the future to come He will ever be mindful of His covenant" (Gen. R. 40:2). To the outcry of those who witnessed the destruction of the Temple, and who, on reading such a verse as "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the mighty?" (Ex. 15:11) would ask: "Where then is His might, if he looks on while His Temple is destroyed and keeps silent?" The rabbis answered: "Who is like unto Thee among the mute ones" (a play on the words אֵילִים, elim, "the mighty ones," and אִלֵם, illem, "mute"). The explanation was: "His very restraint and silence is the proof of His strength and power: for who is mighty? He who conquers his passions!" (tj, Ber. 7:4, 11c; Mekh., Shira, 8; Yoma 69b; Avot 4:1).
the sermon and audience
Through their reinterpretations of the Bible, their bold use of the biblical material to give expression to the burning issues of their own times, and the application of ancient traditions to new circumstances, the rabbis succeeded in keeping the Bible alive and meaningful for their own generations.
Entertaining Devices Used in Sermons
In addition to the use of exegesis, the preachers would amplify and recreate stories, would enliven their preaching by ample use of folktales and parables, and employ dramatization and various rhetorical means to make their sermons attractive and challenging. They would modulate their voices in presenting dialogues and imitate the different characters represented. The "entertainment value" of the sermon was often no less important than its educational and edifying aspects. Some critics indeed compared the Jewish preachers to actors whose "performances" were too "theatrical" for their liking. Small wonder then that the people would come in masses to hear sermons, especially of well-known preachers (tj, Hor. 3:7, 48b). They would come even from outlying villages, and would make special arrangements beforehand to permit them to exceed the "Sabbath-limit" of 2,000 cubits (Er. 3:5).
The rabbis contrasted the synagogues and the houses of study and their sermons with the attractions of the circus and of the theater of the Roman-Hellenistic world. Remarkably enough, they succeeded in making the bulk of the people prefer the former: "They that sit in the gate talk of me" (Ps. 69:13) was given two different interpretations: "those are the gentiles who sit in their theaters and circuses … scoffing me"; and "those are Israel who sit in the synagogues and houses of study … reading dirges and lamentations and Eikhah" (Lam. R., Proem 17). However, the well-to-do would, at times, stay away from such "vulgar" gatherings (Git. 38b). The audience expressed their approval and enjoyment; at times, they reacted with laughter, or, when the preacher did not succeed in arousing them, with indifference. The preachers would adapt their interpretations and examples to the level of the audience, and when addressing simple people they would not refrain from using very telling, even ribald, phrases or illustrations (Lev. R. 18:1; S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942), 161–2). The popularity of the aggadic sermon emerges clearly from the following statement: "In times of old when the perutah [a small coin] was easy to come by, a man would desire to hear words of Mishnah and of Talmud; but now when the perutah is no longer easily found, and moreover we are suffering from the kingdom [i.e., Roman rule], a man desires to hear words of Scripture and words of aggadah" (pdrk 101b).
Time of Delivery of Sermon
Sermons were delivered, whenever possible, on every Sabbath and on other special occasions, including fast days, especially on the Ninth of *Av. They would be based mostly on the Torah sections read on the days when they were delivered, i.e., the sidra of the so-called *triennial cycle on ordinary Sabbaths and the special lections on festivals. On special Sabbaths (e.g., before and after the Ninth of Av), the prophetic readings might provide the texts for the homilies. The exact time of the sermon varied. It is known that there were sermons delivered on Friday nights (tj, Sot. 1:4, 16d), on Sabbath mornings after the readings from Scripture (Luke 4:16ff.), or on Sabbath afternoons (Yal. Prov. 964). It appears that many sermons were given before the scriptural readings, serving as introductions to, and preparations for, the latter (see below). Probably, such sermons were rather brief.
If one of the great sages delivered the sermon, he would make his appearance only after the whole audience had assembled; in the meantime, younger rabbis, acting as auxiliary preachers, would keep the people occupied (tj, Suk. 5:1, 55a; Gen. R. 98:11; but also Deut. R. 7:8). The preacher made use of a turgeman ("translator"), or of several, whose task it was to broadcast the words of the preacher in a loud voice which could be heard by all sections of the audience. This served not so much a practical purpose, for some of the preachers at least must have had voices powerful enough to make themselves heard, but was a token of respect (I.M. Kosowsky, in Sinai, 45 (1959), 233 – 43). The preacher would take care to prepare his sermon properly; but in some places, at least, it was customary for members of the audience to address questions to him which he was expected to answer on the spot. Some inexperienced preachers found this custom disconcerting and were unable to reply (Gen. R. 81:2).
The Openings of Sermons
The sections opening with a halakhic question, preceded by the formula yelammedenu rabbenu ("may our master teach us") or the like, which appear at the beginning of homilies, especially in the *Tanḥuma Midrashim, reflect the custom of introducing a sermon by a question posed by a member of the audience. The challenge to the preacher was not so much in finding the answer – for mostly the questions referred to well-known halakhot – but to improvise a way of linking up both the question and the answer with the real subject matter of his sermon, concerned usually with an aggadic interpretation of the Bible reading for the day. It is, however, quite possible that often the question posed to the preacher had been prompted and was known to him beforehand.
forms of the sermon
Though the "classical" Midrashim undoubtedly drew the bulk of their material from the tens of thousands of sermons which had actually been preached in the synagogues of Palestine during the first four or five centuries c.e., they have hardly ever preserved these sermons in their original form. In many cases, they present mere outlines of actual sermons or of parts of them, while, on the other hand, they take sections from many separate sermons and weld them into new and larger units.
The Proem Type
One of the rhetorical forms, found frequently in practically all of the old Midrashim, the proem (petiḥta), undoubtedly had its origin in the live sermon. It opened with a quotation from Scripture, not taken from the text read on that day, but mostly from the Hagiographa. Through a series of aggadic interpretations and stories, the quotation was gradually linked up with the first verse of the pericope (or the prophetic lesson) of the day. Often, the preacher intentionally chose a verse which seemed completely unconnected with the weekly portion so as to arouse the curiosity of the audience and increase its interest. Sometimes the connection would be established by means of a play on words or similar rhetorical device. Nearly always, the opening verse chosen expressed a general idea which was subsequently illustrated by the specific example provided by the contents of the pericope. Such proems served originally either as opening sections of complete sermons (according to Maybaum, Bacher) or, more likely, were sermons complete in themselves (according to Bloch, Baeck) and were preached, presumably, immediately before the readings from Scripture, serving as introductions to the latter (Heinemann).
But the proem type was by no means the only kind of sermon in vogue. Apart from the yelammedenu form, already mentioned, there were sermons opening with a form of benediction, praising God for giving Torah to Israel, and proceeding from this to the specific theme to be developed (J. Heinemann, Ha-Tefillah bi-Tekufat ha-Tanna'im ve-ha-Amora'im (1964), 160 – 2). Undoubtedly, other sermons took for their point of departure the first verse of the weekly portion itself; the section in Mekhilta, beginning with "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him" (Ex. 13:19), may serve as an example of this type. Another type of opening of the sermon has been preserved in passages in which the first verse of the pericope is immediately followed by a reference to a verse elsewhere, in the light of which the former is interpreted, e.g., "'Then came Amalek'… This verse is to be … explained in connection with the passage in Job where it is said 'Can the rush shoot up without mire …'"(Mekh., Amalek, 1 beginning).
Conclusions of Sermons
The concluding sections of homilies in the Midrashim mostly sound the messianic theme, contrasting the suffering and the troubles of "this world" with the joys of "the world to come." It stands to reason that these sections also represent perorations of actual sermons. Other sermons appear to have ended in prayers which expressed either thanks to God for the giving of the Torah or a request for the speedy coming of redemption or both (Heinemann, loc. cit.). One example of such a concluding prayer is the *Kaddish.
Example of a Complete Sermon
One of the few sermons whose entire structure appears to have been preserved (though probably only in outline) is the one by R. Tanḥum of Nevay (Shab. 30a–b): It starts with the halakhic question of whether one may extinguish a light on the Sabbath for the sake of a person dangerously ill. It then proceeds to discuss the relation of life and death on the basis of scriptural quotations, illustrating its argument with poignant stories from the lives of David and Solomon and making the point, among others, that even one day in the lives of the righteous is of supreme value in the eyes of God. It concludes by answering the question posed at the beginning that man's soul "is the lamp of the Lord" (Prov. 20:27) and it is better that a lamp made by man be extinguished on the Sabbath rather than the soul (life), the lamp made by God. In form this sermon is unique, for in spite of its affinities with the yelammedenu type, it differs from it by placing the answer to the halakhic question at the conclusion of the entire sermon.
homilies in the midrashim
It follows that in different times and places sermons exhibited a variety of structures and patterns. Against this, in the so-called homiletic Midrashim all homilies are constructed more or less in a uniform pattern: after a series of proems there follows the "body" of the sermon (whose structure is not clearly defined), and finally the messianic peroration (Lev. R.; pdrk). In Midrashim of the Tanḥuma-yelammedenu type, the parts mentioned are preceded by the section opening with a halakhic question. Such homilies do not represent single, actual sermons as preached in public. Even if the proems are considered to be mere opening sections, no preacher would have used a whole series of such introductions, independent of one another, consecutively, in order to arrive again and again at the same point which he had already reached with the first one, i.e., the first verse of the pericope. Hence these homilies must be taken as creations of the editors of the Midrashim who made use of a number of sections, especially proems, taken from different sermons, and combined them into a new form, the "literary homily," which must not be confused with the actual live sermon as preached in the synagogue (in a variety of forms).
J. Mann developed a highly ingenious theory that both the halakhic question (in the yelammedenu type of homily) and the Bible verses with which the proems open were chosen for the sake of verbal tallies to the prophetic reading (haftarah) for the day. Thus a system of associations with the haftarah provides the hidden links between the various sections of the sermon (even though the haftarah itself is not quoted, as a rule). Pertinent objections to this theory have been raised by S. Lieberman (Koveẓ Madda'i le-Zekher M. Schorr (1944), 186) and by Ḥ. Albeck (Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 473–4, n. 180). Among the weaknesses of Mann's hypothesis is the fact that associations consisting of a mere verbal link – provided often by very common words – could presumably be discovered in practically all cases, even if they had not been intended. What is more, where the required tally with the known haftarah cannot be found, Mann unhesitatingly stipulates a different one. Even the actual yelammedenu sermons, to the analysis of which Mann's book (see bibliography) is devoted, are frequently not the ones found in fact in the Midrashim, but sermons reconstructed by Mann himself by combining parts taken from different sources. Moreover, Mann assumes that such homilies were invariably composed of a good many parts: the halakhic openings, series of proems, the bodies of the sermons, and the perorations. Although he occasionally states that some of these parts (e.g., the proems) may be more ancient than others, he remains ambiguous as regards the all-important question of whether such complex structures represent live sermons actually preached, or are mere literary creations of the editors of the Midrashim.
Through the derashah, or homily, the medieval synagogue pulpit could respond to and influence communal life on the pressing issues of the day and reinforce the traditions and ethics of the Torah. It served, too, as a vehicle for social criticism and reform, arousing concern and giving encouragement in times of trial and gloom. The sermon also provided scholars with the opportunity to show their worth, erudition, and acuteness. The derashah, while always based on biblical verses and rabbinic sayings, and utilizing the approach of the traditional commentary, aims, nevertheless, to interpret its subject matter according to contemporary needs and concepts. For the most part, the preacher also attempts to attune his homilies to the level and tastes of his listeners.
Over the generations, especially at times of crisis, scholars arose who regarded the sermon as their chief interest and duty. Many of them served as peripatetic preachers among the various communities and lands. Preachers appointed by particular communities received fixed salaries, while itinerant preachers usually had to rely on irregular contributions and, on occasion, congregational allotments for their support. The majority of homilies have survived in the forms in which they were composed and written down by the preachers themselves, which are undoubtedly different from the forms in which they were originally delivered. The darshan ("preacher") organized the written text and made it more scholarly than the original oral version. The language, also, was different, since the homily was preached in the tongue spoken by the Jews of the locale, while it was written down in Hebrew.
Because the sermon was directed at the congregation as a whole, the darshan was frequently faced with the problem of reconciling the different levels of education within his audience, being caught between the use of a simple, clear approach on the one hand, and his desire for an original, innovative, and profound manner of preaching on the other. At times the focus on nuances of interpretation would far outweigh the ethically instructive and socially beneficial aspects of the homily, which while pleasing the learned members of the community worked to the detriment of the simple folk, as well as impairing the effectiveness of the sermon itself. Midrashim from the early Middle Ages indicate that ethical teachings and commentaries touching on matters of communal interest were also at this time closely related to Torah reading in the synagogue. During that period anthologies of such material were prepared specifically for preachers. Their purpose was "to broaden the scope of Scripture and interpret it in terms of the world scene, thereby showing that God has from the very beginning of time foretold the end of days, andthat we may learn many things about the commandments from the conversations of the Patriarchs" (Midrash Lekaḥ Tov, Va-Yeẓe). The chronicle of *Ahimaaz relates that a certain learned preacher from Ereẓ Israel had a number of prepared sermons written in rhymed Hebrew. The exegetical method as well as the socioreligious function of the darshan was already well established and defined for the Mediterranean Jewish communities from the time of Isaac *Alfasi and *Maimonides (11th and 12th centuries). The latter even ruled that "each Jewish congregation must arrange to have a respected and wise elder who has been known for his piety from his youth and is beloved by the people, who will publicly admonish the community and cause them to repent" (Yad, Teshuvah 4:2; cf. also Tefillah 11:3; Maim. Responsa, ed. by J. Blau, 1 (1957), no. 67). Judah *Hadassi in his Eshkol ha-Kofer records that by the 12th century the *Karaites had recognized the importance of the homily and accepted it as a standard practice: "The learned preacher would expound and comment upon the current Scriptural reading and Psalm before the people, who piously sought his presence and interpretation on Sabbaths, festivals, fast days, in the house of mourning, at weddings, and at circumcisions … and turns many away from transgression" (para. 18).
The homily likewise had become an accepted part of Jewish life in Germany by the first half of the 12th century. Accounts of Jews martyred in 1096 include an actual derashah publicly delivered to "the first to be slain" and urging them to accept martyrdom. A substantial number of the stories and ethical teachings in Sefer Ḥasidim appear to have been passages from sermons, parables, and the like. R. *Eleazar b. Judah b. Kalonymus of Worms ruled that "one must preach in words more precious than gold on the Sabbath … one must assemble the people at that time and preach to them" (Comment. to Prayers, Mss. Bodleian, Opp. 110; see also A.M. Habermann, Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Ẓarefat (1945), 166). After the carnage during the *Black Death, the homily in Germany in the late 14th and early 15th centuries became mainly a means to exhort the people to remain observant, as well as to teach laws and commandments as they should be practiced. In the second half of the 13th century, *Moses b. Jacob of Coucy, France, personally described a journey which he made throughout Spain giving sermons of admonition. His purpose was to strengthen the ritual practices of tefillin, mezuzot, and ẓiẓit; to persuade the men to give up their non-Jewish wives and to prevent them from profaning the name of God through abusing the gentile (Sefer Mitzvot ha-Gadol, 1, 2, 112; 11, introd.). He also records a complete sermon in a style very similar to the manner in which it was delivered, obviously directed to a group particularly in need of spiritual awakening. For this he used the system of explaining biblical verses, raising the threat of divine punishment as well as the promise of a heavenly reward. This wandering halakhist and darshan is the first known preacher in the Middle Ages to appear as a moral and ethical preceptor of the masses. Most of the ethical works of *Jonah Gerondi appear to be the literary residue of fiery preaching. The homilies of *Naḥmanides which have been preserved (as, e.g., for Rosh Ha-Shanah and in the debate with the king of Aragon in the synagogue on the Sabbath) are in reality profound, comprehensive essays on ethical theory, an indication of the high level of his Spanish audience. The rationalist followers of Maimonides in 14th-century Provence also publicly delivered philosophical-allegorical homilies (compare Jacob *Anatoli in his Malmad ha-Talmidim).
In Spain, by the 14th century, the derashah had attained a well-developed methodology and compact structure. To the halakhic and philosophical content of the derashah were now added mystic elements (e.g., cf. the Kad ha-Kemaḥ of R. *Baḥya b. Asher). One of the most renowned preachers of this period was *Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi. The 15th-century sermon reflects the struggle with Christianity and points up the social crises that arose at a time of persecution. The homilies of the most illustrious darshan of the generation of the Expulsion, R. Isaac *Arama, show that periods of vigorous anti-Jewish Christian preaching have called forth an equally strong reaction from contemporary Jewish preaching (introd. to Akedat Yiẓḥak). Arama's sermons in Akedat Yiẓḥak combine a more difficult speculative analysis with popular appeal in order to strengthen the faith, be alert against Christian slanders, and safeguard the character of his hearers during the calamities threatening them.
structure and style
Joel *Ibn Shuaib, a darshan who taught the transposition of laws from theory to practice, summed up the architectural and aesthetic tradition of the derashah in Spain around the time of the Expulsion. The preacher, he counseled, should concern himself with two essentials in his sermons: (1) the integrity of the subject matter, and (2) the perfecting of his manner of expression…. Regarding the first, he must be careful … that, whatever he will say, his listeners will derive benefit. Though his sermons be very profound, he must make them clear enough for the masses of the people to gain something from them on their level. Yet no less must he have regard for the special interests of the more intellectually inclined who may be present when his subject is mostly directed to the simple folk. On the second principal concern, the form of the sermon, three considerations are paramount:
(1) the length – it should not be the least bit longer than is absolutely necessary to convey the intended derashah;
(2) the structure – the sermon should be well organized, not lacking in proper order, now in the streets, now in the broad places (Prov. 7:12);
(3) his phrases and words should possess grace and dignity, and they ought to be delivered in a pleasing and proper way according to the following conditions: Along with an attractive style and an inherent order within the sermon, the preacher must also make proper use of his voice in addressing the people so that they should understand even from his external manner of speaking that his words have value for them (Introd. to Olat Shabbat, Venice, 1577).
An interesting illustration of the actual style of the derashah as it was preached has been preserved in the homily delivered by Isaac *Aboab, the last principal of the yeshivah of Lisbon, in 1492–93, to the exiles from Spain:
How can I endure so much suffering? A man can exist in this world for one of two reasons: either because he is in his own land, or because the Lord is watching over him. About the first reason, Cain said: "Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the land" (Gen. 4:14). Regarding the second, he added, "whosoever findeth me will slay me" (ibid.), meaning, whatever may befall me, whether through the air or from some other part of the world, may be a reason for Him to kill me. The Holy One will have mercy on us…. There is a parable of a father and son walking together. Tired and feeling weak, the son asks the father if they are far from the city… and the father explains to him how he may know: once you see a cemetery, then you will be near the city…. When we see many misfortunes at hand, it signals the coming of the Messiah (Nahar Pishon, Constantinople, 1538, 11a).
This homily is an immediate, live reaction to the expulsion from Spain.
The derashah developed further in the 16th and 17th centuries among the exiles, and Jews in Italy influenced by them, who were all nourished to some extent by Renaissance culture. The sermons of the most prominent 16th-century preacher in Italy, Judah *Moscato, intersperse references to music and astronomy and Italian phrases with rabbinic aphorisms. Within this milieu, Leone *Modena compared the preacher to "a stone engraver carving out a fine statue" (Midbar Yehudah, Venice, 1602, 5a). To the Venetian Jewish community the homily was a work of art valued for the perfection of its form.
Homiletics underwent a more turbulent development in Poland and Lithuania, reflecting communal dissension and social problems. A number of Polish-Jewish preachers openly declared that they had the right to interpret Scripture freely in order to admonish and instruct their congregants. Yet some scholars complained about the preachers who would take liberties with biblical verses not in order to reprove their communities but to prove their own dialectical subtlety and to satisfy the eagerness of their listeners for novel and clever interpretations. This tendency led to confusion and awkwardness in the derashah. From the same period there are many midreshei-peli'ah ("wonder tales") invented by preachers who attributed them to early Midrashim. *David b. Manasseh, an itinerant often-persecuted preacher, wrote Ketav Hitnaẓẓelut la-Darshanim ("Writ of Apology for Preachers") in 1574, in which he argues for homiletic license to interpret and use various rhetorical devices to influence listeners. The darshan*Berechiah (Berakh) b. Isaac Eisik of Cracow testifies (in his Zera Berakh) that the homily provided the learned with a means of persuading the leaders of the community to their point of view.
Some preachers battled openly and vigorously in communal affairs. Outstanding among these was Ephraim Solomon of *Luntshits, whose sermonic works (Ir Gibborim, Olelot Efrayim, Ammudei Shesh, and Oraḥ le-Ḥayyim) influenced his own as well as later periods. R. Ephraim forcefully attacked egotism, the avaricious pursuit of wealth, the haughtiness of the rich, and their self-righteous hyprocrisy. Formerly a wandering darshan, frequently derided and little known, by his dynamic preaching Luntschitz achieved such recognition that he was invited to deliver a homily before the *Council of Four Lands in session at Lublin. He later served as rabbi of Prague, succeeding *Judah Loew b. Bezalel, who was himself an eminent preacher.
The pervasive influence of the derashah is apparent, too, from regulations and communal actions in Poland-Lithuania. In 1638 and 1648 the salary of the preacher appointed by the Poznan community was set as second only to that of the av betdin, and the difference between the two was negligible. In 1717, the Jews of Cracow defined the ideal preacher as one who "in his pleasant utterances gives joy to both God and man, and quenches the spiritual thirst of every class of people according to the depth and breadth of their understanding. Sometimes he teaches the Law in depth, explaining the words of our rabbis, distilling the strong waters of Gemara, codes, and tosafot. Yet he can still clarify, instill into his hearers a sense of reverence, sweeten the bitterness of life through his pleasant manner of speaking with straightforwardness…, in sermons open and understood by all, including those whose minds cannot fathom the depth of his words" (D. Weinryb, Te'udot le-Toledot ha-Kehillot ha-Yehudiyyot be-Polin (1950), 185).
The regulations issued by the Council of Lithuania indicate that the communal leadership was apprehensive of the potential force of the derashah, which they could not control. In 1628, they instituted supervision over all sermons in reaction to the freedom which the itinerant preachers had assumed. In 1667, during the agitation which followed the appearance of *Shabbetai Ẓevi, they again protested that "a number of men go around in this region, preaching publicly in synagogues and other places, pompously delivering open reproofs. However, their preaching appears in some part for their own self-glorification." The Council placed supervision of the sermons under "the local rabbi and seven city elders. If a man attempts to preach without their express permission, they may say to him: 'Step down from the pulpit,' aside from imposing additional penalties" (S. Dubnow (ed.), Pinkas ha-Medinah (1925), no. 596). In Moravia, too, the governing body issued regulations regarding "the acceptability of preachers who station themselves at houses of learning," and in 1701 they felt it necessary to warn the local leaders not to allow such maggidim ("wandering preachers") to deliver sermons without the approval of the local av bet din (I. Halpern, Takkanot Medinat Mehrin (1951), 100, 168).
18th to Early 19th Century
The changes which occurred in Jewish life as a result of the partitions of Poland, the rise of *Ḥasidism, the development of *Haskalah, and *Emancipation brought a modification of the character and status of the homily. Significantly, even in the 18th century, preaching in the medieval style still retained its importance. Just as the Jewish leaders in Poland had epitomized their concept of the ideal preacher of the past in 1717, *Elijah b. Solomon ha-Kohen of Izmir in his homiletic work Shevet Musar (Constantinople, 1712) summed up the method of admonition which invokes the fear of Gehinnom and sufferings in the afterlife. His work was widely read, and translated into Yiddish. Jonathan *Eybeschuetz achieved fame in his lifetime as well as posthumously for his homilies (Ya'arot Devash). In the 18th century, Jacob *Kranz, the Dubno Maggid, exerted a profound effect upon his listeners through the effective use of parables. Some scholars believe that in 18th-century Poland these itinerant maggidim made up an intelligensia opposed to the existing intellectual establishment, who indirectly aided the rise of Ḥasidism. Yet the ḥasidic movement gradually substituted "the saying of Torah" by the ḥasidic rabbis for the standard derashah, thereby eventually replacing the wandering preachers.
Within the cultural sphere of the *Mitnaggedim the homily continued to play a role. Itinerant darshanim like *Moses b. Isaac ha-Darshan of Kelmy, and Ḥayyim Zadok, the Maggid of Rumschischki, were influential in Jewish society. Their chief concern focused on the struggle against Ḥasidism and Haskalah, as well as the founding of charitable institutions in the small towns of Lithuania and White Russia. They often intoned their sermons using a special plaintive melodic mode, and the parable was one of their most essential homiletic tools. For the derashah given by the boy who had become bar mitzvah, see *Bar Mitzvah. Also there was a custom that the bridegroom or the scholar give a derashah under the wedding canopy or at the festivities following.
In Modern Times (From the Beginning of the 19th Century)
the modern sermon
Part of the aim of Zunz's most famous work, Gottesdienstliche Vortraege der Juden (1832), was to demonstrate, when this was challenged by the Prussian government (under the influence of Orthodox groups who saw the sermon in the vernacular as the beginnings of Reform), that preaching is not an innovation but an ancient Jewish institution. While this is true, the traditional derashah was, in fact, replaced in the 19th century by a new type of Jewish sermon, the Predigt, as it was called in Germany. There were a number of important changes in language, style, and content which, first in Germany and then in other European countries, gave a completely new cast to the sermon. This new type of sermon was delivered in the vernacular and unlike the occasional derashah, it was a regular feature of the service. It sought to express Jewish values in a contemporary idiom and in the thought patterns of the day. Woven around one central theme, the modern sermon developed in orderly fashion, without academic digressions on the texts quoted, emphasizing edification rather than pure instruction. Although the early 19th-century preachers in Germany were not rabbis, preaching, instead of being delegated to a special functionary, eventually became the preserve of the rabbi and one of his most important duties in Western countries. Among the well-known preachers in 19th-century Germany were: Eduard *Kley, Gotthold *Salomon, Abraham *Geiger, Samuel *Holdheim, Jehiel Michael *Sachs, Samson Raphael *Hirsch, and David *Einhorn; and in the 20th century: Siegmund *Maybaum, Nehemia Anton *Nobel, and Leo *Baeck.
A. Altmann (see bibl.) has demonstrated the influence of the Protestant pulpit on the development of the modern Jewish sermon. The early German preachers consciously modeled their sermons on the patterns of Christian homiletics and used Christian guides to the art of preaching. Even Isaac Noah *Mannheimer, the most outstanding 19th-century preacher, who pleaded for a closer link with the Jewish homiletical tradition, admitted "that we as pupils and disciples, as novices in the art of preaching which we have been practicing only a little while, can learn a great deal from the masters of the art, and we have gratefully to accept every guidance and instruction offered to us in their schools." Zunz, in his brief career as a preacher at the New Synagogue in Berlin (1820–22), was influenced by *Schleiermacher. It is even on record that the most popular Christian preachers of the time, such as Ritschl and Schleiermacher, used to hear the young preachers at Israel *Jacobson's temple in Berlin and give them, after the sevice, "manifold hints and directives."
A reaction soon set in. There was a persistent demand for a truly Jewish homiletic, arguing, in Mannheimer's words, that "it is always better to feed on one's own resources than to live from alms." But, generally speaking, the reaction in the 19th century only amounted to a greater use of rabbinic, especially midrashic, material, as exemplified in the sermons of the illustrious preacher Adolf *Jellinek in Vienna. Jellinek's preaching attracted many of the intellectuals of his day who, in their quest for Jewish identity, needed his reassurance that Judaism was supremely worthwhile and still capable of making important contributions. Jellinek was fond of preaching that too many were saying: "Now Israel's eyes were dim with age; he could not see" (Gen. 48:10), whereas the truth was that Moses still spoke and God still answered him in thunder (Ex. 19:19). Jellinek's methods and strong Jewish emphasis influenced Jewish preaching everywhere. A later occupant of Jellinek's pulpit, Hirsch (Ẓevi) Perez *Chajes, for example, preached to a bar mitzvah the story of the woman whose vessels were miraculously replenished by the oil (ii Kings 4:1 – 7). The never-ending power of Judaism is always available if only Jews will provide the vessels with which to contain it. No matter how great the Jew's spiritual demands, Judaism is capable of satisfying them (Ne'umim ve-Harẓa'ot (1953), 400).
Tobias *Goodman is credited with being the first Jew to preach in the English language. Two of his printed sermons are: A Sermon on the Universally Regretted Death of the Most Illustrious Princess Charlotte, preached on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 1817, at the synagogue, Denmark Court, London (the first sermon to be both delivered and printed in English), and A Sermon Occasioned by the Demise of Our Late Venerable Sovereign, King George the Third, preached on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 1820, at the same synagogue (A. Barnett, The Western Synagogue Through Two Centuries (1961), 48 – 51). In December 1828 a Committee of Elders was appointed at the Bevis Marks Sephardi Synagogue in London to inquire into the best means of elevating the tone of public services. Among their recommendations was that an English sermon based on a text taken from Scripture should be delivered every Saturday afternoon. Before delivery every sermon should be examined by a committee of three elders for statements contrary to Jewish doctrines or hostile to the institutions of the country (J. Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (19562), 318–20). In the U.S., preaching in the English language was introduced much later. Some preachers, like the Reform Rabbi David Einhorn, preferred to give sermons in their native German. Einhorn declared that "Where the German sermon is banned, there the reform of Judaism is nothing more than a brilliant gloss, a decorated doll, without heart, without soul, which the proudest temples and the most splendid theories cannot succeed in infusing with life." The Jewish sermon in English was developed to a fine art by such preachers as Simeon *Singer, Morris *Joseph, Joseph Herman *Hertz, Israel *Mattuck, A.A. Green, Abraham *Cohen, and Ephraim Levine in England; Stephen S. *Wise, Israel Herbert *Levinthal, Abba Hillel *Silver, Solomon *Goldman, and Solomon Bennett *Freehof in the U.S. Two annual collections of sermons in English are those published by the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) since 1943; and since 1954, the collection by rabbis from all three groups in Best Jewish Sermons, edited by Saul I. Teplitz.
In Eastern Europe the older type of derashah delivered in Yiddish by the maggid still predominated, but certain new features manifested themselves even here. The winds of changein the Jewish world moved the maggidim to find a rather more sophisticated approach. Preaching in Yiddish became directed to the needs of the individual as well as the community. The Haskalah movement was frequently fought by the maggidim with the weapons of pulpit oratory. With the rise of Zionism, many of its opponents used the same weapons to combat it, while others sympathetic to Zionism preached the love of the Holy Land and the legitimacy of Jewish nationalistic aspirations with new fervor. In fact, a new type of nationalistic preacher emerged and was given the name mattif ("speaker"; Micah 2:11), to distinguish him from the old-type maggid. Under the influence of the Lithuanian Musar movement, with its strong moralistic concern, the derashah began to place greater emphasis on ethical matters. The hellfire preaching of Moses *Isaac, the Kelmer Maggid (1828–1900), the most popular of the folk preachers, was directed largely against dishonesty in business and general unethical conduct (D. Katz, Tenu'at ha-Musar, 2 (c. 1958), 395–407). Many of the maggidim went to the U.S., England, and South Africa where their preaching was directed against the widespread desecration of the Sabbath and neglect of the dietary laws, abuses unknown in their native countries. Maggidim still flourish in the State of Israel, but there has been little development of the sermon in Hebrew and the rabbi-preacher is virtually unknown there as a regular and respected synagogue functionary. Among the Yiddish preachers of renown were: Ḥayyim Zundel, H.Z. *Maccoby (the Kamenitzer Maggid), J.L. Lazarov, Ẓ.H. *Masliansky, Isaac *Nissenbaum, M.A. *Amiel, Zalman *Sorotzkin, and Ze'ev *Gold.
Simeon Singer in "Where the Clergy Fail," an address delivered to young preachers on Jan. 17, 1904 (Lectures and Addresses (1908), 203 – 25), describes the aim of the Jewish preacher thus: "to teach the word of God to their brethren, young and old; to help them to the perception of the highest truths of religion; to uplift their souls out of the rut of the common, the sordid, the selfish, in life; to speak a message of comfort to the sorrowing, of hope to the despondent, of counsel to the perplexed, of courage to the struggling and aspiring." In the belief that the art of preaching can be taught, the major rabbinical seminaries have departments of homiletics. Sigmund Maybaum taught homiletics at the Hochschule in Berlin, Israel *Bettan at Hebrew Union College, Mordecai Menahem *Kaplan at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Abraham Cohen at Jews' College.
The modern Jewish sermon is usually based on a text chosen from the portion (the sidra or haftarah) read in the synagogue on the day the sermon is delivered. Books of the Bible which are not read in public, like Job, rarely furnish texts for sermons, though they may be quoted in support of a position the preacher adopts. Normally the sermon is delivered toward the end of the service. While the note of exhortation is never entirely absent from the sermon, many preachers nowadays prefer to use the sermon chiefly as a means of instruction, imparting information about Jewish faith, history, and teachings. The length of the sermon varies from preacher to preacher but on the average is about 20 minutes. Preaching from a prepared manuscript is the rule for some preachers while others prefer to speak extemporaneously. Adequate preparation is counseled by the best preachers. In the preface to his Faith of a Jewish Preacher (1935), Ephraim Levine compares the preacher who waits for Providence to put words into his mouth to Balaam who said the very opposite of what he intended to say. Oratory has now generally yielded to an easier conversational tone. Few preachers would today follow the example of Leo Baeck of whom it was said that he never used the personal pronoun "I" in the pulpit.
Sermon illustrations are taken from the personal experience of the preacher, Jewish history, the Midrash, natural science and psychology, and, latterly, ḥasidic lore. L.I. Newman's Hasidic Anthology (1934) and M. Buber's Tales of the Hasidim (1947–48) have come to serve as sources for sermon illustrations. Quotations from secular literature are used to develop themes. In a typical sermon outline on Kol Nidrei by Milton *Steinberg (Sermons, B. Mandelbaum, ed. (1954), 58–63) there are references to the geonim, Walter Pater, Tennyson, Leibnitz, Omar Khayyam, and W.L. Phelps. Louis I. *Rabinowitz (Out of the Depths (1951), 332–5) builds a Kol Nidrei sermon around a poem by the modern Hebrew writer Zalman *Shneur. In a Day of Atonement sermon by Israel H. Levinthal (Steering or Drifting – Which? (1928), 128–35), there are quotations from *Judah Halevi, the Talmud, the prayer book, a Christian legend, folk language, the Bible, and the Midrash. Preachers in the U.S. frequently take for their sermon theme a book, movie, or play that has received much attention for its treatment ofsome moral or religious question. Some sermons conclude with a prayer. This and other pulpit pretensions, however, were severely criticized by Franz *Rosenzweig in his scathing attack on preaching in Sermonic Judaism (N.N. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig (1953), 247–50). The chosen text and the way it is treated depend on the individual bent of the preacher but, judging by published sermons, certain themes are constant. Each of the festivals, for example, has its particular message so far as the preacher is concerned. The theme of Passover is freedom; of Shavuot Jewish education (in Orthodox pulpits the immutability of the Torah); of Sukkot trust in God and thankfulness for His bounty; of Ḥanukkah spiritual light; of Purim Jewish peoplehood; of Rosh Ha-Shanah the need for renewal; and on the Day of Atonement sin and atonement. In addition to the weekly Sabbath sermon the rabbi preaches on the special occasions in the life of his congregation: anniversaries, weddings, funerals, installation of officers, bar mitzvahs, and his own induction. A number of rabbinic manuals contain sermonic material in capsule form for the rabbi's use on special occasions (e.g., H.E. Goldin, Ha-Madrikh, 1939).
issues of the day in preaching
The modern Jewish sermon frequently addresses itself to particular problems which agitate the Jewish community as well as to wider issues of universal import. There is much discussion on the extent to which politics should be introduced, but few Jewish preachers accept a total ban on political questions. There are numerous instances of preachers seeking to influence their congregants either when a topic is a source of controversy in the community or when they feel that widely held views are contrary to Jewish teaching. Themes treated in the contemporary pulpit are the controversy between religion and science, the role of the State of Israel, the permissive society, intermarriage, Jewish education, war and peace, social injustice, racial discrimination, the use and abuse of wealth, and Judaism and its relation to other faiths. The 1968 edition of Best Jewish Sermons contains sermons against the taking of drugs; on the "death of God" movement, fair housing, the estrangement of the Jewish intellectual from Judaism, recreation, and the need to care for the hungry of the world. Rabbis have fought to free the pulpit from control by the lay leaders of the congregation. When Stephen Wise was being considered for the influential post of rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in New York, Louis *Marshall, the president, held that in controversial matters the pulpit must remain under the control of the trustees. Wise refused to consider the post under such conditions and eventually founded the Free Synagogue to uphold the principle of pulpit liberty.
In 19th-century America the slavery issue was echoed from the Jewish pulpit. Morris J. *Raphall preached that slavery was a divinely ordained institution since it is sanctioned in the Bible. David Einhorn, however, attacked slavery from the pulpit as "the greatest crime against God." As a result, his life was placed in jeopardy and on April 22, 1861, Einhorn and his family were secretly escorted out of Baltimore.
With the rise of the *Reform movement the issue of Reform was hotly debated from the pulpit. A favorite text for the Reform sermon, used by Geiger and others, was: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever" (Eccles. 1:4). The "earth" represents the essential, unchanging spirit of Judaism, which must be interpreted by each generation in the light of its own needs and insights. Often the same set of texts would be used by both Orthodox and Reform preachers in support of their positions. The "wicked son" of the Passover Haggadah was, for the Orthodox preacher, the Reform Jew who asks "What is this service to you?" For the Reform Jew the son who represented their point of view was the "wise son" who was ready to ask the intelligent questions demanded by the new age. Chief Rabbi N.M. *Adler preached in London, on the second day of Passover in 1868, a sermon against the abolition of the second day of festivals in the Diaspora, a matter which at that time had begun to be an issue in the struggle between Orthodoxy and Reform. His son and successor, Hermann *Adler, at the beginning of the 20th century, refused to permit a synagogue under his jurisdiction to appoint Morris *Joseph as preacher because the latter had published views "at variance with traditional Judaism." Solomon *Schechter, living at that time in Cambridge, pointed out that if doctrines were to become the test of a minister, then the greatest names in Jewish learning – Zunz, Graetz, Herzfeld, Joel, Gotthold Salomon, Rapoport and others – would never have been permitted to preach in a United Synagogue (R. Apple, The Hampstead Synagogue (1967), 23–27). Chief Rabbi J.H. *Hertz preached a series of sermons, Affirmations of Judaism (1927), attacking the new Liberal movement founded by Claude Goldsmid *Montefiore and others.
general: Zunz-Albeck, Derashot; N.R. Rabinowitz, Deyokena'ot shel Darshanim (1967). talmudic period: Aptowitzer, in: mgwj, 76 (1932), 558–75; Ḥ Albeck, Mavo u-Mafteḥot le-Midrash Bereshit Rabba, 1 (19652), 11–19 (in Midrash Bereshit Rabba ed., by J. Theodor and Ḥ. Albeck, 3 (19652)); L. Baeck, Aus drei Jahrtausenden (19582), 158; W. Bacher, Die Prooemien der alten juedischen Homilie (1913); Bloch, in: mgwj, 34 (1885), 166–84, 210–24, 257–69, 385–404; 35 (1886), 165–87, 389–405; J. Heinemann, Derashot be-Ẓibbur bi-Tekufat ha-Talmud (1970); idem, in: Divrei ha-Kongress ha-Olami ha-Revi'i le-Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 2 (1960), 3–47; idem, in: jjs, 19 (1968), 41–48; J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, 1 (1940); J. Mann and I. Sonne, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, 2 (1966); S. Maybaum, Die aeltesten Phasen in der Entwicklung der juedischen Predigt, 1 (1901); M. Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (19652), 59ff.; Stein, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… Schorr (1935), 85–112; H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1945), 210ff.; Theodor, in: mgwj, 28 (1879), 97–112, 164–75, 271–8, 337–50, 408–18, 455–62; 29 (1880), 19–23; 30 (1881), 500–10. Medieval Period: I. Bettan, Studies in Jewish Preaching (1939); S.Y. Glicksberg, Ha-Derashah be-Yisrael (1940); S.B. Freehof, Modern Jewish Preaching (1941); Baron, Community, index, s.v.Preaching; A. Steinman, Kitvei ha-Maggid mi-Dubno (recast in modern style), 2 vols. (1952); H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1959), 34–54; J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis (1961), 173–5. Modern Times: A. Altmann, in: ylbi, 6 (1961), 3 – 59; idem (ed.), Studies in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Intellectual History (1964), 65–116; A. Cohen, Jewish Homiletics (1937); New York Board of Jewish Ministers, Problems of the Jewish Ministry (1927), 1–43; The Rabbinical Assembly of America, Proceedings, 10 (1946), 85–102; L. Treifel, in: Festschrift zum 75 Jaehrigen Bestehen des Juedisch-Theologischen Seminars Breslau, 2 (1929), 373–6.
"Preaching." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/preaching
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