For Every Generation: Preaching As Imaginative Mediation Of Rabbinic Tradition

Though the history of preaching1 is rooted in the liturgical life of the ancient synagogue (which is amply evidenced in the Gospels and Acts), preaching does not play a prominent role in the worship of the modern synagogue.2 The synagogue service is a serv­ice of the heart, Avodah, in which prayer and the recitation of scrip­ture are the central elements. The freight of the liturgy rests in the Matbea ‘Shel Tefillah (which consists of the Recitation of the Shema and its Blessings and the Shemoneh Esrei). Chazzanim and rabbis, the religious leaders of the synagogue, function in their respective roles of leading public worship and communicating the tradition of interpretation for each generation; preaching has large­ly been at the periphery of their duties in the community.

Yet preaching persists in the liturgical life of the synagogue- mostly during the High Holidays, the Passover season and, at various times, weekly Shabbat services. Marc Saperstein points out that these preachers (whether chazzanim or rabbis) function principally as mediators of the rabbinic tradition.3 Guided by the structure of the rabbinic hermeneutical system, these tradition-mediators seek to convey the rabbinic tradition through the medium of the sermon. In addition to the epistemological impact of rabbinic hermeneutics, the character and shape of rabbinic homiletics has been influenced by the liturgical location of the sermon, by various homiletic forms, and by creative dialogue with other ideological and religious traditions. In the first half of this article, we will explore how these four factors have nurtured a distinctive rabbinic homiletic ethos in Judaism. In the last half of this article, I will explore how these four factors shape three sermons: one by an unknown Sephardic preacher from late fifteenth century Spain preaching on the Binding of Isaac; a second by Joseph H. Lookstein, an Orthodox Ashkenazi rabbi from mid-twentieth century America expounding the nature of religious liber­ty; and a third by Margaret Moers Wenig, a Reform rabbi, preaching on Yom Kippur about the theological import for the holiday of imagining God as a woman who is growing older.

The Rabbinic Hermeneutical System

Before examining the questions of liturgy, form, and sources in rab­binic homiletics, I will briefly review seven points about the rabbinic hermeneutical system which are central to how rabbis and chazzan­im engage in the task of mediating tradition through their sermons.4

  1. The primary work of early Rabbinic Judaism was in codifying a communicable tradition which stabilized and secured the bounds of a Temple-less and landless community in the hostile world of the Roman Empire and in face of the rise of Christianity to prominence in that Empire.
  2. The principle means which the sages used to mediate the tradition was the book (particularly the two Talmuds) through which they democratized and translated cultic practices into the life of home and community and developed a religious practice which consisted mainly of reading and enacting what was read.
  3. The canon of rabbinic literature provides the arena within which each new (pluralistic) generation of Jews struggles to interact with the tradition so as to engage their current circumstance in continuity with the one people Israel.
  4. The one Torah of Moses (written and oral Torahs undifferentiated) stands at the heart of the rabbinic system through which the community (under the direction of the tradition-mediating rabbis) engages the very mind of God and appropriates the cadence of living which this encounter sets forth.
  5. The function of the rabbi in the life of the Jewish community is not only to
    teach tradition but also to act as a judge whose decisions help to guide
    people on the path of holiness. In their teaching and judgment, rabbis embody the Torah and transmit that way of being to their students through the practice of rabbinic discipleship.
  6.  Each rabbi is part of a larger community of sages. The quality of their teach­ing and discipleship is not evaluated on their individual creativity but by their participation in this community of sages which is unbounded by time and location. In such a system, the transmission of rabbinic thought is not princi­pally through external, critical evaluation of a particular document but through the practice of entering into its discourse and thereby the conversa­tion of the community of sages.
  7. Rabbinic documents rely on form and syntax as the code through which to indicate the significance of ideas.5 Series inquiry into the formulaic and syntactic characteristics of rabbinic literature is beyond the scope of this discussion, but it is important to note as we explore the structure of rabbinic homiletics.

These seven theses portray a religious world in which the role of text and tradition, religious leader and chain of discipleship are central factors. As is clearly demonstrated in m. Avot 1:1ff (and is intrinsic to all rabbinic literature), the questions of reception of tra­dition are crucial to the ongoing vitality of the community. From the perspective of the rabbinic tradition, the transmission of the Torah as interpreted by the rabbi in the context of the ongoing dis­cussion of the community of sages is what sustains and brings life to the Jewish community in a far too often hostile and dangerous world. In the context of the rabbinic religious milieu, the medium of the sermon serves a vital role throughout history not only in communicating the rabbinic tradition but also in preserving the community itself.

Hermeneutics Of Liturgy

Though the benefits of using the sermon as a mediator of Torah tra­dition are obvious, the sermon has, as Marc Saperstein points out, “…no clear status in Jewish law.”6 In other words, the preaching of sermons is halakhically ambiguous. Preaching is neither explicitly commanded nor prohibited. As such, though often a part of the community’s Sabbath observance, there are no directives which govern its placement.7 Additionally, the preacher’s role is also not clearly defined. Such ambiguity has historically left both the preacher and the community unsure about the preacher’s purpose and authority.

Despite the precariousness of the sermon in the liturgy, there has been a tendency to place it with or near the reading of the Torah. The reading of the Torah is the climax of the liturgy, and its interpretation has been a key component of the public reading of Torah since post-Exilic times. Though Moses is arguably preaching and reinterpreting Torah in Deuteronomy, Ezra provides the first clear example of someone seeking out meaning in scripture for the life of the community.8 Ezra’s example provides the paradigm of dynamic and imaginative engagement with scripture for the task of interpreting the text for every generation.

In Judaism, the mediation of the one Torah is the central task of this practice of contextual interpretation. As Ephraim Luntshitz described the import of this task in the sixteenth century:

It should also be ordained in every community that preachers should speak on the Sabbath about ethical matters and Torah laws, not about the meaning of the Rabbinic homilies, for the masses of Jews have no need of this. This was the practice of our ancestors: all their sermons were intend­ed to inform about the laws of the Torah and ethical matters, in order to awaken those asleep in the midst of their lives, so engrossed in their passions that they forget their final end.9

As Luntshitz reminds those of his age (and ours), the task of mediating Torah is paramount to the preacher’s vocation. They are to concern themselves with nothing else because the Torah is the source of life and the pattern for the community’s living.10 The urgency of Luntshitz’s entreaty is echoed by Judah Moscato who states, “…we have found that disciplines other than the divine Torah cannot adequately measure or define that which pertains either to the intellect or to the realm of action. God’s Torah, which is perfect, can do both.”11 For pulpit rabbis concerned with guiding their com­munity in the midst of Galut, the Torah is God’s gift of life, which secures the boundaries of and protects the community in its inter­action with the world.

The interpretation of Torah for the community by the rabbis takes place most prominently during the High Holy Days and at the Shabbat during Pesach. In modern times, such occasions have not only afforded high attendance in synagogue but also are marked by the community’s expectation of a sermon from their rabbi. Historically in some communities, this was the only time of the year in which the rabbi was expected (or even contracted) to preach. Preaching for the High Holy Days focuses on themes of repentance, both personal and communal. Shabbat Shuvah provides an occa­sion for the rabbi to exhort his or her congregation to repentance in the midst of their reflection on and repentance for their sins.12

Preaching for Pesach presents a more complex homiletic chal­lenge. Shabbat Haggadol, the Shabbat before the start of Pesach, is a time of preparation for the coming holiday much like the week before Pesach is a time of purging and readying the home for the coming Chag Hamatzot. The first and eighth days of the Chag also provide opportunities for preaching. Saperstein cites four broad ranging approaches towards preaching during this holiday:

  1. Legal Discussions
  2. Exegesis of Traditional Texts
  3. Analysis of Philosophical Problems
  4. Reactions to Contemporary Events 13

Though these four methods offered some variety for preachers, there still has been need for imaginative engagement with the texts so the sermons would not degenerate into “homiletical moralizations.” 14

Preaching on the occasion of death is a more integral part of Jewish homiletics than regular Shabbat preaching. Saperstein points out that, unlike the Shabbat sermon which lacks any legal requirement, “The eulogy, by contrast, is an integral part of the halakhah governing the proper treatment of the dead.”15 Like the High Holy Days and Pesach, death provides an occasion for the community to gather and to remember. Preachers looked upon this situation as an opportunity not only to eulogize the dead but also to provide grounding for the people in the broader tradition. Sermons of this genre (hespedim) have tended to be highly formulaic with a large portion of the eulogy being general in nature followed by a shorter section with direct reference to the deceased.16

Hermeneutics Of Form And Text

Despite its lack of regularity in Judaism, it was precisely through regular Shabbat preaching in late medieval Sephard and early mod­ern Ashkenaz that the form of the rabbinic sermon was refined. The Sephardim are responsible for developing “the sermon into an art form with a characteristic structure and a set of homiletical and rhetorical conventions.”17 Three primary sermon models existed in late 15th Century Spain. The first model was the Perishah which was a general homily on a scripture verse. This model was stylized in later periods to include sections of To’elet (applications) and She’elot or Sefeqot (difficulties in passage resolved through com-mentary).18 The second model was the Derush which dealt with a thematic problem and usually began with a catch paragraph. The third model, the Cantenary, developed out of Talmudic discourse
and is characterized by the stringing together of seemingly unre­lated verses to make a point through halakhic exploration of a topic. These forms both provided structure for conveying Torah and medi­ating tradition as well as influenced the preachers in the way that they carried out their task. Despite such a wide range of homiletic models at the preacher’s disposal, the Perishah became the most widely used classic form of preaching in medieval Sephard. Arguably this style of exposition still influences synagogue preach­ing to this day.

The Perishah has four basic components. First, the preacher states a verse from Ketuvim, usually from the Wisdom literature, which he will use to help explicate the Torah. Second, the preacher presents the nose or thema, the theme verse for the Perishah almost always drawn from the Torah reading. The writer of Seder lehayshir haddarshanim (“Treatise for the Guidance of Preachers”) argues that “…the biblical verse or statement on which the preacher is to con­struct his sermon must be suitable to serve as the foundation of the structure.”19 As we will see below, such convictions not only dictated the structure of the Perishah but also the preacher’s pattern of exe­gesis. The presentation of the nose was followed by the reading of the ma’amar, a passage of haggadah which either explicitly explained the meaning of the text or traditionally corresponded to that week’s parashah. In the Perishah form, these three sections were followed by the explication of the passage or theme verse using the verse from Ketuvim and the ma’amar as tools for deriving meaning.

There are four general patterns of explication in the classical sermons: 1. Incremental, 2. Antithetical, 3. Progressive, and 4. Repetitive. The incremental approach involves careful exegeticalprogression through a verse emphasizing structure and meaning. The antithetical approach entails working to arrive at the meaning of a phrase or verse through stating its opposite. The progressive approach is similar to the incremental approach but instead may look at two or more components within a verse to explore their relation and the progression of thought between them. The stylized repetitive approach involves the repetition of a phrase or an entire verse periodically in a sermon.20 All four of these methods accord to the writer of Seder lehayshir haddarshanim’s admonition that the structure of scripture should dictate the structure of the sermon. Yet, these models also bring out the point that the model of exege­sis (or tradition of exegesis) which a preacher uses also provides a structure with which to interpret Torah. Put another way, Torah interprets tradition, and tradition interprets Torah.

Beginning in Eretz-Yisrael, a tradition of composing poetic additions to the liturgy (piyyutim) arose. During the Middle Ages, in Sephard, this tradition was refined. These poetic additions helped to convey the religious tradition in the context of the festi­val and Shabbat liturgies. In this capacity, the piyyutim helped to instruct and give interpretive form to scripture. As a genre, piyyu­tim probably have their roots in the liturgical poetry of the Psalms. Chapter 89 of Psalms provides a fine example of the poetic reshap­ing of God’s covenant with David and the mythological combat theme for the circumstance of the exilic and post-exilic periods. Arguably, piyyutim continue this practice of appropriation and serve as liturgical vehicles for mediating the rabbinic tradition in a new age. In times of persecution, the piyyutim took the place of sermons and functioned as the primary vehicles for interpreting Torah and tradition for the community.21 In the Middle Ages, poets such as Ibn Kallir became masters of this discipline in the context of Sephard and developed the art form of Hebrew-Arabic poetry to a high level. 22

L’chah Dodi, one of the core pieces of the Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy, serves as a prime example of liturgical poetry as synthesis and re-imagination of rabbinic tradition. In L’chah Dodi, R. Shlomo haLevi Alkabetz, the 16th century Kabbalist from Safed, masterfully blends form and tradition to create a poem which prepares the con­gregation to welcome the Shabbat Queen. In the first verse of many, Alkabetz demonstrates the high quality of his art.

“Keep” and “Remember” in one word
did the one God cause us to hear.
Adonai is one, and his name is one
for fame, and for glory, and for praise.

In fourteen brief words Alkabetz pulls together rabbinic under­standings of the relationship between Exodus 20:8 and Deuteronomy 5:12, a quote from Zechariah 14:8 (quoting and reinterpreting Deuteronomy 6:4ff), and kabbalistic understandings of the nature of the divine.23 For Alkabetz, all of Shabbat becomes the arena in which the Jewish person can proclaim the divine oneness (read unify the divine name) in unfettered praise and glory to God. On another level, poetry becomes the form through which Alkabetz synthesizes and reshapes rabbinic and biblical idioms for the liturgical life of his and many other Jewish communities since.24


As was pointed out above regarding preaching for the High Holy Days, one of the major roles of the preacher in the synagogue has been to exhort people to return to God’s ways, from their pattern of sin. Saperstein points out, “Among his other roles, the preacher appeared to be a guardian of moral and religious standards, and therefore a critic of the behavior of his listeners.”25 Often, as in modern Reform preaching, the role of social critic would entail a consonant shift to the use of the Nevi’im as the source of texts for preaching.

In medieval times this practice of social critique took the form of typological exegesis which emphasized “…the ethical nature of the biblical narrative.”26 In this approach, the patriarchs became arche­types for appropriate, ethical behavior in the face of difficult social, political, and economic circumstances. One of the most compelling examples of this type of exegesis is in a sermon on the Akeidah from the generation of the expulsion from Spain in which Abraham’s sac­rifice of Isaac is presented as a paradigm which every Jew should be prepared to emulate if faced with the crisis of converting to Christianity.27 Such a pattern of typological exegesis is not without warrant. Walter Brueggemann suggests, “The Book of Genesis under­stands the urgency of transmitting the solemn oath…to the next gen­eration of Israel, for it is this oath that gives Israel power to survive and prosper in demanding and debilitating circumstance.”28 In this respect, the text itself establishes a pattern of appropriation and re-construal of Torah tradition in every generation.

The first move toward social critique of issues whose import went beyond the Jewish community was made in America by Morris J. Raphall. On the eve of the Civil War, Raphall preached a sermon in which he critiqued both Northern and Southern views of slavery while ultimately affirming the validity of slavery.29 Raphall is impor­tant not for his conclusions but because he preached a sermon that publicly commented on an issue facing a largely Christian society and critiqued them for their idolatry-not something that cautious Jews did. This shift towards entering into the larger issues of socie­ty was a part of the Reform program of integrating Jewish life into the wider society. Robert I. Kahn, Rabbi of Temple Emmanu El in Houston and a scholar on the impact of liberal thought on nine­teenth century Jewish preaching, pointed to a move in Reform preaching from Torah to Nevi’im. Kahn himself was impacted not only by the shift in textual focus but also by the broader program of liberalism in his reduced reliance on traditional sources and more straightforward delivery.30

Such transitions in the character of American Jewish preaching led to broad ranging support in the 1950s and 1960s for the Civil Rights movement by rabbis across the United States.31 Such prophet­ic stances in the pulpit and in public were not without their disastrous consequences, as the bombing of The Temple in Atlanta in 1958 fol­lowing the public stance of R. Jacob Rothschild against segregation exhibits.32 By the 1990s, hearing a social justice sermon during the High Holy Days in a Reform Temple had become cliché. Two Reform rabbis indicated to me in interviews conducted before Rosh Hashanah 5762 that in their High Holy Day sermons they were going to address other aspects of the tradition such as prayer, though they still consid­ered social justice a vital component of the Reform tradition and their own rabbinate. Such a shift is not to say that social justice is no longer on the horizon of America’s Jewish community.33 Rather, these rabbis recognize that Torah is broader and wider than any one topic. Torah addresses the full extent of human experience and existence and so should the preaching of Torah.

Hermeneutics Of Tradition Or “Can I Get A Witness!”

A crucial component of understanding how the rabbinic tradition of Torah interpretation is transmitted from one generation to the next through preaching involves examining what resources the preach­er marshals for his or her task-to borrow the main metaphor of Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament, what wit­nesses are called to testify on behalf of the preacher in her attempt to transmit Torah imaginatively to the audience.34 One of the core witnesses (beyond the Torah and Nevi’im) is traditional rabbinic literature such as Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash compilations.35 The use of rabbinic material in sermons reflects an appropriation of the two broad types of discourse in this literature: haggadah (story) and halakhah (legal decisions).

We have already seen what role the ma’amar, or integration of haggadah, has in the Perishah sermon model. Haggadah reflects a focus on the importance of narrative in homiletics. One of the pri­mary genres of haggadah used in sermons is the mashal which has a range of meaning from analogy to parable to allegory to simile. Rhetorically, Saperstein points out, the mashal’s function is both pedagogical and ethical. The mashal serves to elucidate “theologi­cal concepts otherwise difficult to comprehend.”36 Another form of haggadah is midrash, which, as both a literary and homiletic genre, provides a model of imaginative appropriation of Torah by rabbis. The pattern of midrash entails not only dealing with difficulties in the text through creative exegesis but also re-construing the pat­terns of meaning in a text for a different time and circumstance.

The other major category of rabbinic discourse used in Jewish homiletics is halakhah-rabbinic legal decisions. The use of halakhah in sermons reflects the roots of the sermon in Talmudic discourse which was principally concerned with understanding the requirements of Torah in present context. Whereas in Christian preaching, there has been a historic tendency to shy away from such legal material, rabbis have viewed such material as a vital com­ponent of the Torah in which Israel both hears the story of its redemption and covenant, and receives the Torah which it is sup­posed to keep and practice.

This literature provided resources through which the preacher could keep the Torah fresh in the imaginations of the congregants. In the classical Perishah model, the practice of creative engagement with the text is seen in the sophisticated practice of reconciling seemingly disparate noseim and ma’amarot, of Torah with com­mentary. Saperstein points out that “The challenge of the form was to show an unsuspected connection in a way that cast new light on both the verse and Torah passage.”37 In Seder lehayshir haddar­shanim, concern over how to manage this rhetorical feat is taken up in two of the manual’s ten sections:

Third: avoid aggadaic statements expressed in a hyperbolic or enigmatic manner incompatible with reason, unless you know an explanation or interpretation that renders them rational.

Seventh: try to say something new in the sermon, whether concerning the simple meaning of the verse, or the interpretation of an aggadaic statement, or in organizing the discussion of the central topic, for this is a great achievement for a preacher.38

These practices of homiletic interpretation are no mere exeget­ical gymnastics designed to soothe the artistic temperament of the congregation. Rather, these practices illustrate a concern for keep­ing Torah fresh in the imagination of the people. These practices also exhibit something intrinsic to rabbinic hermeneutics which is worth pointing out: meaning is never exhausted. The Torah by its very nature is a dynamic word designed to be the arena for working out covenant in every new generation.

The struggle to re-articulate Torah for each new generation also leads to a grappling with, and appropriation of, contemporary philosophies as witnesses that are called to testify for the preach-er’s construal of Torah. In Sephard, during the Middle Ages, rabbis wrestled with the use and integration of Greek Philosophy into Jewish thought. The greatest synthesis of Classical Greek Philosophy (in its Aristotelian form) and Jewish thought during this period was the work of the Rambam, particularly his Guide for the Perplexed. However, this practice of engagement and integra­tion has often been met with skepticism. In the mid-Fifteenth Century, Chayyim ibn Musa complained in a letter to his son about the abuses of this practice:

Now there is a new type of preacher. They rise to the lectern to preach before the reading of the Torah, and most of their sermons consist of the syllogistic arguments and quotations from the philosophers. They men­tion by name Aristotle, Alexander, Themistizis, Plato, Averroes, and Ptolemy, while Abbaye and Raba are concealed in their mouths. The Torah waits upon the reading stand like a dejected woman who had prepared herself properly by ritual immersion and awaited her husband; then returning from the house of his mistress, he glanced at her and left with­out paying her further heed.39

Ibn Musa’s complaints, though conservative and hyperbolic, are certainly not to be discounted. They reflect a common and ongoing concern in the Jewish community about how much of the domi­nant culture can be integrated into the life of the community. In this case, the dominant culture, the Islamic world, was infatuated with Greek Philosophy and sought to integrate it into their theo­logical and scientific pursuits.

The relatively free position Jews had in the Islamic world, par­ticularly in Spain, enabled them to obtain high positions of power in court life where they had to engage Greek and Islamic thought. Though Ibn Musa may dismiss such interaction, history tells a much richer story of generative interaction between the Jewish community and the dominant culture. This rich interaction has left us with not only a vibrant religious community which produced the likes of Ibn Ezra, the Rambam, and the Ramban, but also an exten­sive corpus of lively and insightful sermons. Interestingly, it was in this relatively free society that the rabbis were able to develop the regular practice of Shabbat preaching to such a high level. Such a flowering of homiletics would not occur again until the rise of the Reform movement in the Nineteenth Century.

In the discussion above of the impact of form on how rabbis communicate the tradition to the next generation, it was pointed out how commitments to social justice and civil rights in the Twentieth Century influenced the type of texts used in preaching and the forms used to convey these convictions. In a similar man­ner, the Civil Rights movement and Zionism forced preachers to rethink the evidence they marshaled to support their interpretation of tradition. Where the Civil Rights movement afforded rabbis the opportunity to explore the full extent of the genre of prophetic cri­tique, Zionism posed a much more difficult problem to the Jewish community particularly for its preachers. Essentially, it was difficult to reconcile Zionism as a contemporary political and military pro­gram with traditional understandings of the restoration of Israel to Zion as an act of God through the Davidic Messiah. For the Reform movement this was a particularly difficult task as their tendencies toward assimilation and accommodation led them to reject tradi­tional forms of Jewish nationalism. However, in 1943, the American Reform movement embraced Zionism.40

One of the early Reform rabbis to support Zionism was Stephen S. Wise, who was an acquaintance of Theodore Herzl and an earlyleader in the Civil Rights movement as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.41 In these two endeavors, Wise marshaled non-traditional evidence to reconcile his political convictions with Jewish tradition. As Friedenberg points out, citing Myles Martel, “Wise tended to rely ‘almost entirely on personal experience and intuition as opposed to external proof.'”42 These categories of knowledge have historically been absent from the chorus of witnesses in the Jewish tradition, yet, in the Twentieth Century, they rose to prominence as a way to reinterpret the tradition in light of contemporary circumstance. Though the use of personal experience and intuition has always, to some degree, been a component of Jewish preaching and interpre­tation, its rise to prominence in contemporary preaching and inter­pretation reflects not only a growing recognition of the role the interpreter plays in the act of interpretation but also a widening of the bounds of the community to accept more voices into the great conversation of Judaism. For Wise, the conversation also included the struggles for Zion and Civil Rights.

“Sermon On The Binding [Of Isaac] And on the Test43

The Akeidah, as one of the core texts read during Rosh Hashanah, celebrates faithfulness to God during a liturgical season in which faithfulness to God is paramount. Traditionally, the Akeidah is recit­ed as a paradigm of faithfulness in the morning prayers. Preaching on the Akeidah is also an option on Shabbat Vayera when this text is included as part of the weekly Torah portion. Because the  “Sermon on the Binding [of Isaac] and on the Test” is not specifi­cally dated, it could have been preached at any one of these times. Marc Saperstein argues, following an analysis of the historical and textual evidence that this sermon was preached in Spain during the generation of the expulsion of the Jewish community. During this crisis of the late Fifteenth Century, fidelity to God was a core theme for sermons as rabbis attempted to mediate the tradition of what it meant to be faithful in a religiously hostile culture, especially one that left you with the option of conversion or death.

The structure of this sermon follows the standard Perishah model outlined earlier. He begins with a statement from the Wisdom literature; in this case Psalms 60:6: “You have given to them that fear You a banner to be displayed.” The preacher next states a nosetheme verse-“The Lord will see as it is said today” (Genesis 22:14), and then a ma’amar-a portion of haggadah meant to elucidate the Torah. In this case, the preacher uses a tra­ditional Midrash for this passage from Bereshit Rabbah 55:1. This Midrash highlights a major theme of the sermon that testing is for the exaltation of the one tested.

The body of the sermon follows the pattern of the Derush, rather than the expected Perishah, in that it addresses an exegetical problem posed by the theme verse, particularly the issue of the extent of the Lord’s knowledge today. As the preacher puts it, “For if God did not know what was going to be until after this experi­ment, then God’s knowledge would contain something new, and it would be just like our knowledge, which is false, and a lie.”44 But unlike the traditional Derush which tends to be more textual in terms of exegesis, this preacher is much more propositional. In the rest of the body of the sermon, this initial, general question is expanded into three separate questions. First, if it is the case that “God did not know what was going to be until after this experiment, then God’s knowledge would contain something new, and it would be just like our knowledge, which is false, and a lie.”45 Second, what is the “great achievement” of Abraham’s actions in this matter?46 Third (the most striking of the three and probably the principle matter which the preacher is working to address), how could Abraham be obedient without question?

Using typological exegesis which interprets the actions of the patriarchs as paradigms for Jewish people throughout the ages, the preacher concludes that Abraham’s action is the substance of faith. In other words, any faithful Jew, following the example of Abraham, would act in similar obedience to the point of sacrificing their child. At this point, the preacher marshals the testimony of R. Hasdai Crecas, whose own son was killed in Barcelona during the anti-Jewish riots of August, 1391. Crecas is lifted up like Abraham as a model of faithfulness for the current generation which is facing the problem of converting, leaving Spain, or dying. In the end of this section, the preacher encourages his congregation to “think that, being from the seed of Abraham, they should be prepared to take the lives of their children, and the children should be prepared to be bound by their fathers and to bind them, as Abraham did to per­form the will of his Heavenly Father.”47

Following this Derush, the preacher concludes the sermon with a brief Perishah on Psalms 87, which explores the theme of the loca­tion of Mount Moriah. The preacher employs incremental exegesis to work his way through the passage and explores the significance of the traditional linking of Mount Moriah with Jerusalem. Saperstein feels that the point of this section “is to satisfy an apparently prevalent interest in exegetical material, and to direct the attention of the lis­teners away from the bleak subject of martyrdom to a more positive subject.”48 But Saperstein’s explanation does not fully account for the preacher’s return to the theme verse at the end of the sermon, “That is why we said at the beginning of our sermon that Abraham called the name of the place God will see (Gen. 22:14), for in this place God watches providentially over the perfect, and because of it He watches providentially over the entire world.” This last line before the con­cluding benediction ties the first section with the second. In essence the preacher is saying, yes, the risk of sacrificing your children is great, but as Jews who know the end of the story, we trust that our faithfulness will be met by God’s faithfulness. Just as we hope that Jerusalem will “be rebuilt and established, soon and in our days,” so too will the children of the audience be restored.49 The connection is certainly subtle but it is a point that parents, worried and looking for a grain of hope, would not have missed.

Like his contemporaries during the late-Fifteenth Century, the preacher of this sermon marshals a diverse array of witnesses to aid him in mediating the tradition. He uses the old standards: the Torah portion, Midrash collections, and verses from Nevi’im and Ketuvim. He also utilizes passages from the Rambam (specifically Guide for the Perplexed) and Gersonides as well as unidentified insights from Ibn Ezra and Rashi to explore the nature of Abraham’s test. But what is most striking is his use of the exegesis of R. Hasdai Crecas. Saperstein argues,

Whether or not Crecas played a direct role in his son’s ultimate martyr­dom is open to conjecture. After his son’s death, however, he began to see himself as Abraham in the Akeidah and glorified the role as the quintes­sence of Jewish identity. Apostasy, even under duress, was not a legitimate option. Drawing from the exegetical tradition that saw the behavior of the Patriarchs as models for their descendants, he concluded that each Jew should be prepared not only to give his life as a martyr, but literally to sacrifice his children for God if the occasion demanded.50

Crecas’s testimony is unmistakably jaundiced and provides the congregation with an example of Abraham’s faith in the life of the community. The situation of Crecas is probably so similar to their circumstances that it brings into the realm of possibility what would have been a seemingly ridiculous appeal to sacrifice one’s children. The preacher’s use of Crecas’s testimony opens up an avenue for faithfulness in a situation of seeming despair. Though we may disagree with the preacher’s conclusions, we cannot ignore his intense understanding and concern for the circum­stance of his congregation.

“A Religious Definition Of Freedom51

R. Joseph H. Lookstein was an Orthodox rabbi who served KehilathJeshurun in New York City (1923-1979) as well as at Yeshiva University as University Professor of Homiletics. Lookstein preached “A Religious Definition of Freedom” in the early 1960s on Shabbat Shekalim-the Shabbat before or on Rosh Hodesh Adar (the first day of the month Adar). Shabbat Shekalim is a Shabbat that looks forward to the com­ing celebration of Purim two weeks later. The only thing added to the service for this day is an additional reading from Exodus 30:11-16. This is the passage which describes the taking of the census through the children of Israel’s contribution of one half-shekel each. As we will see in the sermon, this text provides ample ground for the discussion of what constitutes free and equal participation in society. Lookstein preached the sermon during a period of sustained Jewish presence in America’s political discussion of civil rights.

The structure of the sermon is very refined. Lookstein begins by reading a quote from Jean Jacques Rousseau, “Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in irons.”52 Lookstein next quotes from the Yovel passage in Leviticus 25:10, which he will later tell us is engraved on the Liberty Bell, “Proclaim liberty throughout the Land.” For Lookstein, liberty begins at Sinai, appears in the poetry of Byron, and is the muse of Chopin, the goal of Roosevelt, and the blueprint of the Founding Fathers. Yet, from Lookstein’s perspective, Moses was liberty’s first herald, and therefore we should explore freedom through the lens of religion rather than sociology or philosophy. This conviction enables Lookstein to hold the quotation from Leviticus in creative tension with the thought of Rousseau through­out the sermon.

Following this extended introduction, the body of the sermon has four clear moves which are announced as discoveries about the religious view of freedom. In the first move, Lookstein argues that “…freedom is not an end in itself but rather a means to a much greater end.”53 Lookstein then cites Roosevelt’s four freedoms (from fear, from want, speech, worship) to ask what is the true end of these four freedoms and uses quotes from scripture to elucidate his points (Prov. 3:23, Isaiah 58:7, Deut. 32:2, Micah 4:5). He also cites the line which begins the concluding individual supplications of the ‘Amidah and echoes Psalms 34:14, “O, my God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile,” to make his point that freedom must be tempered by divinity if it is going to be something through “which life is advanced.”54

In his next move, Lookstein expands his conviction that free­dom must have a greater end by arguing that freedom involves responsibility. In making his point, Lookstein first quotes George Bernard Shaw, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” He then points to Pesach and Shavuot as the liturgical points through which the Jewish people commemorate the giving of freedom and Torah. In other words, freedom is united with God-given responsibility for the use of that freedom.

In his third move, Lookstein argues that this responsible free­dom must be universal in its scope. His primary witness on this point is Abraham Lincoln’s discussion of slavery and his argument that no individual is truly free until all are free. Lookstein uses Lincoln’s quote as a hermeneutical avenue to again explore the theme verse from Leviticus. In the climax of the sermon, Lookstein articulates the announcement of freedom as a prophetic act,

Oh, my soul, where is the prophet with thunderous voice who can rise above the din and tumult of the world, above its hate and suspicion, above its fears and doubts, and speak to the hearts of all men and of all nations the divine words, at once soothing and challenging, at once rousing and re-assuring: “Proclaim liberty throughout the Land.” 55

His poetic conception of the proclamation of liberty helps the hearer envision the possibility that liberty can truly be a reality.

In his final move, Lookstein brings the congregation from the seemingly impossible task of prophetic proclamation to the realities of their lives. He argues, “All these religious evaluations of freedom have their genesis in the individual man.”56 However, by “individual man” Lookstein does not mean isolated people but rather denotes humans in a collective sense. In this articulation liberty moves from being the task of an individual, charismatic prophet to being the practice of the whole community. He next alludes to Jacob’s wrestling with God in Genesis 32. From Lookstein’s perspective, wrestling for freedom is like “Jacob wrestling with God, or better still, the god in him.”57 Emancipation from slavery in society is ulti­mately an act of the people but rests on the conviction that God has already set us free. The Jewish people are now freed slaves for God and should no longer live in slavery to other humans. Lookstein moves back to Leviticus 25 and quotes verse 55, “For to me the peo­ple of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” It is in this covenant that the Jewish people are able to claim freedom, or as he concludes by quoting an unnoted poet, “Freedom is recreated year by year, In hearts wide open on the God-ward side.”58

Lookstein marshals an extremely wide swath of witnesses in his task of mediating Torah. He quotes numerous other verses from Tanakh and one verse from the Siddur. Though he, strikingly, references no passages from rabbinic literature, he does use the holiday traditions to make a distinctively Jewish point about free­dom. In addition to traditional sources, he references or alludes to numerous sources from politics (the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, and Roosevelt), philosophy (Rousseau), and art and literature (Byron, Chopin, and Shaw). The Liberty Bell even appears as an advocate for Lookstein’s argument. What is odd is that as an Orthodox Rabbi, Lookstein not only makes so many contemporary allusions but also does not even discuss a passage from rabbinic literature. This may be due to the fact that this sermon is clearly one that Lookstein would identify as, his “topical sermons.” As Friedenberg points out, “He believes that many topics such as hunger, freedom, and other contemporary questions, can be dis­cussed from the pulpit as long as the rabbi presents “the religious view” of these topics.”59 It is in this context that such contempo­rary evidence is warranted, however un-Orthodox it may seem.

“God Is A Woman And She Is Growing Older

In the last sermon which I will explore, I will turn to a work which can be viewed by many hearers in the Jewish community as un­orthodox and innovative while continuing in the tradition (typified above) of engaging the current circumstance of the Jewish com­munity from the horizon of the rabbinic tradition. Margaret Moers Wenig is a Reform Rabbi who currently serves as Rabbi Instructor in Homiletics at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. Wenig preached “God is a Woman and She is Growing Older” during a Kol Nidre service. Her work is the third in a High Holy Day series on understandings of Teshuvah, one of the central theological themes of the Days of Awe. She defines Teshuvah not as the traditional notion of repentance with all its guilt-laden western theological baggage but more accurately as “turning, or returning, to God” or in the case of this sermon, com­ing home.60

Wenig begins her exploration of Teshuvah by exploring the dif­ferent images or metaphors which inform Jewish consciousness about God. Her exploration of image and metaphor is particularly appropriate considering that the structure of Wenig’s sermon is that of a poem, a genre whose building blocks are image and metaphor and whose craft is the delicate shaping and reshaping of meaning through these images and metaphors. First, Wenig reminds the hearers of the God that informs most of their under­standings of divinity-God as the “Infinite, Unmeasurable One (Eyn Sof ), [the] unknowable” God of highly rational Judaism.61 Second, she shifts to the other end of the spectrum and describes the embodied, mystical God of Kabbalah with its highly developed the­ology of conscience which is gaining in popularity in contemporary Jewish spirituality. Third, she evokes the anthropomorphic God of the Midrashim who weeps, suffers, prays, and studies with Israel. Fourth, she speaks of the poetic images derived from the psalms and used throughout the liturgy in which God is compared to “an immovable rock,” “a shield,” and “a shepherd.” These images give way in the liturgy for the Days of Awe to imagining “God as Father (Avinu) and God as King (Malkeinu).”62

Wenig next invites her listeners, her students, to consider a fifth image for God that will impact their understanding of Teshuvah – God as a woman who is growing older. In the midst of this extended epic poem-sermon, we find the poetic nose or thema of the ser-mon-an eleven line poem that is simple but will lead to a shift (poe­sis) of what it means to encounter God at the gates of Yom Kippur. Wenig writes,

God is a woman, and she is growing older.
she moves more slowly now;
she cannot stand erect;
her hair is thinning;
her face is lined;
her smile no longer innocent;
her voice is scratchy;
her eyes tire;
sometimes she has to strain to hear.
God is a woman, and she is growing older.

but she remembers everything.

In this short section Wenig paints the image of God that will guide her theological exploration of Teshuvah through the rest of the sermon. In addition to drawing Teshuvah and the image of God together, Wenig also subtly slips in another notion prominent to the Days of Awe-Zikkaron (remembrance). Zikkaron serves as the theme for one of the three central paragraphs of the Musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah-Zichronot.63 Throughout the Days of Awe we and God remember our sin and we seek forgiveness and atonement for the sins remembered and even those not remembered. Wenig’s image of God as a woman growing older also remembers, but in a different way from the normal images of God as Father and King. As we will see, Wenig’s God is no longer the harsh father who is angry over sin (the God of medieval Jewry) but rather the sweet Jewish mother who only wants us to visit her so that she might heal our scars and offer us comfort and forgiveness for our sins.

Wenig begins by looking back to what this woman growing older might have done on Rosh Hashanah when she opened the Book of Memories. First, God turns the pages smiling at the diversity of her children and rejoicing in all their accomplishments. Yet, she laments that “they rarely visit me.”64 Next, she turns to the pages which con­tain the memories of “the things she wishes she could forget”-all of humanity’s stupidities and failures.65 These children, both the losses and the joys, are the ones for which God lights candles of remem­brance on Erev Yom Kippur. Wenig continues,

God is home alone tonight
turning the pages of her book.
“Come home,” she wants to say to us, “come home.”
But she won’t call
for she is afraid that we will say, “No.”
She can anticipate the conversation,
“We are so busy,” we’d apologize.
“We’d love to see you but we just can’t come.
Not tonight, not now. Too much work to do.
Too many responsibilities to juggle.”66

But this God knows, what all parents know, that these are just excuses made by a child who does not want to face up to the mutual disappointment which such a visit invariably brings to the fore. Yet, in the twist of the sermon, the invitation so to speak, Wenig asks her hearers to imagine what it might look like if “we did go home to visit God this Yom Kippur.”

The scene Wenig paints for her hearers is that of God sitting at a kitchen table with us drinking tea. The conversation, the encounter, is one with which many of us are familiar. First, there is idle chatter. Next, there is the examination where your mother looks you over to see how you are. Yet, in Wenig’s examination, God sees her child from cradle to grave, in his youth, his middle age, and in his later years. After the examination, God asks her child, “So tell me, how are you?” Wenig knows that all of her hearers have heard this question before. They all know instinctively that such a ques­tion is followed by the appropriate dodge and the sharp change of subject because to answer such a question would be too intimate and often too painful. Yet, invariably the child sitting with God gets to these tough places of memory and in the speech, full of anger and sorrow, lament and praise, healing begins.

In this act of remembrance, Wenig proposes that we learn what God already knows.

those things only the passage of time can teach:
that one can survive the loss of a love
that one can feel secure even in the midst of an ever-changing world,
that there [can be, sic] dignity in being alive even when every bone aches.67

In fact the very act of growing older makes us more like God “who is ever growing older.” This is certainly a message appropriate for the rapidly graying American Jewish population. This observa­tion leads to Wenig’s challenge to the listener, ‘Will you merely send greeting cards as you do every Yom Kippur, or will you actually go home this year and visit God?’ Wenig suggests what this divine encounter might look like,

Perhaps this Yom Kippur by the time of Neilah we will be able to look into God’s aging face and say, Avinu Malkeinu, Our mother our queen we have come home.68

This is the Teshuvah which Wenig’s re-imagined God invites her listeners to make.

Though Wenig utilizes theological ideas on the edge of tradi­tional Jewish thought such as re-imagining God as a woman grow­ing older and a Kaplan-derived process theology, she nonetheless deeply engages rabbinic thought throughout her sermon. Wenig is subtle in her use of rabbinic tradition in the way that the writers of the Siddur are subtle in their use of Tanakh in composing prayers. The seams between the texts are virtually invisible. If you are famil­iar with rabbinic tradition, you hear the quotations and the reso­nances. If you are not, you have to look at the notes at the end. A careful reading of the 23 end notes will tell you that Wenig is inti­mately engaged with the liturgy and tradition of the Days of Awe.

While at Brown University in the 1970s, Wenig and Naomi Janowitz compiled the Siddur Nashim.69 Reading the Siddur Nashim is like reading Wenig’s sermon. In their feminist reworking of the traditional prayer book, there is a careful, measured engage­ment with rabbinic tradition. Feminism is approached from rab­binic perspective and the rabbinic tradition is approached from the feminist perspective. In their work Wenig and Janowitz achieve a distinctively Jewish feminism deeply engaged with the pastoral issues of their people. In both the Siddur Nashim and Wenig’s homiletic work, tradition and the form of that tradition are valued. The rabbinic message is not privileged over the rabbinic idiom because the syntax of rabbinic thought is what conveys the rabbinic tradition. Rather, in both cases the rabbinic idiom is delicately shift­ed to allow space for new ideas and new realities in the life of the Jewish community. In “God is a Woman and She is Growing Older,” there is a careful shifting of the Yom Kippur idioms of Teshuvah, Zikkaron, Malkeinu, and Avinu to invite a new generation of Jews into a fresh encounter with their God, whose ways are known in Torah. Her work is unmistakably rabbinic. Perhaps what Wenig shows us is that the task of the tradition-mediating rabbi or chaz­zan is that of a poet, one who carefully reshapes and recovers the words of tradition and Torah so that the people might encounter again their God, the God of Israel.


The preacher, whether a chazzan or a rabbi, functions as a media­tor of the rabbinic tradition of Torah interpretation. The liturgical context, traditional homiletic forms, and a wide range of evidence give shape to their practice of mediation. Such forms both provide limits to the practice of rabbinic homiletics and afford the space for interpretation of Torah in each new generation. The examples of the late-Fifteenth Century “Sermon on the Binding [of Isaac] and on the Test,” Joseph Lookstein’s mid-Twentieth Century “A Religious Definition of Freedom,” and Margaret Moers Wenig’s “God is a Woman and She Growing Older” show how this practice of re-inter-pretation and mediation is done in generations five hundred years apart. Though they preach in vastly different contexts, the similarities in their sermons outweigh any differences. The major similarity in their work is their commitment to the constancy of the tradition and the imaginative reinterpretation of that tradition for their generation. As the unnamed Fifteenth Century author, Lookstein, and Wenig all demonstrate, this practice of creative interpretation forms the central homiletic ethos for the rabbis and chazzanim who work to mediate the rabbinic tradition for every generation.

This practice of interpreting Torah through the lens of the rabbinic tradition persists in rabbinic homiletics not merely to enable the transmission of the rabbinic ethos of interpretation. More centrally the rabbinic homiletic ethos exists so that the preacher might work to create an environment in which both the rabbi and the congregation encounter the very mind of God in Torah and its interpretation. This distinctively Jewish encounter with Torah through preaching functions both to protect and to nur­ture the life of the Jewish community in Israel, and in the Galut, in every generation. From the rabbinic perspective, this encounter enables the community to grasp hold of the tree of life which is the Torah and be sustained by its branches and nourished by its roots.70




  • Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.
  • Edwards Jr., O. C. “History of Preaching,” In Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching. Edited by Richard Lischer and William H. Willimon. Louisville: W/JKP, 1995.
  • Friedenberg, Robert V. “Hear O Israel”: The History of American Jewish Preaching, 1654-1970. Studies in Rhetoric and Communication. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989.
  • Greene, Melissa Fay. The Temple Bombing. London: Jonathan Cape, 1996.
  • Janowitz, Naomi and Maggie Wenig. Siddur Nashim: A Sabbath Prayer Book for Women, Translated and Supplemented with Original and Traditional Material. Providence: 1976.
  • Linafelt, Tod. Surviving Lamentations: Catastrophe, Lament, and Protest in the Afterlife of a Biblical Book. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
  • Lookstein, Joseph H. “A Religious Definition of Freedom.” In The Rabbinical Council Manual of Holiday and Sabbath Sermons.
  • Edited by R. Benzion C. Kaganoff and R. Louis M. Tuchman.
    New York: Rabbinical Council Press, 1963.
    Mirsky, Aharon. “Hebrew Literary Creation.”In Moreshet Sepharad: The Sephardi Legacy, Volume I, ed. Haim Beinart, 147-183. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992.
  • Neusner, Jacob. Introduction to Rabbinic Literature. ABRL. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
  • ______. Rabbinic Judaism: Structure and System. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.
  • Osborn, Ronald E. Folly of God: The Rise of Christian Preaching. A History of Christian Preaching, Volume 1. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1997.
  • Saperstein, Marc. Jewish Preaching 1200-1800, An Anthology. Yale Judaica Series 26. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • ______. “Your Voice Like a Ram’s Horn: Themes and Texts in Traditional Jewish Preaching. Monographs of the Hebrew Union College. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1996.
  • Scherman, Nosson. Machzor Zikkaron Lippa’ leRo’sh Hashanah, Nusach Ashkenaz (The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Rosh Hashanah, Nusach Ashkenaz). Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1985.
  • Wenig, Margaret Moers. “God is a Woman and She is Growing Older.” Pulpit Digest (March/April 1992): 36-42.


  1. 1 The author would like to thank Dr. Anna Carter Florence, Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA, for supervising the research which led to this paper. This paper was subsequently revised for presentation at the Young Messianic Jewish Scholars Conference held in Chicago, Illinois, June 2-4, 2002.
  2. 2 Ronald E. Osborn, Folly of God: The Rise of Christian Preaching, A History of Christian Preaching-Volume 1, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1997), 178-79; see also O. C. Edwards Jr., “History of Preaching,” Richard Lischer and William H. Willimon, eds., Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching (Louisville: W/JKP, 1995), 186.
  3. 3 Marc Saperstein, “Your Voice Like a Ram’s Horn: Themes and Texts in Traditional Jewish Preaching, Monographs of the Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1996), xiv.
  4. 4 These points derive principally from two works by Jacob Neusner: Introduction to Rabbinic Literature, ABRL (New York: Doubleday, 1994) and Rabbinic Judaism: Structure and System (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).
  5. 5 Neusner [(1994), 38] points to the Mishnah as a formative example in rabbinic literature of using syntax as the primary way of communicating meaning.
  6. 6 Marc Saperstein, Jewish Preaching 1200-1800, An Anthology, Yale Judaica Series 26 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 27.
  7. 7 Ibid.
  8. 8 The root ars is used in Ezra 7:10 to describe Ezra’s act of Torah interpretation; cf. II Chronicles 13:22 and 24:27 for the use of the noun form midrash. Ismar Elbogen [Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History, translated by Raymond P. Scheindlin (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1993), 156] points out that at this time midrash means “a more wide-ranging kind of exegesis and reworking, where the direct connection with the actual words of Scripture themselves is not always clearly evident.”
  9. 9 Saperstein (1989), 402.
  10. 10 During the Torah service Proverbs 3:18 is recited following the reading of Torah (“Etz Chayim Hi”) to invite the community to “lay hold of” this “tree of life” which they have just heard.
  11. 11 Saperstein (1989), 269.
  12. 12 Saperstein (1989), 32 and (1996), 320.
  13. 13 Saperstein (1996), 11-22.
  14. 14 Ibid., 14.
  15. 15 Ibid., 367.
  16. 16 See Saperstein [(1996), 415] for a discussion of this pattern in Saul Levi Morteira’s eulogy for Menasseh ben Israel.
  17. 17 Ibid., 147.
  18. 18 Saperstein (1989), 73.
  19. 19 Saperstein (1996), 166.
  20. 20 Saperstein (1989), 69-70.
  21. 21 Elbogen, 224, 260.
  22. 22 See Tod Linafelt [Surviving Lamentations: Catastrophe, Lament, and Protest in the Afterlife of a Biblical Book (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)] for a fine discussion of Ibn Kallir’s appropriation of Lamentations; see also Aharon Mirsky, “Hebrew Literary Creation,” in Moreshet Sephard: The Sephardi Legacy, Volume I, ed. Haim Beinart (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992), 399-404.
  23. 23 In kabbalistic thought glory (tif’eret) is one of the ten Sephirot or aspects of God’s personality.
  24. 24 R. Isaac Luria and his disciples are said to have gathered at the gates of Safed every week to sing this song at sunset as a way to welcome the Shabbat Queen into their community.
  25. 25 Saperstein (1996), 98.
  26. 26 Ibid., 27; cf. 31, 35.
  27. 27 See Saperstein [(1996), 251-265] for a valuable discussion on the historical circumstances which led to such conclusions.
  28. 28 Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997) 168.
  29. 29 Robert V. Friedenberg, “Hear O Israel”: The History of American Jewish Preaching, 1654-1970, Studies in Rhetoric and Communication (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 48.
  30. 30 Ibid., 120-124.
  31. 31 Ibid., 106.
  32. 32 See Part 1 of Melissa Fay Greene’s The Temple Bombing (London: Jonathan Cape, 1996) for a discussion of the early years of Rothschild’s tenure at The Temple and how his study of the Prophets nurture his own prophetic stance.
  33. 33 Personal Interview, R. Jill Maderer, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia, PA, 8/8/01, notes; Personal Interview, R. Jack Ourach, Congregation Brith Achim, King of Prussia, PA 8/10/01, notes.
  34. 34 Op. Cit.
  35. 35 Saperstein (1989), 54.
  36. 36 Ibid., 102, 93.
  37. 37 Ibid., 73; cf. 72 and Saperstein (1996), 112.
  38. 38 Saperstein (1996): 166-174.
  39. 39 Saperstein (1989): 386.
  40. 40 Friedenberg, 94.
  41. 41 Ibid., 97.
  42. 42 Ibid., 98; quoting Myles Martel, “A Rhetorical Analysis of the Zionist Speaking of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise” [unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Temple University, 1974), 945.
  43. 43 For a critical discussion of this sermon, an English translation, and the Hebrew original see Saperstein (1996) Chapter 14, pp. 251-292.
  44. 44 Saperstein (1996), 266.
  45. 45 Ibid.
  46. 46 Ibid., 267.
  47. 47 Ibid., 273.
  48. 48 Ibid., 258.
  49. 49 Ibid., 276.
  50. 50 Ibid., 263.
  51. 51 Joseph H. Lookstein, “A Religious Definition of Freedom,” The Rabbinical Council Manual of Holiday and Sabbath Sermons edited by R. Benzion C. Kaganoff and R. Louis M. Tuchman (New York: Rabbinical Council Press, 1963), 211-16; see Friedenberg 124-127 for an insightful discussion of Lookstein and his homiletic method.
  52. 52 Ibid., 211; see Rousseau, The Social Contract [1762], I ch. 1.
  53. 53 Ibid., 212.
  54. 54 Ibid., 213
  55. 55 Ibid., 215.
  56. 56 Ibid.
  57. 57 Ibid., 216.
  58. 58 Ibid.
  59. 59 Friedenberg, 126.
  60. 60 Margaret Moers Wenig, “God is a Woman and She is Growing Older” Pulpit Digest (March/April 1992): 36.
  61. 61 Ibid.
  62. 62 Ibid.
  63. 63 E.g. Nosson Scherman, Machzor Zikkaron Lippa’ leRo’sh Hashanah, Nusach Ashkenaz [The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Rosh Hashanah, Nusach Ashkenaz] (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1985), 510-17.
  64. 64 Ibid., 37.
  65. 65 Ibid.
  66. 66 Ibid., 38.
  67. 67 Ibid., 41.
  68. 68 Ibid., 42.
  69. 69 Naomi Janowitz and Maggie Wenig, Siddur Nashim: A Sabbath Prayer Book for Women, Translated and Supplemented with Original and Traditional Material (Providence: 1976).
  70. 70 Some congregations sing ‘Etz Chayyim Hi’ following the elevation of the Torah. A reworking of Proverbs 3:16-18 and Isaiah 42:21, ‘Etz Chayyim Hi’ states “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it and its supporters are praiseworthy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. Lengthy days are on its right, on its left are wealth and honor. The LORD desired, for the sake of his righteousness, to magnify his Torah and to make it glorious.”

Jonathan Kaplan (AB with honors in History and Religion, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; MDiv with honors in Biblical Studies, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA) serves on the UMJC Steering Committee as chairman of the Twenties Committee. Kaplan also serves as scholar-in-residence at Congregation Avodat Yisrael, Philadelphia, PA.