11/16/2011

Exploring the Sermons of Eastern European Rabbis in America

I've been giving a "parsha shiur" in the local synagogue for over a year now. I like exploring a different theme each year; this year we're studying sermons of Orthodox rabbis who came to America from Eastern Europe during the great wave of migration between 1881 and 1924. The goal is to appreciate the intersection between the old world and the new, to see how these rabbis responded to the intellectual and social climate of the day.

Today was the fourth class in the series, so here's a little recap of what we've studied so far. All of the texts we've studied are available on hebrewbooks.org, supplemented by biographical information from other sources.

Noach: We studied pp. 13-17 of R. Yehuda Leib Graubart's Yabia Omer. Discussed it as autobiographical, considering that these rabbonim might have seen Noach as a role model. given his status as a "lonely man of faith" in a corrupt world.

Lekh Lekha: We studied R. Gedalia Silverstone's speech commemorating the 100th yahrzeit of Thomas Kennedy in 1932. Kennedy was an early advocate of Jewish rights in Maryland, and paid a dear price for it.
pp. 26-29 of Matok Mi-dvash vol. III.

Vayera: We studied pp. 44-50 of R. Avraham Guranovsky's "Even Yisrael" (a bio appears at the beginning of the volume; he was Eastern European, but trained at the Hildesheimer Rabbinerseminary in Berlin and arrived in America in 1869). This (rather long-winded) sermon is an extended Lamarckian reading of the concept of Ma'aseh Avot Siman Le-banim - Avraham's trials were akin to the giraffe stretching its neck; acquired traits could be passed on from one generation to the next according to Lamarck - whose theories were quite popular when R. Guranovsky was speaking these words in the 1870s.

Chayei Sarah: Today we studied R. Moshe Shimon Sivitz's sermon on what to look for in a potential spouse (pp. 102-107 of Heker Da'at). He rails against men who are more concerned with how many languages his wife speaks than whether she will be a good mother, and criticizes women for being gold-diggers. He criticize those who marry because they fell in love, saying that marriage should precede love. He also criticizes men who let their wives participate in the bread-winning, quipping that Adam started the trend, and look where it got him.

It's been a thoroughly enjoyable series so far. I'll update how it's gone every month or so.
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