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.


Mrs. S. said...

Great concept! Will you be studying anything from Drash Av?

Abba said...

"but trained at the Hildesheimer Rabbinerseminary in Berlin and arrived in America in 1869"

doubtfully, as RAZ came to berlin in 1869 and opened the seminary 4 years later. of course he may have studied in RAZ's yeshivah in eisenstadt.

(if you are interested in sermons by east european rabbis in america you should consult the work on the subject by kimmy caplan and ari kinsberg)

ADDeRabbi said...

Mrs. S - hadn't looked at it yet. I'll certainly do so.

Abba - I took that from the bio at the beginning of the volume. Ayen sham. I'm familiar with Caplan's work, not Kinsberg's. I also have Nathan Kaganoff's dissertation on the subject. There's also an article on the subject by Menahem Blondeim, which I have.

Abba said...

I know the book well and I know you got that info from it (or from Caplan et al.). It contains 2 introductions, one by him and the second (with the biography) by his sons-in-law. According to them he originally decided to enter the rabbinate after his marriage, but he concluded that to be prepared fully for this vocation he would first have to study secular disciplines. For this purpose he traveled to Berlin to enroll in the Rabbinical Seminary of R. Azriel Hildesheimer, and he remained there until he achieved his goal. However, Hildesheimer did not arrive in Berlin until 1869, the year that Guranowsky left for America, and the Rabbinical Seminary was not established until 1873.

His sons-in-law erred. He may have studdied with RAZ in the Eisenstadt yeshivah, possibly even in Berlin for a very short while. But certainly not in the Rabbinarseminar.

In any case, shkoyach for using these long forgotten sources.

Abba said...

"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"

of course r. guranovsky came before then, which itself highlights a relatively unknown story, i.e., rabbonim and orthodoxy in pre-1881 america

matto said...

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