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A .W
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It is a sfe guess that we have come here from a variety of motives,
conscious or unconscious.
of us;
Perhaps because we feel that 1t 15 expected
Perhaps because we want to honour the wishes of our deceased
parents or grandparents.[:Perhaps because we have a vague rear that
to be absent on the Day of Judgment is to invite an unfavourable verdictlj
Perhaps because to stay away on this day would be to sever our last link
with our historic past and with the living fellowship of Israel. Perhaps
because We have long sensed an emptiness in our lives Which a day of prayer
may help to remedy. But whatever are the motives which have brought us
here - Whether they be good, bad or indifferent - there is one and only
one purpose which should unite us now that we 3;: gexw: to rededicate
ourselves to Juiaism. If that is not our aim and desire, if we neither
intend nor anticipate that we shall take Judaism any more seriously in
the future than we haVe in the past, than our gathering is purposeless
and meaningless[énd, worse, hypocritica1.{Then we would have done better
to stay at home.
That being so, there is a fundamental question which should occupy
our minds today: What does it mean to be a Jew, to take Judaism seriously,
to lead a Jewish life? Clearly it is ndt merely a matter of
Eiggg, for
one can be born of Jew1sh parents and yet never give Judaism a momentgs
Equally clearly, it is not only a matter of Egiigf, for one
can subscribe to all the doctrines of Judaism, as one may subscribe to
various philosophical and mathematical theories, Without ever acting
upon them.
One can simply store them up in onels mind. To be a Jew
in any real sense, in any effective sense, in any worth-while sense,
we must g2 something about the birthright which we claim, we must g2
something about the beliefs we hold. fig must practise Judaism.
But What does it 3252 to practise Judaism? There is a common notion
that ifi means to be in the habit of performing certain ritual acts: to
have a Mezuzah on the front door, to light the candles on Friday night,
to go to Synagogue on Sabbaths and Festivals, to have a Seder at Passover
and at a Menorah at Chanukkah and to fast on Yom Kippur, to say grace
after meals and perhaps to keep a kosher home.
When a person claims
that he is a practising Jew he usually means that he does these things.
When a person confesses that he is not a practising JeW, or that he is
not very religious (usually with that peculiar mixture of apology and
pride with Which people explain that they are not much good at arithmetic)
they generally mean that they do not do these things.
submit to you that to use the expression "a practising Jew“ in
this sense is to Eérvert, or at any rate tildebase, its meaning.
For When
we say that belief must expresa itself in action, we do not mean, or we
should not mean, ritual action.
We mean ethical action.
We mean quite another kind of action.
Ana please understand that when
not just talking Liberal Judaism,
am talking Judaism.
say this
I am
For it is
precisely on this point that Judaism differed sharply from all the other
religions of antiquity.
They were just systems of ritual.
In them the
all-important thing was to offer the right sacrifices and to utter the
right incantations in order to placate and propitiate their capricious
But Judaism, having discovered that there is only one God, went on
to discover that he is a moral God and that it is only through moral
conduct that man can please him and serve him. FManus first and foremost
duty is to emulate the moral attributes or God.
In the Words of our
Torah portion, “he executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and
loves the stranger...therefore you shall love the stranger.":]
This revolutionary change from ritual religion to ethical religion was
not, of course, easVJto effect.
It took many centuries, and all the
eloquence of the Prophets, to Wean the people away from the old emphasis
on sacrifice and ritual as the means of winning God's favour.
Amos: nI hate, I despise your feasts, and
Listen to
take no delight in your solemn
assemblies;..But let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like
an ever-flowing stream. "Listen to Isaiah: "What to me is the multitude
of your sacrifices? says the Lord.
have had enough of burnt offerings
and the fat of fed beasts...Even though you make many prayers, I Will not
Wash yourselves; make yourselves
clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do
listen: your hands are full of blood.
evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the
fatherless, plead for the widow."
Listen to Hosea: "I desire love and
not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.“
Listen to Micah: "With what shall
come before the Lord?..;W111 the
Lord be pleased With thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers
of 011?...He has showad you, 0 man, What is good; find what does the Lord
require of you but to do justice, and to love k1ndness, and to walk
humbly With your God?"
But, you may say, all that 13 Biblical.
different View?
Did not the Rabbis take a
Is not Rabbinic Judaism altogether preoccupied with
Yes and no.
The Rabbis were concerned to devise a way of life
part but which was nevertheless intended
in which ritual plays a large
to inculcate precisely those ethical qua11t1$s which thg Prophets
advocated. It was a habbi who said that thecommandment, Von shall love
your neighbour as yourself, contains the whole essence of the Law. It
was another Rabbi who said that the ritual cemmandments were given only
to purify God's creatures, that is, to produce a moral effect, It
was to
the Rabbis who ordained that the Haftarah for the Day of Atonement
be the passage from the third part of the book of Isaiah which makes it
abundantly clear that the only fast, the only self-affliction, acceptable
t6 God is to free the oppressed, to feed the hungry, th house the
and to clothe the naked.
It is in the Misnnah that we find an elder
addressing his community on a fast-day in these words: “Brethren, 1t 15
not written of the men of Nineveh that 'God saw their sackcloth and their
fasting', but 'And God saw their works that they burned from their evil
wayl. Remember also What Joel said: 'Rend your hearts and not your
The whole Prayerbook is a creation of the Rabbis,
and it is ethical through and through. Take for example the Viddui,
of Sins. The traditional version specifies over fifty different
garments!“ (Taanit 2:1).
db with
kinds of transgression, yet not a single one has anything to
ritual. They all refer to ethical offences.
Faced with this kind of evidence, Which can be indefinitely
multiplied, how is it possible to maintain that Judaism is pre-eminently
concerned with ritual, and that to be a practising Jew means primarily
to carry out certain Observances? 'Yet that was thb prevailing attitude
when Liberal Judaism was launched as a protest against it, and it is,
alas, Still common.
The reason is not far to seek.
It is a fundamental
For 1t is so much easier to practise ritual than to
only at
practise righteousneSS. Observances have to be performed
stated times; all times.
be intangible.
Observances are clearly defined; moral duties tend to
Observances, as Dr.Mattuck once wrote, “can give emot1onal
Thought 22 the Prophets,
in return for a comparatively small effort“ (The
righteousness does not give any emotional satisfaction at all;
human weakness.
ourselves and with the
on the contrary, it makes us dissatisfied, with
us to make great
world; it demands strenuous exertion; and 1t requ1res
complacency, our
sacrifices; to sacrifice our ease, our comfort, our
— our accustomed habits of
peace of mind, and - most difficult of all
as of
This undoubtedly explains the tendency of so many JeWs,
adherents of other religions, to stress ritual at the expense of
which is at bottom a tendency to revert to pre—JeW1sn,
usually conscious of
types of religion. But, of course, people are not
rate they
the true causes which motivate their attitudes. At any
reasons to
rationalise thmmJ:that is to say, they invent respectable
justify themgj So the theory is advanced that ethics may be very
Judaism. Christians,
but that 1& doesn't have all that much to do with
is the ritual
Muslims, Humanists and others also believe in ethics. It
be stressed.
of Judaism which is distinctive and which, therefore, mfist
This theory is all the more dangerous because it is
to you
plausible, and the best way to explode it is, I think, to read
a memorable passage from a sermon given in London ten years ago by
Rabbi Issenman:
"It is ofiten said that if you eliminate ritual, then what
is left in Judaism?
what is left in Judaism?
The answer g1ven
in 2253 the religion of the prophets, only the belief in one God, only
the belief in one humanity, only beating swords into ploughshares, only
treating all men as brothers, only doing Justly and loving mercy, only
loving thy neighbour as thyself, only making my house of prayer for all
people, only recognizing that we have one Father and that one God has
created us all.
In this word QEEE we see the tragedy of Jewish spiritual
life; that these basic values are relegated to a minor role, highlights
the low tide of religious thinking;...that the one who stresses ritualistic
externals bulwarks Judaism; that one who emphasizes sooial justice and
world peace contributes little to it.
That is the pitiful plight of
Judaism, from Which our movement sought to extricate the Jewish masses
of the World. We are not opposed to ritual...but we are opposed to
making these externals primary, to making last things first and first things
last" (1951 World Union Conrerance Report, p.55).
The ethical teachings and ideals of Judaism are not identical with
those of Christianity, or Humanism, or any other rbology. There are some
highly significant differences, though of course there is also much common
ground. But the fact that there is much common ground does not make it
any less important.
On the contrary, we should rejoice that so much of
Judaism has been accepted elsewhere,[énd especially in ghe knowledge that
it is the important things which have gained such acceptance] It would
be tragic if we felt obliged to write off as "no longer of primary
1mportance" every item of Jewish teaching as soon as it became the
possession of a wider section of humanity.
For then, exactly as Judaism
fulfilled its mission of exerting a world-wide influence, it would shrink
into a set of relatively unimportant ceremonies and customs, like an egg
which, having released the chicken, 13 of no further use.
fact, become an empty shell.
it would, in
No, neighbourly love 13 no less a Jewish
ideal because Christianity teaches it also; justice is no less
ideal because Humanists believe in it too; peace is no_less a Jewish ideal
because everybody yearns for it.
To be a Jew and to practise Judaism,
these expressions must always have pro-eminently an ethical connotation:
to display certain qualities - certain very high qualitiesa- in personal
conduct, in human relations, and in citizenship.
Even if Judaism and,
say, Christianity were identical in their ethical demands, which they
are not, a good Jew would still be one who led that kind of life under
the guidance and inspiration of Judaism, even as a good Christan would be
one who led that kind of life under the guidance and inspiration of
Where, then, do Observances come in?
as totally 1n31gn1ficant.
Surely they cannot be dismissed
They are contained in the phrase Which
just used: "under the guidance and inspiration of Judaism“.
It used to
be said by exponents of L;beral Judaism that Observances are a means to
an end.
It is still said, and it is perfectly true.
But is is not an
adequate way of stating the case.‘ For it is not immediately obvious how,
for example, lighting candles on Friday night helps us to lead better
lives in the ethical sense.
The matter must be approached in another way.
As we have seen, ifi is not easy to lead the good life as Judaism conceives
On the contrary, it is very hard.
It cannot be achieved merely by
wishing it, or by following the easyagoing standards and conventions of
our half-Christian, half-Pagan environment, With only a dim recollection
of Biblical prophecies and comwandments and only a touch fli$h JeWish dis-
It requires guidance and 1nsp1rat10n:1§ery much guidance
and very much inspirationrj To have any chance of achieving it we must
draw heavily and constantly upon the accumulated power of centuries of
Jewish wisdom, striving and aperience.
by which
do not
mean only ceremonies, but also regular study of Jewish literature and
regular prayer and worship in the Synagogue and in the home - Observances
are our point of contact with this vast storehouse of Jewish tradition,
they are the dannel through which the influence of Judaism can Rigg,
like a never-failing stream, into our consciousness and our sub-consciousness, bringing refreshment and strength.
An individual ceremony, looked at in isolation, may not seem to have
any ethical significann.
wide sense in Which
But to lead a life without Observances, 1n the
have used thatfienm, is to cut ourselves off from
the influence of Judaism altogether.
A person who says as some people do:
"I am a good Jew, I am a passionate believer 15 Judaism, but I never go to
never pray a Jewish prayer,
never perform a JeW1sh ceremony
and I never read a Jewish book" is like a person who says: "I am madly
keen on music, but
never visit a concert hall,
never listen to the
symphonies of the great masters, I never read about the history of musiq,
never study musical technique,
just give performances."
genius the performances may be gmfil
either in music or in religion.
If he is a
But most of us are not geniuses,
Perhaps not for all of us, but certainly
for ninety-nine per cent of us, to pray, to worship, to study and to
observe ceremonial is indispensable if we are to achieve any
success at
{gs a
1n the attempt to lead a Jewisn life.
To practise Judaism, theh, does not mean to observe things. But to
observe things Eglgg 23 to practise Judaism. It is the way to harness
the historic forces of Judaism for our every day use, as a nuclear
reactor harnesses the physical forces of the atom. But just as the purpose
of a nuclear reactor is to generate electricity, so the purpose of
devotional exerclses is that we may lead lives of truth and justice,
of purity and brotherly love. Dr.Mattuck summed it all up in one
sentence which I invite you to ponder agd.n and again: “The good Jew is
he in whosa life being a Jew is a perpetual influence for good"
(Liberal Jewish Monthlz, September 1961, p.152.)
And so
end where I began.
If our Worship today is to have any
meaning and any value whatsoever, then we must resolve here and now
tnat 1n the New year we shall practise Judaism more faithfully than
we have in the 01d, remembering that to be a practising Jew means to
draw from Judaism
not just from common sense or from the
Eggs: of
society, but from Judaism - the guidance, the inspiration and the
strength to lead a noble life.