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September 2, 2013 / conservadox

preach to the top of the class or the bottom?

It seems to me that a sermon should be comprehensible to someone coming to shul for the first time- so in an Orthodox setting, someone who’s never been to an Orthodox shul before (though obviously the same concept applies to Conservative, Reform, etc- but it seems to me less of a problem outside Orthodox circles).   But often rabbis seem to be talking to the frummest and/or most knowledgeable people in the room.

This doesn’t have to be a matter of intellectual complexity.  One rabbi in my hometown (a large Southern city) is so popular and widely known that even in NYC people say “You’re from __________?  So is your rabbi rabbi X?”  Why?  Because the rabbi is intellectually complex but doesn’t lard his sermon up with references that only the most observant people would know about, or with unnecessary Hebrew terms. 

By contrast, at the shul I went to last shabbos. the rabbi talked about some of the stringencies Jews have historically taken on during the High Holy Days, and he mentioned pas yisrael and cholov yisrael (eating bread and dairy respectively made only by Jews) as examples.  Would someone coming to an Orthodox shul for the first time know what pas yisrael and cholov yisrael are? I don’t think so.  (And mind you this wasn’t in Hasidic Brooklyn, it was in Manhattan, where I would expect a higher population of people who were not born Orthodox).  

A more well-trained rabbi would have said: “Many Jews have been stricter about keeping kosher during the HHD than during the rest of the year.  If you’re not keeping kosher, maybe move in that direction.  If you are keeping kosher, let’s talk about some customs people have kept in the past; for example, some Jews keep cholov yisrael, which means milk made only from Jewish-owned dairies, etc.”

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One Comment

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  1. Shira Salamone / Sep 4 2013 1:05 pm

    Oh my heavens, I’ve been complaining about this for years! Okay, most of my complaints are about blog posts that seem to be written with the assumption that every single reader is a yeshiva grad, which is, if I may say so, a pretty stupid assumption, giving that anyone with an Internet connection can read a blog. (Heck, we don’t even know whether all our readers are Jews, much less learned.)

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