On New Preaching in Berlin (Autobiography)  

For the last years, and particularly under the influence of what I considered to be a certainty in terms of Hitler's coming, I had arrived at a completely new way of preaching.  Altogether my approach to the sermon was from the very beginning neither in keeping with the teaching of homiletics which I received, nor with the tradition it had developed. I found all that too solemn and lacking in concrete meaning. I was always out to find something relevant to the life of the people sitting in front of me.  Although my colleagues and the Jewish establishment criticized me severely for my way of preaching, the people evidently liked it for I attracted thousands of people to my sermons. Since I preached in three synagogues and soon discovered that those who had become my disciples wandered from place to place, I could not therefore repeat a sermon.  But the sum and content of the sermon were important to me. When I began to preach in my own way, the Jewish community received many complaints about me.  I remember that a large number of letters were written in which I was accused of speaking too fast and that there was too little solemnity in what I had to say.  It was the goal of the German Jewish sermon to "elevate" the people and address them as “my pious listeners."  It was quite clear to me that it was not piety that drove the people to the synagogue.  They were interested to learn and to be told what to do. The answer to that could not be ritualistic, although ritual and performance of religious tenets played a role in all that.

The main burden of my sermons, however, was the identification of the Jewish people and the willingness to share both Jewish destiny and fate.  More and more did I talk about that fate, for the days which were to come would confirm that the Jewish people had a bloody fate, and that it was time to save as many people as possible, or at least to prepare them for the time that was to come. My sermons, of course, were Zionistic and I dealt with political problems, both Jewish and non-Jewish. I was never able to conceive of religion, and certainly not of Judaism, as something that could continue to exist in splendid isolation.  To me the isolation of the Jews from the non-Jewish world and all Jewish problems from the non-Jewish problems did not seem to be so splendid.  I rejected this completely and tried to interpret Judaism in terms of a faith or a civilization which was able, or at least had to try, to supply the answers to the problems which beset the people.  My relationship to my colleagues was therefore very often tense and hostile.  I seemed to be a man from a different world.  Of course, it had something to do with the fact that I was twenty-three years old when I began, and that Berlin had never had a rabbi who did not have a gray beard.  It was a matter of a generation gap, but in reality it was a matter of different convictions and different approaches to my profession.


Rosh Hashanah Sermon 1939 ( Newark )  

The Jewish people have always passionately praised peace and fought for peace, and it is the great philosophy of eternal peace that has its foundation in the religious thoughts of the prophets of Israel . With other peace loving peoples we are yearning for the days when peaceful citizens will be laboring peacefully for the welfare of mankind.

The war on the verge of which we live and which will in all probability will plunge the entire world into blood and flames is of a different character. The issues a{ stake are not only that of democracy and dictatorship but of two philosophies underlying these two forms of government: the philosophy of materialism and the belief in justice and equality. The Jewish people were the first to be attacked by the aggressor nation. It was significant to us because we know of the close relationship between anti-Semitism and national chauvinism.  

It is the great tragedy of our time that the other nations did not understand and recognize the danger of the new  German regime. On account of the fact that it was only the Jews who were persecuted, they took it for granted that we exaggerated the facts. Had they known the facts, they would have easily noticed the strength, power and cruelty behind the persecution. Had Chamberlain, a representative of the oldest school of democracy, under- stood the implication of this new spirit, he would have acted differently.  

This war will undoubtedly be long and cruel enough to destroy not only the European civilization and vast stretches of land, but it will wipe out millions of Jews. For the battlefields of today are inhabited by 3,500,000 Jews. This is not our war because we are going to benefit from it, but because we believe that were the principle of ruthlessness and persecution to be victorious in the coming war, it will mean the destruction of culture, civilization, Christianity, Judaism and any form of religion." 

 

American Jewish Congress Presidential Address 

The Jewish problem of the twentieth century is not merely a political one; Theodor Herzl's analysis is therefore no longer fully valid.  Anti-Semitism is not the major propelling force in this Jewish decision. Truer to fact is Martin Buber's description: "What a Jew marooned on an island considers to be his Jewishness: this is indeed the Jewish problem." Against the caricatures of self-hatred, against the ugliness of spiritual and emotional ghettoization, against the vulgarization of Jewish life, against the psychopathic cowardice and indignities of false assimilation, we call for the free decision of the American Jew to affirm himself as a Jew, to become a free citizen in a free society.

History has presented us with many significant challenges; we must not fail to meet them. The time has come for us to implement our convictions, to translate into actuality our image of the Jew: the Jew who is rooted in the heritage and historic' memory of his people, who is integrated into his people here and every- where, who is fully integrated into a free America, where he can and must work toward the fulfillment of the American Dream.

Supporting Broadening Legal Abortion (1967)

In my interpretation of Judaism which is based upon the sources of Jewish religion, human life is sacred.  According to our teachings, a human being is not a human being before it has been fully formed in the womb of the mother.  A fetus which has not a yet been born is not considered a person. ..for it is in the language of the Book of Genesis -- "the breath in his nostrils" -- that the breath of life which enables the child to live after birth constitutes a person in accordance with Jewish tradition.

We are discussing the legalization of the removal of a fetus, a non-person, an undeveloped organism, and we call it murder, at a time when thousands of well-developed children who can laugh and play and learn and eat and live are being murdered and maimed in the wars of our times. We are dealing here with a mass crucifixion of children. How we, in this room, can square ourselves with our con- sciences to discuss the surgical abortion of a fetus for the sake of the life, the happiness and the stability of families, and call it murder without blushing and without being ashamed of ourselves, I simply do not understand. In this year of 1967, when mankind is guilty of its inability to save children from cruel death, the discussion of the Bill is, to say the least, out of focus.

...What we are talking about here is not the mass murder of children but the protection of human beings against untold misery which can be prevented if people are brave enough and honest enough to take the proper steps which outmoded, outdated and unethical laws do not permit them to take.  At a time of untold misery and cruelty to which all of us are witnesses and of which we are collectively guilty, in the face of man's inability to establish peace for the sake of men, women and children, the removal of one of the sources of human misery is a step toward the building of a better, and happier society.


Zionism is Dead: Long Live the Jewish People

Zionism is dead, but it left to the Jewish people with a rich inheritance. It is for us to gather it up, to live on it wisely and to add our own strength. The most fundamental statements of the Zionist credo must now be enunciated with new emphasis to make them the cornerstones of a new Jewish involvement which will have the strength and the grandeur needed to attract people. 

The most fundamental concept is that of people- hood itself. "We are a people, one people" must now be translated into American terms. We live as citizens of a great pluralistic society which forces no deceit, no masquerade upon us, which speaks of us as a people as they speak of the Danes, the Irish, and all the others. Our Peoplehood here is a fact of life. Of American life and of Jewish life.

"We are one people. " We are part of that which is left after Hitler's mass murder of the millions. This concept has translated itself into terms of real, political action. This, too, is part of the Zionist heritage. Jews meet at international gatherings on equal footing. They consult with one another on problems of Jewish concern. They act for one another. 

No Jewish program can be developed without reckoning with the greatest and most modern factor in Jewish life, the existence of the State of Israel. Little thought is given to the possibility of an economically independent Israel. It will be a great day for Israel. It will, however, be a tragic day for American Jewry. Not only has our American Jewish life been geared to fund raising for Israel, but our relationship to the new State is defined in such terms. But the day of independence will come, and we will be completely unprepared for it. 

There 'are still very large groups among us who need a Jewish national program. If a new movement could be made possible by a merger of the World Zionist Organization with the World Jewish Congress, steps should be taken forthwith. It will take time to overcome personal aspiration and ambitions. But if nothing is done, the Zionist movement will die ingloriously by sheer attrition. The time to act is now. 


with German Chancellor  Adenauer

AJC Presdential Address

with David Ben Gurion

with Golda Meir

with kids from his Congregation in Livingston