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"Your Voice Like a Ram's Horn"

"Your Voice Like a Ram's Horn": Themes and Texts in Traditional Jewish Preaching

Marc Saperstein
Volume: 18
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    "Your Voice Like a Ram's Horn"
    Book Description:

    The eighteen studies in this book continue the exploration of the Jewish sermon Saperstein began in his groundbreaking Jewish Preaching 1200-1800. His new research further illustrates the importance of this genre, largely ignored by modern scholarship, as an indispensible resource for understanding Jewish history, spirituality, and thought from the High Middle Ages to the beginning of the Emancipation in Europe. Saperstein’s thematic studies explore the most important occasions for traditional rabbinic preaching: the Days of Awe and the Passover season. Two studies focus on the homiletical exegesis of classical Jewish texts, and two deal with the historical interaction of Christians and Jews. Saperstein discusses the diffusion of philosophical ideas through homiletics and identifies central conceptual issues presented in the Italian Jewish pulpit. Other essays include a critical analysis of the work of Saul Levi Morteira of Amsterdam, an examination of sermons in eighteenth-century Prague for indications of a traditional community in crisis, and homiletical evidence for a developing sense of patriotic identification with the state, even before Emancipation changed the legal status of the Jews. Saperstein also presents newly discovered sermonic texts in order to explore a full panoply of issues relating to historical context and genre. All are published for the first time with his annotated translation accompanying the Hebrew original. Included are a Guide for Preachers, sermons on repentance and on the Binding of Isaac, and three eulogies, the last a fascinating memorialization of the antisemitic empress Maria Theresa.

    eISBN: 978-0-87820-126-6
    Subjects: Religion
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. iii-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface (pp. xi-xx)
    • 1 “Your Voice Like a Ram’s Horn”: Conceptions of Jewish Preaching (pp. 1-10)

      Of the various ways in which the Hebrew Bible helped to mold traditional Jewish literature, not the least significant was its impact as an unending inspiration for Jewish preaching. It was an established tradition for Jewish sermons to begin with a biblical verse, and much of their texture was exegetical. Whether the center of gravity was a theological problem, a historical event, or a tension point in the society, the discussion generally flowed from the interpretation of some passage in the Bible.

      Furthermore, particular verses recurring frequently throughout the homiletical literature signaled central issues relevant to the preachers’ self-conception and...

    • 2 Preaching for Pesach (pp. 11-22)

      No less than today, the unique rhythm of the holiday calendar provided special challenges and opportunities for medieval Jewish preachers. The autumn, with its rapid procession of holy days, festivals, and intermediate Sabbaths, taxed the energies and ingenuity of the most dedicateddarshan(and undoubtedly the patience of many congregants). After this, the preacher could settle into a more leisurely schedule of a weekly sermon on the Sabbath, until the tempo picked up once again in the spring with the approach of Pesach.

      The Sabbath preceding this holiday, calledShabbat ha-Gadol, was one of the most important preaching occasions of...

    • 3 Jewish Typological Exegesis After Nahmanides (pp. 23-36)

      Typological interpretation is the intersection of exegesis and historiography. Serving to connect a classic literary text with historical events that lie beyond that text—whether in past, present, or future for the interpreter—it is both a way of reading a piece of literature and a way of understanding what happens in the world. The use of typological interpretation by early Christian thinkers in order to demonstrate the continuity between the Hebrew Scriptures and the central Christian story is obvious to every reader of the New Testament¹ and the Church Fathers.² Its status within the Jewish tradition is somewhat more...

    • 4 Inscribed for Life or Death? (pp. 37-44)

      Some years ago, during the morning service of Rosh Hashanah, I was conscious of a pretty eleven-year-old girl sitting near the front of the sanctuary. Her mother, who had not yet reached her fortieth birthday, was in the hospital, dying of cancer. There was at this point no realistic hope for a remission. (She actually died just a week later; the funeral service was held on the morning preceding Yom Kippur). I had spent a considerable amount of time with this woman; she had been very much in my thoughts during the previous few months. But now I was thinking...

    • 5 Christians and Jews: Some Positive Images (pp. 45-54)

      The dean of contemporary Jewish historians, S. W. Baron, has persuasively argued that many modern conceptions of Jewish experience in medieval Christian Europe suffer from a fundamental distortion. Writing history was not a natural vocation for medieval Jews: most Jewish historiography was inspired by calamities that generated the impulse to record and, if possible, to explain. Most medieval Jewish chronicles are little more than accounts of the massacres and attacks suffered by various communities at different times. The tendency to assume that these historiographical sources present a full picture of reality resulted in what Baron called the “lachrymose conception of...

    • 6 Christians and Christianity in the Sermons of Jacob Anatoli (pp. 55-74)

      Sermons preached in medieval Christian churches and public places were often a vehicle for the expression of the most virulent anti-Jewish sentiments. Although the texts of these sermons resemble other theological treatises when they are bound together in someone’s Collected Writings, the difference in genre is significant. Unlike the treatise, which was (until the sixteenth century) expensive to reproduce and then accessible only to individual readers, the sermon could reach a multitude of listeners simultaneously. Its power to excite heightened by a charismatic delivery, it could appeal to the emotions of the crowd and provoke immediate action. While the best-known...

    • 7 Sermons as Evidence for the Popularization of Philosophy in Fifteenth-Century Spain (pp. 75-88)

      In a seminal article published in 1981, Aviezer Ravitzky raises an important distinction between the history of technical philosophical ideas and the role of philosophical study in the history of the Jewish people and of Judaism. In order to reach a proper assessment of the second, we are told,

      we must investigate not only the content of the philosophy … but also the scope of engagement in philosophy. Is the philosophical enterprise always confined to the realm of individuals, an enterprise whose legitimacy is in question, so that it remains by its nature alien and external, or does this enterprise...

    • 8 Italian Jewish Preaching: An Overview (pp. 89-106)

      On a day between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, probably in the year 1593, Rabbi Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen of Padua delivered a eulogy for Judah Moscato. As befitted the time of year, he began with a discussion of repentance and proceeded to argue that one of the primary functions of the eulogy was to inspire the listeners to repent. He went on to discuss the qualities of a great scholar: perfection of intellect and behavior; the capacity to communicate wisdom to others; the ability to capture the listeners’ attention with appealing homiletical material; and the skills to teach them the...

    • 9 The Sermon as Art-Form: Structure in Morteira’s Giv’at Sha’ul (pp. 107-126)

      The study of the late medieval and early modern Jewish sermon as a branch of Jewish literature requires a careful delineation of the appropriate subject matter. Is the “sermon” the written Hebrew text that appears in a collection ofderashot? Or is it the oral communication between preacher and congregation, an event that occurred in one place at one time, for which an extant written text serves as evidence? If it is the first, we will be concerned with the literary qualities of Hebrew homiletical writing. The genrederashahwill have to be defined, its subdivisions and conventions explained, but...

    • 10 Sermons and Jewish Society: The Case of Prague (pp. 127-146)

      One of the enduring values of the sermon for the historian is its capacity to reflect the society in which it was delivered. For this purpose, it is arguably more useful than other major genres of Hebrew literature. Books of rabbinic scholarship (commentaries or novellae on the Talmud or Codes), philosophy, or Kabbalah were generally intended for an audience that was both elite, representing a small percentage of the Jewish population, and removed, living in distant cities, perhaps even in centuries yet to come. Such books reveal the minds of their authors but do not readily yield conclusions about the...

    • 11 War and Patriotism in Sermons to Central European Jews: 1756-1815 (pp. 147-162)

      It was a German-Jewish scholar, Leopold Zunz, who wrote the first systematic study of the history of Jewish preaching, published in 1832,¹ but little of his material from before the nineteenth century derived from Germany. The great tradition of Jewish preaching in the Middle Ages and early modern period was not Ashkenazic, but fundamentally Sephardic, and secondarily Italian. It was in the synagogues of the Iberian Peninsula, and later of the Sephardic Diaspora in Italy, Turkey, the land of Israel, and the Netherlands, where the practice was established that a respected rabbi would deliver a sermon each Sabbath. It was...

    • 12 “Treatise for the Guidance of Preachers”: A Newly Discovered Fifteenth-Century Ars Praedicandi (pp. 163-178)

      Moscow Gunzberg Manuscript 926, a microfilm of which has recently arrived in the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, is a miscellany, containing mainly Sephardic works from the first half of the fifteenth century.¹ These include a series of philosophical sermons by Zerahiah Ha-Levi and by Joseph ibn Shem Tov, as well as other anonymous texts produced by as yet unidentified preachers. The provenance of many of these texts was a circle of scholars deeply influenced by Rabbi Hasdai Crescas.² The manuscript is similar to Harvard University’s Houghton Hebrew Manuscript 61, and several of the same sermons are contained in both....

    • 13 “Make Vows and Pay Them”: A Newly Discovered Confraternity Sermon from Spain (pp. 179-250)

      The Firkovitch collection of Hebrew manuscripts in the Library of St. Petersburg includes a previously unknown collection of seven Jewish sermons from early fifteenth-century Spain.¹ It contains 43 folios, written in a fifteenth-century Provencal cursive hand. At the top of the first page is the title “Sefer ha-Derashah le-Hakham …”; after a name that has been crossed out appears the name Astruc Hasdai.²

      The complicated bibliographical problems relating to the collection can be indicated only in passing here. Some of its sermons appear also in other manuscripts. The first (fol. 1r–10r), a formal sermon for a wedding, is found...

    • 14 A Sermon on the ’Aqedah from the Generation of the Expulsion and Its Implications for 1391 (pp. 251-292)

      Jewish literature through the fifteenth century has preserved few sermons on the ’Aqedahor Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). There is, to be sure, ample aggadic expansion of this episode in the Rabbinic texts of antiquity. But nothing in this literature can be identified as the full text of a sermon delivered by a particular rabbi on a specific occasion, comparable to the sermons and homilies of the church fathers.¹ Even in the Middle Ages, when Jews began to preserve texts of model or actual sermons, few of the works focus on the ’Aqedah.

      This is not because the passage...

    • 15 A Spanish Rabbi on Repentance: Isaac Aboab’s Manuscript Sermon for Shabbat Shuvah (pp. 293-366)

      Rabbi Isaac Aboab (1433–1493) was known in the sixteenth century as one of the outstanding Talmudists in the final generation of Jewish life in Spain. Head of a celebrated academy in Guadalajara, his commentaries on at least part of the great Spanish codeArba’ah Turim, novellaeon Talmudic tractates, and voluminous responsa (almost all of which have been lost) established his reputation as one of “the greatest of his generation.”¹ His work of biblical exegesis, a supercommentary on Nahmanides, was esteemed enough to have been printed at Istanbul in 1525.

      Nehar Pishon, the book containing records of Aboab’s sermons,...

    • 16 The Hesped as Historical Record and Art-Form: Saul Levi Morteira’s Eulogies for Dr. David Farar (pp. 367-410)

      No genre of Jewish preaching is more extensively discussed and fully documented in the ancient sources than the eulogy. While there is ample evidence for regular preaching in synagogues throughout the rabbinic period, the weekly sermon itself has no clear halakhic status. The proper structure and appropriate content, the place within the worship service and the qualifications of the preacher—all are undefined in the Talmudic halakhah. Our knowledge of Jewish preaching in antiquity is based almost entirely on the aggadic literature, with its hortatory statements about the importance of the sermon, its narrative accounts of individual preachers, and its...

    • 17 “Their Words Are Their Memorial”: Saul Levi Morteira’s Eulogy for Menasseh ben Israel (pp. 411-444)

      In September of 1655, Menasseh ben Israel, prayerful yet exhuberant, set out from Holland for London on a widely publicized mission to reverse the Expulsion of 1290. Two years later, he departed from England, devastated by a series of setbacks and personal tragedies. Though Oliver Cromwell appeared sympathetic to his appeal, adverse public opinion impelled the Lord Protector to refrain from a formal announcement that the Jews would be readmitted. Despite his best efforts, Menasseh’s mission seemed to have ended in failure. Further, he had run out of funds; and although his requests for a stipend from Cromwell received a...

    • 18 In Praise of an Anti-Jewish Empress: Ezekiel Landau’s Eulogy for Maria Theresa (pp. 445-484)

      Ezekiel Landau’s reputation as one of the foremost rabbinic scholars of his age is universally recognized. It is often overlooked, however, that he was also widely esteemed by contemporaries as a powerful and stirring preacher. The sermons recorded inDerushei ha-TselaḥandAhavat Tsiyoncontain not only homiletical and exegetical insights, but powerful social and religious criticism. Those who heard Landau preach were deeply impressed by his manner of delivery, his bearing, and his deep resonant voice.¹

      The announcement that Landau, as Chief Rabbi of Prague, recognized by the government as supreme rabbinical authority for Bohemian Jewry, would deliver a...

  6. Bibliography (pp. 485-505)
  7. Index of Passages Cited (pp. 506-512)
  8. General Index (pp. 513-528)
  9. Back Matter (pp. 529-530)