Succoth Sermons

Agriculture and urbanization were prominent in Succoth sermons preached in the city’s pulpits yesterday. The following are excerpts:

BACK TO THE SOIL

Rabbi Israel Goldstein, Congregation Bnai Jeshurun:—Succoth, the Harvest Festival in the Jewish calendar, leads the thought of the Jew back to the agricultural civilization which formed the setting for the Old Testament period of Israel’s history.

The Jewish people today would be in a happier situation if greater numbers were living on the soil. The concentration of Jewish populations in the cities, and the overcrowding of businesses and professions, is responsible not only for a large part of economic misery among Jewry, but also for a large part of anti-Semitism among non-Jews.

The movement back to the soil has taken on increasing proportions in nearly all the countries as a partial solution of general economic maladies. For the Jew it is doubly urgent.

Thanks to the Jewish agricultural readjustment of the Jew to agriculture. In Russia too, large numbers of Jews have with the cooperation of the government, transplanted themselves from congested cities to the soil. Even in America, there is a Jewish farm population of 100,000. In Palestine, however, there has developed not only a physical adjustment to agriculture, but a renascent culture and a great spiritual creativeness has sprung up on these new physical foundations.

SECRETARY HULL REBUFFED

Rabbi Israel Herbert Levinthal, Brooklyn Jewish Center:—According to the ancient rabbis, the Esrog or citron fruit, which forms the symbolic ceremonial of this Succoth festival, resembles the human heart. On Succoth, when the Jew took stock of his ingathering of the products of the field, he was enjoined to take the Harog or citron fruit, to bring home to him the truth that there is something more vital in life than material wealth,—that the human heart must predominate as our most priceless possession if we are worthy to be termed children of God.

Today, however, a new gospel rules the affairs of the world. The human heart has no place in men’s thoughts or acts when dollars and cents are concerned. Here we see a racial and religious group of 500,000 men and women literally crushed to death in Nazi Germany. The only weapon that an outraged humanity has that might force these modern devotees of a bestial paganism to relent, is the boycott.

And yet, the Secretary of State of our own great government has the effrontery to denounce this weapon, because, forsooth, as he claims, it costs us five times as much as it costs the government against whom the boycott is aimed!

The correctness of this assertion has been sufficiently challenged by expert economists. But I am not interested in that phase alone. Assuming, for arguments sake, that he is correct in his figures, shall we let the human heart be stifled and think only of dollars and cents?

When a war is waged, because we believe that we are fighting for a principle, does the Secretary of State think of the cost of human lives that the war entails?

And are dollars and cents more vital than human lives? It is this dollar diplomacy instead of heart diplomacy that is at the root of all the political and social evils that have come upon the world.

Only when mankind will learn to observe the Biblical precept—”Take unto yourselves the fruit of the tree that is beautiful”—the human heart—”and to make that the supreme guide of all its actions, shall we behold a world of true justice and lasting place!”

RELIGION AND JOY

Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, Institutional Synagogue, West Side Branch:—The world is sorely in need of hallowed joy. Most people connect religion with sadness and tears because they used the House of God and Its Ministers only on sad occasions. They rush to pray when one is sick. They are part and parcel of religions at funerals and at the House of Mourning. They do not know, however, of the joy in religion. The Psalmist said, “Serve the Lord in gladness.”

Tabernacles is a festival of joy. Just as the Romans used to consecrate a temple to some abstract idea, for example to War, so has Israel dedicated a festival to Joy.

Our present day enjoyments are such as only kill time. We call our amusements pastimes because through them we pass our time away, and often merely in vain things. Religious joy is the joy that comes from performing one’s duty, from kindliness and from personal service.

VALUE OF RECALLING PAST

Rev. Dr. D. de Sola Pool, Spanish and Portugese Synagogue:—Suppose that it were the custom of the Mayflower descendants on December 21 each year to make a pilgrimage to Plymouth Rock and there, with the reproduction of the original Mayflower, to hold a celebration recalling Elder William Brewster, William Bradford, John Carver, Miles Standish, John Alden and the others, extolling the search for freedom which their pilgrimage embodied.

Would it not be a fine and fitting celebration? Had some such ceremony been developed from the beginning the Pilgrims of New England as a whole might perhaps have been saved from some of the narrowness of persecuting zeal which so early set in among them.

For their dramatization of their past might have served as a constant reminder of the sacredness of that liberty of conscience which their wanderings had been designed to find.

The Jew’s celebration today of the dwelling booths by his ancestors thirty centuries ago in the wilderness of Sinai is just such a reminder of the discipline which is needed before one may truly enter into a heritage of freedom.

In such ceremonial ways the past can be made to live for the deepening of the historic consciousness and disciplining of the soul of a people.

URBANIZATION DEFENDED

Rabbi Louis I. Newman, Congregation Rodeph Sholom:—The so-called “urbanization” of the Jews is not the sole root of the Jewish question.

The concentration of Jews in large cities is due in large measure to the fact that they wish to create friendly communities where their children can receive Jewish education and marry within the Jewish group.

It is difficult for Jews to live constantly in the minority, and while there is no place in the world where the Jew is in the majority, nevertheless, it is more agreeable to live among members of one’s own family group than to be constantly surrounded by suspicion and misunderstanding.

Jews are said to be without interest in agriculture, but we know that in Palestine and other lands, thousands of Jews have proved themselves to be farmers, growers, and peasants of the highest quality. It is said that the peasantry of the Holy Land is the most educated and art-loving in the world.

Musicians who return from Palestine describe the enthusiasm of the farmer-audiences which come to hear their concerts. But agriculture must be practiced under congenial conditions, and the Halutzim, or Pioneers, in Palestine are conscious of their service to the cause of the up building of the historic homeland of Israel.

In Poland, Roumania, and parts of this country, nothing would be more beneficial than the distribution of thousands of Jewish families among the provinces, to labor close to the soil. But the drift to the cities is due in large measure to the finer cultural opportunities offered there, to which Jews are vigorously responsive. The Jewish problem may be alleviated by the settlement of many Jews on the land but it would be a mistake to imagine that this would eliminate the question of prejudice, of religious and racial misunderstanding.

In Germany Jews are attacked for their activity in the professions, but when scattered in the farming districts, they have been made to suffer grievously at the hands of propaganda-driven natives. Moreover the agriculturists of Germany hedge Jewish farmers about with every conceivable restriction and discrimination.

While the Jewish community can become less urbanized in number, it wishes to remain urbanized and urbane in thought and policy. Too often the members of outlying districts of the country have little conception of the severities and stresses of life in the industrial centers. Jews are organizers of social justice programs, because they are in sympathy with the struggles of the masses in the cities.

They realize, too, that the chief centers of influence are in the metropolitan areas, and they wish to share in the building of the common life for good and benediction, at the most strategic points. It is an error, therefore, to attempt to dragoon whole communities into the adoption of a single program; Jews should be allowed in peace to work out their individual and collective programs, whether it be in the city or the country.

The necessities of the economic and social order can be trusted to mould their policies aright.

SYMBOL OF SUCCOTH BOOTH

Dr. William F. Rosenblum, Temple Israel:—The Succoth festival was always meant to have a universal instead of a strictly Jewish significance. The keynote was sounded by Isaiah centuries ago. It is still the challenge to the world. “Righteousness shall abide in the fruitful field.”

The world is a fruitful field. There may be a poor yield in one place; overabundance somewhere else will always make up for drought and famine in this or that part of the earth. All that keeps some people from having enough to eat, especially in a world that has been brought so closely together by the inventiveness of man, is lack of righteousness.

What the Jew symbolizes in his synagogue on Succoth the whole world should take to heart. Whatever is wrong in our civilization, whatever it is that causes starvation in one country while other countries throw their surplus wheat into the furnace or their surplus coffee into the seas, it is not due to God’s incapacity but to man’s stupidity.

Moreover, when the Jew erects his frail booth as a symbol of the festival, it is a symbol that every man should contemplate with interest, especially that arrogant Nazi leader who asserts with confidence that the Nazi Germany of today will last for 1,000 years. The frail booth is a reminder that human life and human institutions are as temporary as is his booth. A wind can overthrow it and the hand of man which has erected it dismantles it all the more readily.

Human life, human institutions are frail booths in the wilderness of eternity. We must be prepared at any time to move on.

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