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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

Talk at Beth Or Temple, Raleigh Sisterhood Sabbath - May 12, 1944

A great deal of time has been spent - and I may say, wasted - on discussion of whether we Jews are a race or exponents of a religion. The question suggests that we as a people have a common history, with common experiences that knit us together as a more or less cohesive community, and also that we are bound together by the religion that we have developed through the centuries. The question itself implies a validity in both views of the Jews and Judaism.

I like to think of us as a people, united not only by the ties of kinship and of a common history, but as sharing in the development of religious experience. For without that religious experience what would there have been to hold us together or to make us as a people worthy of perpetuation?

This dual aspect of the Jews suggests for us to-day a two-fold approach and program. With a past that extends to the beginnings of recorded history, we are naturally curious as to that history. What manner of people have they been? What political institutions organizations did they establish? what social institutions did they develop? what customs and ceremonies did they follow? and especially what who were the great men and women who from time to time rose above the level of their fellows and led their people in their onward march? Not only is it a long history, but one varied in eventfulness, rich in traditions, productive of social and spiritual achievement. From a simple, primitive people, with the tribe as their social unit, we can trace the evolution of civil law and order. From a condition of slavery we see an emergence into sudden freedom and their training for the responsibilities of self government. We find wise rulers and others drunk with ambition and power. We find hero warriors and romantic poets, philosophers, and musicians. The whole gamut of

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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

The whole gamut of human experience, individual and social, is found in this history of our people of a people, pushing on the to fulfill the its destiny of a people - OUR people destiny. The essence record of what they have thought and done is the history of human progress. How can we ignore all this without depriving ourselves of something that is rich in meaning, of significant import in the development of our modern life to-day? How can we understand ourselves without understanding somewhat our heritage? knowing something of this pastthat has made us what we are? And how can we respect ourselves without understanding somewhat our heritage? There is too much that is meaningful for us to discard it lightly - all the struggles against prevailing idolatry, the martyrdom and persecutions, the community service and loyalty that have become a strong tradition, the high spiritual ideals that have emerged from a primitive, materialistic interpretation of life, the devotion to beauty and holiness - t these are ours by inheritance. Can we forget the ancient patriarchs, the lawgiver Moses, Isaiah and the other prophets, the psalmist Jochanan ben Zachai, Akiba, Rabbi Meier, Maimonides, Mendelsohn, Theodore Herzl, Henrietta Szold and not be poorer for forgetting? Can we remember these - and other - great souls and not be nobler for their memory? - not be inspired by their sublime ideals and lives?

In the complicated society of our present-day world it is easy to get absorbed in the immediate problems of our life - business competition, social discrimination, obstacles in the way of professional advancement, the too-absorbing consciousness of anti-Jewish prejudices. I would not advocate escaping from these by burying ourselves in the past. But I would say that knowing our past we shall find strength and wisdom to meet the present, with a true sense of proportion, with a proper distinction between the right and the wrong, a just evaluation

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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

of the important and the significant as distinguished from the trifling and the temporary. It is this sense of values that gives our life direction and poise, that gives us a firm hold on the foundations of truth.

Bound up in the history of our people is the evolution of their religion. From a childish, primitive conception of an anthromorphic tribal god there gradually grew the augustness of the all-embracing Creative Force in the world, the Father of all peoples, the just, righteous, and merciful God of the psalmists and the prophets, the universal Giver of all beauty and goodness. Our literature is rich in expressions of these conceptions. Through the psalmist we feel in every aspect of nature the manifestation of Deity, the never-failing and universal goodness guardianship… Again and again we find the identification of God with righteousness, with ideals of justice and kindness.

The religion of Israel is not only one of exalted beauty, of august nobility; it is essentially a practical religion as well. Justice, mercy, goodness were not to be held in a vacuum, but practiced in our daily lives. We gave the world the institution of the sabbath of rest and worship, but to the Jews every day had its solemn duties. Every function of life was carefully provided, securing to the individual his own health and well-being and that of the whole community. The standards of fair treatment were to be applied in our dealings wi with our family, our employees, and our slaves. Kindness and mercy were not abstractions, but were to be practiced in our actual treatment of the orphan, the widow, and the poor. Before the days of community chests we were made followed a custom of leaving grain in the corners of the field for the poor and the stranger. Before the emancipation abolition of slavery we knew the sabbatical year and the year of jubilee. There were even rules for the humane treatment of animals. We are all familiar with the ringing words of Isaiah as to the true nature of worship: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the fetters

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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break evey yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thoug seest the naked that thou clothest cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh." It is no accident that Jews are to be found among the most advanced social thinkers to-day, It is a traditional interest or that a majority of Jewish teachers in our colleges are found in the departments of economics and sociology. It is a traditional interest, this of social justice. Our own prayer-book contains the familiar prayer for "those who spend themselves for good of others, all men and women who spend themselves for the good of mankind and bear the burdens of others; who give bread to the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide shelter for the homeless."

Another of our prayers, read on the third Sabbath expresses the same sense of social responsibility: "Let us then be just and great-hearted in our dealings with our fellowmen, sharing with them the fruit of our common labor, acknowledging that we are but stewards of whatever we possess. Help us to be among those who are willing to sacrifice that others may not hunger, who dare to be bearers of light in the dark loneliness of stricken lives, who struggle and even bleed for the triumph of righteousness among men." A modern practical expression of the same social ideal is found in the erection of charity hospitals efforts to secure fair labor laws providing fair decent working conditions and fair wages.

Judaism is a religion of this world. There have been metaphisicians and philosophers among our people who have speculated on the nature of the future world, on the mysteries of the accult; but these

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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

these thinkers and speculators have not diverted the attention of Israel from the main interest of their religious consideration: the expression of righteousness in our lives here and now. Every word and act should be an expression of the God, in us or goodness, in us. The messianic age toward which we look and hope is not a chrystalline city set somewhere amid the clouds, nor is it a suddenly and miraculously regenerated world. It is knowable here amid the familiar scenes of our earthly life, amid a society of men and women. This is how our prayer expresses our ideals for this golden age, the goal of our individual and social striving: "We pray that the day may come when all men shall invoke Thy name, when corruption and evil shall give way to purity and goodness, when superstition shall no longer blind the eye enslave the mind, nor idolatry blind the eye, when all who dwell on earth shall know that to Thee alone every knee must bend and every tongue give homage. O that all, created in Thine image, recognize that they are brethren, so that, one in spirit and one in fellowship, they may be forwver united before Thee." This would constitute the establishment of God's kingdom on earth - the universal triumph of goodness and right.

Rabbi Gelfman in his invitation to be here this evening at this Sisterhood [illegible] suggested that I speak on the subject of what women may do as a contribution to Jewish life - or was it to the Jewish community? I have not limited my foregoing remarks to this subject, though I may have sugggested implicitly what might be said on this narrower theme.

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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

As we look back as the sweep of our history we find that it is no new thing for the Jewish woman to take a responsible place both in community life and in the home. We feminists point with pride to Deborah, the judge in ancient Israel. With equal pride we remember B Beruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meier, whose unflinching faith expressed the noblest attitude toward life and death. We can not all be Deborahs or Brurias, but in modern Jewish life we women have the greatest opportunities for service, both in private life and in the community.

It is we who are the mothers in the home, in large measure the guardians and guides of the growing youth. Not alone through formal instruction, but indirectly through our casual intercourse with them, we can shape and guide their attitudes and ideals, train them in the habits of fair dealing, of generosity in judgment and behavior, and of helpfulness to the weak and the poor. It is we who may lead them to reverent gratitude for the beauty of a sunset sky, or the exquisite markings of a flower, or the welcome shade of leafy trees. We can finally lead them to an appreciation of the highest in life - the beauty of holiness and the nobility of a willingness to sacrifice self for a cause.

In the modern community it is largely the women who have the leisure to perform the services that make for a cohesive and harmonious Jewish community life. "How sweet and lovely it is for brethren to dwell together in unity". And I would add, "in constructive cooperation. A community is much more than the sum of its members. - in cooperation we accomplish more than as sepapate individuals, however loyal and faithful each one may be. What can women do for their congregations?

To begin with the practical: there is the physical care and

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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

beautification of the synagogue or temple. We all know the qualities that make a home beautiful and inviting. There can be a like quality in the synagogue and school rooms. And who should create this atmosphere bu the women of the congregation?

In the celebration of special holidays it is not the rabbi alone who can make these occasions of impressive observance. It is wee women and housewives who provide the bitter herbs and the ball soup for the community Seder, the Homentaschen for the Purim party, candles and gifts for the children at Chanukah, the flowers and prayer books for confirmation. It is such things as these, small and insignificant though they be, that give color to these celebrations and make memorable to the young mind their symbolic meaning. (sweet in our memory)

In most congregations, outside of large cities, the religious schools are manned by volunteer teachers, and it generally falls to women to do the teaching. The religious schools have been called the weakest element in our Jewish life to-day. It is because we Jews - as is the case of the community at large - leave too much responsibility to the schools, abandoning the old custom of home training and home teaching. How can we teach even the high lights in our long history, the origin and meaning of our customs and ceremonials, the elements of our religious ideas, and even a little of the Hebrew language in a school that is held one hour a week for 7 or 8 months!

There are other community undertakings that we are all familiar with. Sometimes they are humanitarian (such as the support of hospitals, milk funds, free lunch funds); sometimes they are for study, for increasing our knowledge of Jewish history and Jewish thought; occasionally special needs arise, calling for special community cooperation, such as the private and general entertainment of soldiers. In

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Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC

all such undertakings it is taken for granted that the Jewish woman will carry her share of the responsibility. It is our spirit in this cooperation that determines whether it shall simply serve the given purpose or develop that human sympathy within us that all service should evoke, and which in the end serves the giver more richly that the receiver of the service. It is such service, given in such a spirit, that strengthens the relationship between coworkers, their ties of understanding, interdependence and loyalty, and that contributes to our growth in usefulness and our loyalty to the cause of Jews and Judaism.

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Description

In this speech, Weil explores the meaning of Judaism and the Jewish people. Arguing that "knowing our past we shall find strength and wisdom to meet the present," she urges her listeners to become familiar with Jewish history and the evolution of the Jewish religion. Weil focuses a great deal of attention on the practical nature of many Jewish laws and ideals, attributing the traditional Jewish interest in social justice to the fact that Jewish law dictates fair treatment not only of family and friends, but also of employees, the poor, and even animals. At the conclusion of her talk, she looks specifically at the contributions Jewish women can make to both the religious and the social life of the Jewish community.

Date / time
May 12, 1944

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC." (Viewed on November 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/media/talk-given-by-weil-at-beth-or-temple-sisterhood-sabbath-raleigh-nc>.

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