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Marc Saperstein

Joseph Krauskopf immigrated from his native Prussia to the United States at the age of fourteen, and was ordained with the first class of students at the newly established Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Quickly establishing a reputation for his spellbinding oratory, he became rabbi of Knesseth Israel in Philadelphia, one of the largest Reform congregations in the United States, with a membership composed predominantly of congregants with German background. Although he was a strong supporter of US military action during the Spanish-American War, the First World War caused him considerable anguish, as he remained attached to his roots in German culture throughout his career. In a series of Sunday morning discourses and holiday sermons beginning on Rosh Hashanah 1914, Krauskopf expressed horror at the widespread suffering caused by the war, strongly supported the initial US policy of neutrality, and vehemently criticized expressions of growing support for the Entente Cordiale. While upholding the US war effort after America's entry into combat, as the end drew near he continued to excoriate policies that would humiliate and impoverish Germany, with prescient warnings of future disasters.

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Marc Saperstein

A graduate of Jews' College, Morris Joseph became the leading spokesman for British Reform Judaism as spiritual leader of the West London Synagogue. Though not a pacifist, he was one of the founders of the Jewish Peace Society in 1913. Unlike French and German colleagues who emphasized their patriotic loyalty to their ruler, love of their fatherland and bonds with their fellow citizens in fighting an evil adversary, Joseph expressed deep dismay in his first sermons following the outbreak of war in August 1914. His subsequent sermons – some printed the following Friday in the Jewish Chronicle, others eventually published in his third and final book of sermons – were delivered on various occasions: on ordinary Sabbaths and holidays, on National Days of Prayer and Intercession, at funeral services for members of his congregation killed in action, and at Confirmation services for students who might be joining the army a few years later. Central themes include the theological issues about God's role in the war, and the effort to define a coherent position, personally repudiating the pacifist refusal to serve in the struggle, while condemning any glorification of war and insisting that peace was an ultimate value of his Judaism.

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Marc Saperstein

I first met Martin Gilbert in May 2000, when he was given an honorary degree at the graduation ceremonies of The George Washington University, where I was Professor of History and chairman of the Program in Judaic Studies. But I felt that I had known him long before that, through his books.

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Positions of Jewish Leadership

Sources of Authority and Power

Marc Saperstein

The following broad-and admittedly rather superficial-survey of Jewish leadership types spans several millennia, from the biblical period to the present. A wide variety of positions with varying claims to authority will be reviewed: biblical charismatic 'judges', elders, priests, and prophets; rabbis and Exilarchs, emerging in late antiquity; wealthy laymen and courtiers in the Middle Ages; Hasidic rebbes and maskilim as new modes of leadership in the modern era. In each case the nature of leaders' claim to authority and the extent of their power within the Jewish community will be assessed. Different types of leaders often coexisted with a kind of division of labour, but cases of strong conflicts are of special interest.

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Marc Saperstein

I hope it will be clear that in the point I am about to raise, I am not quarrelling with Michael's paper, and – while I do not in principle repudiate Joachim Prinz's effort to 'deflate what we might call the myth of Leo Baeck's sainthood' – that is certainly not my purpose at present. I would rather explore briefly the aspect that Michael identified in the first part of his presentation as central to Leo Baeck's legacy for us as progressive Jews: 'the unconditional divine commandment to do that which is right' – the divine command that 'leaves no room for ethical opportunism', the command that may require 'an utter subjugation of the self ', making one ultimately responsible to God and only secondarily to human beings, and that 'precludes obedience to any secular authority that contravenes God's will'. This sounds extremely noble and admirable. But how is it supposed to work for us? How are we to know what it is that God is commanding that requires such absolute obedience and sacrifice of self at a difficult moment? Clearly, as a progressive Jew, Baeck did not believe that God's will is to be discovered through the study and analysis of the ancient authoritative texts of the Jewish religious tradition. That is the Orthodox position that he did not accept. If God commands us today, it must be not in a message to be discovered in ancient texts but in a direct address. But what does this actually mean?

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Marc Saperstein

The thesis I would submit to you this morning may be somewhat surprising: it is that the task of the rabbinic programme at Leo Baeck College is impossible. We have a five-year programme of study. What do we want to accomplish with our students by the end of this period? What kind of training do we believe that our rabbis will require for meeting the needs of the progressive Jewish community, and the general Jewish community in the next generation? What follows is an outline of what I believe is required.

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Marc Saperstein

As illuminated by the contemporary Jewish press and the texts of Jewish sermons, many British Jews were initially deeply ambivalent about going to war on the side of Czarist Russia, with its legacy of recent pogroms, against Germany and Austria, both with emancipated Jewish communities. Jews in the west were reassured by reports that the Russian Jews had been uplifted by a wave of patriotic enthusiasm, expressed in massive numbers of volunteers for the Czarist army. For many weeks in the autumn of 1914, articles in the Jewish press featured the bravery and devotion of Russian Jewish soldiers, some of whom were rewarded by high military honours, amid claims that even Russian anti-Semites were re-thinking their assumptions. In dramatic contrast comes the report of a Russian Jewish soldier who suffered a breakdown when he heard the words Sh'ma Yisra'el from the lips of an Austrian soldier he had just fatally bayoneted. The beginning of the Great War exposes the clash of these themes: sacrificial patriotic identification by Jews with the war effort of their own countries, and the international solidarity of the Jewish people being painfully subverted by Jews fighting in opposing armies. The story - perhaps something of an 'urban legend' - would be re-told in many different contexts and literary expressions.

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Marc Saperstein

Brenner, Michael, A Short History of the Jews, translated by Jeremiah Riemer, Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2010, xiv + 421 pp., ISBN 978-0-691-14351-4 (German original, Kleine Jüdische Geschichte, 2008).

Brenner, Michael, Prophets of the Past: Interpreters of Jewish History translated by Steven Rendall, Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2010, xiii + 301 pp., ISBN 978-0-691-13928-9 (German original, Propheten des Vergangenen, 2006).

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Marc Saperstein

Rabbi Hugo Gryn was both the leading rabbinic figure of British Reform Judaism for several decades and one of the best-known and highly admired rabbis in British society. The sermons he delivered regularly throughout the entire period of his leadership as Rabbi of the West London Synagogue show that preaching was a significant component of his rabbinic role. Most of the extant texts of Gryn's sermons are not fully written, but rather detailed outlines on cards. They suggest a communication that reached its final formulation only as the preacher faced his listeners, depending on the delivery for much of its power. Almost all are rooted in the weekly Torah reading, exploring a biblical passage in its own context before applying it to an issue of contemporary significance. Many draw not only from his wide reading but also from his own personal experience, as Holocaust survivor, young rabbi in India, community leader deeply involved in interfaith dialogue. The present article uses the extant texts to recapture something of the impact of the sermons, and concludes with one fully written text given at a public tribute to the memory of Gryn's teacher, Rabbi Leo Baeck.

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John Rayner as Preacher

The Sermon in Response to Historical Events

Marc Saperstein

John Rayner certainly believed that delivering regularly a carefully prepared sermon was an integral and important component of the rabbi's role. The evidence is in his more than 1,000 sermon texts that serve as an important historical source for Liberal Judaism in the U.K. Rayner helped future scholars by preparing a detailed listing of all his sermons, from 21 June 1953 ('Ordination') to number 1,137, on 5 October 2003 (Kol Nidre: 'The People's Self-Righteousness'), including topical indices at the end. After describing more fully this unique resource, I will focus on some of his topical sermons, especially those not published in A Jewish Understanding of the World. These include thoughtful and courageous analyses of moral issues raised by the British role in the 1956 Suez campaign, near the beginning of his career, and in the Falklands War of spring 1982, and many powerful sermons on Israel in times of crisis. The texts reveal a Jewish leader with prophetic courage — though expressed always with love for the Jewish tradition, the Jewish people and the universalist dimension of Jewish values — combined with profound knowledge and penetrating intellect, expressed with clarity and directness that speaks both to the mind and to the heart.