Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review the Rabbi's Speech

First: I request forgiveness from anyone I have hurt this year. More, please let me know (privately, thanks) if I did anything hurtful; I'd like to learn.

Here’s a Rosh HaShanah request: After Rosh haShanah and Shabbos, please post here your review of your rabbi’s derashot – Rosh haShanah and/or Shabbos Shuvah.

Many rabbis (although clearly not the ones who come to my blog via searches for "Rosh Hashanah sermon") put an inordinate amount of work into crafting these messages. This is their chance to reach people who are otherwise absent from shul, and draw them in. This is their chance to inspire people to daven the most serious tefillos of the year. This is their chance to chart a visionary path for the shul for the year ahead, and beyond. So rabbis often come across ideas as early as Kislev or Shevat and write them down, saving them for just this occasion. This is Prime Time.

I would love to hear reviews from as many people as possible – not just for the vicarious pleasure of hearing rabbis reviewed, but also so that my rabbinic readership (including the "Rosh Hashanah sermon" Googlers) can steal their material for next year.

Among the areas in which reviews would be welcome:
Theme – What was the topic of the speech? Was it a dvar torah about the Torah reading or Shofar? Did they include the Palestinians and the UN? The economy? The NBA strike?

Message – What was the chief message? Was it a call for personal growth, for community activism, for unity, for learning Torah and davening? Did it happen to also appear in the YU Rosh haShanah To Go?

Target audience - Was the target audience the year-round crowd, or the once-a-year attendees, or a blend? If it was a blend, how did he manage the trick of speaking to both?

Rants – How much mussar made it into the Shabbos Shuvah derashah? And about what?

Midrash pliah - Did the rabbi cite any midrashim that were just bizarre? You know what I mean - the ones we use to wake you up and get your attention, and that we say we will explain but that really defy our forced explanations?

Jokes – Did the rabbi dare to start a Rosh haShanah or Shabbos Shuvah derashah with a joke? If it was good, feel free to repeat it here.

Stories – I love it when rabbis tell good stories, particularly original stories; these can be a great way to get a point across. Were there any particularly memorable ones?

Endings – Did the rabbi end speeches with “and so we will merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah / to be inscribed and sealed for a good year,” or “mashiach tzidkeinu amen?” Or did he just finish his topic and sit down? Or did he have a great big bang of an ending?

There is only one rule for this survey: Please respect your rabbi’s anonymity. I will have to delete any comment that gives away a rabbi’s identity. Thank you.

May all of us be blessed with a happy and healthy new year, a year of blessing, a year of peace, a year in which HaShem will grant us the fulfillment of all of our wishes, for the best.


  1. If a sermon can't be reported or critiqued "b'shem omro" because you asked that the rabbi's name not be revealed, could it be better not to report it?

  2. Bob-
    Depends on whether there's something to be learned from it, I'd think?

  3. We're supposed to learn from everyone! Maybe even on an off-day.

  4. Bob-
    So then why not report it, and just omit the shem omro?

  5. So we should report it without attribution only when it's not up to the level requiring "shem omro" ?

    Also, if we hear only part because we fell asleep (this may not be the speaker's fault!), should we report it?

  6. Bob-
    1. I think I misunderstood your initial question; I thought you were talking about a derashah that was 'bad' and therefore couldn't be cited b'shem omro. I absolutely want readers to cite the 'good' b'shem omro.

    2. Re: Sleeping - That may belong in a different post, on Review the Congregant.

  7. I included jokes and stories. I ended with a positive blessing. One interesting thing I did was this: minutes before getting up to speak, I decided to use my second day derasha as my first day derasha (and vice versa, of course). My reasoning was that the planned second day derasha was more compact and, I thought, more uplifting, and thus more appropriate to the much larger and more diverse crowd that attends on the first day. The planned first day derasha had a topic I thought more fundamental, and a structure and development I thought was better, but was a bit longer and "deeper" than the other one. In the end, the derasha I delivered on the second day (which was originally planned for day #1) elicited much more positive feedback than the one delivered on the first day...I am not sure if I was mistaken in switching them and should have shared the "better" derasha with the bigger crowd, or whether the reason I received such a positive response was because the crowd on the second day was of a different quality.

  8. My rabbi's shabbat shuvah:

    Theme – unetaneh tokef

    Message – all jews should view themselves as one nation

    Target audience - year-round crpwd

    Rants – not harsh

    Midrash pliah - no, but he did question authorship of unetaneh tokef

    Jokes – not really a joke, more an entertaining and thoughtprovoking story

    Endings – not sure