ASK THE RABBI

December 2017 Question:

I have attended a number of your classes, and notice that you can speak for hours without notes of any kind, yet when you present a sermon, you always read it. Why? The note-free style is so much more engaging

December 2017 ANSWER:

I of course agree that a presentation without notes is more engaging. But the reason I read sermons lies in the inherent difference between a class presentation and a sermon.

A sermon is a formal learned presentation, whether in written or spoken form, intended to be morally or other-wise instructive, usually based on specific texts (Biblical, Talmudic, etc) marshalled to make a carefully devel-oped point. For example, if I wanted to argue that the Bible does not say "though shalt not kill", I would have to cite Biblical verses that specifically mandate killing. I would have to explain that Hebrew has different words for "murder" and "killing", and then cite specific instances of both. And then I would have to draw conclusions from the way the different words are used.

I could give an oral presentation on the same subject, but the organization of the discourse does not have to be as structured or as carefully laid out (which is not to say that it wouldn’t be structured or laid out carefully….just not as much as a sermon should be).

In a class situation, there is usually not as much need to cite sources as there is in a formal presentation (like a sermon). If there is, I usually ask participants to bring their own Bible or whatever source we will consult, but there is no time for that in a sermon.

Since a sermon is a crafted presentation, making points along the way to a moral or educational message, it needs to be carefully developed. Speaking extemporaneously, one runs the risk of leaving out key points. Some of the subtle but useful writing techniques, like word play, logic, and structure are vital to sermons but not necessarily to oral presentations.

On the other hand, in oral presentations, one can use repetition and verbal cues which would seem excessive and annoying in a more formal presentation.

As I hope you can see, a sermon is a more complex and sophisticated undertaking than an oral presentation. I often feel that this is not appreciated by listeners; it takes more work for a listener to discern some of the finer points of a sermon, including structure and development of thought, than to get the point of a lecture or presen-tation.

So I will be reading sermons, out of a commitment to what they require, and I hope you will listen for their hall-marks.

And keep coming to classes anyway!!