Dr. Lawrence A. Hoffman, New York Address, "Searching for a Second Course" - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Dr. Lawrence A. Hoffman, New York Address, "Searching for a Second Course"

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Tuesday, April 1, 2003

New York, March 16, 2003

Searching for a Second Course 
Inaugural Address: The Barbara and Stephen Friedman Chair in Liturgy, Worship and Ritual

Dr. Lawrence A. Hoffman, Rabbi

A Chair of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual: Has there ever been a chair with so many nouns describing its focus? The multiple topics are carefully construed, largely by President David Ellenson, friend, and now president of the College, who knows my many overlapping interests, and to whom I owe more than I can say, not just for this honor, but for his generosity of spirit and insistence on excellence, two values that he has helped me maintain for almost thirty years now. We have taught together, collaborated on writing together, and even exchanged surreptitious notes at boring or unnecessary meetings together. With Rabbi Ellenson's presidency, the College promises to begin an altogether new and glorious era. I count myself fortunate to be a part of it.

And how can I possibly convey my gratitude to Barbara and Stephen Friedman? I would never have even hatched most of my driving interests without Barbara, whom I visit regularly for advice, and who has supported my efforts here beyond what I deserve. I teach, write, and advocate with you in mind, Barbara --- you epitomize the kind of wisdom and commitment that Rabbis usually only dream their partners will have. With still some quite real tears of joy remaining from the day I learned about it, I say to Barbara and Stephen that I consider this chair the highlight of my rabbinic calling.

Initial gratitude for it all should go to Dr. Gottschalk, who made me the first faculty appointment of his presidency, thereby showing his faith in me when I surely had yet to warrant it; and to my teachers, now colleagues, here in New York for doing the same: inviting me to return to the New York School where I had spent my days as a rabbinic student.

I don't think I've ever told either party about the surreal conversation I had with the whoever it was who was delegated to negotiate my contract at the time. Well, negotiate might be too strong a word. They mostly talked and I mostly listened, until, at the end, someone said:

``What shall we say your appointment is in? I mean, which field?''

``How about liturgy?'' I responded, ``That is what I just got my doctorate in.'' An embarrassed pause on the other side was followed by: ``Well, we can't do that. I mean, an appointment in just liturgy? How will we justify the full-time appointment in just that? What will you teach as your second course? So, tell you what... why don't we call you Assistant Professor in Liturgy.... and Related Literature?'' No wonder Dr. Ellenson has asked that I review for you the nature of this field called ``Liturgy.'' No wonder, also, I have labeled this talk, ``Searching for a Second Course.'' The entire event was reminiscent of another conversation years earlier with a New York school faculty member --- now long gone --- whose accumulated knowledge I will never come close to having, but who had greeted the news of my graduate school aspirations with, ``Liturgy? You're going to get an entire Ph.D. in liturgy?'' at which time, his eyes rolled back into the caverns of his head, as if to conjure up the good old days in Europe when a doctorate was really a doctorate. I didn't fully understand the barely audible last line or two, but I think it was the Yiddish equivalent of, ``There goes the neighborhood.''

At the time, however, both conversation partners were simply doing their academic due diligence. Given the state of the field, they had good reason to wonder what a Professor of Liturgy alone would do for his day job. The handful of scholars who did liturgical research, in American campuses anyway, and with few exceptions world-wide, thought of themselves as professors of something larger. My teacher in Cincinnati, for example, Jakob Petuchowski, zikhrono liv'rakhah, was also a theologian and talmudist. Only naivete made me think that in the biology of Jewish academia the genus ``scholar'' carried the specific species ``liturgist,'' of which I might be a specimen. For good reason, early College catalogues listed me as ``Professor of Liturgy and Related Literature.'' The good news is that these situations gave me no end of funny lines for the lecture circuit. From cartoons like Peanuts and Doonesbury, I began amassing the world's largest collection of liturgy jokes: My office wall sports all six of them. It is, at least, an inexpensive hobby. Nonetheless, I began to envy my wife, Sally, a forensic accountant, who works with lawyers, and has no dearth of cartoon material.

If it be true that we poke fun at those who matter most, it follows that liturgists have not mattered very much to us, and, come to think of it, Why not? That is my introductory question for Founders' Day, since our two founders, Isaac Mayer Wise and Stephen Samuel Wise, illustrate the answer. Isaac died in 1900; Stephen, in 1949. Together they embody the first two stages of liturgy as a discipline. They take us up to post World War II and Stage Three, which more properly begins in the late 1960s. Finally, after surveying Stage Three, the last forty years or so, we can look ahead to what future occupants of this chair are likely to find.

In his own mind's eye, Isaac M. Wise was Bohemian by birth, Jewish by religion, American by choice, German by culture, but not Russian by a long shot. He more or less founded Reform Judaism in this country, and even if he did not personally espouse what we have come to call Classical Reform, he did preside over its birth as the president of what were to become the Reform Movement's congregational, academic, and rabbinic organizations, all of which he founded. By Classical Reform, I mean the stereotypical Reform Judaism that was still dominant when I entered HUC-JIR in 1964. The Union Prayer Book seemed invincible; Gentlemen always wore suits, and rabbis --- who were all gentlemen --- also donned robes to conduct worship from a distant pulpit to a mostly sedate congregation who appreciated artful music, poetic and thoughtful prose, and civility.

Classical Reform has mostly fallen out of favor --- such are the vagaries of aesthetic style, governed, often, by deeper impulses, to be sure. But Classical Reform had a lot to be proud of, including the fact that it had been designed by people to whom worship mattered. It was a reaction to medieval worship patterns in which, among other things, worshipers spat on the floor, service leaders were largely ignorant, noise was the norm, and egalitarianism was not even a word, let alone a fact. A liturgist by necessity himself, Wise intuited the role of ritual in providing a mirror image of a community's self-esteem, and, therefore, made liturgy a pressing desideratum for his generation. Had German Classical Reform retained its cultural hegemony here, there would have been liturgists aplenty when I signed up for graduate school. Indeed, liturgy as a field had been defined by one German, Leopold Zunz, and it peaked with another one, Ismar Elbogen, the greatest liturgical scholar of all time, whose 1913 landmark volume, methodological failures notwithstanding, has yet to be equaled, and probably never will be. If we find faults with Zunz and Elbogen, it is not because we are smarter; we are just born later, enlightened by the accidents of new manuscript evidence and computer technology for studying it. Liturgically, German Jews in Germany and in America left us a liturgical legacy that is awe-inspiring and insufficiently appreciated.

This brave new worship evolved because German Jews knew they were a religion. Napoleon had insisted on that, when he convened the Paris Sanhedrin, warning that if Jews were not a religion, like Catholics and Protestants, they should kindly leave. So western European Jews learned to do what religions did: have properly divine services with a modern liturgical text and music. By contrast, look at the eastern European reaction to German Reform. As much as Classical Reform is pilloried, eastern European Judaism --- which I shall just call ``Russian'' for ease of conversation --- is romanticized. I am of Russian Jewish extraction, one part litvak and three parts galitsianer, raised with Yiddish speaking grandparents who taught me, through my own parents, the virtues of Zionism, peoplehood, and tradition. I mean no disrespect, then, when I say that because Napoleon never made it to eastern Europe, Russian Jews (by and large) never got around to thinking of themselves as a religion, so that when they came here, except for a few, they had little or no interest in prayer. Worship for them was largely old-country shtetl behavior that traditionalists did and they didn't. Not caring much for prayer, they had little use for liturgy.

Stephen S. Wise was not exactly Russian --- he was born in Hungary in 1874, and moved to America before he was two. But relative to his Cincinnati namesake, Isaac, who died in 1900, he personified the bridge generation from German Judaism as religion to Russian Judaism as secular peoplehood. Unlike Isaac, Stephen was a Zionist; unlike Isaac's Hebrew Union College, Stephen's Jewish Institute of Religion exposed students consciously and conscientiously to the choir of voices that is Clal Yisrael; and unlike Isaac, who had edited his own all American prayer book, Minhag America, Stephen was no liturgist.

To be sure, history is always cloudier than historians make it. Isaac Mayer Wise, the quintessential 19th-century Reformer, is supposed to be a universalist, while Stephen S. Wise, the Zionist and international champion of the Jewish People, could easily be misconstrued as a particularist. But in fact, both Wises were both things, and if anything, their personal emphasis was the other way around. From Cincinnati, Isaac championed the cause of The Jewish People in a largely Protestant country where Jews had yet to prove they belonged. Stephen arrived in polyglot America where vast immigration from eastern and southern Europe was influencing American Protestants to adopt a ``social gospel'' of Christian care for the poor and downtrodden. He befriended Walter Rauschenbusch, a leading Protestant advocate of social justice, and spoke brilliantly himself for unions, old age pensions, and an end to child labor. Isaac had founded the HUC, UAHC, and CCAR. Stephen founded his own alphabet of Jewish initials, but played a role also in birthing the NAACP and the ACLU. Stephen came of age in America's rise to geopolitical centrality. So even when speaking from a local pulpit, he declaimed his lines fully conscious of his starring Jewish role on a world stage. Isaac had arrived when railroads still pushed farther westward, bringing Methodists, Baptists and even the Boston Brahmin Unitarians, who had launched a western campaign in Cincinnati itself, in 1852 --- all this being part of a revivalist shock wave earlier in the century, that historians would some day call the second ``great religious awakening.'' No wonder Isaac's Reform Judaism was spiritually based, with worship and a prayer book at its center. Not so Stephen, for whom worship was mere backdrop for preaching. Both men were many things, but among them all, Stephen was the prophet; Isaac, the liturgist.

Stephen epitomized the Russian Jewish rise to prominence. Secularists to begin with; culturalists, not religionists; Russians Jews put prayer and spirituality on hold, pursuing a peoplehood agenda that was to be cruelly fed by the tragic road to the Shoah and life behind the iron curtain --- but also by the birth of a Jewish state. It was not until the 1970s that the generation after Stephen Wise looked beyond their foreign-affairs agenda, to consider the life of prayer back here at home.

From the post-war 1940s to the 1970s, we expended all our energy on saving Jews abroad, and I do not for a minute think we should have done otherwise. As we do not choose the period of our birth, so we do not choose that period's challenges. More than we care to believe, we are prisoners of the era into which we are thrust, as the Rabbis say, against our will --- and in which we have no choice but, literally, ``to do life.'' If there were few Jewish liturgists in 1969, it is because American Jewry, largely Russian socialists --- and American Protestantism itself --- had been emphasizing social, not liturgical, reform. But fully church-centered Protestants had also begun rescuing their life of prayer, whereas Jews --- our energy centered in UJA and Federations, not synagogues --- had still to rescue refuseniks and shore up Israel.

As I left graduate school in 1973, our liturgy too was beginning to be restored to the Jewish agenda. Our synagogues had much less clout than the organized churches at the time, since we were competing with secular Federations, but we shared with Christians the fact that the 1960s had been a noisy decade, with hippies and yippies and above all, the national anguish of Vietnam. Until the 60s, Ozzie lived peacefully with Harriet, no problem being so big that it could not be solved in thirty minutes, largely because Father knew best. In that America, religious affiliation was virtually unchanging and forever: you were born a Lutheran, say, then married a Lutheran, and had little Lutherans. Only in the late 60s did the cultural bubble-wrap that had protected religions from each other burst. Protestants, Jews, and even Catholics, who had been cloistered for half a century, took to the streets together to protest the war. All of that peaked with Kent State in 1971, but already, then, conservative forces had begun recoiling against the liberal dominance in their respective denominations, so that religions were being internally polarized with warring factions on the left and on the right. What came to matter was less your particular religion than your social and political stands. Liberals found they had more in common with other liberals across religious lines, than they did with Conservatives in their own religious camp. That is when, and why, Jewish intermarriage began to mount; when and why Orthodox and Reform Jews drifted apart; and when and why also, Reform Jews like liberal Protestants, turned to liturgical reform. The match that kindled the liturgical tinderbox was Catholic: it was Vatican II.

American Catholicism had been virtually invisible after the 1890s when a brief spurt of modernism was squashed by conservative papal fiat. In the 1960s, though, the world's largest church reached out to other Christians and even to Jews. Catholics had always cared deeply about liturgy. And it was Catholics, with the oldest Christian liturgy of all, who first decided that their worship was not just old, but tired. A liturgical renewal movement had been surreptitiously building for decades, fed by the study of liturgical alternatives in early church history. But conservatives were mining the same liturgical history to buttress claims of liturgical infallibility. As this warfare threatened to become overt, the pope announced the Vatican Counsel to address --- some would say, contain --- the revolution. Overnight, Catholic scholars ransacking their Christian past for liturgical guidance multiplied a hundred fold. Simultaneously, of even greater long-term importance, Catholics encouraged the study of ritual. For the first time, people were studying not just the liturgical text, but how that text becomes the human act of prayer. That meant paying due attention to music, congregational space, how prayer is led, and a host of similar concerns. Soon, Catholics were joined by Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians --- and, purely by accident --- by me as well.

I graduated as an ill-defined liturgist just as all of this foment was beginning, and discovered Catholic liturgists at a lecture I gave at the University of Notre Dame, then the center for Catholic liturgical renewal. Soon I was teaching summer school there, and even commuting one semester, teaching Mondays and Tuesdays at Notre Dame, and Wednesdays and Thursdays back here at HUC. I joined a purely Christian, mostly Catholic, professional organization called the North American Academy of Liturgy, an altogether new and unique academic body whose members claimed actually not just to be scholarly, but to be doing God's work. More: they thought I was in the same line of business. And more still: I began to think what had been unthinkable in Jewish graduate circles: maybe I was. They changed the constitution of the group to reflect my Jewish membership.

The heady intellectual stimulation of that group in those years is beyond description. I began to think of it as Liturgical Camelot with a round table of liturgical knights in dialogue on prayer. We taught each other a series of ``ologies'': sociology, anthropology, epistemology, theology, and more: and we invented an extension of liturgy that has come to be called ``Ritual Studies.'' I had no idea how little I knew until my first Academy meeting sent me home with some thirty books to read, from which I figured out, as it were, that my second course would be ``Rite, Ritual and the Process of Worship,'' where students and I would figure out what it all meant to Jews. The first member of the class was a rising student star named David Ellenson. To this day, perhaps twenty years later, I meet here four days annually with alumni who took that course and now occupy positions of authority throughout our movement, where they influence the course of our movement's communal prayer --- and through Synagogue 2000 (more on that later) ritual studies now informs synagogue transformation across the continent, and even into England, Australia, and Israel.

So the Barbara and Stephen Friedman chair has multiple nouns in its title because in its third era, liturgy has morphed beyond its initial task of dating original prayers, cataloguing manuscripts, hunting down medieval alternatives, and publishing ancient poetry. These remain critical pursuits, however, the academic grounding that even ritualists need if they hope to remain faithful to our Jewish past. A General Systems theorist (whose name, alas, I cannot recall, but whom I encountered when I first began reading in the field) recalls his wife's admonition, ``If you are going to claim to know a little about everything, you should at least know a lot about something.'' So as ever, serious liturgists need to know a lot about the texts and music that comprise Jewish liturgical history, even though liturgical scholarship has moved well beyond that by now.

It has, in fact, created new frontiers, some of which I should mention briefly, as we look ahead to the future.

First: liturgy and the arts. Jewish Liturgy, as I was taught it, was embedded in the larger field of rabbinics. But that was by default. Seminary education is still governed by criteria set down in the 19th century, whereby disciplines were divided according to the literature they represent. Since rabbinic prayer is post-biblical, the prayer book that contains it was regarded as post-biblical literature --- that is, rabbinics. To be sure, the siddur is a rabbinic invention. But it is not really a book; it just resembles one. For centuries Jews prayed without it, and the only reason it looks like a book to us is that it is typeset and sandwiched between two covers. But consider the libretto of La Boheme, the score of Beethoven's Fifth, or the script for Hamlet. These also look like books, but they are really book-form facsimiles of something else: an opera, a symphony, and a play.

Prayer books too, then, are not really books, but scripts for ritual --- Did I say ``ritual?'' There is the rub, for Reform Jews whose 19th-century founders thought ``ritualism'' denoted the very medieval worship patterns that they had rejected. Any reclamation of ritual was quickly branded a return to Orthodoxy. But think of how Reform Jews demonstrated their rejection of ritual. The answer is, ``Ritually!'' Finding ritual suspect, they designed a minimalist worship service that eliminated Tallit and Kippah, and cut down on bowing, marching with the Torah and kissing it. But this polemic against ritual, fully ritualistic itself, proved only that even anti-ritualists need ritual to remember that they are against ritual. All humans adopt ritual as a mirror of identity, the only question being what ritual and what identity they adopt. What are your High Holy Days for instance? Rosh Hashanah for Jews brings the shofar. Easter Sunday for Christians brings a midnight vigil. Super Sunday for healthy American males (and some females too) entails a football game. Jewish Super Sunday for Federation Jews prompts a UJA telethon. Functionally speaking, a visiting Martian would recognize all of these as equally competitive religions, each with its own calendar, rituals and values. For ritual is not just outward show. It is the way we demonstrate to ourselves and others what we care about most.

To say, therefore, that the Siddur is a ritual script is not to minimize its value. Think of ritual as the regularized affirmation of order that matters. Our inherited rituals are reminders of the shapes other people saw; our decision to pray as they did is an affirmation that we will see the world the same way; any decision to pray differently announces that the world has changed, and so have we. Prayer is the way we shape such grand themes of existence as history, destiny, memory, life and death. Indeed, some of life's great stages unfold only because ritual brings them into being --- a marriage for example, where we say harei at m'kudeshet li, or even ``I declare you husband and wife'' --- and presto! They are.

Jewish prayer, then, is a ritualized sacred drama, the drama of the Jewish people, authored by Jews throughout time, including ourselves, and performed with music, special dress, choreography, and words. For decades, the New York campus has been blessed with a School of Sacred Music. It has traditionally been seen as a separate entity unto itself, as if liturgy is one thing and music another. All that is changing now. The School of Sacred Music has yet to fulfill its ultimate destiny, but as liturgy becomes identified as ritual, so that prayer is no longer seen as a book, our SSM will make music a full partner in the Jewish People's spiritual renaissance.

Second, there is theology. Gregory Bateson, by his own measure, a psychologist, anthropologist, epistemologist and then some, remembers walking the halls of his major university and over-hearing people saying things that amounted to, ``I suppose Bateson is up to something. I just can't figure out what.'' I know for a fact that when I was a student here, some of our older faculty asked that question about Dr. Borowitz who was up to quite a bit: he was systematically inventing the field of Jewish theology. No one before that would even have thought to link liturgy with theology, since Jewish theology hardly existed. Well it exists now, and if praying is the Jewish People's sacred drama of the centuries, acted out anew with every passing generation, that acting out must be theological in its essence. We are just beginning to formulate a theology of Jewish prayer.

Third, we need a serious philosophical rationale for prayer, not for philosophers, but for sophisticated lay people who find prayer intellectually wanting. Freud thought it obsessive-compulsive. Jewish socialists attacked it as a smoke screen to distract the masses. Others, not particularly scholarly at all, but not on that account unintelligent, complain that prayer is just plain boring. We need, therefore, a deep and compelling philosophy of ritual, just as we need an equally compelling ritual itself. The prayer book is just a script. Reading monotonously through it word for word, line by line, and page after page, does not a ritual make.

Finally, there is the milieu in which ritual happens: the communities we call synagogues. No institution even begins to rival the synagogue in importance for Jewish continuity. Some 70 belong to synagogues at one time or other in their lives, even if only half of them remain there very long. The problem is that synagogues adapt slowly to new demands because, technically speaking, synagogues are ``default organizations.'' Left to their own devices, they will more or less endlessly replicate what they have always been. I know of no institution that means so much and has attracted so little sustained scholarly attention. I don't mean better programming; we are all very good at keeping busy people endlessly busier. I mean developing a spiritual vision of synagogue life, without which, synagogue ritual will be empty, its prayer meaningless, and its community non-existent. Communal prayer happens only in communities, and community happens in synagogues. Or, at least it should.

With all of this in mind, and against the backdrop of the sociology of American religion Synagogue 2000 is the latest foray in this growing field of liturgy: an exercise in conceptualizing and implementing synagogues as sacred communities; then helping such communities develop a compelling life of prayer. This, alongside the rest of the synagogue agenda for the future, may some day be its own field: call it synagogue studies. For now Synagogue 2000 is shaping the study of synagogue life, for alumni, students and congregations --- the latest outgrowth of the liturgical revolution that this chair celebrates. From its outset, the College has been dedicated to congregational life, and through its support of Synagogue 2000, it is becoming the preeminent expert on tomorrow's synagogues as sacred places of vision and of hope.

I see my teachers here, and before concluding, I must thank them. I have mentioned Dr. Gottschalk who hired me, but I think back to days slightly before, when I sat in the class of a teacher no longer with us, Dr. Leon Liebreich, alav hashalom, a complete faculty unto himself. Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, my classmate and dear friend who is here, will attest that he taught us Psalms, Midrash, Aramaic, Rashi and liturgy. No one said, as they do now, ``This semester I am taking Hoffman, Borowitz, Balin and Cohen.'' We said, rather, we are taking Liebreich, Liebreich, Liebreich and Liebreich.'' His introductory syllabus in liturgy first introduced me to the subject, and was better than many people's published books. When he died, in my junior year here, Dr. Stanley Dreyfus, yibadel l'chayim, became my professor of liturgy. He will always be a teacher who knows more than he says, and frequently more than anyone in the room. He is a learned liturgist, but in characteristic diffidence, would never say that of himself. So I say it for him.

I spent my very first student hour here beginning a course with Dr. Martin Cohen; it was scintillating to the point where I can say that I have not read a text the same way since. Dr. Leonard Kravitz, whose knowledge of philosophy and rabbinics still astounds me, taught me in the classroom and on faculty porches at Kutz Camp each summer; I still consult him on textual dilemmas. I have mentioned Dr. Borowitz, whose office in the old JIR building on 68th Street was in the basement, next to mine --- though mine was better, equipped for some reason with an actual bathtub --- no bathroom, mind you, just a bathtub, without running water of course; but big enough to hold books. With the move here, the bathtub disappeared, but my regard and gratitude to Dr. Borowitz, who has served as my mentor, did not. Finally, Dr. Paul Steinberg, my teacher and dean, told me early on I could do this, and protected me from entrenched conservative forces that didn't want me to. He probably has forgotten, though I have not, the day I first walked into his office asking what I should teach --- you know --- for my second course. Teach whatever you like, he said. That's why we hired you --- to figure it out. And so I hope I have.

That this expanded field of liturgy, worship and ritual will only grow, I have no doubt. Within the Catholic community, which catalyzed it to begin with, the immediate prognosis is guarded, since (I fear) the same hierarchy that set people free to become liturgical knights of the round table has apparently decided that it is not sure it likes where the knights have been galloping. But even there, the genie of creativity does not easily fit back inside the bottle, and all the more should we Jews expect ritual innovation to continue. Two developments make this quite certain.

First, it frequently happens that quantum liturgical leaps accompany waves of immigration. I began, in fact, considering the impact of German and Russian immigrations. But migration is not necessarily from across the ocean, or even from outside the country; and, inversely, not all waves of new people on these shores count as immigrants. We brought African Americans here as slaves, but their arrival was no migration, because the essence of migration is having a new public voice, and slaves were given no voice at all. We Jews have been living through two new sets of voices --- so, two current waves of immigration --- from within, however, not from without. One is near its end; the other just beginning, and we cannot comprehend our changing liturgy except as a response to both.

The first is the voice of women, 50 add the experience of women to the ``affirmation of order that matters [and] reminders of the shapes other people saw.'' More than any institution, this Hebrew Union College has been responsible for that sea-change in communal self perception, because without women clergy, not much that we now pride ourselves on would have happened. We look at all our academic disciplines differently because we have been challenged to do so by women.

The second immigration, just beginning, is the voice of Jews by choice who will some day comprise one-half of who we are. They will, that is, if, as Synagogue 2000 is discovering, our congregations transform just plain business into serious spiritual search, and become welcoming sacred centers with liturgies that include rather than exclude, and enlighten rather than baffle. The patent decisions of our Reform community to take a principled stand on including women and Jews by choice will yet have the most significant impact ever on helping American Judaism play the role that our founders dared dream of.

Here is the second reason we have to hope. This Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair is not given to me --- I am but its first holder. It is given to tomorrow, and to the Jewish People in perpetuity, in the firm belief that this College has not yet seen the final hour of its destiny. Founders come not just once, but in every age, to hatch new thoughts and found new dreams. On behalf of us all, therefore, I thank Stephen and Barbara who take their place, this founder' day, as founders in their own right.

In a moldy corner of the 48th Street building, not far from the bathtub, actually, Dr. Harry M. Orlinsky, a passionate Jew and brilliant scholar, used to meet weekly with some other gentlemen whose names I did not know at the time, but who I later found out were luminaries in their realms. What I remember most is that they ate matzah on purpose --- year round. Eventually, I learned that around that sorry-looking table sat the men responsible for translating the Bible into our standard English version. It was only then that there dawned on me this truth. More than the glorious events like this one, more even than its classes, the College is the producer of the Jewish intellectual capital on which liberal Jewry depends. Graduates of 25 years and more, our award recipients, you are carriers of that capital, even as you, in your own work, add to it. And all of us, students, faculty, families and guests --- all of us --- are its grateful beneficiaries.

Oh yes, and Barbara:

You haven't ever been in my office here --- we always meet at your place. But were you see it, you would notice an old green recliner taking up half the space. When, some twenty years ago, I guess, we moved from the old 68th street building, I found it sitting in the library stacks, books piled all over it. They were going to throw it out, but anticipating modern office furniture here, I thought it might be nice to make sure I had a comfortable reclining chair in which to read. Truth is I don't use it much, but many a student has sat in it over the years, and it stands out so much --- it's old, green, and ugly --- that they ask me where I got the thing. I explain to them that when I saw it in the library basement, I immediately recognized it as once belonging to my beloved liturgy professor whom I mentioned earlier, Dr. Leon Liebreich. Attached to it sentimentally, I moved it here. Then I add, ``Besides, I figure, that's the closest I will ever come to a chair in Liturgy.''

I am delighted to say I was wrong.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu