“We must choose the right first, and follow it even if it means just I alone. A minority of one and the right has always been the hope of the world.”
In this sermon of January 29, 1967 Rabbi Olan makes a distinction which was central to his thought, between empty “ritual and ceremony”, “the smug, self-satisfying religion of the majority” of his contemporaries, and a religiously informed concern for justice, which he calls the “ethical monotheism” of the Hebrew Prophets.
The Prophets (in whose tradition he always located himself) “revealed a God whose relation to men was one of moral demands, who asked them to join him in building a kingdom where ‘men shall beat their swords into plowshares… and none shall make them afraid.’”
Among the groups who have cried out for justice, Rabbi Olan includes the Jews from the time of Antiochus to the time of Hitler; women, who only won political rights in his own lifetime; Black people, in whose struggle he played a highly visible part; and the poor, especially poor children who would not get enough to eat without programs like the school lunch program.
Rabbi Olan believes that many of the people who ignore those in need do so not out of malice but out of blind conformity and acceptance of the status quo. It is in this sense that “the majority can be wrong.”
Rabbi Olan leaves it up to us to determine how we identify the moral right which he hopes we will take as the guide to our actions. Read his sermon and reflect on how you decide what is right.
*Written by Lionel S Joseph & Frances M Olan*