“A rabbi is not a prophet. He has had no singular experience with God which entitles him to say: ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ He is only the keeper of the Biblical Prophetic tradition and its teacher. He is qualified only to apply the moral insight of his faith to the events of his time. This New Year of 1969 comes to all of us in America with one frightful question: Can we avoid disaster. This is not exaggerated language.”
Rabbi Olan delivered this sermon on December 29, 1968, during a time of national crisis. It is not surprising that at a time of crisis, he turned to the Prophetic tradition, which was arguably at the core of his beliefs. In fact, he wrote a book, published in 1982, called Prophetic Faith and the Secular Age (New York: KTAV; Dallas: Institute for Jewish Studies).
In this sermon, Rabbi Olan basically says, If I were a prophet, what would I say today? He goes on to speak of the consequences of using Napalm in Vietnam, of anti-Black racism, of a culture of acquisition, in a universe governed by moral laws.
One of his “prophecies” is particularly interesting in light of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. “Can we truly repent our sins against the Negro to the extent that we sacrifice some of our unjustly gained privileges until he is able to compete with us in some measure of equality?”
*Written by Joshua F. Hirsch*