Holding Fast to Our Traditions

“The pattern of life is woven over the loom of time.  Its beauty depends upon the harmonization of the past and the future into a living present.”

The theme of this sermon, delivered on January 12, 1969, is balance, which Rabbi Olan introduces by referring to the song “Tradition” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, which had opened on Broadway in September 1964.  According to Tevye (memorably played by Zero Mostel), our lives are precarious—we’re like a “fiddler on the roof”, and what keeps us from falling is tradition.

Rabbi Olan anticipates the objections of some of his listeners: why is he, a self-identified liberal who wants to free people from the most limiting aspects of the past, preaching a sermon in favor of the value of tradition?  Because, he says, without the moral compass that our Jewish tradition provides, we are prey to “alienation”, “rootlessness”, and the lack of direction that results from ethics that are purely “situational”.  His answer is balance: “The values of the past must inform the programs which are designed for the future.” 

Rabbi Olan is concerned that we can be imprisoned in the past, but that we can get equally lost in the future without the steadying presence of traditional values.  We need both the past and the future.  Interestingly, he looks not only to the Covenant between God and Abraham but also to our secular covenant: the United States Constitution, which he calls “a remarkable blending of the old and the new, the past and the future, the conservative and the liberal”.  As so often in these sermons, Rabbi Olan’s insights are still timely today.

Follow this link to read the sermon text.

*Written by Lionel S. Joseph and Frances M. Olan*