I vehemently disagree with Rabbi Steve Wernick and his supporters who contend that it somehow is acceptable to quote sources without attribution in sermons, as he contended in your recent August 31 article. “When May a Rabbi Use the Words of Others.” To plagiarize is unacceptable, and to attempt to justify plagiarism is equally unacceptable.
As a pulpit rabbi who previously was a broadcast journalist and for two years taught rhetoric at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, I can assure you that there is no distinction between the written word and the spoken word. When you repeat someone’s ideas or words, you attribute them. The principle of faithful attribution that applies to journalism is no less applicable to the rabbinate, and certainly rabbis should aspire to a higher standard.
To suggest that attributions in a sermon detract from the drama of the oratory and do not edify the congregation is, quite frankly, contrary to rabbinic tradition. Throughout the Talmud, generations of sages provided attribution of their teachings, and the attributions clearly were deliberately retained through many layers of redaction, both oral and written.
If they credited “b’shem omro,” how could we not? And if we take the time to attribute sayings and teachings to rabbinic and scriptural sources, how can we justify not providing due credit to contemporary sources of wisdom? Perhaps a little rabbinic humility and intellectual honesty are called for here.
Rabbi Audrey Korotkin