There’s an article on Israel Matzav discussing the troubling political atmosphere at Hebrew Union College, and it raises what I think is an interesting question. Should rabbis preach about political issues from the bimah? The answer to this question is, I believe, no. I believe this for a few reasons. First, the synagogue is a place for prayer and worship. If rabbis want to discuss political issues, they should do so outside the prayers. Secondly, I see a problem with the idea of rabbi as political leader. I’m only familiar with what goes on in more liberal synagogues, but I see this kind of political involvement as getting very close to a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Rabbis are supposed to be spiritual leaders, not political ones, and I don’t think the bimah is the place for political discussion. I would believe this way even if I happened to share the political views of my synagogue. I don’t. As a matter of fact, I think I’m the only one in attendance who would classify myself as conservative. For me, this creates issues, because I know that I’m going to be on the other side of whatever gets discussed, and since political discussions can become very heated, I think that kind of divisiveness should be kept on the sidelines. There’s mention in the linked piece of how the Torah supports what are considered liberal points of view, specifically the view that government is supposed to take care of its citizens. This is true, but only to a point. The Torah also supports some very conservative positions, and I don’t think it’s accurate to try to mold the Torah to our political views, because it does support views on either side of the proverbial isle. I also believe that if those of the liberal persuasion have a problem with clergy of the conservative persuasion preaching on issues from the pulpit, then they ought to take a page out of their own book and refrain from such preaching, or, if they are congregants, refrain from expecting their clergy to preach on said issues. I believe that social action/social justice is a very thin disguise for politics, and I also believe that the two should be separated, because people of very divergent political views can often believe in a socially just cause, for very different reasons. And I think that by confusing the two, the waters are muddied in a way they never should have been.
In conclusion: Keep prayer and politics separate, no matter which side you’re on, and I think the congregational prayer experience will be better for everybody.
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