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Monday, September 26, 2011

Let the rabbis discuss Torah

I'm sitting in an airport terminal in an unnamed European city (no, not Istanbul) and they've just announced that my flight is an hour late, so if my battery holds out (no place to plug in) you may get more than you thought today.

The Obama administration has turned the political sermon into an art form, and last week's conference call with 900 rabbis, which was designed to give 'guidance' on what to discuss this year, was the third year in a row that Obama has 'suggested' topics for rabbis. Tevi Troy doesn't like it and I agree with him.
Political sermonizing is a mistake for many reasons. First, the Holy Days are supposed to bring forth a universal message about the unity of the Jewish people, the importance of our shared religious tradition, and the need to rededicate ourselves to observance of the Torah in the year to come.

Then there's the risk of alienating part of the congregation. Even if you know that 70%-80% of your synagogue votes one way—and public opinion polls suggest that this may be the case in Conservative and Reform synagogues—why risk alienating the other 20%-30%? In many (or most) communities, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only time certain congregants set foot in synagogue that year. Why risk driving them away with a message that could offend?

Furthermore, while it may appear easy to find support for left-wing political positions in the Torah and rabbinical sources, the truth is that the Jewish tradition doesn't give much guidance on the optimum level of marginal tax rates, Medicare restructuring, or food-stamp funding. To claim otherwise is to give false guidance.

The passages read aloud on the High Holidays each year are filled with the most important problems of the human condition, including Jonah's attempt to shirk his responsibilities, Hannah's desperate plea for a child, and God's testing of Abraham's faith with the binding of Isaac. All of these stories still resonate today, and skillful speakers can use them to guide congregants.

The mandate of religious leaders is to convey to their communities spiritual encouragement and the wisdom of the ages. For the other stuff, there's cable news.
And blogs. Read the whole thing.

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At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weren't liberal US rabbis already getting their guidance from the editorial pages of the New York Times?

At 8:27 PM, Blogger glkolb said...

Pirkei Avot 1:10 "...Love work; despise lordliness; AND DO NOT BECOME OVERLY FAMILIAR WITH THE GOVERNMENT."

Whatever "support for left-wing political positions" exists in the Torah, its a call for individual and community action, but NOT THROUGH THE GOVERNMENT.

At 8:35 PM, Blogger glkolb said...

Pirkei Avot 1:10 "...Love work; despise lordliness; and DO NOT BECOME OVERLY FAMILIAR WITH THE GOVERNMENT."

There is no "support for left-wing political positions" in the Torah, because left-wing political positions imply compulsory governmental solutions. The Torah, rather, lays out moral obligations that are individual and communal in nature. They can't be outsourced.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Very good, glkolb! "Furthermore, while it may appear easy to find support for left-wing political positions in the Torah and rabbinical sources..." I say NO to this. PUBLIC GOVERNMENT is not called for in the Torah in terms of lifting all boats. I've found that some stuff in the "Rabbinical sources" does tend to get more earth-bound and political..

I'm thinking of setting up either a blogspot or a wordpress.com blog with 52(?) entries... one for each Shabbat's Torah portion. I'll put on there the chapter/verse of the reading. Then we could use the comments to analyze the portion. My focus would be on "economics", which would include angles for tzedakah and charity. We could add other topics in later years, but not this year. While the Talmud is so full of instructions on minutae, I have yet to find a basic book on *Economics of the Torah*. We need a re-analysis of this, due to what the Rabbi in this post says... basically the streams are being used as political truncheons, between Israel and the diaspora, inside Israel, even down to within individual congregations, etc.

I just finished reading a biography of Che Guevara and the Marxist Menace... and I actually know Israelis who are hardcore marxist, advocating flattening for fairness... so we need an analysis back from the top. Carl and IM readers, do you guys have suggestions?

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Obama suggested the same social justice topic for the rabbis he threw out for the Congressional Black Caucus: "If asking Billionaires to pay the same tax rate as a JEW… Uh… As a Janitor makes me a warrior for the working class...I have no problem with that” ?


Poster Jim Holt cuts the Prez some slack:

"OK. Maybe I’m being too hard on Barack… After all, who hasn’t confused ‘Jew’ with ‘Janitor’ at one time or another?
…While talking about taxes."

Sparky has no problem with that. Jews, janitors, juicy fruit gum--it's all a muddle to this pooch.


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