For those of you who have never been to a synagogue during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it can be quite the event. The services have much ritual and tradition and every synagogue has slightly different traditions. There is one however that goes across every shul I have been in during the holidays, the people who go to synagogue regularly show up when services begin and are there praying till the bitter end. The 3-days-a-year Jews show up just before the Rabbi’s sermon and leave immediately afterward, as if 45 minutes of learning makes up for a year’s worth of not praying.
So there is a lot of pressure on the Rabbi’s sermon. It is his chance to inspire new “regulars” and it is the one thing the 3-days-a-year folks talk about for the rest of the year.
Rabbis generally aren’t enthused when members of the congregation get involved with their sermon writing. After all it’s their moment to shine and Judaism is a grass roots religion and those individual rabbis are responsible for teaching and setting some Jewish law for their community. But during the past few years many rabbis have let someone outside their congregation to interfere with their sermons, indeed this person is outside the faith.
Over the last few years, there has been a new tradition arising at my synagogue and many others. At least one of the Rabbi’s sermons have been all about pushing President Obama’s policies. For example two years ago, I heard a sermon about “fairness” and how everyone in America had to do their part. Now if the Rabbi was talking about giving charity, he would have been echoing a major theme of all Jewish holidays, however he was talking economics and redistribution of wealth-type doing their part (in fact after he was done, I sneaked up to the Rabbi and asked him if I could deliver the Republican response to his sermon).
In 2009, he pushed some 1,000 rabbis to discuss Obamacare. The year after, in the midst of the previous attempts at brokering a peace deal, he pushed the Rabbis to explain he didn’t really hate Israel. In 2011 call, he discussed his jobs bill. Each year in many (but not all) Synagogues across this country the President’s received a positive word in sermons across this country.
This year, the President will be pushing his version of the Middle East peace talks. You know, the one I’m talking about. Its the peace talks where the US assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state at the beginning of negotiations, the one they promised would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed, all the above without the agreement of Israel. The peace talks where the United States pushed Israel to release murderers but didn’t ask the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish State.
Policy experts close to the administration told The Times of Israel that support for the negotiations would be a major part of what has become the traditional presidential Jewish New Year conference call to rabbis. They said the president would also touch upon domestic issues, including immigration and economic recovery. Rosh Hashana starts this year on the eve of September 4.
Obama has made the Rosh Hashana conference call an annual feature, using it to advance specific administration talking points, usually framed in the context of Jewish ethics.
“The White House call is a reflection of where the American-Jewish community is today and its importance to the political mosaic of the country,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, of Congregation B’nai Tzedek, a Conservative synagogue in the Washington suburb of Potomac, Maryland.
Actually Rabbi Weinblatt, the call is a reflection of where the majority of the Conservative and Reform movements are–willing to forget bipartisanship and Jewish values so you can worship the “golden calf” of big government and progressive politics. Where you don’t quite endorse candidates but you still endorse programs, and that progressive candidate just so happens to show up during the holidays to get an Aliyah to the Torah even though they aren’t a member of the Shul.
When a Jewish Family lights candles at the beginning of the Sabbath or at the start of a Jewish holiday it is supposed to be a separation between secular time and “holy” time. When a Rabbi of any political persuasion uses that holy time to push a political position of any kind they are debasing that “holy” time.
Rosh Hashana, indeed the entire ten day period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are for introspection, to examine our deeds and reflect upon how we are to improve ourselves. Politics does not belong here.
Shame on those Rabbis and Religious leaders for distorting the purpose of the High Holidays— Shame on them for forgetting why they became Rabbis in the first place. And shame on them if they deliver a secular big government, or Obama’s Israel policy is great Sermon. It belies the truth and it divides their congregations.
Rosh Hashana begins next week, If your Rabbi delivers a political rather than theological sermon, please email me or leave a comment on this post (Please do not leave your rabbi’s name or the name of your shul). I would like to hear your story.