August 20, 2019

Letters to the editor, 6/22 edition

Politics on the Pulpit

I applaud Rabbi David Wolpe’s call for rabbis to focus their public teaching on texts and Jewish traditions — on Jacob and Rachel, not Pence and Pelosi, as he put it (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 9). Too often rabbis focus their sermons exclusively on contemporary politics — whether American or Israeli — and squander their weekly opportunity to teach Jewish texts to a semi-captive audience that does not regularly study our traditions. However, Wolpe’s argument that rabbis should avoid politics almost entirely — whether on or off the pulpit — contains at least two fundamental flaws.

First, there is no neutrality in politics any more than there is neutrality in Sabbath observance. Sabbath comes, and one observes it or not in whatever way they choose. So-called political neutrality is itself a form of political expression. It is support for those in power, or for those destined to be victorious without the voice of the rabbis. 

Second, there is no single Judaism today. Judaism is divided among competing denominations with different core values. Insisting that neither support for Trump nor opposition to him necessarily opposes the Torah is itself setting the Jewish values of one’s community in a specific way. Wolpe’s brilliant caricature of the Jewish claims of the right and left does not prove that a rabbi must avoid these positions. Rather, each rabbi and community must decide if the Torah in fact does support one position. 

Joshua Shanes
College of Charleston

In the current fraught environment, almost any effort to discuss political issues through a Torah perspective will result in half of the congregation concluding that the rabbi has debased, disgraced or even outright falsified the Torah in order to promote her political opinion. Even if or when the rabbi is positive that he is right about the Torah and the issue at hand, all he will be achieving is preaching to the choir (useless), and alienating the non-choir (useless or worse). Best thing is to preach about the importance of having deep, open-minded dialogue with people we disagree with. 

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David-Judea

We have a standing policy at Pico Shul to keep politics out of shul. Our community of mostly millennial Jews is diverse politically, ethnically and religiously. But that does not stop us from raising money to help the homeless, feed the hungry or pray for the sick. It does not prevent us from advocating and praying for the welfare of Jews and others in need around the world. If we take the sacred day of Shabbat and turn it into a platform for politics and potential divisiveness, we actually may be desecrating rather than elevating our synagogues — built to be houses of worship and connecting with the Divine.

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Pico Shul

As the rabbi whose picture online accompanied Rabbi David Wolpe’s op-ed on politics and the rabbinate, I feel compelled to offer a clarification and a question. In the photo, I was being arrested along with 17 other rabbis across denominations in an act of civil disobedience to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed ban on refugees and immigration from (then) seven Muslim-majority countries. The action, sponsored by T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call to Human Rights, took place under the aegis of that organization and not our respective congregations or other organizations we serve.  We were, therefore, keeping our “politics” separate from our “pulpits.”

Nevertheless, the photo raises a principled objection to Rabbi Wolpe’s argument, namely, that a rabbi should be someone who marshals Jewish tradition to clarify the severity of the injustices we tolerate day to day, and then acts with others to do something about it. For many rabbis of all sensibilities, this understanding of the rabbinic role is one of the great legacies of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Wolpe’s own record of work is profound, and he would make an important contribution were he to express himself forthrightly on the issues that so profoundly affect our collective well-being as a society.

Rabbi Justin David

A Father’s Calling

Amazing journey by Dan Freedman (“Dad Steps Into Unexpected Role After Tragedy Strikes,” June 16). Incredible words hit home on a lot of levels. Thanks for putting it out there.  Life, to a large extent, is how you handle life’s curveballs. I can say you’ve handled it with grace and determination. Congrats on a Life’s Journey, Part 1, well done! Dads rock !

Bo Greene

Courage in the Face of Terror

My deepest respect and appreciation for everyone in this story (“Synagogues Carry On in Face of Bomb Threats,” June 16) who refused to give in to such cowardly acts, including Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein, Michelle at the Beverly Hills Marriott, the Ansell family and — perhaps, most of all — Zachary Ansell, for demonstrating how ready he was and is to become a man. Terror cannot win so long as we remain resolute. 

Scott Klein