Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Politics and the Pulpit

There is a debate within the rabbinic community whether or not a rabbi should endorse a candidate. My friend, Rabbi Sam Gordon of Chicago, has publicly endorsed Barack Obama and helped found the organization Rabbis for Obama. Others have endorsed John McCain. Take a look at the recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about rabbis making political endorsements and that on the Hartman Institute Blog about Rabbi Gordon. I disagree with my friend! The role of the rabbi is to teach and to interpret our tradition. At times—especially in current times—his role is to interpret Judaism as it applies to the issues of the day, presenting to his congregation a coherent Jewish vision. For a rabbi to ignore our nation's problems and speak only of Shabbat and holidays is to suggest that our beloved tradition has nothing to say to the pressings problems of our generation. Judaism must speak to modernity! What does Judaism say about the environment? What can our tradition offer us in trying economic times? Each rabbi must interpret the tradition for his congregants and help them synthesize Judaism with modernity. To endorse is to move beyond interpretation and attempt to make decisions for our congregants. In a country that believes in individual rights this is inappropriate. I share my interpretations with my congregation. My vote remains private.

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