Conservative Movement: Hatikvah Instead of Shofar

The Rabbinical Assembly distributed this letter today to its members, asking its rabbis to read the piece below in lieu of the Shofar service on Rosh Hashanah. (The shofar is traditionally not sounded when RH falls on Shabbat, as it does this year.)

Friends,

On this Rosh Hashanah our brothers and sisters in Israel face the threat of a nuclear Iran – a threat to Israel’s very existence.

Today, we Jews around the world also confront the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment of the Goldstone report which blames Israel disproportionately for the tragic loss of human life incurred in Operation Cast Lead, which took place last winter in Gaza. This unbalanced United Nations sponsored report portends serious consequences for Israel and the Jewish people.

On this holy day, which is not only Rosh Hashanah, but also Shabbat, the Shofar is silent in the face of this spurious report, the world is far too silent.

Today the state of Israel needs us to be the kol shofar, the voice of the shofar!

We ask you to write to our governmental leaders and call upon them to condemn the Goldstone report and to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran.

While the shofar is silent today, all Conservative rabbis, cantors and congregations have been asked to sing Hatikvah at this moment in the service.

We rise in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel.

What troubles me most about this suggestion is how profoundly it flies in the face of the very meaning of the festival itself. On Rosh Hashanah, we affirm Malchuyot – God’s sovereignty over the universe. Rosh Hashanah is the only time of the year that Jews are commanded to bow all the way to the ground and pledge our allegiance to God and God alone. We acknowledge that our ultimate fealty lies with a Power beyond ourselves, beyond any mortal ruler, any government, any earthly power.

Beyond the political arguments over such a statement, it strikes me as something approaching idolatry.

I’m curious to know your reactions, particularly in regard to its religious implications.

61 Responses to “Conservative Movement: Hatikvah Instead of Shofar”

  1. What are these people smoking?


    Amit · September 17th, 2009 at 8:09 pm
  2. Seriously, I can’t put my utter revulsion into words. I’m utterly flabbergasted. If I were god, I would deem this smite-worthy. Wow.


    Amit · September 17th, 2009 at 8:12 pm
  3. One does not to be a scholar of halakha to be unnerved by mixing nationalism and religion. I have long believed that many aspects of Zionism are antithetical to Judaism, but until recently I thought it was just me and those guys from Neturei Karta.


    David · September 17th, 2009 at 8:17 pm
  4. This move is troubling to me, too, for exactly the reason you cite. Regardless of what one thinks about the Goldstone report (from where I sit, the fact that we are so unwilling to recognize its truths is shameful), the shofar service of all moments is not the place for politics. Put that in your sermon if you feel so moved; let your congregation argue about it, whatever. But don’t put that in the shofar service, when we’re called to acknowledge the divine sovereignty which trumps all forms of human rule.

    Bowing to the ground during the Great Aleinu can be one of the most powerful embodied experiences of prayer in the entire year! I’m appalled to think that the power of that moment will be mitigated, for some, by a political pitch with which they might or might not agree. For those who agree with this standpoint, hearing this from the bima serves to legitimate their own opinion; for those who disagree, hearing this from the bima serves to make them feel unwelcome and out of place. Either way, it’s inappropriate at this moment of awe and splendor. Gevalt.


    Rachel Barenblat · September 17th, 2009 at 8:24 pm
  5. Aren’t direct policy statements and calls to political mobilization pretty standard fare in Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc. shuls?

    How is this different from Obama asking Reform Rabbis to support his health insurance plan from the pulpit, also during the high holidays? KFJ wrote a post on that a while back and I don’t seem to remember big O or the Reform rabbis getting any flak for it.

    Is the objection to the context or to the content?


    Mika · September 17th, 2009 at 8:34 pm
  6. This is Reform-style liturgical manipulation at its worst! If you’re going to toss out a piece of a service, any replacement has got to have some sort of analogous meaning or focus. This is really shitty.


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 17th, 2009 at 9:17 pm
  7. In some ways it is even more insidious. It is not an internally generated Conservative document, but one from Ambassador Oren, asking Conservative rabbis to read it at services.


    Jeff · September 17th, 2009 at 9:35 pm
  8. Can someone clarify the context in which this was sent? It says above: “The Rabbinical Assembly distributed this letter today to its members, asking its rabbis to read the piece below….” Does that mean this was an officially sanctioned RA request? Who in this context is the RA? The leadership generally? Rabbi Wohlberg? Rabbi Schonfeld? A lower-level rabbi who just forwarded this along? The idea that the RA (or someone at the RA) would pass of such a thing as some sort of official RA position is substantively more troubling than the idea that some RA leader simply emailed this out (which is also troubling, but at a different scale).


    Gregg · September 17th, 2009 at 10:19 pm
  9. This letter was sent as an officially sanctioned request from RA professional and lay leadership. (EVP Julie Schoenfeld, President Jeffrey Wohlberg and Dir. of Israel Advocacy Stuart Weinblatt.)


    Shalom Rav · September 17th, 2009 at 10:27 pm
  10. Agreed that this is a bad idea.

    Since there probably won’t be a post on the Goldstone report before the chag, I just have to put it out there that the Goldstone report DOES represent Jew-hatred. There is no other explanation.

    Surely Judge Goldstone performed his job honestly and professionaly. Possibly the Israeli military committed all types of crimes during Cast Lead.

    Fine . . . but it’s disgusting that the U.N., the world’s body of justice, has two sets of laws. One for Israel, which is now a convicted criminal country.

    And another set of laws for the rest of the world, including the governments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (who terrorize their own peoples,) Russia (which carried out slaughters in Chechnya), China (which has held Tibetans under six decades of fear,) Iran (whose clerics stole an election this summer,)

    and, btw, also President Obama’s Administration (which is now encouraging the Pakistany military to visciously take order in the Swat Valley and is pushing for a troop increase in Afghanistan, which surely will lead to many more civilian casualties.)

    It’s disgusting.


    Jonathan1 · September 17th, 2009 at 10:46 pm
  11. In other Conservative Rabbinical news, check this out: www.forward.com/articles/114345/ Really sad stuff that Rabbi Wernick felt he needed to apologize as he spoke the truth a few days ago when he called out Conservative rabbis for only desiring to get paid instead of having zeal to bring people closer to God. And of course he said the ultimate truth about Conservative Judaism, “What do we believe in?” You get big ups from me Rabbi Wernick for saying it like it is. I think he’s really saying that when you take in the total effect of the Conservative rabbinate on Jewry as a whole today it accumulates as a big zero. You want to show me that this Conservative rabbi and that Conservative rabbi is doing good work, of course you can, but taken as a whole they are irrelevant. That is pretty much what Rabbi Wernick said. Of course he got vilified by the fat cats that put him in power and pay him his check so he had to apologize. At least he Rabbi Wernick did some honest introspection about the flocks he leads. To me his words up until his apology were the real introspection of Conservative Jewish life that I have longed to hear for years from a major player in the Conservative Rabbinate but simply no one has dared because it means losing their cash flow. Of course the empty pews, the people who say see you next Rosh Hashana when Yom Kippur ends and declining membership have spoken volumes to this for such a long time as well. I just wish Rabbi Wernick had more courage to stand up for his true comments.


    Kishkeman · September 17th, 2009 at 11:16 pm
  12. Jonathan1,

    I don’t think it’s so useful to compare Israel to barbaric, unprogressive terror regimes. The countries you mentioned are not merely judged by another standard, they’re simply NOT judged, period. And no one is suggesting that they be judged, certainly not on Jewschool.

    The countries you should be comparing Israel to are the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Netherlands, Spain… all the countries that make up the Afghan coalition and commit crimes against humanity on a daily basis, without consequences. The leaders of these nations have not once had to face inquisition in the media, and Human Rights Watch is likely to overlook German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s complicity in the crimes committed by her nation’s forces.

    Still, not a week goes by that NATO air forces does not murder 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 Afghan civilians in a mass casualty bombing.

    In the case of Israel, if you remember, in Lebanon and in Gaza the media talked up the *possibility* of a “mass casualty event” that would force Israel to end the war. That’s the margin Israel operates in. One bomb veers 20 meters to the right and Israel is dragged to sue for peace. Unacceptable casualties, we’re told. Unacceptable.

    Is anyone today counting Afghan dead? Every single week there is a errant, mass casualty bombing in the 50-100 range. Sure, there is growing opposition back home, but because of NATO casualties, not Afghan deaths.

    I’m surprised by how vigorously the Israeli government is fighting this latest tapestry of lies. We’ll see what happens.

    As for Jews and Jewschool, what Amit said earlier today is illustrative, and very very important.

    Why do people seem to think that placing the greater burden of responsibility on the side with F-16s, tanks and nuclear weapons, instead of the side with home made rockets and no airplanes is a stupid idea? You can’t have the planes if you don’t take the blame.


    Mika · September 18th, 2009 at 12:01 am
  13. It’s really heartening to be reminded that not everyone thinks synagogues should take their marching orders from the Israeli Embassy.

    Yes, being under nuclear threat is a terrible thing; isn’t it time that Israel took the lead and advocated making the Middle East a nuclear free zone?


    PacifistRabbi · September 18th, 2009 at 12:06 am
  14. It’s really heartening to be reminded that not everyone thinks synagogues should take their marching orders from the Israeli Embassy.

    But taking them from the White House is acceptable?
    Will no one address this glaring lack of consistency?


    Mika · September 18th, 2009 at 12:24 am
  15. Wilensky- The Conservative movement is not removing something from the liturgy. Traditionally, the shofar is not sounded on Shabbat. This is simply an addition to the liturgy.
    And I think here is a good place to discuss the meaning of HaTikva- Jews have for millenia prayed to worship freely in Jerusalem. The words of HaTikva are entirely consistent with Jewish prayer and Jewish tradition. And surely, I would hope that everyone on Jewschool wants Jews to be able to live freely in Israel (and I am one who has chosen to live here), even if that’s under a different government, along side Palestinians who are citizens, with different laws, what have you. But if somebody believes that no Jew has a right to live in Israel, I would question their values.
    The bigger issue in my opinion is the use of HaTikva as an Israeli anthem. I can understand discomfort at singing the anthem to the Jewish state, just as I understand the number of Israelis who don’t want to sing this anthem (including Jewish Israelis). If HaTikva were not the Israeli national anthem, but rather a Jewish anthem (and it, by the way, does not call for every Jew to move to Israel, either), would that make this better?
    I, for one, think Rosh Hashana is a good time to promote our values, including looking out for the poor, promoting peace, equality, etc. If discussing health care reform, singing Hatikva, or anything else similar accomplishes the goals of introspection on these days, I think the synagogues are doing their jobs.


    should be cooking · September 18th, 2009 at 2:19 am
  16. There is no question to me that Hamas, an armed movement with control over a tiny proto-state, should be judged by a different standard than the established, sovereign powerful Israel that utterly surrounds it. As for the other countries, who deserve the condemnation they get, holding Israel to just standards will only create precedents and remove excuses. As a good lefty, I am all for politics in the service! But singing a national anthem is not meant to be a provocative call to reflection and action, but rather a show of conformity. This will hardly make us better Jews, Americans, or bring a just end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


    trayf · September 18th, 2009 at 8:05 am
  17. As a Masorti/Conservative Jew, I see this as simply another sign the movement–which has lost its way and is trying to stop the bleeding of members to Reform, Orthodoxy, and even apostasy–is close to implosion. It’s a sad sign.


    Adam Shachor · September 18th, 2009 at 8:37 am
  18. I’m sorry, but Zionist aspirations to a Jewish nation-state, just as they may be, are not equal to Jewish hopes for a messianic age. It might be necessary to kill and steal for the existence of a state, but don’t say that these are messianic days. The Messiah, son of David, is not Bibi Netanyahu.


    Amit · September 18th, 2009 at 9:03 am
  19. Oh, and Kishkeman, stop vilifying Rabbis. It’s nor fair to expect everyone to work for pay and just the Rabbis to work for Free.


    Amit · September 18th, 2009 at 9:05 am
  20. But can we stay on topic? This is not a sermon “about”; this is comparing the state of Israel to the kingdom of God.


    Amit · September 18th, 2009 at 9:15 am
  21. on the white house and israeli embassy question: President Obama didn’t make a directive from the CCAR or RA…he asked that Rabbis talk about healthcare from a moral and religious pov. That is different than a piece coming from the professional org that all rabbis of the Reform and Conservative movements must join in order to be considered rabbis in thier movements. Also when the POTUS asks for you to be on the phone you go…where are the POTRA or POTCCAR asks you to be on the phone you check your calendar in hopes of dentist appointment.


    dcc · September 18th, 2009 at 9:54 am
  22. yeah, this is bullshit. not all jews are zionists, and not all zionists are right-wing zionists. any rabbi that reads this during this occasion deserved to be booed.


    shmuel · September 18th, 2009 at 10:46 am
  23. [...] Shalom Rav at Jewschool reports that the Rabbinical Assembly, the religious authority of the Conservative movement, has asked Jewish congregations to sing the "Hatikvah," the Israeli national anthem, at the start of the Jewish new year tonight as a means of combating the Goldstone report. [...]


    Conservative rabbis call on American Jews to sing Israeli anthem in synagogues to battle Goldstone! · September 18th, 2009 at 12:52 pm
  24. If I am not mistaken, justice must be applied equally to poor & rich, weak & strong. Are you saying that just because Gazans did not have F-16s, they had permission to lob 7,000 missiles into Israeli civilian areas? And that Israel’s only “proportionate” response would be what, to ask nicely (oops, they tried that)? to lob 7,000 missiles into Gazan civilian areas?

    Now the Goldstone report condemns Israel with nary a mention of the brutal Hamas takeover of Gaza and the provocation of their ever increasing missile barrages. Sponsored by the UNHRC which brought us Durban I & II; which condemned Israel more than all other UN countries Combined; which was led by bastions of human rights like Syria.

    Show mercy to those who are less fortunate, but to use their economic status to justify their murders and attempted murders… that’s a perversion of justice.

    Come on folks, look at this report for what it is: an attack on Israel, and by extension, on Jews. And look at the RA letter for what it is: a call for solidarity in the face of this attack.


    Samuel Asher · September 18th, 2009 at 3:27 pm
  25. People: Stay on topic! This issue isn’t opinion for or against the Goldstone report or for or against any particular Israeli policy. The issue was inserting a highly controversial political statement into one of the most important religious services in the Jewish calendar, and then asking those at the service to (presumably rise) and sing the Israeli national anthem. That is the issue. Wrong time, wrong place and an easy way to alienate or piss off a large number of people.


    Gregg · September 18th, 2009 at 4:35 pm
  26. dcc writes:
    Also when the POTUS asks for you to be on the phone you go…where are the POTRA or POTCCAR asks you to be on the phone you check your calendar in hopes of dentist appointment.

    Hey, let’s not bring the POTCCAR into this.


    BZ · September 18th, 2009 at 6:09 pm
  27. Getting back on topic, we did go along with some of the RA’s reccommendation at my synagogue’s services, including singing of Hatikva, which I supported.

    My politics notwithstanding, it was the wrong place and the wrong time. Altogether a mistake. It elevated a temporal political issue into a realm where it did not belong, and diminished the spirituality of the service. I stand corrected.


    Samuel Asher · September 19th, 2009 at 10:37 pm
  28. There was no mention of this nor the singing of Ha Tikvah at the Conservative shul I attended on the first day of Rosh HaShanah.


    ML · September 19th, 2009 at 10:40 pm
  29. Samuel Asher, could you describe in greater detail how you changed your mind? Was it an internal voice, or they way the congregation behaved, someone’s comment, or what? We passed the shofar around and took turns blowing it (or trying to) last night at a gathering of people who were unlikely to go to shul today, and the non-verbal power of the moment was incredible — perhaps no text (and certainly not Hatikvah) can rival that.

    I’ll check with my colleagues tonight and try to ascertain what percent of them followed the movement’s directive


    PacifistRabbi · September 20th, 2009 at 8:27 am
  30. We did sing Hatikvah yesterday, at our rabbi’s request. Only after this did he read the letter and say that (1) this was irregular as part of the service, (2) he had not realized that the threat to Israel by Iran was “so dire,” and (3) while other countries have a march as an anthem, Hatikvah is not a march but “a prayer.”

    The whole thing struck me as strange. Why were we asked to sing before we knew the reason? Why, if the rabbi was ambivalent, did he require the singing of Hatikvah? And why describe Israel’s anthem as a prayer (it’s a poem or hymn, not a prayer) while describing others as marches (the US national anthem is not a march)?

    This entire affair has left a bad taste, and sent me directly to the web in search of the thoughts of others.

    RLS, Portland OR


    Renee L · September 20th, 2009 at 2:27 pm
  31. RLS – Tell your Rabbi the threat is not dire and our own defense minister said as much last week. Your rabbi was an unwitting accomplice to propaganda.


    Amit · September 20th, 2009 at 7:46 pm
  32. Also – service wise – I think that is one of the main turn-off points of the Conservative and Reform service. The service shouldn’t be structured in such a way that a Rabbi can turn pieces of it on or off at will and talk in the middle. It should run smoothly without interruption.


    Amit · September 20th, 2009 at 7:53 pm
  33. Bleah. As an Israeli, I’m disgusted with this latest bleat of reflexive loyalty to the Israeli state.


    Jew Guevara · September 20th, 2009 at 8:06 pm
  34. Dear PacifistRabbi,
    How/why I changed my mind: First off, we did not read the letter sent by the Israeli Ambassador, but rather, a letter written by Rabbi Benjamin Segal about the Goldstone report, which I would be happy to share if you wish. In any case, the interruption of the service in response to a report that took months to compile, regarding a military operation that happened 9 months ago gave the event a sense of urgency which was unwarranted, and therefore, disingenuous. At that point, both the rabbi and I felt it was a mistake.
    I discovered later that 2 congregants left in protest, both Zionists, but from opposite political views (PeaceNow vs conservative hawk), but both of whom were offended by the introduction of the non-urgent current event into the liturgy. At that point, I realized that not only was it a mistake, but it was a bad mistake in that it diminished the holiday and the cohesion of the congregation.


    Samuel Asher · September 20th, 2009 at 9:10 pm
  35. BTW, today’s service was very moving… in part because we all attempted to heal the wounds of yesterday and work anew from a place of shared beliefs and where we could agree to be challenged.


    Samuel Asher · September 20th, 2009 at 9:16 pm
  36. there was no Hatikva at the service I attended (Conservative); I don’t know of many that planned to do so.
    I will say that I think it’s rather unfair to dismiss Conservative rabbis as chasing a paycheck (@Kishekeman. Having gone to seminary myself, I don’t know of ANY rabbi who went through where that was the motivation. Most of us went, collected huge debt, and are still paying it off. Most of us took sabbaticals from lives in which we received more money than we ever will as rabbis (and for women… make that a triple, since women rabbis are still make far less than men, and not in the sense comparable to other professions) and most of us are struggling to help individuals and communities develop commitments to at tradition that demands a lot more of them than most of them will ever be willing to commit.
    We’re there 24/7 for people who see no problem with getting rid of us because they don’t care for our sense of sartorial style, and if we ask them to do a little more, they get irate because we’re telling them they’re not good enough as they are (even when that can’t possibly be the intended message).
    Cut a little slack for people who are available on vacation, put up with helpful comments about how our families are structured, and your complaints about your caterer who won’t give you the choice of steak or salmon for $10 a head, and also for your righteous indignation that we ask your children to come to religious school AND services on Saturday when it perfectly obvious to everyone with brain, that kids need to learn that commitment to a team is important.
    You know, if rabbis were in it for them money, a. they wouldn’t be conservative rabbis (who on the scale don’t nearly make as much as some movements, except after they’ve been working for many years) and b. they wouldn’t be rabbis.


    KRG · September 20th, 2009 at 9:30 pm
  37. Aside from the one, did this actually happen at many conservative shuls? I was wary and nervous that it would at mine, but it did not, nor did it happen at the shul down the road, so I hear. Can folks report in so we can get a sense of how this went down?
    sof maarav


    sof maarav · September 20th, 2009 at 9:37 pm
  38. I went to a Conservative synagogue where the rabbi spoke about supporting Obama’s healthcare reform plans (which I happen to support.) Why, though, is that any different than this?


    Jonathan1 · September 20th, 2009 at 10:26 pm
  39. Because it was one rabbi’s choice, not a movement suggestion.


    KRG · September 21st, 2009 at 7:31 am
  40. Jonathan1 writes:
    I went to a Conservative synagogue where the rabbi spoke about supporting Obama’s healthcare reform plans (which I happen to support.) Why, though, is that any different than this?

    It’s the difference between the rabbi expressing his/her own views (which everyone is free to agree or disagree with, as for any other d’var torah) vs. creating a norm in which everyone is expected to join in (and disagreement is, at the very least, conspicuous — maybe you don’t HAVE to stand and sing Hatikvah when everyone else does, but if you choose not to, you’re in the position of actively protesting).


    BZ · September 21st, 2009 at 7:34 am
  41. Also, this isn’t even a sentence:
    On this holy day, which is not only Rosh Hashanah, but also Shabbat, the Shofar is silent in the face of this spurious report, the world is far too silent.


    BZ · September 21st, 2009 at 7:35 am
  42. Speaking of Hatikvah, the occasional practice (primarily in Conservative communities) of using the Hatikvah melody for “vahavieinu leshalom” annoys the hell out of me — it’s making the explicit claim that political Zionism is THE answer to the classical yearning for Zion, and injecting that into the service right before the Shema.


    BZ · September 21st, 2009 at 7:46 am
  43. the Shofar is silent in the face of this spurious report
    I don’t understand how the Shofar would have been effective against the “spurious report”.


    Amit · September 21st, 2009 at 8:33 am
  44. @BZ – read the Conservative emended Mussaf carefully.


    Amit · September 21st, 2009 at 8:34 am
  45. @BZ–fair enough

    Because it was one rabbi’s choice, not a movement suggestion

    Why would this make even a bit of difference to somebody sitting in a congregation?


    Jonathan1 · September 21st, 2009 at 8:51 am
  46. Jonathan1, it’s the difference between “I think” and “We think.” Or “I think” and “All Conservative Jews think.”

    Although this letter wasn’t read at my shul on the holidays, I did have this conversation ringing in my head when we recited the piyyut “Kol Ma-aminim” (“All believe…”).


    dlevy · September 21st, 2009 at 10:33 am
  47. Okay, let’s put this another way: If we took politics out of our shuls altogether, would that be a bad thing? While a lot of rabbis may think they are policy experts, most aren’t. and even if they are, is the bimah an appropriate and adequate place to discuss policy? I don’t really think so. and hatikvah isn’t a prayer. it’s a national anthem, and doesn’t belong in a prayer service. unless its for “yom haatzmut” (not a real chag anyway, and a fast for some)


    shmuel · September 21st, 2009 at 12:22 pm
  48. @dlevy – Actually, the difference between “I think” and “God thinks”.


    Amit · September 21st, 2009 at 1:36 pm
  49. I would hope that congregants are smart enough to be able to distinguish the words of religious organizational leaders from the words of God. We don’t have a pope.


    dlevy · September 21st, 2009 at 1:48 pm
  50. I object 100% to the implication that some have made here that rabbis shouldn’t talk about politics at all.

    We live in a society with an expansive and pervasive central government. Our health, safety, finances, personal property, even our loving relationships are all touched by the federal government of the United States.

    To say that rabbis can’t talk about politics is to say that rabbis can’t talk about current societal issues of relevance. And that renders rabbis themselves irrelevant. I’d rather my religious scholars seek to apply their religious knowledge to the real world that American Jews live in.


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 21st, 2009 at 2:29 pm
  51. Hi, all.

    I’m a rabbi (though not a Conservative one.) I also found the suggested Musaf ‘Hatikvah’ substitution heavyhanded and inappropriate – there is certainly room to talk about Israel in the context of the yamim noraim, but that place in the liturgy is totally inappropriate.

    Regarding health care: I was one of the rabbis who participated (i.e. listened to) the conference call with the President last month, and I didn’t find him to cross the line in terms of urging clergy to speak out on the moral dimensions of healthcare. He explicitly did not urge us to support his specific policy initiatives, which was reiterated by several of the rabbinic comments after he left the call.

    That being said, I did *not* do a policy sermon just on healthcare, though it was one of the major issues I used as an example. Instead, I critiqued the shallow way that we Americans have been discussing health care, climate change, and other issues relating to the general welfare — see below for more details if you care; I did share my view that universal healthcare for basic needs is a Jewish value, but that congressional nuts-and-bolts were way beyond my expertise; and I announced an upcoming study session on healthcare and Jewish values, so that we could explore these issues in a more conducive forum.

    For anyone who cares, here is a little more on what I did this year in my sermon focusing on the public sphere:

    I am personally a strong supporter of universal healthcare, with support coming from several different areas of concern: Jewish ethics; basic Western notions of justice and equality; utilitarian calculus; and personal experience with those abandoned by the system.

    I didn’t feel as if it was appropriate to do a straight policy talk on healthcare — but what I did talk about was the individual and communal dimensions of “teshuva, tefillah, u-tzedakah” — that while our individual fates may be out of our control, social and governmental policy and its effect do indeed influence, in the aggregate, ‘who shall live and who shall die.” I then explored what teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah might look like on a communal/national level. (Teshuvah as recognition of an unsustainable path, turning back to a sustainable one; tefillah read as searching internal dialogue and inquiry (not screaming at oneself/one another), based on the notion that lehitpalel/to pray is a reflexive verb, one denoting something you do to/for yourself; tzedakah read as making tzedek/justice the metric of whether a policy is a just and worthy one, or not.) I used healthcare as 1 illustration, climate/environment/energy as another, suburban dislocation and dissolution of communal involvement as a third…

    Kol tuv and shanah tovah!


    mef · September 21st, 2009 at 3:29 pm
  52. mef, that’s very interesting, thank you. I think a creative, competent Rabbi who cared equally about Israel’s security, as you do about healthcare, could conduct just as eloquent a sermon on the importance of fighting against injustice by defending the rights of Jews to life, freedom and self-determination. After all, “If I am not for myself, who is?” This could be followed, at a later date, by an optional discussion about what the community can do to support and ensure Israel’s security, the security of Jews around the world, and the foundations in Jewish texts which obligate us to actively preserve Jewish life, not to sit back and be slaughtered like sheep.

    The idea that one type of politics should be allowed in a place of worship, but that another cannot be is emotionally absurd, but more importantly, it’s intellectually inconsistent, and thus hypocritical.

    A Rabbi at the bimah has a captive audience – held literally captive by social custom and peer pressure. Individuals in that captive audience are no more able to protest a Rabbi supporting the intrusion of government into their healthcare than they are to protest a singing of Hatikvah. In either case, their choices are to either to expose themselves to social ostracism or comply.

    If you favor one type of political intrusion into the synogogue, and do not favor the other, you are intellectually inconsistent, and thus a hypocrite. If you are comfortable with that idea, that’s fine. If being a hypocrite troubles you, however, you should seek a more morally just and intellectually defensible position.


    Mika · September 21st, 2009 at 5:30 pm
  53. Mika-
    You’re arguing with a straw man. Multiple people have already given various answers as to the difference between the two, and NONE of them suggested that the relevant difference was the substance of the issue.


    BZ · September 21st, 2009 at 5:58 pm
  54. Also, get your government hands off my Medicare!


    BZ · September 21st, 2009 at 5:58 pm
  55. For crying out loud, it’s not the politics aspect of it, its the Avoda Zara aspect of it! If a rabbi asked the congregation to chant “Single Payer” in various ways to mimic a shofar 100 times between torah reading and musaf, I’d be all over that too.
    (But nobody would think of doing that, because that’s stupid)


    Amit · September 21st, 2009 at 6:19 pm
  56. BZ,

    I would argue that you’re the one setting up a straw man by mischaracterizing my position as not taking in the views of those who commented earlier, and in creating the appearance that multiple people have already rejected my assertions. Since I, and then Jonathan1 posited the question, only three people have replied in any direct fashion on this issue of intellectual consistency – you, Shmuel and David A.M. Wilensky.

    The vast majority of commentators prior to this ignored the inherent hypocrisy in having two, utterly inconsistent positions, focusing instead on the content of the offending politics.

    Shmuel, seeing the need to be consistent, offered that politics be removed completely. David A.M. Wilensky countered, also in a way that was consistent, that politics should certainly remain in the synagogue.

    You proposed to demonstrate the difference between supporting one (healthcare) and opposing the other (Hatikvah). Thus, as the only party to actually attempt to stay consistent – while remaining inconsistent – I fully took your argument into account, and refuted it.

    It’s the difference between the rabbi expressing his/her own views (which everyone is free to agree or disagree with, as for any other d’var torah) vs. creating a norm in which everyone is expected to join in (and disagreement is, at the very least, conspicuous — maybe you don’t HAVE to stand and sing Hatikvah when everyone else does, but if you choose not to, you’re in the position of actively protesting).

    I responded that there is no difference between the situations you are describing. In both cases, a captive audience is held hostage to a Rabbi’s preferred political views, under threat of peer pressure, potential embarrassment, ridicule and social ostracism should they protest.

    Regarding “creating a norm”, I believe you are using an imprecise analogy. If for Hatikvah, the act of compliance is to stand and sing and the act of protest is to stay seated and be silent, then for Healthcare, the act of compliance is to remain seated in the audience and listen, while the act of protest is to stand and remove yourself from the synagogue. Both place the protester in a position of “actively protesting”, and thus subject to social stigma.

    As I said earlier… captive audience… a Rabbi’s personal policy preferences… social pressure to comply. If you favor one type of political intrusion into the synagogue, and do not favor the other, you are intellectually inconsistent, and thus a hypocrite.


    Mika · September 21st, 2009 at 6:22 pm
  57. I don’t even know Hatikvah by heart! Were I in one of these synagogues, I would have stood up and not known what to sing.


    Mika · September 21st, 2009 at 6:24 pm
  58. (But nobody would think of doing that, because that’s stupid)

    It’s only “stupid” because a shofar-like chant is useless to passing Obama’s Healthcare, whereas distributing talking points actually leads to political mobilization.


    Mika · September 21st, 2009 at 6:29 pm
  59. Who said anything about talking points? Get on topic.


    Amit · September 22nd, 2009 at 5:27 am
  60. I promised I’d get back with some kind of survey of what happened at Conservative synagogues during Shabbat’s ersatz shofar service, but there’s been zero discussion of the matter on the RA’s listserv. Apparently, the topic is so loaded that noone feels like broaching it…


    PacifistRabbi · September 22nd, 2009 at 7:31 am
  61. Broach it, man! The discussion needs to happen.


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 22nd, 2009 at 11:17 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik