Friday, October 26, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for October 26

I endorse….  Coming to our area’s best Friday night service – 7:30 tonight!

I endorse… Malerie Yolen-Cohen, who will be discussing her new book tomorrow morning – her journey across America parallels the Torah portion, which discusses Abram and Sarai’s journey across the Fertile Crescent, to a land that God has chosen.  We’ll also be celebrating the naming of Jocelyn Sloane Moy, daughter of Russell and Tamar

I endorse… our first family service of the season, tomorrow morning, as well as Rabbi Dardashti’s class about Shabbat on Sunday morning.

I endorse… AIPAC’s “Faces and Races” election preview here on Monday night (and a weather forecast that will push Hurricaine Sandy out to sea).

I endorse… signing the petition for religious equality at the Western Wall. I've written extensively about the heroic efforts of the Women of the Wall to fight for justice and alter the discriminatory status quo at Judaism's holiest site.  Last week it took a turn for the worse, as the leader of W.O.W was arrested for singing the Sh'ma during a Rosh Hodesh service at the Wall.  About 250 women were participating, many of whom were attending the Hadassah convention.  American Jews have been fuming over this arrest and also over the thus far tepid response of Hadassah leaders.  I hope my Hadassah friends can prove me wrong on this one.  Click here for  a news story regarding the arrest, followed by Hoffman's reaction and the petition for us to sign.

I endorse… discussions about how best to incorporate Halloween into our kids’ lives.  See a number of different views here.  Ronnie Brockman offers additional ideas in this week’s early childhood blog post.

I endorse… the fabulous lessons taught to us by last week’s b’nai mitzvah, Sam Porto and Ryan Murphy

I endorse… interfaith conversation.  I very much enjoyed hearing Susannah Heschel at UConn the other night and taking part of the interfaith panel.  You can see a similar lecture of hers here.   See also my Times of Israel commentary on the recent visit of the Dalai LamaI implore you to read Abraham Joshua Heschel’s seminal essay on the topic of interreligious dialogue, ”No Religion is an Island.”  Heschel writes, “ I suggest that the most significant basis for meeting of men of different religious traditions is the level of fear and trembling, of humility and contrition, where our individual moments of faith are mere waves in the endless ocean of mankind's reaching out for God, where all formulations and articulations appear as understatements, where our souls are swept away by the awareness of the urgency of answering God's commandment, while stripped of pretension and conceit we sense the tragic insufficiency of human faith.”

And finally…

I endorse…religious leaders not endorsing candidates.  October 7 was declared Pulpit Freedom Sunday as part of an ongoing effort spearheaded by by a group calling itself the “Alliance Defending Freedom” to defy IRS restrictions on pulpit endorsements.   The Alliance claims that over 1,600 pastors have participated thus far.  Pulpit endorsements are, of course, not relegated to conservative groups like the Alliance or to Christians.  Over 600 of my colleagues have signed on to “Rabbis for Obama” (including several from our area), which has led to the creation of a ”Rabbis for Romney” group, though those rabbis have chosen to remain anonymous. 

The history of the 1954 tax amendment is fascinating.  It was offered by Senator Lyndon Johnson, and evidently without any connection to church-state issues or the Bill of Rights.  It was a simple amendment to a bill and there was almost no discussion.  It speaks to churches as institutions and references clergy on inasmuch as they endorse candidates from the pulpit itself.  It’s hard to say what the original goal was, but it seems clear that it was not to preserve that precious Wall of Separation. 

It is understandable that clergy are going so far as to declare an allegiance to a candidate.  The stakes are enormously high, passions are at a fever pitch and the core issues of this campaign touch on those values that define our faith traditions.  If clergy can’t speak out on one of the most important decisions their parishioners are going to make, what can they speak out on?  

In my view, clergy can and should speak to the values their traditions hold dear, but that directly endorsing candidates does blur that precious Wall of church/ state separation, the very thing that makes religious freedom possible in our country.  In most countries, (including, alas, Israel), religion and politics are hopelessly intertwined.   In America, at least in theory, religion speaks from a position of independence and autonomy, rather than as a cog in any partisan political machine.  That enables religious leaders to work toward building bridges that can link those on both sides of the political chasm, bringing together those with divergent views.  It also enables us to speak truth to power authentically and independently, though it can still be supportively.  So I don’t endorse.

There is no question that enormous issues are at stake in this election.  For me, as with many Jews, Israel is high on that list.  As I have stated before, I feel that both major candidates are very supportive of Israel.  I am delighted to see that over the past few weeks a real consensus has emerged between them regarding how to deal with the Iranian threat (as we saw particularly in the foreign policy and Vice Presidential debates).  Israel has stronger bipartisan support in this country than ever before, and we all need to keep it that way.  You don’t get unanimous Senate votes like the recent Iran sanctions resolution other than with strong bipartisanship.  It’s strong, but like everything else in this turbulent world, it’s fragile.  We can’t and mustn’t play political games with it.  I strongly endorse… bipartisanship on Israel.

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