On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, print journalism and the blogosphere are abound with conversations about what rabbis will be talking about when congregants sit in the pews on Thursday and Friday. After this summer, there is no shortage of material. A rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, an increase in violence on college campuses, the murders of four teenage boys — three Israeli and one Palestinian — a 50-day war with Hamas in Gaza where more than 75 percent of Israel was within reach of rockets, not to mention the worsening situation in the Ukraine and the proliferation of ISIS — should be enough for any clergy person to sink their teeth into and make a meaningful message.
Thus, I am surprised to see an article in the New York Times yesterday which claims many rabbinic colleagues — most maintaining anonymity for fear of their views affecting their positions — will not broach Israel, or events surrounding Israel, as a topic for their sermon for fear of offending the right or left and for an inability to craft a take-away message from the sermon.
Further to the point, Peter Beinart wrote in Haaretz this week that rabbis should steer away from sermons about Israel these High Holidays because they are “B-grade pundits.” His point expressly implies that rabbis are ill equipped to speak about Israel effectually. Additionally, Beinart says the real issue with the Jewish world today is illiteracy with Jewish texts, not issues about Israel and that is where rabbis should dial in their sermonic coordinates this New Year.
My response to Peter Beinart and the many anonymous rabbis quoted by the New York Times is simple: Don’t wimp out.
Then again, if you're going to mimic the execrable Peter Beinart's views on Israel, maybe you should stick to the texts.What congregations around the globe want from their leaders more than any teaching or story is simple. They want courage. They want leaders with convictions and principles and passion. Congregants want to be infected by their clergy with that passion. As clergy members we have been deputized to share our interpretation – both of texts and current events – and to lend a Jewish voice and lens to the situation we find ourselves living within. Few people want to come to synagogue to hear a tofu-flavored thought about the Torah portion these days. They want to know what you think and why you think it. That is, after all, why they hired you...