Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Rabbis, Religion and North Carolina Politics

Abortion. Moral Mondays. It is one of those times when there is no neutral, when to keep silent also speaks. What's a rabbi in North Carolina to do? Here is what I shared with my congregation this past Saturday:
A friend said to me this week, "You're our rabbi. We're looking to you for some guidance, some inspiration." It was July 4, 2011 when we arrived to Durham from Israel -- two years and two days ago. I am still getting used to the idea that you want me, who reads the same newspapers as you do, to say something about what is happening in those newspapers. To be honest, as I expressed to the congregation during my interview process, I am not really an activist rabbi and this part of the job probably makes me the most uncomfortable, not only because, while I consider myself well-read and try to keep up with what is happening in the news, there are many people in the congregation who are considerably more well-versed in North Carolina politics than I, but also because the whole mixing of religion and politics is fraught with danger, both for politics and religion.
First, religion can stifle political debate. I don't want a society in which politicians make decisions about issues affecting our State by quoting scripture. I love the bible but too often it is a conversation stopper. Someone quotes a verse -- what else is there to say? Too often the use of religious language stops, rather than engenders, the debate that I believe is how we arrive at wisdom. My teacher, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, wrote in his book, To Do the Right and the Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics:
I believe in the Aristotelian model for attaining social wisdom -- namely, that all views should be aired in the marketplace of ideas, with none given a priori authority...I would seek to determine America's commonalities in thought and values inductively, testing for agreement amid the diversity of traditions and attitudes brought to the table. This approach also parallels both the method and "the sound and fury" of each page of the Talmud, where multiple opinions must be heard and evaluated before a decision is made...
In debating critical societal matters, religion should play a role, but I don't think it should play the trump card that it too often does.
Read the rest here

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