Across America, rabbis of various denominations are at work preparing to address their congregations on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Especially given the upheavals of the past twelve months, many no doubt feel a need to reckon with major political and social questions. Rebecca Sugar urges them not to give in to that temptation, and not because sermons tend to be too left-wing or two right-wing:
[The High Holy Days are an] opportunity to speak to American Jews about the enriching legacy of their faith exactly at the moment they are most open to it. There are not nearly enough moments . . . like this. To use the ones that we do have to promote political ideology is neither a good use of precious time nor a service to Jews looking for a bit of elevating spiritual guidance.
It is also a bad strategy. At a dinner a few weeks ago with two couples who are longtime members of a prominent Reform temple in Manhattan, one friend was recommending Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s daily online Bible class. He said something every Reform and Conservative Rabbi should take note of. “I learned more about my faith and Jewish thought in the first few sessions of this class than my temple has taught me in more than 40 years of attending services there.” Surprised by the biblical text’s sophisticated insights into human nature and its inspiration for contemporary living, he said that he felt deprived by his rabbi, whose Rosh Hashanah sermon last year focused on race in America.
If rabbis continue to send the message to their twice-a-year Jews that religion is simply a lens for politics, those Jews will continue to do what they have been doing—lose the lens and access the politics directly through other venues better-suited to the task.