Political Sermons Squander a Precious Opportunity to Engage with Judaism

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.

Read more at JNS

More about: American Judaism, High Holidays, Judaism

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood