interior of a large synagogue
(Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Keep synagogues a safe space, free of political advocacy

It’s no secret that divisiveness is at an all-time high. It’s also no secret that Chabad’s openness and love-of-every-Jew approach brings many different types of Jews together under one roof.

Well, the coexistence of these two non-secrets has recently made my role as a Chabad rabbi more challenging.

At 7:30 a.m., I pray with a man who renewed his family’s passports just in case they have to flee the country under the new administration.

At my 12 p.m. study group, someone tells me that, for the first time in eight years, he slept peacefully knowing the old administration is finally gone.

Then at 7:30 p.m., I meet with a woman who just returned from Washington, D.C., where she passionately marched against the new president.

What am I to do? How am I to react? Do I keep quiet, smile and tell everyone they’re right? (We rabbis are good at that!)

I am well aware that many of my colleagues are using their pulpits as political megaphones, genuinely seeing it as their religious and rabbinic duty to tie Judaism to the political heat of the day. Indeed, many rabbis deliver sermons and write articles offering the definitive “Jewish Perspective.”

With all due respect, I take a different approach.

I have resolved to keep our Chabad center free of tumultuous political tension.

Should a family feel less a part of our community because of the political views we champion from the pulpit?

Firstly, bringing politics into the synagogue alienates a segment of our brothers and sisters. How many individuals have become disenchanted and estranged because their synagogue — an ancient safe space — became a chamber of political rhetoric? Should a family feel less a part of our community because of the political views we champion from the pulpit?

But I believe it runs much deeper. We rabbis ought not lock Judaism into a box, paint God one solid color or strip the Torah of its nuanced view of life.

Yes, we turn to the Torah to navigate the issues of the day, but can we categorically state that God has an absolute position on building a wall along our southern border, curbing gun ownership, subsidizing health care, abolishing capital punishment or leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Can we, as rabbis, wholeheartedly tell our congregants that God is in favor of a particular candidate?

We do know the issues that God definitively supports. He is pro-charity, pro-Shabbat, pro-kosher, pro-honoring parents, etc. It is these sacred instructions and traditions, not political advocacy, which ought to guide our sermons, classes and articles. It is these mitzvahs that we ought to live by as shining examples for our constituents.

But a rabbi who claims to know God’s definitive positions on current issues deserves both skepticism and scrutiny.

Do I have personal views and preferences on political issues? Certainly.

Yet I dare not abuse my position by giving off the impression that my opinions represent an absolute truth from Mount Sinai. For in so doing I may be reducing the truths from Sinai to nothing more than my own personal opinions.

While it’s easy, and sometimes tempting, for us to become mouthpieces for a political party or movement, I am personally proud that seated around the table at our weekly Shabbat luncheon you will find viewers of Fox News and MSNBC engaged in a heated discussion about … the weekly Torah portion.

Our message to our communities ought to be a clear one: Whether your preference is syndicated talk radio or NPR, you belong at our table as an integral part of the Jewish People and we can serve as your rabbis.

Rabbi Raleigh Resnick
Rabbi Raleigh Resnick

Rabbi Raleigh Resnick is the spiritual leader and director of Chabad of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton.