The Tikkun Olam Committee at Har HaShem recently sent out a letter advocating support for the health care bill and encouraging congregants to call their Congressional Representatives and Senators to encourage the bill's passage. It was signed "Rabbi Rose and the Tikkun Olam Committee."
I have received four responses from Congregants saying, essentially, "It was inappropriate for the Rabbi to advocate a particular political position and to encourage congregants to adopt that position." I'm not capturing the nuance of the letters, some of which were particularly thoughtful, but that is the gist.
First, I want to be clear that, as we said in the letter, you can certainly be a good Jew and oppose this legislation. The Jewish tradition does not require anyone to support this bill. Going further, there are some people who will find that Jewish values require them to oppose this legislation – that is a legitimate perspective. I want everyone to feel that the Jewish tradition and Har HaShem are foundational to their spiritual lives even if they disagree with others in the synagogue about any particular issue.
Second, though, I wanted to open this for discussion. Is it ever appropriate for a Rabbi in a synagogue to encourage passage of a particular piece of legislation? If so, under what circumstances?
Guidelines: keep responses brief and respectful. This is not a place for anger-filled polemics.
My argument is
All Jews, rabbis included, have obligation to make their voices heard when their tradition calls upon them to speak out.
Because we live in a diverse democracy, all people must use neutral language that is not particularistic in their political discussions. Though you may feel that “God wants me to support/oppose this or that legislation,” in a diverse society you must use rational, secular language to be persuasive.
There is no such thing as a moral issue that is not sullied by the particulars of legislation. The civil rights debate in the 50s and 60s were not just about “Inequality is immoral and must be stopped!” It was about legal language, constitutional powers, the balance between state and federal power. So, a Jew can’t seriously advocate/oppose a moral position on issue X without rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with particulars.
Finally, Judaism is a religious tradition oriented toward not only the cultivation of individual spiritual life but also toward the creation of a just society. It requires us to look after the well-being of other people. One may say that conservative or liberal policies are the best way to achieve this, but my argument is that Judaism does not want us to disengage from political issues – which, I’m arguing, are actually moral issues.
What do you think?