Be kind to your rabbi

All rabbis about to officiate at High Holiday services are currently writing and editing their sermons, and they are worrying mightily whether they will be successful in touching the heart of their congregants, stimulating their thought, and elevating their spirits. They are also fearful that they will fail to do so and thereby disappoint their congregations.

I know, because that is what I did, felt, and worried about every summer for the last forty years, except this summer – I retired from the congregational rabbinate at the end of June.

I had two overarching concerns in writing sermons over the years based on two themes extant throughout the Biblical prophetic literature; to challenge societal trends that compromise our people’s prophetic ethics and values (see Amos 5:24) and to offer solace and comfort to my congregants in confusing and difficult times (see Isaiah 40:1).

I also delivered one sermon each year that expressed my love for the people  of Israel and for the well-being of the Jewish and democratic state of Israel, but I never hesitated to critique Israeli government policies that failed to measure up to the liberal Zionist vision as articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I spoke always as an American Jew and not as an Israeli citizen, for Israelis are the ones who bear the consequences directly of decisions their leaders make and policies their leaders put into effect. Yet, what Israel does affects me as an American Jew. I taught that we Diaspora Jews have a stake in what Israel does even though we are not citizens. As supporters of  the Jewish state, we have the right to speak as members of the larger Jewish family.

In recent years, I also felt compelled to address challenges to American democracy against a standard of liberal Jewish values and American democratic traditions. Not to do so, in my opinion, constitutes a dereliction of the responsibility of rabbinic moral leadership. In a recent Times of Israel blog (, I explained the guidelines I followed when writing High Holiday sermons, and I characterized the difference between “politics” (using the classic Greek definition) and partisanship (i.e. the support of one political party and candidate over another). I spoke mostly about the former and not the latter.

We need our rabbis to speak to us as honestly, eloquently, and inspirationally as they can during this season. Doing so, however, is not easy. I hope that all congregants appreciate their rabbi’s efforts whether or not they agree with what their rabbis say.

If your rabbi inspires you to think and reflect deeply – if he/she elevates your spirit and helps you to see the world as if with new eyes – if your rabbi touches you and you feel renewed as a consequence of his/her words – tell them so and offer them your gratitude. They will appreciate that simple gesture more than you can know. They write for you and a good/great sermon is a veritable gift offered from heart to the heart and soul to soul.

To my rabbinic friends and colleagues – Godspeed and ometz lev.

L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah l’kulam.

About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and a past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of 3 books - "From the West to the East - A Memoir of a Liberal American Rabbi" (2024), "Why Israel Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to the Next Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (Revised edition 2023), and “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (2017). All are available at John translated and edited the Hebrew biography of his Great Granduncle – "Avraham Shapira – Veteran of the Haganah and Hebrew Guard" by Getzel Kressel (publ. by the Municipality of Petach Tikvah, 1955). The translation was privately published (2021). John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has two grandchildren and he lives in Los Angeles.
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