While attending services away from home at a synagogue my wife and I were visiting for Rosh Hashanah, it occurred to me that the Rabbi’s sermon could just as well been heard at a Quaker Meeting. It was an interesting homily but there was nothing uniquely Jewish about it. His themes focused on rejecting hate, welcoming the stranger, refraining from labeling people, and not being judgmental. In short, his themes were all very social consciously uplifting. But there was nothing uniquely Jewish about them.
During one sermon the Conservative Rabbi had the temerity to launch an assault on President Trump, not by innuendo, but by name. He criticized the President, for affixing unflattering labels on folks, which of course he does. We’ve all heard the names: pencil neck Schiff, Pocahontas Warren and sleepy Joe Biden, names not becoming for a president to pin on his opponents. Of course, the fact that Trump has been called a Nazi, Fascist and Hitler by those who hate him, some of whom were the congregants the Rabbi was addressing, was not mentioned. I suppose not all labels are created equal, nor is chastising congregants for making such outrageously offensive comparisons, advisable for a variety of reasons.
There were several other offensive and unbecoming swipes at the President blatantly hurled from the bimah but frankly it is not worth belaboring the point. You all get it and if you don’t, well then, no matter what I say you never will because you choose not to do so. But back to my main objection to the sermons which was there was not a hint of anything I could call uniquely Jewish about how we should live as Jews, in terms of practice, ritual, customs, and Halacha. The Rabbi did touch upon one Jewish theme, the prohibition against sinat chinam, baseless hatred, but never mentioned the necessity and legitimacy of the hatred of evil. The infamous cowardly, genocidal Amalek comes to mind and the Biblical injunction, “thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget”. Granted social justice causes are important Jewish values but they are also the values of Atheists, Protestants, Catholics and many other religious groups.
At this time of the year, the season of reflection and introspection, I would have welcomed an inspirational and uplifting pair of homilies, teachable moments of how to become a more observant Jew instead of the not too subtle politically charged denigration of our President.