Jonathan S. Tobin’s article, Trump and Rabbinic Virtue Signaling and the implication that the purpose of the rabbinical boycott of the annual High Holiday conference call with the President of the U.S. was a political statement, not a moral or religious one, is worthy of very serious discussion. The board of every Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist synagogue in the United States should evaluate the wisdom of positioning their brand as the religious wing of the Democratic Party.
My Congregation, Chicago Sinai, was founded in 1861 and its facade and the cover of its Prayer Book are inscribed with the words “MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE.” While I believe these words were once sincere, they are no longer. Like many rabbis across the country, mine aggressively supports the “boycott Trump” decree from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). Following the path predicted by Tobin, my rabbi reassured his “overwhelmingly liberal congregation that they won’t be contaminated by contact with Trump.”
Interestingly, he used the exact “contamination” allegory in his article, Do Not Join Yourself to the Wicked. The message is clear; if you support President Trump, you are wicked and unwelcome. The rabbi performs the requisite trite virtue signalling by establishing that he did not vote for President Trump, saying “I am glad I know well enough not to put myself in a position where I will ever need to apologize for words spoken by (him).” He goes on to warn those with views that stray from approved CCAR doctrine by saying “that if you are willing to get too close to hate, the stink will stay with you.” He concludes by offering repentance so the unwashed “won’t need to wake up in the morning and apologize for their associations.” Chicago Sinai Congregation, like the Reform Movement itself is sadly no longer “a house of prayer for all people.”
It is well known that the American synagogue is generally plagued by declining enrollment and diminished interest among congregants. Is preaching leftist politics from the pulpit a long-term accretive strategy? Reform Judaism is currently positioned to be indistinguishable from the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and it has nothing more to gain from overtly aligning itself with it. Actively alienating Conservatives is not a viable growth strategy when your market share of politically Liberal Jews is at saturation levels and Judaism is in relative decline.
It was once possible to find Reform rabbis and lay leaders active in both the Republican and Democratic parties, and the movement’s policy opinions were more or less non-partisan. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the reform movement has been consumed by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), which has issued resolution after resolution in support of left-liberal positions across an array of political and social issues. The influence of the RAC must be acknowledged and efforts at the synagogue level need to be implemented to provide a more balanced perspective.
That the American Jew is overwhelmingly politically liberal is as indisputable as the fact that American congregations suffer from the effects of ideological inbreeding. The Reform movement’s belief in diversity and inclusion should not be solely confined to race, religion, intermarriage and sexual preference. The reform movement needs to ideologically diversify to avoid becoming the spiritual equivalent of the interbred and now extinct Habsburg Dynasty.