The Zionist Conspiracy
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Rabbis Talking Politics In Shul
Miriam Shaviv posts about a "tri-state area" rabbi who wrote a long piece in the current issue of the Jewish Voice and Opinion, in which he purports to "disengage" from the State of Israel as a result of the Gush Katif withdrawal.
Another blogger posts the article in full, and identifies the rabbi as Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Teaneck. [UPDATE: Steven Weiss reports that Rabbi Pruzansky denies that he is the author of this article]
I have heard Rabbi Pruzansky speak on several occasions. When he avoids politics, he comes across as learned, interesting, engaging, witty and often hilarious. When Israel is the topic, he is quite uncompromising and at least to me, much less interesting. Indeed, Rabbi Pruzansky's strident presentation of his views on Israel often diminish the potency of his meritorious arguments, such as his strong opposition in the early 1990's to the Oslo Accords.
To me, a rabbi's personal political views are not especially bothersome so long as those views are not forced down the congregation's throat from the pulpit. In this regard, I have a problem both with Rabbi Pruzansky and with his rabbinical counterpart in nearby Englewood, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, who, after Oslo, insisted on enthusiastically supporting the deal with Arafat and the PLO, including in shul.
In the non-Orthodox shuls, it is no secret that rabbis routinely express left-wing views on everything running from Israel to domestic social policy.
In the community where I currently live, one of the rabbis in a shul I often attend made several speeches opposing the Gush Katif withdrawal, including one in which he completely distorted the IDF's giving the green light for soldiers to use live ammunition against violent protesters threatening soldiers' lives. The way the rabbi portrayed it was as though the IDF would be allowed to shoot anyone protesting. Obviously, that was not the policy, as the withdrawal - led by unarmed soldiers - clearly showed.
In another neighborhood shul, in each of the last two weeks the rabbi has made long rambling political speeches, also expressing right-wing views on Israel, again particularly concerning the withdrawal and its aftermath.
I don't think rabbis should be prohibited from expressing their political views, but they shouldn't make political speeches routinely, and when they do, they should express their views in a manner and tone that recognizes that the issues are complex and that others - likely including some of their congregants - legitimately disagree in good faith.
When I am in shul and a rabbi starts making one of these speeches as though he possesses the obvious truth, I feel as though I am being held hostage. I don't want to walk out in middle of the speech and show disrespect for the rabbi, and therefore (up to this point, at least) stay and anxiously wait for services to resume.
Yet I strongly resent the rabbis who put me in this position by using their shul as a bully pulpit. Rabbis should endeavor to serve as our spiritual leaders, not our political leaders.