Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rabbis Shun President Trump Appropriately

I am a card carrying member of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis.  With relatively few exceptions the Rabbinical Assembly constitutes the alumni of the rabbinical schools at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Ziegler School of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.  There are some additional members who graduated from other recognized rabbinical schools whose educations meet Rabbinical Assembly requirements, whose outlook and practice conforms with Conservative minimum standards and who serve Conservative congregations.

Although there have been a few occasions in which I have taken issue with the direction and decisions of the Rabbinical Assembly, I am otherwise quite proud of my membership.  I pay dues.  The RA controls my pension.  My placement at Neveh Shalom came about through the RA placement service.

Today I was especially proud to be a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, featured as it was on the front page of the New York Times along with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.  Today they collectively announced that these organizations of rabbis were unwilling to participate in a High Holiday conference call with President Trump.

Begun by President Bush (Jr.), the High Holiday call to hundreds of rabbis has become an annual event.  President Obama seemed to enjoy continuing the tradition.  I participated in several of these calls, each time feeling enormously honored to be addressed by the president of the United States prior to Rosh Hashanah.  In these hour long calls the president would speak about the sustained American relationship with Israel and American international relations with trouble spots such as Iran, concerns about anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry, the agenda for the poor, the disadvantaged, the most vulnerable.  The president also responded to questions from rabbis.

Charlottesville became the turning point.  Unable to denounce without reservation neo-Nazis and racists, the leaders of the rabbinical organizations determined that we could not act as if all was normal.  Clearly there have been other times in which President Trump has entertained racist and anti-Semitic sentiments and hesitated to distance himself from them.  As rabbis to hear from the president after Charlottesville would have been hypocritical.

By contrast coincidentally on the same day the president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches Jim Winkler called evangelical preachers to task for their continued deafening silence especially after Charlottesville.  Where is their voice of conscience?  Can his views on appointing Supreme Court justices, abortion, same sex marriage justify their refusing to speak out on so many troubling issues, such as the environment, the poor, immigrants, Muslims, etc.????  The contrast with the position of the rabbinical organizations was striking.

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