by Rabbi Linzer for Religion News Service
The countdown is already underway to Rosh Hashana — New Year’s Day on the Jewish calendar, which, in 2023, falls on Sept. 15, ushering in the year 5784.
This countdown is a daunting one for congregational rabbis, who will be pressed over the next two weeks to compose soul-stirring sermons from the pulpit. As the leader of a rabbinical school, the approach of the High Holy Days is another kind of call to action. My yeshiva, a 24-year-old institution dedicated to training the next generation of Orthodox rabbis, is built on the belief that religious leaders have a duty both to their studies and to society. This Rosh Hashana, coming when the country seems to be on the verge of descending into tohu va’vohu — primordial chaos — it is incumbent on Jewish leaders to speak up about the issues of the day.
Never before have those issues been more urgent — a deeply polarized America, an Israel threatened with the loss of its democratic soul, the rapidly accelerating climate crisis, the rise of hatred and intolerance, antisemitism and poisonous sentiments given free expression on social media. For those in the pulpit of a synagogue and in other positions of religious leadership, passivity and silence are not options. Neglecting to speak out against this multitude of dangerous events and ideologies is a grave sin of omission.
Many Jews attending High Holy Days celebrations say that politics should be kept out of synagogues, and while I agree, I am also conscious that the Torah, its religious mandates and its moral imperatives have much to say about the urgent problems that face us. What does the Torah say about the values we should bring to bear? Our responsibility to the planet? To civil discourse and the honest search for truth? To minorities and marginalized groups?
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