Shabbat Talmud Study: What Does Excellent Rabbinic Leadership Look Like in This Charged Political Climate? A Case Study


He did it. He went there.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, before his entire congregation, Rabbi Ed Feinstein (one of the truly outstanding rabbis of our generation), at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California (one of the truly outstanding congregations in America today) talked about President Trump and our current fraught political situation. The sermon is entitled “An America of Hope and Fear.”

Please click and read it before class on Shabbat morning.

Rabbi Feinstein has guts. Moral courage. You will note that there is plenty in his sermon to offend everybody. Whatever your politics, wherever on the spectrum you may be, there is something in here that could so tick you off you would leave the sermon in the middle on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Feinstein knew this when he prepared it and delivered it, and he delivered it in the face of some congregants choosing to walk out. But there is also something undeniably powerful and true about these words. While some congregants did walk out, others gave the rabbi an ovation, applauding his courage and his wisdom.

Rabbi Feinstein pulled no punches.

For example: “To be very clear, I support many of the policies of this Administration. I believe many of these policies are necessary, even courageous. Many of the Administration’s policies have advanced our prosperity and our security.”

And:

“Bob Woodward’s new book is titled, “Fear” because in an interview early in the Presidency, the President told Woodward, “real power is fear.” Donald Trump is a creature of fear. He lives in constant state of fear. And he is an artist at the politics of fear. It’s always — Us against Them. At his rallies, he explodes into a frenzy at all those who are coming to take away our prosperity, our safety, our guns, our homes, our faith, our future. The catalog of demons grows with each iteration – Mexican immigrants, Central American gang members, Muslims, the Chinese, the Democrats in Congress, the FBI, the NFL, the New York Times, CNN, Canada, Jeff Sessions, NATO, …the crowd screams and cheers and the adrenaline rises as the rage burns and fears are brought to a boil.

And we wonder, what’s happening to us? Who are we? Where will this lead to? Unfortunately, we know. We Jews, we know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two. We know what happens when fear comes to dominate a political culture. We know what happens when it is no longer aberrant and bizarre and unprecedented, but becomes the new normal. We know what happens when a narrative of fear finally and completely overcomes the narrative of hope.”

Here is my question. Is Rabbi Feinstein’s sermon an example of what to do, or what not to do? Should Temple Emanuel be a sanctuary from the world (no politics please), or a sanctuary for the world (talk about real issues so our members can be emboldened to go out and make a difference in ways that advance their convictions)?

Our nation has never been more divided in our life time. The Civil War was before any of our life time. But Thomas Friedman’s column last week, Civil War, Part II, is too true and heartbreaking.

What does excellent rabbinic leadership look like, what is an excellent synagogue’s role, in a time such as this?

See you on Shabbat!

Shabbat shalom,
Wes