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The Tightrope of Religion and Politics, Help!

01/04/2017 12:43:05 PM


I was just asked to sign a letter to be delivered to the White House on January 20th asking the new administration to protect refugee immigration to our country. The letter, penned by HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) requested that Rabbis of every movement join together to emphasize to the new administration that our country was founded and constantly improved by immigrants. I agreed with all of the tenets of the letter and promptly added my signature but under the signature block there was a place to list congregation. I left that space blank.

The question I have asked myself for years arose again. Where do politics and religion meet? When should politics and religion be separated? Is this one of those times? There are some who believe that there is no meeting point, that somehow both should exist completely independent of one another. There are others that believe that they are so intertwined that there cannot ever be a separation. I try to walk the tightrope of the middle ground.

Certainly there are times when religious institutions should stand up proudly and loudly for the values they represent. Our movement is blessed with the Religious Action Center that both lobbies Congress on our behalf and provides a plethora of information about those Social Action issues that the Reform Movement as a whole has decided are of great importance. However, what is done nationally does not necessarily need to reflect what is done locally. Several of my colleagues in North Carolina have been quite vocal about the State’s eroding rights of the LGBTQ community. Last year I spoke at the national Voting Rights Act Rally as a representative of the Reform Movement. However, I always think twice before I sign may name as Rabbi of Temple Emanuel, Roanoke, Virginia unless I am speaking about a clearly Jewish topic (such as defending Israel or speaking against anti=Semitism).

Our tradition has much to say about important matters such as reproductive rights euthanasia, civil rights, women’s rights, climate control, gun control, war, refugees etc. I could clearly be involved with these issues politically in the name of Jewish values but should I be involved as the Rabbi of Temple Emanuel? It is always a hard call for me.

As an inclusive community, we must be fully inclusive – aware that inclusion also means those that do not agree with the liberal leaning political stances of our national movement. I do not believe that it is possible to separate religion from politics – they are expressions of the same societal need. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, who believed that these inalienable human rights were God given, we seek “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Your thoughts? When should I write Rabbi Kathy Cohen, Temple Emanuel, Roanoke, Virginia as opposed to simply Rabbi Kathy Cohen, Roanoke, Virginia?

Fri, September 18 2020 29 Elul 5780