Talmud This Shabbat: What is the Proper Role of Clergy in a Contentious Time?


Black Lives Matter. Mask-wearing as politics instead of public health. Racist reduction of Coronavirus to “Kung Flu.” Whites in Boston have a median net worth of $247,000. Blacks in Boston have a median net worth of $8.

What is the proper role of rabbis and cantors in such a time as this? If we do our work within the sacred bubble of 385 Ward Street, the cantors make beautiful music and sing uplifting songs, the rabbis teach and preach and counsel, is that enough? Should our job, properly considered, also require us to raise our moral voices, take action, and urge others to take action on the urgent issues of the day?

Many clergy live with a persistent gnawing dilemma. If we speak out, we offend some members of our congregation whom we love, and we want to be a congregation for all. We want to make our congregation a safe space for everybody, a place where all can come. That suggests we talk about religion, about values, not about politics.

But what religious value is more important than the principle that all human beings are made in God’s image? How can a religious community not speak out against racism? How can a religious community not speak in favor of and work towards economic justice?

If we speak out, we offend some people.

If we do not speak out, we are not faithful to Judaism’s deepest values: not to be indifferent, not to stand idly by, not to avert our gaze.

For our last class, Michelle, Elias, Aliza, Dan and I will each teach one text or song that speaks to the role of a synagogue, and its clergy, in this tempestuous time.

Thank you for learning with us throughout the pandemic. Your continued presence with us was truly a beautiful silver lining.

The texts are here.

The link is here: Gann Chapel Livestream.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes