Some years I like the subject of my sermons on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to be a surprise; this year I am going to try the opposite approach and give you the titles in advance. I am also exploring recording them in advance and putting the videos on YouTube. So there will be a variety of ways to “get the message” this year.” The small caveat is that they are subject to change: events, people, and day-to-day living sometimes make me change the order, or even scrap a sermon altogether at the last minute. With the “subject to change without prior notice” in mind, here are the titles:
Erev Rosh Hashanah – The Jewish Mind, Body, and Spirit Connection
Rosh Hashanah Day 1 – Your Own Last Torah
Rosh Hashanah Day 2 – To be delivered by Professor Ken Cohen
Kol Nidre – I’m Jewish but I’m Not Religious
Yom Kippur Afternoon – Five Jewish Myths About Death and Dying
Why I Will Not Be Discussing This Year’s Election
What about John McCain, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin? It is rare that I talk about politics from the bima, for several reasons. The first is that, as a religious 501c3 organization, the rabbi endorsing a particular candidate can jeopardize our tax-exempt status. But it is still possible to talk about elections, politics, and candidates without endorsing anyone in particular.
A second reason is that there are many people in the room much more qualified to talk about elections and candidates than I am. People go to CNN and MSNBC and the New Republic and the New York Times to hear about the political scene; you don’t need to hear it than the Rabbi.
However, there is often a Jewish spin to a particular election or candidate, whether having to do with Israel or what might be “good for the Jews,” and yet I still will not delve into this matter on the High Holy Days. The third reason is that I believe it has the power to offend too many people.
It’s not that I am afraid to take a stand. Nearly every year I get letters and emails about something I said in a High Holiday sermon that was offensive to somebody, which at least tells me that people are listening. Even in the realm of politics, this year I actually gave a sermon on John Hagee and Barack Obama, but I gave it on Shabbat. On Shabbat, there is a context, a group of semi-regulars that hear me and discuss these things with me week-in and week-out. Even though that particular sermon had elements that could have offended those on both the right and the left, I felt there was a Jewish message that needed to be said.
But on the High Holy Days, with many people who come, let’s just say, less frequently than every week, the context is not there. So the very mention of a candidate’s name can hurt people’s feelings. And the last thing we need is for someone who, for the first time in a long time, has come back to Judaism on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for some spiritual sustenance to leave angry because the rabbi talked about elections and candidates.
That, in a nutshell, is why you won’t hear about the Presidential Election on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, at least from me. Hopefully, mind, body, spirit, your own Torah, being Jewish but not religious, and the Jewish myths about death will be enough to hold your interest.