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Kodus to Exponent
Alan Tuttle
Alan Tuttle

Alan Tuttle

Maybe last month's Watchpost article about the Exponent was a matter of prescience. In it, I fantasized about what it would be like to have a month of Exponents without significant bias in their reporting and editorializing, and now I can write that the three issues so far this month have been noteworthy in that respect. In fact, all three issues gave significant space to the Jewish response to the war in Iraq. So some kudos are in order.

It started in the November 3 issue, in which the Exponent published a JTA piece written by Sue Fishkoff (A Grass-Roots Effort Pushes Action on Iraq) that described the campaign that is building in the Reform Judaism movement to end the Iraq war. To the credit of the Exponent, the article is seemingly devoid of editorial bias, in spite of the ongoing pro-invasion stance taken by the Editor.

The following week in the November 10 issue, the story is taken up again on the front page, accompanied by a picture of the September 2005 anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. The column, by Exponent staffer Jordana Jacobs, is entitled Politics and the Pulpit: Perfect Fit or Pure Folly? In it she discusses how Rabbi Barry Schwartz of Congregation M'kor Shalom of Cherry Hill has catalyzed a movement to bring an anti-war resolution to the coming General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism. Then, along with a review of the approach of different movements within Judaism on taking a stand about the war, she expands the discussion to the broader question of whether "politics has a place on the bimah." Again, the discussion is fairly well balanced. One rabbi argues in favor of taking a stand on social issues: he points out that an issue is labeled 'political' when people want to duck it; on the opposite side of the question another rabbi says that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism won't take a stand because it would be like "[a few people] in a smoke-filled room making our feelings felt." Jacobs states that most rabbis "offer [their congregation] some food for thought . . . and allow congregants to formulate their own viewpoints." She ends by quoting a rabbi who points out that Judaism has a history of allowing all viewpoints to be heard, as the Talmud records both the majority and minority opinion on interpretations of Torah.

Then, in the November 17, 2005 issue, two articles take up the question of the war: Jordana Jacobs writes another front-page story entitled, "A Battle Ripples Over the State of the War," and Joshua Runyan writes in the City and Suburb section, "Opponent of Iraq War: Democracy's Attainable." Jacobs's article gives much more print to the pro-war voices in Judaism such as Daniel Pipes and the Zionist Organization of America, but also includes brief mention of anti-war views. Runyan's article discusses the views of Larry Diamond, whose book Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq was recently published. As with much of the current discussion about the war, the article is focused on 'What now?' rather than on whether the premise of the war was legitimate. It raises many points, including the dynamics in Iraq that could make attaining 'democracy' there very difficult.

It is worth examining the hesitancy discussed in Jacobs's November 10 article to apply Torah and Jewish tradition to some social situations. For those of us with more progressive views, it seems that our tradition calls for us to take a stand on every social issue: not to do so would suggest that perhaps Moses should have remained silent regarding slavery in Mitzrayim. Or that Judah Macabee should not have resisted Greek tyranny because to do so would have been 'political.' These of course are extreme examples, but point to the principle that to not speak out about racism, war, greed, environmental destruction, and the like, bleeds Judaism of its historical vibrancy. Even a sermon using Torah to support the war would promote some of the 'wrestling' that keeps our tradition relevant to today's world. 

So to suggest that politics from the pulpit is 'pure folly' is a view that may be a comfortable one for those afraid to challenge the powers that be, but certainly is not consistent with the message of the Prophets or the ongoing social witness that Judaism has provided throughout the ages.

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