As High Holidays approach — and midterm elections loom — should rabbis get political?

Religious leaders prep sermons to address congregations on community concerns

Hadas Kuznits
September 06, 2018 - 9:20 pm



PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Rabbis are continuing to prepare for their most important sermons of the year, as celebrations of the Jewish new year begin Sunday evening.

But just months away from the midterm elections, is it appropriate for religious leaders to address with their congregations what's happening in American politics during Rosh Hashanah?

Rabbi Eli Freedman of Congregation Rodeph Shalom said in addressing the concerns of his congregation, politics has been central to the conversation.

However, as a nonprofit entity, which most synagogues are, "and according to the Johnson Amendment, we are not allowed to be partisan," said Freedman.

"We are not allowed to endorse candidates or speak to particular candidates in particular parties. So that's something across the board, you won't see anyone doing that," he added. "That being said, that does not mean we can't be political."

Freedman said politics have changed in the past few years, which he called a bit of an "elephant in the room." Instead, he'll focus on issues that have a direct impact on the community.

Addressing some of those issues — "issues around LGBT equality, a woman's right to choose, justice for immigrants" — are common values in the Jewish community. Freedman said it is an obligation to speak on such matters, even during the High Holidays.

"Because it is such a big deal, it's the one time of year all of our entire congregation is here," he added. "We have an obligation to speak out for the disenfranchised in our community, for the oppressed in our society."