Thursday, August 27, 2009

The rabbi is a politician

My decrease in blogging frequency is mostly a function of the time I am now devoting to getting our new beit midrash off the ground, but there is also another factor: Many of the issues on my mind are political in nature, and not suitable for publication.

Political intrigue is the price of working with people, and, certainly, in starting any new organization you must deal with people and their political issues. Courses of action must be weighed in terms of cost/benefit, in terms of impact, in terms of existing programs and in terms of existing standards, to avoid causing more harm than good. Sometimes you change your approach, your style, even your agenda, in order to be politically sensitive.

I know people who claim to be “above” all of this, as though political involvement was some kind of dirty, unseemly, underground and underhanded impropriety. Oh, no, the rabbi is involved in politics! And he admitted it! On a blog, for all the world to see!

But from a Torah-based perspective, political involvement is a tool which can serve the highest social goals of Judaism. Politics is simply an approach to achieving success in basic bein adam lachaveiro (social interaction).

Politics help achieve shalom bayit; we are required to be sensitive to the concerns of the people around us, and to the balance of shalom.

Politics help achieve tovat haklal (the good of the community), pursuing more than our own narrow agenda.

Politics help achieve hakarat hatov, recognizing the good done for us by others.

A Jew who looks down on politics and (gasp!) compromise is ignoring the lessons of Tanach and Chazal, whether from Sarah and Pharoah or Avraham's interactions with the Chiti or Rivkah and Lavan or Yitzchak and Grar or Rachel and Leah or Yaakov and Shechem (pre-Dinah)or Yosef and pretty much everyone, etc.

There are times, of course, when politics, like any tool, are cheapened. In particular, politics can be tainted by selfish pride, the desire to be everyone's best friend, which can lead to a sacrifice of all things ethical as well as sane. As a once-favorite Everclear song of mine goes, many people want to be everything to everyone. Rabbis are particularly vulnerable to this, because the price of not being everything to everyone can be high.

But to return to my starting point: Politics are part of the order of my day now (yes, more so than when I was rav of a shul), and even though it's an honorable pursuit, the details not for blog-posting. So I'll post more when I have something mutar to report.


  1. Sometimes you read something - a book, a vort, a blog post - and realize right away how beautiful it is and how life-changing it will be. This was not one of those times.

    I came back to this post today (wanted to give someone a link) and was shocked to discover I had never commented on it, since I really have learned a lot from it. In the past year or so I have found myself doing a lot of this kind of political maneuvering, and have learned to appreciate the value of politics. Although it certainly can get petty at times, it certainly has its value.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thank you very much; much-appreciated, and glad to help.