Give a Sermon Not a Stump-speech

Every year before Rosh Hashana I receive emails from Jewish political organizations asking me to use my pulpit to make political points. I have only done it once and have lived to regret it.
It is one of my pet peeves. I don’t think the rabbi’s message on the days of awe should score political points. I know it’s convenient. When else does the entire membership attend a single event? We have a captive audience, right? But that is just my point. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to deliver an inspiring Torah message, why throw it away on politics? Politics is important and it has its place. Rosh Hashanah in Shull, is not one of them. I am all for using a political story to make a religious point. But I don’t agree with using the religious holiday to make a political point.
Some people come to Shull hoping to hear a Jewish spin on current affairs, I think that’s the wrong place. If you want to talk politics, there is a place for it. If you want to talk about the news, there is a place for that too. But when you come to a place of religion on a religious day, just talk religion.
As James Carville might have said, “It’s Rosh Hashanah Stupid.”
The other day I was conversing with colleagues over an email network about the best way to turn a Rosh Hashanah sermon into a Q&A session. One colleague cautioned us to ensure that the questions offered by the congregation be reserved only to subjects of faith, belief and practice. Just for fun, I floated the following question.
“Rabbi, I understand you want us to talk about faith, belief and practice. I want to honor your parameters so let me ask you this.
Do you have faith in Donald Trump’s ability to secure the Republican nomination?
Do you believe Barak Obama’s claim that the Iran deal is good for Israel?
What do you think of Hillary’s practice of using a private server for government emails?”
This was a fun way of demonstrating some people’s insatiable appetite for gossip and political discussion. Come one, now. It’s Rosh Hashanah. If you want political punditry, ask a pundit. If you want a political prediction, ask a pollster, don’t expect to hear about it in a sermon.
These are days of awe and our sermons should be laced with awe. We need to talk about moral dilemmas, conscience wrestling, higher meaning and inspiring perspectives. A sermon must lift up, not sidestep, the overarching point of the holiday. A rabbi is a rabbi, not a lawyer, pundit or doctor. Let our rabbis to stick to their areas of expertise.
The old saying goes like this. When did Judaism become sick? When the Rabbis became doctors….
Happy Sermons and happy, healthy and sweet new year.