At my lodge we follow two simple rules: no religion, no politics. We also have a very strict “no chicks” policy, but that’s not really germane to this post. We do that because they are the two (well, three) things people start wars over. No religion and no politics, brings harmony.
But I’m not at my lodge right now, so I’m going to talk about both of them.
Having changed jobs lately (from having one to not having one), I’ve suddenly found myself with weekends free, so my family has finally been able to attend our temple’s morning Shabbat service. On the surface it’s a good fit. Reconstructionists are kind of oddball, like me and Tiffany. They’re not necessarily into the dogma or traditional spirituality of Judaism, but they’re very into the traditional practice of Judaism, so most people are wearing kippot and tallitot, and doing all the proper knee bends and bows, etc, and it’s actually pretty nice, but as I collected my siddur the lady handed me a blue sheet as well.
It was a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love human rights. Like any good person, I’m a champion of them, but I personally don’t consider about half the things on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights to actually be human rights, as I find that some contradict others. Also I’m pretty sure the rabbi slipped one or two new ones in on her own.
We sat down and learned that it was recently World Human Rights Day or something, so we’re not only observing these but we’re shuffling them into our prayers throughout the day, then everyone began chanting about how G-d totally wants us all to have socialized universal healthcare.
I’m not here to start a debate on socialized universal healthcare, or what is or isn’t a human right. This isn’t the place for that. But then is synagogue the place for that either? I’m not sure. On one hand Jews are either the inventors of, or at least among the earliest adopters of human rights as we know them today. That’s not a coincidence. Jews are, to many, meant to fix the world, and one can’t do that by avoiding controversial issues. Some of the greatest humane causes, like the American anti-slavery movement, originated in houses of worship, and since you can’t really separate human rights from politics, you can’t really separate politics from religion.
But on the other hand my life’s already political enough. I spend a week getting into snarky fights on facebook, being alienated from friends, alienating others, etc, and when I get to temple all I really want to do is be uplifted by the rushing spirit of G-d in the company of my community.
I suppose I could find a more like-minded synagogue, though let’s face it, Jews are predominantly on the political left and I am not. I’d probably have to go to an ultra-orthodox temple to find political conservatives, but then their mitvot-sense would start tingling and they’d realize we have no plans to circumcise any future sons and I’d be alienated all over again.
I was thinking of all this as I continued my tortured trudge through services, feeling completely devoid of any connection with anyone else there—partially due to the political climate and partially because I don’t know jack about Hebrew and can’t follow along in this DaVinci Code of a siddur—and I came to the conclusion that you can’t really separate the two things. When you adopt a new religion, you are in some way adopting its politics as well.
I’m not alone in my loneliness. I could find good company among the swaths of pro-choice Catholics, or the peaceable Muslims who pop into a new mosque only to find a suspiciously inordinate amount of emphasis on the murdery bits of the Koran, but most of these people probably voted for Obama too, so that wouldn’t leave us a lot to talk about.
Still, I’d like to think that true, proper religion, while not shying away from our responsibilities to this world, can transcend the bitter, divisive, and limited scope of modern politics and activism. Nothing can be added to the Torah. That’s a mitzvah. And to me that means G-d doesn’t need us telling each other how something He said totally means we have to support Wisconsin Union protests. G-d said what He said, and it was pretty smart, and it was pretty wise, and it was pretty damn on-point, and you should be the one to figure out how you can apply that to our world.
The job of a congregation, it seems to me, isn’t to agree or disagree, but to give you the one thing so many of us lack in our world: harmony.
(Photo: Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com)