Wed, 28 February 2018
“It is not for nothing,” Norman Podhoretz once wrote, “that a cruel wag has described…services in a Reform temple as ‘the Democratic Party at prayer.’” The truth to which this old quip points is not simply that most American Jews are liberal, but that too many Jews use the faith of their ancestors as window dressing for their left-wing politics. This ought to perturb Jews of all religious persuasions, conservatives and liberals alike.
In January of 2018, Jeffrey Salkin, a Reform rabbi and the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida, penned a piece in Commentary calling on his liberal Jewish colleagues to abandon what he called a “Judaism of slogans.” Far too often, Rabbi Salkin argues, progressive Jews make sloppy use of Jewish texts in order to justify the political positions they already hold. This kind of lazy sloganeering, he writes, fails to do justice to “a people with an unparalleled tradition of religious scholarship and spiritual breadth.”
In this podcast, Rabbi Salkin sits down with Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver for a conversation about the uses and misuses of Judaism in politics. They unpack some of the most common slogans used by Jewish activists and show how the source texts are far too complex to fit on a bumper sticker. They also explore the place of social justice activism in liberal Judaism and ponder the tensions and future of the Reform Movement in America.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.