The Spine

Arguing With Rabbis


I pray at a wonderful synagogue on the Upper West Side of New York, a
synagogue which my children appreciate. It is called B'nai Jeshurun and on
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur it has special venues: its own congregation, two
welcoming churches, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Symphony Space. Wherever
you go, you will find an assembly of people, young and old (plus the
children's services which my grandson attends), who know the prayers, are
at least somewhat at home with Hebrew (the language of prayer here), have
mastered the music and together make for a cohesive and intellectually
challenging Jewish community. The singing is absolutely breath-taking
whichever cantor you are hearing and, for that matter, even if it isn't a
cantor who's doing the liturgy.

Alas, I have arguments in my head with the rabbis, who are painfully
politically correct and add to the traditional burdens of the prayer book
penances done by others that strike me as if they came from a
Esalen weekend during the early seventies.

This Yom Kippur was the 34th anniversary of that war which, for about two weeks, threatened
to be the war of destruction for Israel. This grim memory was not
recalled, at least in the venue at which I worshiped. So the synagogue,
which is an avowedly Zionist assembly where at the end of Yom Kippur the
entire gathering breaks into a lusty version of the C-minor "Hatikvah," "The
Hope," also dabbles in the guilt of those who refuse to believe that Jewish
survival depends on the strength of Jewish sovereignty.

At this season in this year Yom Kippur coincides with the Moslem day-fast
period of Ramadan. In a slight ramble, one of the rabbis announced in his
sermon that, immediately as the Day of Atonement comes to an end some
members of BJ will break the fast together with Muslims and that
"Christians will serve us." An awkward and demeaning phrase, is it
not? And then the rabbi said: "This is our answer to 9/11." Some
answer. Whose organized brutality will this deflect?

I console myself: Jews have always argued with their rabbis.

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