Fuel For Debate Over Rabbis’ Role

At B'nai Jeshurun, congregants quit to protest their clergy's criticism of mayor’s support for AIPAC.

Mon, 02/24/2014
Editor and Publisher

Where do you draw the line between a rabbi’s freedom to preach and his or her responsibility to maintain a cohesive congregation?

That is a topic of internal debate still swirling within B’nai Jeshurun, the popular mega-synagogue on the Upper West Side known for its joyful, spiritual services, progressive advocacy of causes like gay rights and caring for the needy — and, unfortunately for some members — its three senior rabbis’ high-profile criticism of Israeli policy on the Palestinian issue.

This past week several notable members resigned in response to Rabbis Rolando Matalon and Felicia Sol signing on to a recent public letter criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio for his support of AIPAC, the official pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington. (Rabbi Marcello Bronstein was said to be out of town when the letter was circulated.)

Other members are on the verge of resigning, and several BJ congregants I spoke with said they were weighing a similar move. They are deeply pained by the two rabbis’ action, particularly since this was not the first time they made headlines for taking a controversial stand on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and causing dissension in the non-denominational congregation of some 1,740 households.

In December 2012, after hailing as a “historic moment” a United Nations resolution elevating the Palestinians to nonmember status — which touched off criticism from many congregants — Rabbis Matalon and Sol, along with their colleague, Rabbi Bronstein, wrote to express “regret [for] the feelings of alienation” within the congregation.

It is believed that scores of members resigned at the time. Others, like Sam Levine, a BJ congregant for 25 years, who said he was “livid” at the rabbis’ actions, held back. They did so in part because they felt the rabbis, in frank, emergency meetings with critics, were sincerely apologetic, and in part because the members loved the teachings of the rabbis, the spirituality of the prayer services and the sense of community within BJ.

That was more than a year ago.

The last straw for Levine came with the recent anti-AIPAC letter, though. Last Tuesday evening he wrote a long letter of resignation to the rabbis on behalf of his family — his children and wife, Laurie Blitzer, a vice chair of Birthright Israel, among her many affiliations in the community. Levine wrote the rabbis that he joined BJ because of their “extraordinary talents in making the spiritual elements of Judaism relevant and meaningful,” but that their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were creating “painful disagreements” and “extraordinary tension.”

Those positions over the last several years, he said, included their “participating in a Palestinian forum airing grievances against Israel … publicly bashing Israel’s ‘cruelty’ toward the ‘peace-loving innocents of Gaza,’ and of course your letter celebrating the declaration” regarding Palestinian nonmember status at the UN.

More than a year after that major flare-up, the rabbis’ decision to criticize the mayor for supporting AIPAC was “unforgivable, inexcusable,” Levine told me, because “they took advantage of their extraordinary platform and instead of strengthening the Jewish people, they do the opposite.” (At a private AIPAC meeting in New York, de Blasio was quoted as saying that City Hall was always open to AIPAC and that he would “happily” stand with the group anytime and anyplace.)

Eve Birnbaum, a BJ member for 16 years who almost resigned last year over the UN flap, said she was “emotionally exhausted from expressing the same arguments and objections to the rabbis’ destructive actions and statements — in letters and e-mails to the rabbis and correspondence among like-minded congregants.” Her letter of resignation last week consisted of just a sentence or two announcing her family’s decision.

In an interview, she said there was much she admired about the rabbis and that she cherished the warm relationship Rabbi Matalon had with her children, who had their bar and bat mitzvahs at BJ. But she said the rabbis’ views on Israel were “antithetical to me” and that as a result of their insistence on speaking out as they have, “we felt like outsiders, and my kavanah [spiritual intention] was broken each time an anti-Israel political missile was launched from the bimah during services.”

She added that many people come to BJ for its warmth and spiritual services, not to hear about Mideast politics.

“How could they [the rabbis] break up our [congregational] family?” she asked. “I hope they will rethink their impact on the congregation.”

Birnbaum does not know where the family will pray now. For the time being, “I’ll be a wandering Jew,” she said.

‘Wrestling With The Issues’

Is this about rabbinical freedom of speech, misperceptions of AIPAC, signing on to a letter that contained supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, the common practice of disgruntled congregants leaving a synagogue, or all of the above?

Birnbaum and other members who voiced their criticism to the rabbis received a brief email this week from Rabbis Matalon and Sol saying, “I care about your feelings and concern,” and “I will be calling you next week so we can have a personal conversation about the issues you have raised.”

The rabbis did not respond to requests for an interview, and the congregation has taken no official position on their signing on to the letter criticizing de Blasio.

Jeanie Blaustein, president of the board of BJ, responded to an interview request with the following e-mail: “There is a wide variety of viewpoints in the American Jewish community about what is needed to secure Israel’s future. The challenge before all of us is to develop ways of speaking so that we can listen to others’ points of view on such complex issues. 

“It requires all of us to stretch. I am proud to be the president of a congregation that wrestles with these issues, and we will continue to work hard at the vital mission of deepening our engagement and commitment to the people and state of Israel.”

Critics blame the board for allowing these issues to have festered for years, resulting in occasional emergency board meetings and press coverage that they say has further split the congregation, especially at a time when it is being called on to raise tens of millions of dollars to renovate its recently purchased building. Some members on the left have encouraged the rabbis to continue to speak out on issues of conscience and not be swayed by detractors. Other members insist that whether or not they agree with the rabbis’ views on the Mideast conflict, as clergy they have the right and responsibility to give voice to their moral positions.

It may well be, though, that a majority of BJ members are not upset, or even aware, of the recent disagreement. Anne Mintz, a member for more than 10 years, wrote me a note on Sunday to question The Jewish Week’s previous coverage of the AIPAC-de Blasio incident. “Where’s the news here?” she wrote. “The political leanings and activism of the BJ clergy are long and widely known” and only “a sliver of the BJ membership” was “annoyed,” she said, adding that the matter “wasn’t even news inside the congregation.”

If accurate, perhaps that speaks to BJ’s size and diversity. Many believe that while the majority of the congregation is left of center politically, including those most active in a variety of social action projects, a significant number of members who attend Shabbat hand holiday services regularly reflect a wider range of Mideast views. And those I spoke with stressed how alienated non-left members have felt for some time now when it comes to hearing the rabbis speak out on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, rarely celebrating Jerusalem’s actions.

One member said her close relatives who made aliyah from the U.S. are “demoralized” when they hear and read about “what the rabbis of such a major New York synagogue are saying” on these issues.

Jeff Feig, a member of BJ since 1994, says the congregation is “a big part of my life and brought me closer to Judaism.” But he was deeply troubled at the rabbis’ support for the UN action and, as a supporter of AIPAC, he thinks the rabbis see the pro-Israel lobby as hawkish rather than bipartisan, and morally unacceptable. He is considering leaving the synagogue.

Mark Pearlman, a member for 17 years, said he was pained and conflicted over the recurring controversies and weighing whether to remain in the synagogue. (Pearlman has supported a number of initiatives with The Jewish Week and with B’nai Jeshurun.) He noted that the rabbis’ political advocacy on “these sensitive and explosive issues take away from the prayer service and spiritual environment” that his family so much enjoyed.

“The synagogue, in a strange way, appears to be consciously trying to divide its own community,” he said. Once proud of his affiliation with BJ, Pearlman said he feels “embarrassed” at times, and asserted that the congregation “needs to decide what it wants to be and what it views as important” so members can have a clear choice of staying or leaving.

A woman who has been a member for 15 years and whose great-grandfather was a founder of the congregation, said she now feels “tremendous shame and disappointment” in “a place I once considered my spiritual home.” She said the synagogue was “not a place for politics,” and that the rabbis are “embarrassing the congregation” and “the Jewish community.”

Anne Mintz isn’t persuaded by these complaints. When I spoke to her the day after I received her note, she said that every synagogue has members who leave or threaten to, and that “when you join BJ you know the rabbis talk about politics, and if you don’t like it, maybe it’s not the shul for you.”

What she worries about, though, is that other rabbis who read of the flak the BJ rabbis are getting will be that much “less willing to take controversial stands in the hopes of guiding congregants through the difficult issues.

“We need rabbis with more moral courage,” not less, she said.

‘Dialogue Or Dogmatism’

Jewish leaders since biblical times have stirred controversy for speaking out. Moses complained to God about the demands of the Israelites, and the prophets who chastised the people as sinners were harassed and ignored.

Even harsh critics of the BJ rabbis believe the spiritual leaders are sincere in their love of Israel and believe it is part of their moral duty to speak out against perceived injustices against the Palestinians.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, acknowledges that “it’s a delicate line for rabbis who know that their congregants thirst for them to stand up and not waffle” on important issues and yet “not stand so tall that they drown out” other voices.

“I’m torn as to whether this issue [at BJ] is about freedom of speech or exercising poor judgment,” he said, noting that a synagogue should be “a place for dialogue rather than dogmatism.”

He questioned “the process” of the rabbis signing on to a public statement, along with known BDS supporters, rather than, for example, addressing the topic from the pulpits, though that route has been problematic in the past as well.

As a supporter of AIPAC, he says there is “gross misunderstanding of AIPAC in the Jewish community,” noting that “this is the same AIPAC that supports liberal governments in Israel” as well.

Rabbi Kirshner said he hears from rabbinic colleagues that “talking about Israel from the pulpit is the third rail,” but he disagrees, estimating that about one-third of his sermons are devoted in some way to Israel. “It’s the core of our existence, the fuel of our shul,” Temple Emanu-el, a Conservative congregation in Closter, N.J.

He said that if he were to chastise his children or criticize America, a listener shouldn’t be able to question his underlying love for his family or country. And if that is not the case — if, for example, one’s criticism of Israel did not seem rooted in affection — “that’s a problem.” He added that one’s Zionism should not be contingent on a set of specific issues.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, says he never tells rabbis, publicly, what they should do. “I whisper in their ear.”

He demurred from discussing the specifics of the BJ conflict, but did say, “At the end of the day, you want to keep your congregation together. Where are you without community?”

Gary@jewishweek.org

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Something is wrong in our world when people who post anonymously feel that they can pose standards of intellectual honesty.

Irresponsible leadership, politically and fiscally, has lead us to withdraw from the congregation as well. The rabbis are focused on empire building (ironically), offending and leaving congregants alone to find their way. We were real supporters for a number of years. No more.

Many have commented on the Rabbis right to speak freely and uncensored. Ask yourselves, would that still be true if the Rabbi's supported limitations or an outright ban on abortion? If so, then you are intellectually honest. If not, then it's a matter of agreeing with what they are presently saying.

I agree with Bob Lamb, but it seems easier to get a comment published at TJW if the comment is anonymous, base on my own anecdotal experience, so, it is what it is.

So, what's new--the history of activist rabbis expressing political views that might be contrarian or antithetical to the Congregation and running afoul of congregational leadership is embedded in the tradition, at least of reform judaism. Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, his first pulpit Hamilton Ohio, according to my research for my book on this archtypical Reform community, was censored by an irate board, who wanted to issue a public statement early in 1941 that Lelyveld's pacifistic views and his controversial sermon on stopping Hitler without a war, did not reflect the views or sentiments of the congregation. By the summer of 1941, Lelyveld who had effected the Temple's "Camelot moment" was gone. On the evening of December 7, 1941, the congregation celebrated its 75 anniversary at a large gala with a nod and prayer for the victims of Pearl Harbor.

I've just read all the comments above. Here's my tally: eight comments by people who used their full names and thus stand publicly behind their words; six by people who used first names or initials and thus can't easily be identified; and 14 by people who used "Anonymous," "bj member," or something else that doesn't identify them. And here's my position: I respect the eight comments from people who identified themselves. I don't respect the 20 comments from people who didn't. I detest the way the Internet and social media encourage comments--even strong comments, even personal attacks on named individuals--from those who hide while making these strong comments.

I left my NY synagogue last year when it hired a rabbi who had written an online article calling for a Palestinian right of return to Israel proper. The rabbi's spouse also writes frequently online and most of it is negative when it comes to Israel When I emailed the President to inform him of my decision, he told me that people evolve over time and that there is room for many views on Israel and that I should attend more services since the rabbi is a mensch I replied wishing him good luck and telling him that I get my exposure to a variety of views on Israel from the NY Times (in addition to other publications) and that I don't need to subsidize the salary of his "mensch" and that I'd sooner join a neighborhood church or mosque before I'd step in to his shul for any service. I agree with the person above who stated that it takes more courage to be pro israel these days than to join the entire world in condemnation of Israel.

While the BJ rabbis who are the subject of this controversy are not recent graduates of American rabbinical schools, I think funders should take a good look at what kinds of graduates are being recruited and what kind of education is being provided at rabbinical schools in the United States since the BJ rabbis are not alone and this is a growing and disturbing trend in certain sectors of the Jewish community. For good and bad the days are gone (with some exception) when the rabbi is the most respected and most intelligent attendee of synagogue services. Now in many cases, and obviously in the case of BJ, the rabbis are the village idiots of the local shtetl.

Shabbat shalom!

Very well said! The rabbi's of BJ are truly among the most dangerous enemies of Israel and the Jewish people. They cloak themselves in the garb and title of "Rabbi", yet their views and opinions are fully aligned with movements such as BDS, which is another way of saying that Israel, as the home of the Jewish people, should no longer exist. And I should add that it's so sad and pathetic that the congregation of BJ continues to allow these dangerous clowns to "run" the pulpit.

The sign of a healthy community, of any healthy relationship, is when people can disagree about some things and still love and value and respect one another. B'nai Jeshurun is a healthy community this way. The people sitting next to me in shul do not agree with me about everything, but we are there to DAVEN. Our rabbis, as individual human beings and in their professional capacity, show us how to lead a good Jewish life: being honest, reliable, compassionate, thoughtful, upright, good-humored, kind, faithful. Our rabbis have integrity, and the congregation knows it. That is why they are good leaders.

They signed this letter as individual people. I respect them; they have a right to sign open letters no matter what their job is.

This is not a big deal, and it's reprehensible to pretend that it is.

I have been a member of B’nai Jeshurun since 1987, and I fiercely support our rabbis’ right to speak the truth as they see it. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teachings that bring together a profound commitment both to Jewish spirituality and social justice is the inspiration that has transformed B’nai Jeshurun into the vibrant, progressive congregation that it is today. Since Rabbi Marshall Meyer’s taking over the reins of a moribund congregation in 1985, BJ has been a rabbinic-led synagogue in the prophetic tradition. It is not simply a place to come and feel comfortable, but one in which we as Jews are challenged to fulfill our obligations to create a more just world. Our rabbis have a moral imperative to challenge our conscience, recognizing like our prophets of old that in the process many likely will feel uncomfortable and even enraged. It is what BJ members have signed on for, and for those now who feel alienated, I would suggest that they may need to look elsewhere for a synagogue community that more appropriately meets their need.

I left my congregation in Jackson, Mississippi a year ago for the same reasons. The increasingly left wing political and social leanings of the Rabbi and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) no longer fit my personal values. I don't know if the URJ policies are truly heart felt, or if they are a ploy to attract new members, but either way, I want no part of them. I want a congregation, not a social club for liberals. There is only one synagogue in my town, so I have taken my worship and study home and online. Sadly, it appears to me that I no longer have a place in organized Judaism.

It would be very informative to the readers of The Jewish Week if an article appeared clearly stating just what is problematic for many jews about AIPAC.

I am disheartened by the one-sided view of B’nai Jeshurun and its rabbis being presented in the Jewish Weekly (a publication I loyally read). I see nothing wrong with our Rabbi Matalon and Rabbi Sol having signed the letter to the mayor that correctly made the point that AIPAC does not represent all of us (including myself) who love and support Israel. Not only do I see nothing wrong—I am proud of my rabbis (I’ve been a member since moving to NYC 9 ½ years ago. I regularly attend services at BJ, went to Israel to study with Rabbi Matalon). Not everyone will agree with their positions--and that is not necessary, for there must be a free and open debate and discussion. Yet I have never met rabbis who are more spiritually and morally serious and exemplary, who bravely stand up for justice and truth, to the best of their lights. They lead by example. What more can one ask? The criticisms voiced here and quoted in this article do not, I believe, reflect the majority of the congregation, so many of whom fills the services every week. I would never want my rabbis silenced.

I am a longtime member of B'nai Jeshurun (20+ years) and I agree with everything that AG says. I want to point out that (1) the rabbis signed this note without listing an affiliation, making it clear to me that they are expressing their personal opinions and not in any way claiming to speak for the congregation; (2) these rabbis have been tremendously supportive of Jewish life in Israel, building relationships with many in the state and bringing congregants to Israel on numerous occasions.

In our democracy, it is a fundamental right of citizens to express their opinions in public as well as private. BJ congregants who are outraged that their rabbis have a different opinion than they do are free, of course, to disagree and to leave the congregation over the issue if they so choose — but their fury seems out of proportion and out of place. I, too, am proud of my rabbis for having the courage to speak what they believe (and I concur) is an important truth, knowing full well that some powerful people might react negatively.

50 BJ congregants signed a letter objecting to the rabbis' actions and the rabbis' alignment with the BDS activitists in a public statement. The letter maligned Aipac and its supporters, many of whom are BJ congregants. Where are the so-called "majority" of BJ members who supported the rabbis' right to sign the de Blasio letter? There seem to ba alot of phantom supporters of the rabbis.

Where are the majority of BJ members who support the rabbis? At services, for one--a full house every Shabbat morning, and multiple, packed services on Friday evenings. On community trips to Israel, two over the past three months. At weekly classes taught by the rabbis, always oversubscribed. And, as the BJ rabbis constantly teach, "praying with their feet" at shiva minyans, a shelter and a lunch program, tutoring kids in elementary schools, on the ground donating time and supplies during Hurricane Sandy, in busloads lobbying in Albany for marriage equality--the list goes on and on, often more volunteers than can be accommodated. And with their checkbooks, generously supporting these and many other programs. BJ is an active, participatory congregation representing people with many different political opinions. I know that many of the 50 who signed this letter are involved in those programs, as well. But to suggest that the majority of BJ members are disappointed by the rabbis is unfair and not supported by fact.

Speaking of facts, the headline of this editorial states, dramatically, that "congregants quit to protest their clergy's criticism of mayor's support for AIPAC." "This past week several notable members resigned," writes The Jewish Week, yet just one of them is mentioned by name and interviewed. "Other members are on the verge of resigning, and several BJ congregants I spoke with said they were weighing a similar move." "It is believed that scores of members resigned at the time." The article continues with interviews of members who contemplated resigning but did not. Is an editorial subject to different journalistic ethics than an actual news article? I see no proof here, although lots of unsupported innuendo, that any more than just one member resigned.

And buried at the bottom: "It may well be, though, that a majority of BJ members are not upset, or even aware, of the recent disagreement." hmm... if the majority of BJ members are not upset, then this is a much less interesting story.

What the rabbis were trying to do, in my view at least, was somehow bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians. The two sides are tormented by the allegations fired at them by the other, and someone who takes a middle road is to be welcomed.
AIPAC does take the one-dimensional view that Israel does no wrong. By focusing solely on the righteousness of whatever Israel does, it does not advance the cause of mutual understanding.
On the other hand, as we see from the comments printed above, I think they were out of line to sign a letter sponsored by an organization which is merely the reverse image of AIPAC.

NO human institution, including AIPAC, the State of Israel and the USA, is God, to be worshipped. The letters I've read so far are idolatrous. It would be legitimate to disagree with and criticize the rabbis' specific positions; but it is idolatrous to attack BJ's Rabbis for speaking out courageously when the govt of Israel violates the best values of Zionism. It is in fact a rabbi's duty to rebuke idolatry, and a "spirituality" that celebrates idols is the "spirituality" of the Golden Calf. No accident that the article mentions the gold -- the money for refurbishing a recently purchased building ---- that may be lost to BJ because its rabbis don't bow down to the Golden Calf.
The open letter criticizing De Blasio's genuflection to AIPCA did not criticize the state or society of Israel; it decried AIPAC's automatic support for the present right-wing government of the State, and criticized De Blasio for offering it automatic and uncritical support. Among the other signers of the letter were Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Barbara Dobkin, Sally Gottesman, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Gloria Steinem, and Rabbi Burton Visotzky. All of them creative & effective leaders of and toward a Judaism that celebrates the Holy One, not idols.
BJ's rabbis have never attacked the state of Israel: they have criticized its anti-democratic and often dehumanizing occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem; they have welcomed the Palestinian people into a peaceful dialogue with Israel and encouraged those Palestinians and Israelis who work toward a real two-state peace.
With blessings for rabbis who walk in the path of an honest and prophetic Judaism -- Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the Shalom Center

Unfortunately, too many left-leaning, low-information Jews have no understanding or true concept of what is occurring in Israel and the manner in which their islamic neighbors view them ( with disdain and hatred and the desire to see Israel annihilated). The BDS movement is virulently anti-semitic, and anyone with open eyes will immediately realize that fact. It is unfortunate that some BJ members are so left-leaning that the truth evades them! I applaud those who have submitted their resignations; the only way to retain their membership would be for their Board to dismiss these Rabbis.

One issue is whether the rabbis were speaking as representatives of BJ or voicing their own personal opinions -- and is the latter even possible as a pulpit rabbi? People from more conservative (and more Conservative) institutions than BJ also signed the letter, but in context it seemed clear that their opinions were their own. The second issue is whether anyone knew who else would be signing, specifically the representatives of institutions that do not support Israel, like Jewish Voice for Peace and Kolot Chayeinu.

I'm a BJ Member. I think both the right and left sides of this argument are missing the mark in important ways:

Do those on the right really believe the Rabbis should not speak out publicly and express their views on issues of deep moral concern to the Jewish people? Should they only stifle their views if they are more left-wing than the current Israeli government but speak out as loudly as possible otherwise? What would such an approach imply about the credibility and intellectual honesty of our communal conversations?

For the Rabbis and their supporters on the left: Is it consistent with a Rabbi's role of moral leadership and pastor to lend one's name to a letter that denigrates the motives of one's opponents in the Jewish community and basically engages in name-calling?

Rabbis are not only entitled to, but emphatically *should* lend their voices to the conversation we have in the Jewish community about the most vital and controversial moral issues facing us as a people---and they shouldn't be obliged to stifle their opinions merely because they might not align with the current parties in power in Israel. However, when they speak out, they should elevate the conversation and they should set an example of how one should speak, i.e., with derech eretz and respect for those with whom they disagree---acknowledging that conflicting positions may both be "l'shem shamayim". Signing a letter whose principal purpose is to dub another group of Jews (not to mention a mainstream Jewish organization) a bunch of hawkish right-wingers does not set that sort of example.

Those of us who criticized the Rabbis, did not criticize them for taking a position or because they took a right or left position. You are looking at things, through too much of a left/right spectrum. The Rabbis were legitimately criticized because they took a ridiculous position, in a public manner, along with BDS supporters and falsely maligned many of their members and AIPAC as well and what they did harmed Israel.

Traditional Jews view the exile from the land of Israel two millennia ago as a divinely ordained act that only the Messiah will end. According to this view, it is particularly wrong to "rebel against the surrounding nations" in order to conquer the land of Israel. This is one of the reasons why most traditional Jews living in Israel take no part in the army and its activities.

Many traditional Jews object to the fact that it is a human initiative and not obedience to the divine providence that has brought millions of Jews to the land of Israel. They deem that the persistent dangers facing Israel's Jews stem from the revolutionary nature of the Zionist project.

If by "traditional" you mean ever-rightward-turning select parts of the Haredi world, then sure. I think the Modern Orthodox immigrant and Dati communities would object to you calling them "non-traditional."

As a veteran member of Bnai Jeshurun since 1990, I am proud of the stance that our rabbis take in speaking out for justice and truth regarding Israel. It is why I belong to this congregation. Anyone that joins BJ knows that political and social action is part of the community dialogue and activity. There is dedicated membership in this congregation for these issues.What's important here is that Mayor DeBlasio must understand that AIPAC does not speak for the Jewish community in NYC - there are other constituencies that he best be informed about that includes Bnai Jeshurun.

As a current member of the congregation, I find the Rabbis actions reprehensible. When the Rabbis speak out in a public forum they are representing the congregation. By publicly condeming AIPAC (which many congregation members are supporters) the public perception is that the entire congregation is Anti-AIPAC. If the Rabbis want to continue this irresponsible usage of their pulpit position- they should resign and join a pro-Palestinian lobbying group. They are bringing down the congregation.

I am a member of the BJ and need to make two corrections to this article:

1. BJ has a very high membership retention rate and it is incorrect that "scores of members resigned at the time." I am on the membership committee. I know for a fact that this isn't true.

2. BJ does have scores of Israel activities. Check out its website. Way more than most shuls. It ran two trips to Israel already this year. It has speakers from Israel every month. It is taught in the Hebrew school and spoken about from the pulpit. It has a fulltime shaliach. What more do you want?

"What more do you want?"

How about a clergy that does not condemn Israel? Is that really so much to ask?

As a longtime member of BJ, I support our rabbis as teachers and leaders – even if I don't always agree with everything they do or say -- and I am incredibly pissed at the Congregants who are hurting our shul and our rabbis by not being able to withstand the rabbis holding different opinions than they do. Didn’t anyone ever teach these people how to be in a community?

I am also furious that these Congregants are distracting themselves, our Congregation and its laypeople and professionals, and indeed, Gary Rosenblatt himself from writing about what should be written about this week – how to help John Kerry with his initiative in the Middle East -- to this playground nonsense which pushes the real issue to the sideline and puts self-interested folks in the middle.

I sincerely believe this type of behavior causes people not to leave one synagogue for another but to be done with the Jewish community at large. And to tell you the truth, I am beginning to understand this.

It also explains why Israel is being relegated to the sideline by many Rabbis who don’t talk about Israel because it is not worth the wrath they receive from people on the right and the left.

We American Jews are doing such a disservice to ourselves and to the people of Israel. Truly, it makes me want to cry. The conversation in Israel is much more expansive and frankly, much more helpful. The one in NYC is hurtful only to ourselves and counts for almost nothing in Israel.

Maybe your ire is misplaced and you should be furious that your BJ membership dues are used to pay the salaries of these rabbis who vilify Israel. And, where is their (the rabbis') sense of community? They had already been admonished that their earlier tirade against Israel was very much not in line with the BJ community and yet, oops, they did it again.

"Didn’t anyone ever teach these people how to be in a community?"
Which "community" is that? Perhaps someone should teach you how to be part of the Jewish community, and not to kick around Israel which is being amply kicked around, unfairly, and highly anti-Semitically (yes, that's right, ANTI-SEMITICALLY) all around the world by people who don't have the foggiest idea of the reality in Israel and are just parroting what they read in biased media sources at best, and their own pathologic Jew-hatred at worst. When Israel is fighting for its very legitimacy in the farthest flung corners of the world, not least US campuses, then being part of the Jewish community means standing up for the Jewish state, and fighting back, and not piling on, as these BJ rabbis so egregiously and outrageously did. They should be ashamed of themselves, and to parlay their positions of presumptive, and very public, leadership into adding one iota to Israel's extraordinary burdens is an outrage which would cause any self-respecting congregation to kick these people out post-haste. You may think this is "playground nonsense" but it is deadly serious and worrisome to the many Jews--including liberals--who live in Israel, even if that sense unfortunately is not shared by some Jews on the West Side.

Let me see if I understand you correctly.

If the rabbis take a public position, identifying themselves as BJ clergy, and attack Israel and its supporters even though their position is not at all representative of the position of the BJ members, and indeed it has been already condemned by the BJ members, that's okay.

But if BJ members object to the rabbis, they are hurting the shul and they piss you off. Even though these very same members are the ones paying the rabbis' salaries.

I applaud the members who've found their rabbis actions reprehensible.

Now let's see whether RAMAZ parents display the same conviction as these heroes exiting Bnai Jeshurun. I urge them to immediately remove their children from that sterile institution (RAMAZ) given the disgraceful invitation recently extended by their political science club to the propagandist currently "lecturing" nearby at Columbia.

The fault lies with the board. After the first incident, the rabbis should have been told to keep their anti-Israel sentiments to themselves. The continued attacks on the State of Israel, in he name of the Congregation, by these rabbis is beyond the pale.

While we have not joined those members in resigning, we, along with many in the shul , have lost all respect for the rabbinate and their seething, irrational hatred of Israel, and their gleeful cheerleading for PLO/PA/Hamas.

The board needs to show leadership and put an end to this rogue rabinnate which uses the legitimacy conferred by the BJ pulpit to do harm the safety and security of Israel, or replace them, post-haste.

Shalom

I am curious: if you have no respect for the rabbis and their "seething, irrational hatred of Israel," why do you remain a member? Why do you choose to be part of a community whose leadership you detest?

I agree whole heartedly with anonymous comment #1. While no one ever said, Israel, love it or leave it, or Israel is always right and not subject to valid criticism, nonetheless, sadly, most Jews have no conviction or backbone to stand up for what is right about Israel.
What's even sadder is that most Jews are completely misinformed about the Palestinian question, and additionally, most look at Israel as the enemy, not that they should look at the Palestinians as an enemy, but it is a fact that the Palestinian constitution still calls for the destruction of Israel.
It is a sad fact that most young and early middle aged Jews wouldn't budge, as their parents and grandparents did, for Israel in any way shape or matter. Israel is always in the wrong, in their opinion.
I'll write it again, are these B'nai Jeshrun men ordained rabbi's for Iman's??

This is an interesting article. The rabbis have the right to discuss political issues within the walls of the synagogue. They have no right to sign public letters condemning elected officials , especially Mayor DeBlasio who stuck out his neck I'm behalf of Israel. This vantage point is not backed by many of their congregants. Bnai Jeshurun rabbis should immediately retract their anti-Israel and Anti-Aipac remarks. They not only risk losing their own congregants - they will become pariahs from other synagogues in NY and the United States. BJ is causing an unnecessary rift within their congregation.

Why are these shul members resigning? If the rabbis' positions do not reflect their congregation, why not call for a vote of no confidence and terminate their contracts. As for the rabbis' supposed act of moral courage for standing with the enemies of Israel, that's a joke. Many (most?) of the BDS movement leaders are in fact Jews. It actually takes more courage to be pro-Israel than anti-Israel. To Ms. Mintz's point, I am sure that many BJ members joined the shul because of its involvement in politics, I am just not sure that they did so expecting that their clergy would give comfort and support to the enemy. Again, don't resign, call for a no confidence vote on the clergy instead.

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