On Dilemmas Associated with Judaism that Are Not Actually Dilemmas At All

Not knowing who Rabbi Andy Bachman is, I certainly cannot give him any kind of career advice, but as a Jew, it troubles me that a rabbi believes that he needs to leave the pulpit in order to do more good in the world. It also troubles me that a rabbi believes that his work is limited to giving sermons. Anyone who knows anything about religious ministry knows that not to be true. Rabbis must tend to their congregations. They must help congregants through crises of faith, of conscience, and of daily life in general. They must prepare Jewish boys and girls how to live their lives as Jewish men and women. They are given the joy and privilege of conducting marriages, bar and bat mitzvahs, and many a bris and naming ceremony. And of course, they are given the solemn responsibility of conducting services for the dead, and comforting the bereaved.

One of the factors that has gone into Rabbi Bachman’s decision to step down from the pulpit is a desire “to help New York’s poorest, regardless of their religion.” Again, I don’t know why Rabbi Bachman believes that he needs to leave the pulpit in order to do this. The concept of tikkun olam is a central tenet of Judaism, and it has regularly been interpreted to extend to doing justice for and on behalf of non-Jews, as well as Jews. Must I really go through the listing of all of the interfaith organizations in existence in New York and throughout the country; interfaith organizations that allow people and clergy of different faiths to work together on behalf of the less fortunate, and on behalf of their communities in general? Why does Rabbi Bachman believe that he cannot work with such organizations in order to effect positive change while at the same time tending to his congregation from the pulpit? Why does he believe that stepping down from the pulpit will somehow make him a more effective advocate on behalf of the poor, especially given the fact that if he remains as a pulpit rabbi, he can certainly use his position in order to urge members of his congregation to join him in working on behalf of the poor?

The New York Times article states that Rabbi Bachman’s decision

touched on vexing questions at the center of Judaism’s future in this country as modern Jews— the secular, the unaffiliated, the questioning — grapple with what it means to be Jewish and what role a synagogue should play in that identity.

I have no idea whatsoever why any Jew–rabbi or not–ought to feel “vexed.” One can be a Jew, one can be part of a synagogue–as either a rabbi or a congregant–and one can still engage with both the Jewish and non-Jewish world to practice acts of tikkun olam in order to repair the world for Jews and non-Jews alike. There is no either/or decision that has to be made here. The only “vexing” thing about this story is its suggestion that Jews must abandon the Jewish world in order to engage with the rest of the planet.

(Link via Andrew Patner, via social media. Nota bene: For the purposes of this blog post, I take Rabbi Bachman at his word when he states that his decision to leave his temple and the pulpit had nothing to do with budget cuts at his temple.)