Faith Matters: Of kings and leaders

  • The Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener at Temple Israel Greenfield next to a painting of the former Temple. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Temple Israel on Pierce Street in Greenfield. Staff file photo/PAUL FRANZ

Temple Israel Greenfield
Published: 3/13/2020 2:53:03 PM
Modified: 3/13/2020 2:52:47 PM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com)

The Jewish people have been around so long that we have experienced a huge variety of community shapes and leadership styles. Our roots are in our Patriarch Abraham (possibly 18 centuries or so before the common era), when we were organized as an extended family. By four generations later, we were a collection of 12 tribes who went down into Egypt. We emerged out of there as a nation in formation. During the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, our leader was God, as interpreted by the prophet Moses. And Moses warned us against appointing a king, even though he predicted that we would want a king, “like the nations all around.”

We did, in fact, request a king during the early years of settling in biblical Canaan. Yet the bible records strict rules for the king. The king cannot gather too many wives or horses. He cannot overburden people with taxes and tributes. The king has to literally write out a Torah scroll. The king is subject to the law and not above it. (Deut 17:14 and following). “He shall keep the words of the law so that his heart may not be elevated above his brothers.” Perhaps ironically, fidelity to God and humility before people are ideal qualities for a ruler.

In our many years of exile, Jews were obligated by Jewish law to observe the laws of the lands we were in. “The law of the land is the law” was already in force during the time of the prophet Jeremiah and is repeated in later law codes. “Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in the peace thereof you shall have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7) In most times and places, we have been able to organize as a free association, a religious community among other communities, kingdoms and countries.

Today, during the central part of Jewish worship, when the Torah is read, we follow with a Prayer for the Government. It reads in part: We ask your blessing for our government, for its leaders and advisers and for all who exercise just and righteous authority. Teach them Your insights that they may administer all the affairs of state fairly …. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony … May this land be an influence of good throughout the world ….

I pray often for this country. I try to state my hopes and prayers in a way that everyone can say amen to! I do not, for example, pray that this party or this candidate rise or fall. Instead I aim for the undergirding common needs and the overarching common goods that can lead us in the direction of a “common bond in true harmony.” I pray that my fellow citizens feel safe and dignified. I pray for powerful connections across cultural, religious and race lines, because our unity is an honor to and a reflection of the One Who Created Us. I pray that everyone has everything they need to thrive, because I want that, too. And “Do onto others as you would have done onto you” is a Torah law, a commandment.

I am grateful to the Recorder for this forum of faithful conversation and to members of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, many of whom I count among my siblings in faith and my friends. I am grateful, too, to Temple Israel of Greenfield for the opportunity to formulate and forward a Jewish presence in our town. May our presence be an influence for the good.

About Temple Israel

Temple Israel Greenfield was officially chartered in 1918 and in 1923 they purchased the Hibernian Hall building at 27 Pierce St., their current home.

Temple Israel is the only Jewish congregation in Franklin County, with over 124 members. Jews and non-Jews are welcome at services and programs throughout the year.

Temple Israel’s members and rabbi are active in civic and interfaith projects serving the public well-being, including food distribution projects, refugee and immigrant support and public rituals.

Information about upcoming events can be found at https://templeisraelgreenfield.org/


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