Faith Matters: Wading into 2 taboo topics

  • Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener in the Temple Israel. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener in the Temple Israel. Paul Franz

  • Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener in the Temple Israel. Paul Franz

  • Temple Israel Greenfield on Pierce Street. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

Templel Israel Greenfield
Published: 11/30/2018 1:47:41 PM

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

Religion and politics are the two taboo subjects. To combine them is surely to court disaster. But for religion to be relevant and for politics to be value-laden, we must step into this conversation.

Some religious perspectives posit winners and losers. They hold that only one’s own tribe or sect can know the grace, love and will of God. We are each of us on the path that we are on because we feel it best. Or perhaps we were simply born to it and did not question it or explore other paths. In every choice, there is a value judgment. Can more than one path be “right”? This is a spiritual challenge for us all. If I choose my path over yours, do I need to believe that yours is wrong?

If we wish to find the shared needs and the over-arching values of our diverse religious paths, we will find commonality. If we wish to find exclusiveness and self-righteousness, we can, each of us, find justification for this in our respective religious transmissions.

As a youth, I loved the uniqueness of being a minority and I loved many aspects of the Jewish way and its teachings (and I still do!). But somewhere along the line, I came to a more generous hope. If Jews have the only right path, the world is in a whole lot of trouble, as we are a small minority and the work is great. I now wish for the time when all people find the highest, best and most loving manifestation of their respective traditions. Isn’t it possible, even logical, that the collective wisdom of all the traditions is needed to receive and manifest the higher and greater Mind of God?

In politics, similarly, we are born to or we choose our paths and perspectives, considering divergent views to be lesser or wrong. Most of us habitually seek news sources that reinforce our own views. In our deeply polarized public discourse and our gerrymandered political groupings, there is little incentive to giving attention to those with whom we disagree. And this is much to our detriment.

I fall prey to this. I have often dismissed perspectives different from my own and judged them to be misinformed, chauvinistic or fear-based. I have often gone for the sugar-high of a snarky political put down, instead of a curious attitude. I know for a fact that most folks on the Right are not as vile, depraved and amoral as the Left sometimes makes them out to be. And I know for a fact that most folks on the Left are not as vile, depraved and amoral as the Right sometimes makes them out to be. I know for a fact that the polarization serves some political purpose but it does not serve our collective wisdom as a country. Truth and wisdom lay somewhere between and above our usual level of discourse.

One example: immigration. Those of us who value a relatively open immigration policy cannot dismiss the truth that some immigrants are severely traumatized and may not integrate easily into a productive role in our society. Some immigrants, for a greater or lesser period of time, will be a burden on public welfare and local resources. And those of us who value a relatively protectionist immigration policy cannot dismiss the truth that all except First Nations people are immigrants, that the human spirit and capacity of each one of us, when fully developed, adds benefit to the whole. Nor this truth: family separation and other cruelties at the border harm us, morally, as a nation, as surely as they harm the families that are separated and caged at our borders.

The pain of white men and rural communities, the ravages of the opioid (self-medicating) crisis, a right balance of taxation burdens between varying income levels and many other topics, are subjects for discussion that will be better served by curiosity and shared exploration than by dismissive, snarky comments and fear-mongering.

Can we, each of us, open our minds, ears and hearts a little bit? And can I get an Amen?

About Temple Israel

Temple Israel has been the vibrant center of Jewish life in Franklin County for 100 years. The temple community celebrates together the weekly Sabbath, either Friday night or Saturday morning, as well as the seasonal Jewish festivals and members’ life cycle events. The temple hosts a full calendar of cultural programs and social action efforts.

TI offers language and cultural educational programs for young families, children, teens and adults, including a Sunday school program for elementary-aged children and Hebrew classes for teens and adults on Thursdays. Members and non-members are welcome at all TI events.

Greenfield Recorder

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