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An Observation about Healthy Political Conversation in a Congregation

One of my finest teachers over my rabbinic career is the philosopher, Moshe Halbertal, with whom I studied at the Shalom Hartman Institute. His books on Jewish thought and on Maimonides are among the most respected in contemporary scholarship. He is a keen observer of contemporary events in both Israel and the United States. 

I was happy to see Professor Halbertal quoted in a column by Thomas Friedman today, 2/24/21, in the New York Times. I wanted to share his observation because I believe it applies locally as well as globally. 

‘“For a healthy politics to flourish it needs reference points outside itself — reference points of truth and a conception of the common good,” [underlining is mine] explained the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal. “When everything becomes political, that is the end of politics.”

“Making everything politics,” added Halbertal, “totally distorts your ability to read reality. And to do that with Mother Nature is particularly reckless, because she is the one major force in our lives that is totally independent of our will. And if you think you can spin her,”Halbertal said, “the slap in the face that she will give you will be heard all across the world.”’

Following Moshe Halbertal, it is important that in our own community we be able to conduct our debates and disagreements with these “reference points of truth and a conception of the common good.”  In a synagogue, Torah serves as a critical source of truth and provides a way for us to understand the common good. My responsibility as a rabbi is to help the congregation access those sources of the common good found in our texts and teachings. We also access the common good from other sources as well: plausible and convincing scientific outlooks, insights from broader ethical traditions, and a careful study of history, to mention a few.

Halbertal warns us that it is not healthy to avoid discussion of critical issues such as climate change, even in a local context. We need to engage in the reality of our lives with purpose and meaning. The Torah summons us to live more fully and to respond to the unique challenges that characterize our lives.   

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