The title of my sermon on Rosh Hashanah morning was “Barriers or Bridges?” My intent was to explore how we define ourselves as Jews and as a Jewish community. I asked broad questions including: Who are we? What are our core values? What should be the boundaries of who belongs and who does not? Do Jews have a unique mission to fulfill among the peoples of the earth?
I focused on the specific issues of membership here at Temple Beth Torah. In my sermon, I raised questions whether we should we still require that for someone to join our congregation he or she has to be Jewish or married to a Jew? Should we welcome anyone who is willing to support the purpose of our congregation as stated in our by-laws? These include creating a viable Jewish community; helping individuals achieve an affirmative identification with Jewish life; providing education; and seeking to respond to Jewish concerns locally, nationally, and internationally. I inquired: If someone who is not Jewish supports these aspirations, should we still restrict him or her from becoming a member of Temple Beth Torah?
In my sermon, I addressed what I see as the particularistic dynamic in Judaism. We are a people in covenant with God, with a unique history and responsibility. Yet there also is a universalistic dynamic in Judaism, in which our unique identity should not be a barrier but a bridge to the wider world. The Aleinu prayer encapsulates both the particularism and universalism that are inherent in Judaism.
My intent with my sermon was not to provide answers to all the questions I raised but instead to prompt reflection and conversation. If during your Rosh Hashanah lunch or in the days afterwards you found yourself thinking and discussing the sermon, then I am pleased. If you care to share your thoughts with me or with members of our board, that would be most welcome.
May these days leading to Yom Kippur next week be filled with reflection, good deeds, and renewal.
My High Holy Day sermons will be published after they have been reviewed by my saintly proof readers.