February 2021 Bulletin Ref2


As I write for the February bulletin, I write in a moment of national crisis that has spanned much of the month of January 2021. Many of us had hoped that the turning of the calendar page would enable us to feel a sense of closure after an exceptionally difficult and painful year, but thus far, 2021 has packed in sufficient anxiety and tragedy in just a few weeks to make many of us feel like enough is really enough.

I would guess that many members of our congregation, like me, spent far too much time worrying and doomscrolling, consuming unhealthy quantities of electronic media about the pandemic and the political situation. As we reflect on this momentous period in American history, however, I’m inclined to consider what a specifically Jewish perspective can bring to my understanding. I offer these thoughts not as a definitive interpretation, but rather as an invitation to all of us to use the tools we have at hand both to make sense of what has happened and to guide our own paths forward.

Legitimate disagreement and debate are healthy

Our tradition is clear here. From Jacob’s wrestling match with an angel to Hillel and Shammai to the present day, we have recognized that disagreement and challenge make us better. Within our congregation and our community, there is room for people to advocate fiercely for different policy positions and political figures, and we must respect legitimate disagreements. In order to be legitimate, however, these disagreements must take place within the boundaries of our common political community, as Korah and his followers learned through their destruction.

Each human life is unique and intrinsically valuable and hatred is dangerous

One such boundary is a consistent thread of recognizing the fundamental humanity of all that pervades our traditions. The Torah makes it clear that the obligation to value the humanity of all persons extends beyond the circle of our community, reminding us that we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Our tradition likewise warns us of the dangers of baseless hatred, which our Orthodox friends link to the destruction of the Second Temple.

The rule of law is both necessary and a moral obligation for a society

A central theme of the Exodus is the Jews’ transformation from a tribal band of former slaves into a nation. The establishment of law helped to engineer this transformation. We remember Moses for bringing us to Sinai and preparing us to receive the law from the Eternal, but the Torah also painstakingly records Moses’ efforts to establish a stable system for resolving disputes and a host of regulations to manage relations among people.

When I ponder these values, I use them to consider the boundaries of legitimate political behavior in the nation I love as both an American and a Jew. I deplore the violent mob’s organized attempts to reject the results of the 2020 election and to abandon our lengthy experiment with democracy. I am horrified that elected members of our national government as well as some state elected officials participated in these efforts. Individuals who amplified baseless claims of election fraud and linked them to other conspiracy-fueled lies have done enormous damage to the fabric of our republic. Those who traffic in lies and who sought to overturn the election cannot be empowered to serve as our elected officials. By rebelling instead of raising truth-based objections and arguments, they have stepped outside the boundaries of legitimate disagreement and debate. By rejecting the intrinsic value of human life, they set themselves apart from us. And by abandoning

the rule of law and democratic values, they have rejected not only Jewish values but also our national foundational political consensus. To protect the rule of law, we the people must impose consequences for these behaviors.

If we can draw these lines bravely, we can make space for better politics. By thinking Jewishly, we have important elements to add to the discussion. As individuals, we can communicate these ideas to our elected officials and we can choose to support candidates who respect and share these values. In doing so, regardless of which party we support, we can nurture a politics with room for vigorous disagreement, but a politics in which we accept the intrinsic humanity of all people and the importance of democracy as the non-negotiable price of entry. Thus, we can contribute to building a political environment in which we search for and value truth over lies, substance over entertainment, and principle over raw power.


Julie Novkov

B'nai Sholom Albany NY