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Call Me Switzerland

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Upon receiving s’micha, I ceased being a private person. In one singular moment, in gaining the authority to serve the people Israel, I lost certain freedoms. An exchange that I made willingly.

As an American citizen, I vote. I vote in every election and take the right and responsibility very, very seriously. As an American citizen, I follow the candidates with a great deal of interest, watch conventions like a hawk, and listen closely to both what is said and what left unsaid.

As a rabbi, however, I cannot and will not publically endorse a partisan candidate. To do so is both foolish AND just this side of illegal.

I find it just shocking that a number of my colleagues forget that anything they put on the internet might as well be written in their synagogue bulletin. So when I read comments on their Facebook status regarding one candidate or another, I blanch.

And hope that the IRS isn’t reading it.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday, 31 August 2008 4:53 pm

    I think if it is a private statement in a friends only thread on say LJ it’s one thing, but in a public forum while using a title that’s another. I think folks are entitled to private expression no mater what hat’s they own, they just need to be careful what hat’s they are wearing when they say things on certain topics.

  2. JockBro permalink
    Sunday, 31 August 2008 9:15 pm

    A lot of clergymen and clergywomen get away with this, but I laud your willingness to stick by the law. I, however, am under no such obligation and firmly believe that McCain’s choice of Palin as a running mate proves he’s off his rocker. In no way is he (or she) fit to be president. I am completely uncomfortable with a trigger-happy, out of touch, septuagenarian running the free world.

  3. Monday, 1 September 2008 10:42 am

    I was under the impression that if you stand on the bimah and say, “I support —– for President”, that would be illegal. But if you and your friends are sitting around talking about the election, and you discuss with your friends that you are supporting —– for President, that wouldn’t be illegal. It’s one thing to have your non-profit synagogue promote a candidate, but as an individual, of course you have an opinion.

    Now, this blog address is printed in the synagogue monthly bulletin, so, I don’t think you should post your choice here. But, if you have a private blog for only friends and family, I don’t see a problem with posting your opinions there.

    In any event, I find it surprising the law is this strict.


  4. Monday, 1 September 2008 8:44 pm

    I actually broached this subject in a small way with the leader of the RAC. Basically, if you never connect to fbook from your synagogue computer, for example, you are free to say what you want there. You *can* be a private person, it’s just *really really really* hard to differentiate between our two lives. I am as careful as I can be online, but I am not always perfect. I agree with you — and since my blog and online life, like yours, are connected integrally to my congregation, I don’t think I have the right to do any endorsing at all. Commenting on what I’m doing (i.e. watching the DNC or RNC) isn’t quite the same thing…I think?

    We even realized that since I get a small car allowance, and with parsonage, we can’t put stickers on our cars, on our house, or even technically on our children. Sheesh.

    I’m buying my dad a kippah with “my guy” on it so that I can put my thoughts out there on *someone’s* head!!!!!

    P.S. I, like you, cringe whenever my colleagues join the “supporting so-and-so” groups on fbook. Didn’t we all get the same manuals!?

  5. Steve permalink
    Thursday, 4 September 2008 5:41 am

    Although I agree with you almost 100% on clergy using the pulpit to endorse their political choice, ( and Im not sure of that being illegal – as far as I know, it crosses a line with tax status – if one were to get caught and their particular house of worship had their tax-free status eliminated, I assume that would be the end of it, but I digress…) I have to disagree that clergy cant have a personal life outside of the temple.

    Someone’s facebook or myspace or their blog is their personal spot on the web. Just because someone is in the public spotlight does not remove them from the opportunity to have a personal life, just as everyone else does. You (and any other clergy you know) are absolutely allowed, and in my opinion, should, post whatever personal choices, thoughts, etc. on your blog.

    The only caveat was mentioned above – if your blog is advertised in the temple bulletin, well then, you can’t connect the dots. But that choice is yours. If you indeed WANT to blog about your choice for President, or city council or state senate or whatever, then do so, and remove your URL from the bulletin. If you choose to instead grow your online readers by advertising in the temple bulletin, then don’t post your political choices.

    The ball is in your court. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, but you could have your cake. Or you could eat it. Personally, I like cake. And I would remove my ad in the rag and post post post – this election is possibly one of the most important in decades.

    And, since this isnt MY blog and I’m not a Rabbi, I can shill for whomever I want. And that happens to be Barack Obama.

  6. meira permalink
    Friday, 5 September 2008 8:02 pm

    I think Steve’s got it right . . . I don’t think you surrendered your First Amendment rights when you accepted your smicha.

    On the other hand, as we’ve learned here in Texas, not all Jews fit neatly into one political party. And it can be awfully hard to reach out to someone who you think opposes you politically. And from what I’ve seen, red, blue, or purple, everyone thinks he or his candidate is really going to make things better in this country.

    Probably best not to publicly endorse, so as not to alienate yourself from congregants who may need you, but it is not necessarily going to jeopardize your temple’s tax status if you do so privately.

    Around here, when asked, we simply quote Homer Simpson, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kotos!”

  7. Thursday, 11 September 2008 7:33 pm

    To me, the inability to endorse a candidate isn’t that relevant, for three reasons:
    1) I don’t think I have any particularly great insight on what is best;
    2) Picking a candidate would be divisive in my politically diverse shul; and
    3) For anyone who hears my divrei torah, it’s pretty clear what I believe on various issues, and those issues are easily matched up with party platforms.

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