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Columnist Laments Confusion of Religion and Politics in Jewish Religious Services

Allan C. Brownfeld
Special Interest Report
December 2011

Religion columnist Lisa Miller of The Washington Post (Oct. 1, 2011) expressed concern about the confusion of religion and politics in Jewish religious services.  
She notes that, “If politics are personal, then let me say this. I love almost everything about the Judaism I practice: Born into a Jewish family, but raised without any formal religious education, I have in recent years become a member of a Reform synagogue in Brooklyn. I love singing the ancient prayers. I love our rabbis and the families in the congregation who have become our friends ... But certain parts of the Saturday service also give me uncomfortable pause, and during these High Holy Days, this season of introspection and confession for Jews, I might as well come out with it. Each Saturday morning, we praise God who ‘chooses Israel’; we ask God to ‘redeem Israel’; we plead with God to ‘shine a new light on Zion, that we all may swiftly merit its radiance.’”  
Miller continues: “We, the Jewish people, are Israel and Israel is us. Only these days, I’m not so crazy about Israel — the nation-state, that is. I don’t like that on the eve of these holidays and at the moment when Mahmoud Abbas was making his bid at the U.N. for Palestinian statehood, Israel announced the approval of 1,100 new housing units in East Jerusalem. I’m ashamed that Israel continues to draw criticism from human rights groups for the demolition of homes in the West Bank and, sharing blame with the Palestinians, for waging a conflict over land with the lives of innocent people.”  
While she points out that, “Intellectually, I see that Israel the nation-state and Israel the historical-theological concept are separate things, but when I pray, the two ideas reverberate together and the conflation troubles me. In the practice of Judaism, we petition God to protect ‘Israel’; I hesitate before I voice this plea. ... How, I wondered, can I pray to God on behalf of Israel, when I find the actions of that nation-state so troubling? How do I comfortably align myself with ‘Israel,’ this name with a million meanings?”  
Lisa Miller concludes: “Discomfort leads to action — to activism, and imaginative solutions, and deeper understandings. During these holidays, I will pray for Israel and in doing so will try to take the wisdom of my counselors to heart. They haven’t talked me out of my discomfort — only to see this discomfort as part of the deal.” •

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