Firstly, I'm loving that within 24 hours, I got to blog one post on "Pulp Fiction," and now "Pulpit Non-Fiction." Yes, it's always good to amuse oneself.
While perusing JRants, which provides me with headlines from entries by other Jewish bloggers, I happened upon this excellent idea from my neighbor Steve Silver: The "Burn Your Siddur" Award.
An award for crazy and/or nonsensical things said or done by rabbis or Jewish laypeople which either reflect poorly on Jews, encourage stereotypes, or just plain make you shake your head in disbelief. It is based on a comment by Rabbi Rolando Matalon of Congregation B'nai Jeshuran ("BJ") in Manhattan, who once charged that if we as congregants didn't contribute to a certain charitable cause that he favored, we "might as well burn your siddur [prayer books]."
Firstly, let me state for the record that I don't think burning books is the answer to anything.
That said...Oh, where to begin? Without venturing into the lashon hara (gossip) element of who said what on which pulpit where and how appropriate or inappropriate it was, I will say that I’m always amazed by how many rabbis and laypeople regularly say things without thinking about how their comments will be perceived by the audience. Maybe it speaks to the intrepid nature of their convictions. Or perhaps the filters that keep out the bad ideas are clogged up by holiday-related exhaustion.
But spiritual leaders and lay leaders alike are not just responsible for their opinions, they are responsible for the spirituality of their community, a burden that would weigh so heavily on me that I would make sure to think before I speak, clean out the gunked-up filter in my head, set my own ego aside and consider the impact of my words many times, way before I delivered them. Public speaking advice aside, is it always appropriate to start with a joke? Is my audience ready to hear what I have to say? Am I addressing the issues that are important to my community? If there is potential controversy in my words, how can I contextualize it for my congregants? Am I dictating to them the parameters of proper behavior, or making suggestions as to how they can enhance their Jewish observance and identity?
Yes, I believe that if I were a rabbi, I’d give my sermons so much thought that I’d never approach a pulpit at all. Perhaps it takes a little more chutzpah (or a belief that what you’re doing is or will be best for the community, even if you’re initially met with resistance) than I have.
On a related note: the rabbi of my synagogue sent out a tongue-in-cheek, but definitely Communism-related, email last week. Maybe Communism’s making a comeback? I did grow up on Karl [Marx?] Street. And I am wearing red today. And I would really like it if that “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” thing came back on a New York City scale. It’s a great time in my life for that to come back. Because unfortunately, when it comes to work, I’ve got plenty. But because I live in NY and work mostly with Jewish non-profits whose accounting departments seem to be closed whenever I need my invoices paid, I have great need. Just ask my landlord. On second thought, don’t. Better not to call attention to my case file.