Watch Rabbi Klayman’s Passover Message this year on PATV – Long Island.
Above is my annual Passover message for local television. In the message, I addressed the subject of our students leading the fight for meaningful gun control legislation. Although the issue should be apolitical, there will certainly be those who question why a Rabbi would use a Passover message to even mention a national issue like gun control.
Let me make an imperfect analogy. During the Passover service on Sunday I mentioned the Seder’s story of five Rabbis who get together on Passover, spending the entire night discussing the Exodus. They are so immersed in the story that their students have to remind them about morning prayers.
One of the fascinating interpretations of this story suggests that these leading scholars were not discussing the ancient Exodus from Egypt. Rather, they were discussing strategies for their own Exodus; that is, a plot to overthrow Rome and to liberate Israel. According to this interpretation, when their students arrived in the morning, it was not to remind them about prayers. The students were on watch to warn their teachers if Roman soldiers were approaching – because such a rabbinic conversation would result in severe punishment. This creative interpretation has great appeal, but unfortunately it is merely a commentary and not historically accurate. However, there is an important lesson suggested by such a commentary. The rabbi hosting his colleagues was Rabbi Akiba, the greatest scholar of Rabbinic times. He was known to actively support a rebellion against Rome, a rebellion which would be led by Simon Bar Kochba (or Koziba).
The creative interpretation I just shared might be fantasy, but the idea that Rabbinic scholars were engaged in the politics of their era is real. Interpreting Jewish law required being immersed in the world and not being isolated from it. Throughout history, rabbis have been outspoken about political and social themes which needed to be addressed. Today, there are certainly people who will criticize any rabbi or Jewish spiritual leader who addresses social and political questions. Whether their efforts and opinions are praised or criticized, rabbis today have an obligation to raise issues central to our generation, risking harsh criticism if necessary. Although I believe we should not use the pulpit on a Sabbath or holiday to express partisan views, we have an obligation to express our voices in other forums. As is the nature of our profession, some will praise us and others will condemn us. Nevertheless, like the rabbis of old, my colleagues and I need to risk such criticism to speak forcefully and confidently about the subjects of concern affecting our lives. Gun legislation is one of those issues and I welcome responses both pro and con.
Spring is coming…