High Holy Hesitation: U.S. Rabbis Find Topic of Israel Is a Lightning Rod

Congregants are polarized about the Gaza conflict, and rabbis across the country are unsure whether and how to address Israel in their High Holy Day sermons, The N.Y. Times reports.

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A rabbi conducts a service at a synagogue (illustration)
A rabbi conducts a service at a synagogue (illustration)Credit: AP

For U.S. rabbis talking about Israel, they're damned if Israel does and damned if it doesn't.

Israel's conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been Topic A in congregations across America, and both rabbis who back Operation Protective Edge and those who sympathize more with the Palestinians find themselves ... well, under fire, The New York Times reports.

Reciting a prayer during the seven-week Israel-Hamas conflict, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan added in the names of both fallen Israeli soldiers and Palestinian children who were killed.

A board member at the world's largest gay synagogue immediately posted his resignation on Facebook and three other congregants left the shul, the Times reported.

Coming in from the other direction was Rabbi Ron Aigen at the liberal Reconstructionist synagogue Dorshei Emet in Montreal. The Times reports that a congregant resigned after the rabbi said Israel had sought to meet the highest standards of Jewish teaching regarding ethical and just war.

The severe polarization has rabbis across the country unsure whether and how to address Israel in their High Holy Day sermons, the Times reports.

No matter what the rabbis say, they're likely to hit a nerve with either younger Jews, who tend to be less attached to Israel, or older and more conservative congregants, who tend to be more supportive of the Jewish State – and tend to write larger checks to support the shuls, the Times reported.

Even for rabbis "trying to be centrist and balanced and present two sides of the issue," the topic of Israel "is fraught with danger, Rabbi Aigen told the Times.