In just a few days, voters in New York City will decide a primary election for the positions of comptroller and mayor. Prominent Jewish candidates are running for both offices, but they are not the sort of Jewish candidates most of us in the Jewishcommunity would wish were running for public office. Each has won an election before, one as a representative in the U.S. Congress and the other to serve as governor of New York. And each has succumbed to conduct that impugns their character and betrays their Jewish heritage.
That the primary in which they are candidates takes place during the Yamim Noraim, as we prepare to welcome the Jewish New Year, presents us with a set of circumstances we have not previously confronted. Everyone knows that legendary Jewish baseball stars Hank Greenberg and SandyKoufax affirmed their Jewish identity by not playing in a World Series game on a High Holy Day. How proud we were of them for enhancing our image.
This is a time when every member of our community is expected to examine his or her behavior in the Jewish year just ending, when they perceive shortcomings or inappropriate behavior in themselves and seek forgiveness, when they make restitution if appropriate and confront those weaknesses of character they’ve demonstrated. Only when that task is accomplished can they seek God’s forgiveness.
An interesting dilemma arises for all those who will be gathering in synagogues on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, where either of the men of whom we are speaking might attend. Should the other congregants shun them? Should they avoid wishing them a Happy New Year on Rosh Hashanah or a g’mar chatimah tovah (may you be inscribed for a good year) on Yom Kippur?
And yet, one of the more extraordinary aspects of Judaism as a religion is its acknowledgement of human frailties, including the tendency to miss the mark and much worse. And so we are bidden on the Day of Atonement, just prior to Kol Nidre, to seek permission to worship with the avaryanim, those who have sinned. In such fashion do we remind ourselves that they are created in the Divine image, just like us, and are therefore entitled to a certain respect? If God welcomes the sinner and extends His Divine hand to those who wish to repent, who are we to sit in judgment?
There is, however, a level of kavod (honor) that should not be offered, and that is the kavod of an aliyah, of coming up in front of the congregation to hold or carry the Torah, or to pronounce the blessings before and after a section of the Torah is recited. Such honors are awarded on the basis of demonstrated integrity, something scarcely apparent in the recent lives of these two men.
Let us hope that they will see the light and be restored to a level of dignity and respect, while we continue to struggle with our own shortcomings and strive to be as good as we possibly can be.
Rabbi Jonathan Brown is spiritual director of Woodholme Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care in Pikesville and a member of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis or its members.